JUDGING WITH OUR HEARTS AND NOT WITH OUR HEADS

English / Italian

Across Le Marche’s countryside you will find many small guesthouses, carved out of former farmsteads and animal barns that have been creatively turned into beautifully detailed lodgings for visitors to the region. One such guesthouse is Casa Rosa, a former farmhouse that laid untouched and unloved for some years before it was thoughtfully brought back to life by the Hartley family from the UK. Some 18 years later, Casa Rosa, a much treasured and intrinsic part of the local landscape in the province of Fermo, hosts a number of guests annually, offering them the chance to experience local specialities and traditional customs. Guests to Casa Rosa have the opportunity to make pasta, undertake language lessons for beginners, and if their stay coincides with harvest, there is plenty of olive harvesting experience to be had too, right within the grounds of the house. In recent years, this rural spot has been transformed into an intimate wedding venue, complete with its own ceremony area, nestled amongst the olive groves at the end of its leafy garden.

Taking us to her own little piece of paradise, owner Lynette tells us about her experiences in Le Marche, how she discovered Casa Rosa and what made her want to keep going back.

Lynette can you tell us about your first experiences in Le Marche and what attracted you to the region?

We wanted to buy somewhere abroad and at the time we were interested in exploring the island of Gozo in the Maltese archipelago. When we first started to consider our options over 18 years ago, Gozo wasn’t an easy place to reach and there were no budget airlines. During the same period, a friend of ours had recently purchased a house in the Le Marche region of Italy and recommended it to us. I was quite curious about it as I had heard some lovely stories about the area, although at the time it was relatively unknown to us in the UK. I went out to Le Marche for the first time with two other friends and we visited several derelict houses, which scared me a little bit! But, I was struck by how lovely the people were, everyone was so friendly and there was a relaxed atmosphere, which we longed for. During that first trip the fields were full of poppies, I remember it so well.

And what about finding Casa Rosa, what made you want to turn it into your home?

The day we went to see what would later become Casa Rosa, was a wet, rainy and foggy day in May. It was absolutely bucketing down with rain, torrential rain and from the road you couldn’t see anything but a faint shadow of the house in the distance. The views weren’t visible at all, which is ironic really because one of the most wonderful things about our house is its views.  Despite the weather being against us, we walked around the garden and the house and there it was, we got this feeling that it was ours, it instantly made us feel at home. So, the next day we drove back and tried to retrace our steps and more or less decided on it there and then. I suppose we judged it with our hearts and not with our heads, but it felt like the right decision!

What are the things you remember about the early days of being owners of a derelict farmhouse in the middle of the countryside in Le Marche?

Well, there are indeed lots of things to consider when purchasing a property abroad. In Italy for example, anything to do with the land registry is very complicated, so that was a challenge at the beginning. It is also important to note that what you think you are buying, isn’t necessarily yours. Particularly in terms of the land surrounding your property. For example, farmers who boarder your land have the right to purchase it up to eighteen months after the purchase. It is worth instructing an expert and commercialista for all these matters, as it can be quite different from what happens in other countries and what you think is happening!

What was it that made you fall in love with Massa Fermana and the local villages located near to Casa Rosa?

Massa Fermana is a nice little village in our immediate vicinity. Although it is lovely, there isn’t always a huge amount going on, so we have sort of ended up adopting Montappone, another neighbouring village, for most of our daily needs. We spend most of our time there. It has everything in it:  a thriving bar, lovely welcoming local people and many amenities. What’s more, it is also the hat capital of Italy. Throughout the region and beyond (and abroad) you’ll find hats handmade in Montappone on sale at local markets. There is a wonderful hat museum located in the centre of the village, which is definitely worth visiting.

Do you have friends in the area?

Yes we do. When we first bought our house, we wanted to get to know the local people and also work with them to put money back into their local economy and above all make the most of the artisan skill network in the area. We made a point of going to the local bar for breakfast every morning, so eventually got to know everyone in the village, the local work force, the plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and hoteliers. The ironmonger in Montappone has even worked in Rome and made iron for the Vatican!

I think the fact that we met some lovely and welcoming people on that first trip really confirmed it for us that we wanted to stay here. Although at the time, we didn’t realise the true advantage of being located at the foot of a village in terms of keeping in touch with people and for general amenities.

Over the years you must have seen many changes take place in the region. Do you feel that it has become more attractive to tourists since you first visited?

I think it definitely has, it has really opened up to tourists and international visitors. Over the past 18 years we have really seen some changes. Back when we first started spending time at Casa Rosa there were few English speakers in the area and we knew of only one other foreign couple. Since those early days many more people come from abroad to stay, there are many more B&Bs, many more restaurants and quite a few hotels have sprung up. And of course, the more people that come to visit, the more interest there is in an area, so all of it put together has had a bit of a domino effect on tourism.  It’s also worth mentioning that the Regione has also invested a lot of money in advertising Le Marche and the individual provinces. There are some beautiful publicity videos that really capture just how special this area is.

Can you recommend to us your favourite places to visit in the region?

We are so grateful to have visited so many amazing places in the region over the years.  Going into the Sibillini Mountains is wonderful. We often used to visit Visso, although since the earthquake things have changed quite a lot, likewise with beautiful Norcia.

Castelluccio is well worth a visit too. At Casa Rosa we are also a stone’s throw from Assisi, the Frasassi Caves, and the incredible library in Macerata where you have to ask someone to enter and it’s just mind-blowingly beautiful. There is also the beautiful, just beautiful theatre in Macerata, lo Sferisterio, which is completely open air.

Casa Rosa is nestled in a peaceful and rural location in the countryside. What is so special about it?

This little spot looking over the valley is very special. When we bought our house we inherited a beautiful orchard and many olive trees. Three years ago, we hosted our first wedding at our house for our daughter Kate, who wanted the wedding to be amongst the olive trees. The area surrounding the olive grove was rather hilly, so after considering our options we decided to construct an amphitheatre in the grove itself to allow for a wedding party to easily and safely enjoy the area, without dealing with mud or any other unknowns.

That is quite a challenging decision. How did you go about constructing an amphitheatre?

The construction of the amphitheatre itself was quite a challenge, yes! We got everyone involved, friends flew out, and we had family members in hard hats and digger trucks! The entire experience escalated into an earth moving marathon, which turned into a mud bath at times. If anyone has ever excavated land they will know that far more comes out than you can ever imagine. We also had to plant grass, which made me panic! I was so worried about the grass not growing.

The wedding was a huge success and full of beautiful details. Did you work with local vendors?

Yes, we worked with our local vendors. The wine came from our local cantina Murola, Kate’s headdresses and flowers were made by our local florist, and our caterers came from up the road. The wedding planning was undertaken by Merry Le Marche, photographs by FrancescaFrancesca and the amazing music and dancing were provided by the boys from Tolentino Meco e il Clan dei belli dentro and DJ Pasquale Apicella. The local community really got involved in every way to help us. The priest from Montappone even lent us the benches from the church for the ceremony.

Our guests came from 11 different countries to attend the wedding and they all got to experience this wonderful region and its artisan traditions, it was truly very special.

What has living in Italy taught you about your own way of life?

A lot! In our experience as British people we realised pretty early on that we needed to take a step back and take a leaf out of the local’s book. Even if things seems to come together slowly, Italians, or I should say, Marchigiani, get things done, and they do it well. One thing we have learnt over the years, through the reconstruction of our house and spending a lot of time with the local people, is that perfection will be delivered, but it’ll be at the 11th hour. And that’s the beauty of it, that’s why we wanted to renovate a house in Italy. “Domani” does not necessarily mean tomorrow, it’s sometime in the future, but it will happen and when it does, you’ll be pleased that you chilled out and let it happen.

You must have some local specialities to recommend to us?

Yes, many! I adore Olive Ascolane! Our local restaurant La Carovana in Montappone serves them. We love spending our evenings at La Carovana. They were once reviewed by the New York Times, and over the years we have celebrated our birthday parties there and most recently arranged various pre and post wedding parties. We often go there to get takeaways and almost religiously go on Fridays for the fish night, where they serve the best calamari that you’ll ever eat. The restaurant is a lovely family run place and in recent years they have also opened a 12 bedroom boutique hotel (Palazzo Riccucci) in the village’s old town. The views are absolutely beautiful.

Do you have a long list of places you want to explore in Le Marche and beyond?

Yes, it is endless. Urbino is amazing and I’d go again many times. I’d also like to drive down to Puglia. But honestly, there is just so much to explore and see in our immediate area and then there’s the house, which just kind of sucks you in, it’s hard to leave it sometimes. Recently our friends from the village took us to San Benedetto del Tronto for dinner in Castello (paese alto) the pretty old town, which was beautiful and worth another visit. We also visited Torre di Palma for an outdoor concert, which is about an hour’s drive away.

What’s your favourite time of year to be at Casa Rosa?

May, my birthday month. The poppies are all out, our trees are laden with cherries and it’s not too hot. My second favourite time of the year is for olive harvesting in mid-October

What are the main things you wish you’d known about life in Le Marche when you started out your project?

Well as I said, the concept of time is quite different to ours [was]. You can’t stress about it. I used to fly out regularly to check on progress on the renovation and sometimes would despair at what I saw. But it all came together, but it was by their clock and not mine!

What would you say to anyone interested in moving to the region?

Do your homework. Be prepared to be part of a village. Involve yourself in village life and embrace it. Some people move there and don’t make any effort with the language or the people and unfortunately the locals tend to resent that.

Another big factor is that all of the above takes time. Italians don’t entertain like we do. We have been welcomed and honoured to be invited into people’s homes for dinner but that isn’t necessarily the done thing.

A major piece of advice I would give is that you can’t take your Anglo [insert nationality] stresses with you, nor your expectations. You have to go with the flow of the local way because ultimately, they know better.

We always ask this question and would love to know your opinion. It is said that Le Marche is one of Italy’s most sociable regions, do you agree?

Yes! I do actually. Not only are the Marchigiani really friendly, they also love to experience and celebrate their region or local area. There are many music concerts throughout the summer, sagre, hat festivals, fireworks, you name it. All the villages have their own special events celebrating something important in that area, such as a local food speciality or artisan product. The thing I love is that everybody goes and everyone is involved. Everyone embraces the traditions. Montappone has lots of thriving little businesses, which makes the atmosphere vibrant, there is always lots going on.

It always confirms it to me when anyone we invite to Casa Rosa falls in love with the area so much, they tell me that they want to stay forever.

If you are interested in staying or holding a small event at Casa Rosa, visit the website, or contact Lynette via Casa Rosa’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

Wedding photography by FrancescaFrancesca, house photography by Marco Biancucci exclusively for Casa Rosa.