Highlights from Montefegatesi
1. The Home-stay
Laura, Jimmy and little Isol and Esme live in a breathtakingly beautiful village perched high in the mountains of Bagni di Lucca, about 1 hours drive from Lucca in Tuscany. The village is called Montefegatesi and is about the most remote place we have ever stayed in. In the summer, it is said to be teeming with tourists, extended family of the locals and holiday house owners. But after the long, warm summer days have passed, the houses are emptied, the streets are bare and there is not a single sound to be heard. Not even a rooster heralding the day, or the sweet chirping of a bird. It was so quiet that some mornings we woke up and wondered whether the whole town had deserted us. It took a while to get used to, but in the end we loved the peace, the quiet and the myriad of thoughts that filled our heads instead of noise. We also got to spend a lot of time praying…the silence resonated in our very souls as did Psalm 46:10, ‘Be still and know that I am God”.
View from our room, Montefegatesi
Montefegatesi from far away
The house, at the top of the mountain
A walk along the mountain road
Beautiful country side, Montefegatesi
Sunset: View from our room
2. The Work
We worked on different projects on this workaway experience. Owen was mostly outside doing ‘manly, muscle-building, get-a-bit-of-elbow-grease-into-it, kinda stuff. He stripped the bark off about 50 felled tree trunks to build a retaining wall, levelled some ground to eventually dig a pool, cut fire wood, moved heavy pot plants, painted the inside of the workaway house and basically did any odd jobs around the house. Where Owen was positioned was on the side of a hill, he was near the top of the mountain, so he had wonderful panoramic views over the valley while he worked. I on the other hand, spent most of my working time in the family house, helping with house-work, sorting out and organising cupboards (which is actually really fun and satisfying) as well and doing some cooking and playing with Isol (5) and Esme (2). On my first day, I was asked to wash and chop a whole bunch of fresh veggies from the garden and to turn them into a soup. I was in heaven!
Our host Laura and her daughter Esme
Owen stripping logs for a retaining wall
3. The Food
Our accommodation and meals differed slightly in this home-stay, as we stayed in a separate house opposite Laura and Jimmy’s house. We had our own kitchen and they filled our fridge with food for us to cook with. We had lots of fun creating feasts with our workaway flat mate, Kate (from England) and our workaway neighbours, Anna (from Sweden) and Elena (from Spain). Most nights we would all cook a dish and share it together at either house. Kate was a wonderful vegetarian cook so I learnt some wonderful recipes from her and Elena showed me how to make an authentic Spanish Tortilla with potatoes and eggs. Anna utilised different skills by giving me a hair cut, for which I was in desperate need of! I was beginning to have an uncanny resemblance to the wild man from borneo!
We were lucky enough to get a pasta cooking course from Laura’s Mother-in-law Nonna and that evening, we were invited to their house for an authentic Italian feast where we ate the home-made fettuccine done in two sauces, mushroom and cheese and typical ragù style.
Owen was invited to go hunting with the local Italian men early one morning, but alas they didn’t shoot anything…otherwise we may have eaten wild boar or deer for dinner too!
One of our many Italian feasts with the other workawayers
Baked Gnocchi with Grilled Steak and Balsamic Roasted Onions
Chargrilled Pepper and Mozzarella Salad with Pork Saltimbocca
4. Bagni di Lucca and Lucca
Montefegatesi is perched proudly upon a mountain and the only transport down is a bus that is driven by the means of a hairy goat, or a hitchhike ride with a local who drives like a blind, bearded and slightly batty hairy goat. Either way, you will stumble off the bus at Bagni di Lucca wondering whether it was worth risking you life for. Bagni di Lucca is a picturesque series of towns along a river about 30min from the beautiful walled city of Lucca. Lucca is a wondrous place, full of little streets that all lead into the piazza, the centre of town. There are authentic Trattorias serving freshly made gnocchi and pasta, quaint shops selling local pottery and art and bicycle rental shops on every corner. We hired a tandem bike and rode around the city wall which was lovely. Riding through the narrow, people filled streets was a challenge though, one Owen took on with his natural enthusiasm and desire to overcome every obstacle, be it large or small. We had a delicious homemade meal at Gigi’s Trattoria consisting of seafood gnocchi, pasta with ragù and rosemary and roasted garlic potatoes. The simple rich flavours mingled tantalisingly on our tastebuds.
Lucca: A walled city
Beautiful Merry-go-round, Lucca
Riding around Lucca with Anna and Elena
The Piazza, Lucca
5. Road-trip through Tuscany
We left Montefegatesi and travelled to Florence, the city of Art. Florence has a certain charm about it. Beautiful architecture around every corner, museums filled to the brim with historically significant paintings and sculptures, wizened accordion playing buskers on the cobbled streets…and something else. Something you can’t quite pin point. I love this city. We hired a car and spent four days travelling from Florence to Rome. We stayed the night in a monastery in Volterra, and spent the next day exploring the quaint (albeit rather touristy) towns of San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Siena. We stumbled upon some gorgeous airBNB accommodation north of Siena and decided to spent two nights there. The couple Valeria and Simone went above and beyond their roles as hosts to make us feel like friends rather then guests. They even took the time to teach us Tuscan cooking, and we enjoyed a three course meal with them on the first night…some of the best food we’ve had in Italy. We drove to Rome via Perugia for one reason alone. Not to see the sights or sounds of Perugia or to learn about the history of the place…but wholly to experience the euro chocolate festival….with half of Europe it seemed. It was chocolaty, rich, full of calories and potential dental cavities….but boy it was good. We drove to Rome with full confidence in google maps, only to be devastatingly let down. They say “All roads lead to Rome”…but they don’t say what to do once you get to Rome. Every street is one way disaster, the whole city is a maze. I can only say, the whole experience has strengthened our marriage more then we ever thought it could.
Il Duomo il Firenze (Florence Cathedral)
Florence in all it’s splendor
David in all his splendor, Florence
Charming busker, Florence
Staying in a Monastery, Tuscany
Our little hired Fiat 500, Tuscany
Tuscany in it’s autumn hues
A Tuscan farmhouse
Typical Tuscan trees
The town of towers, San Gimignano
View of the Piazza from one of the towers, San Gimignano
Ancient wall art, San Gimignano
Euro chocolate festival, Perugia
6. Pasta cooking course with Nona
While in Montefegatesi, we were lucky enough to learn how to make pasta from a real life Italian Nonna. She couldn’t speak English, we couldn’t speak Italian….but somehow we understood eachother. In each region of Italy, pasta is made differently. Even local towns have specific ways of making pasta. This is how Nonna from Montefegatesi makes Tagliatelle. When cooked al dente and tossed in a tasty sauce….it’s just divine.
Nonna’s retro pasta maker
Pasta flour 00
Nonna’s Pasta Recipe
1kg Flour OO (Pasta flour)
Oil, good splash
Milk (approx. 1 cup)
1. Pour the flour onto a clean surface, make a well in the centre and crack in the eggs. Add a splash of oil and some milk.
2. Using your fingers, start to mix the eggs and liquids starting from the inside and gradually incorporating more flour from the edges as you go. Add more more if it’s too dry, or more flour if it’s too wet.
3. Knead the dough for 5-10minutes, or until it’s smooth and springs back when you press it.
4. Fasten the pasta machine to the edge of a table or bench top, turn the dial to number 1 to start off with. Cut off pieces of pasta dough about 1 inch thick and put it through the pasta machine once only. Continue with the rest of the pasta dough, making sure the pasta sheets are well floured. They don’t need to be perfectly shaped, just make sure they are holding their shape and not tearing. Don’t pass the sheets of pasta through more then once or twice, as it makes it tough.
5. Turn the dial to number 4 and pass through the sheets of pasta, cutting in half if too long.
6. When all the sheets are done, pass through the tagliatelle or fettuccini setting on the pasta machine and place onto a floured tray. Leave to dry for a few hours, and cook in a boiling pot of salted water until al dente. Serve with the sauce of your choice.