A little over a year ago I was planning a trip to visit the Le Marche region of Italy. Not being at all familiar with this locale, I was unsure as to what areas we should visit and where we should stay. I knew we wanted to make a stop in Urbino, but decided to stay somewhere a little smaller and so we chose the town of Urbania. After some research and paying (by means of a bank transfer-the only thing they would accept to hold our room) we had a place reserved. Too late to change our plans I then I stumbled on the website for a place called La Tavola Marche and I knew this is where we should be staying. We were enchanted by the countryside here and vowed to one day return and seek out this place. I have been very interested in what these two young Americans have being doing and so I’ve have been following their blog and thought it might be fun to hear from them about their adventure there. I introduce you to Ashley and Jason, owners of an agriturismo and cooking school.
When did you and Jason first decide that you wanted to have an inn in Italy?
We had stayed at numerous other agriturismo’s throughout Italy & enjoyed the atmosphere of staying on a working farm. Its exactly what we were looking for – a chance to work from home, together, slow down & enjoy life more!
I actually remember just the opposite! One day on our first trip to Italy, we were sitting in a lovely little hotel on the island of Ischia & we were watching the inn keepers work like mad – the whole family, all day – mopping the tile floors in the morning & making dinner in the afternoon & evening – we looked at each other & said – “I would never want to do that!” Be careful what you proclaim! Because within a few months – that’s all I wanted to do!
I also love the idea of staying in a relaxing beautiful setting & learning to prepare this delicious food, taking home more than just memories, but no the ability to recreate a bit of Italy at home.
We were open to change & ready to create a new life – that was different & exciting, more than the grind of commuting to work & “keeping up with the Jones’s” If we were ever going to do something crazy, this was the time to do it!
Can you tell us a little but about your and Jason’s background that prepared you for this undertaking?
After years of travel and eating our way through every state and country we visited, we decided to share their love for food with others in this unique way.
Jason was the executive chef at a private restaurant on the upper west side of Manhattan. He has over 12 years of high-end culinary experience in San Francisco and New York City, an education at the French Culinary Institute, training with culinary legends including Jacques Pepin, and a passion to cook for anyone with an appetite. Combining his classic French technique and Italian cucina povera makes for a delicious unpretentious meal where the ingredients are the stars.
He would never tell you himself, but before opening a cooking school in Italy, Jason was an Executive Chef at numerous restaurants in NYC as well working for Dean & Deluca and Dufour Pastry Kitchen. He has served dignitaries & celebrities, but enjoys most cooking simple dishes with local ingredients.
He continues his education almost daily by chatting up the old ladies in town & swapping recipes! The conversation always turns to cooking in Italy – what did you eat, how did you make it…
Ashley, a hospitality professional and host extraordinaire, has a knack for making guests feel right at home. She honed her customer service skills in the dining & hospitality industry, working with the prestigious Private Clubs & Resort company ClubCorp for 10 years
How did you decide on the Le Marche region? Did you research any other areas?
We researched the region thoroughly & returned several times in different seasons. We loved it every time. The changes of the seasons brought different tastes to the table.
Northern Le Marche was a perfect fit for us – The rollings hills, winding roads & farmhouses are similar to Tuscany but more undiscovered – we didn’t want to move to Italy to speak English. We were ready for a complete change & cultural education. The people here are fantastic! Super friendly, patient when we stumble through the language, true neighbors & a real feel of community ( I think that is what we like the most – being party of a community…) Our first visit in Urbania was in the winter – we were renting a place in Cagli for the week, looking at properties with different agents. One night we were heading back from a day of house hunting & just happened upon Urbania – we saw the town lite up from afar & cars parked lining the main road – everyone was heading into town – we had no idea what for. I looked at Jason with a huge smile & without saying anything he immediatly he pulled into the next open parking spot! We jumped out & happily headed into the unknown…The town was full for La Bafana fest – all the men dressed as ugly old women, a band … we were swept up in the lively festivities on a cold January evening….I can’t believe that we now live in that very town.
What led you to Piobbico?
We found our farmhouse surely by luck! We orginally were coming out to buy a beautiful old mill in Mercantino Conca just north of us now. The deal fell through. We were stuck – our apt. in Brooklyn was totally in boxes, we had already quit our jobs & were ready to move in a couple months. So we drank some wine & regrouped. On the last day were here for that trip we asked our agent – do you know anyone willing to work with us?! She knew who we should meet- she said he’s just crazy enough!
We jumped in the car & headed towards Piobbico down a coutry road littered with holes, surrounded by farmland & rolling hills. We came upon this huge stone farmhouse with endless views & thought “this is amazing”. There is no one in sight, we sit on over 500 acres (or 250 hectres) with hills, woods, 2 rivers that meet, the only sound is the winds through the trees, the birds chatting & the deers barking at dusk.
We met the owner, Dominico Fusciani, we knew immediatly – he had honest eyes, a huge smile, liked to crack jokes which we didn’t understand yet couldn’t help but join in the laughter. He said that Jason reminded him of an old friend & we all just hit it off. After a quick tour of the house, we sat at the kitchen table & sealed the deal with a clink of glasses – only after about 20 minutes, seriously!
All the preperation, hours of work on the other house was out the door, we couldn’t dwell on the time lost, we had to take a chance & move forward!
Driving away we couldn’t help but crack up hysterically, that we put all our eggs in this basket in the last half hour. We had to believe that this would work. We thought, are we crazy?! What the hell, why not!
Did you have friends living in Italy before you moved there? Anyone giving you advice?
NO friends, we didn’t really know anyone at all – everyone & everything was totally new!
We did research a ton & got a lot of great advice on http://www.expatsinitaly.com
How did you go about finding your property?
Through an estate agent.
What did you have to do to the property to get it ready to open for business and how long did this take you?
The structure was fully restored in 1997. It was in great condition & it needed a good cleaning. Knowing that moving here and starting a business was a enough of a challenge- adding restoration of a a farmhouse was biting off a bit more than we could chew. We painted, scrubbed stone walls endlessly and did the little fixes that needed to be done. We are really lucky because there were no surprises – no major work to be done. Other than a bit of landscaping, pulling some weeds & starting an herb garden – the property was ready to go! We have created an orto – a large vegetable garden. Our projects list is endless!
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
1st – our visa in the States & the bureaucracy.
2nd – the language –
3rd – the actuality of creating a business & est. a company in italy
Is there anything you would have done differently?
How were you received by the locals in the beginning and from reading your blog, I can see now that you are part of the community.
We are really sooo very lucky! We are proud residents of Piobbico, Sant’Angelo in Vado & Urbania (our 3 neighboring towns) I think it is obvious how happy & thankful we are to be here. When we first arrived we baked pies for our neighbors along our road, introducing ourselves. Also we stick out! Everyone seemed to know who we were right away – the Americans! It was like they held a town meeting upon our arrival.
You get in return what you project. We are the so thankful for the reception we have received. We have wonderful neighbors & friends and incredibly they are all supportive & eager to help! I also think we are a bit of a novelty – and they think we are slightly crazy – they say- no, no, italians move to america – not americans moving to our tiny town! especially going from NYC (I love it when they say in english with a heavy accent – the big apple!) plus we are young, under 30 without our parents – we are considered orphans! So we must be taken in!!
We live in an area without a lot of foreigners, and we are not over-run with tourists, thus many locals are unjaded.
We get involved in the activities of the communtiy – we teach english once a week for locals, we attend festivals & participate in events whenever possible.
we made more friends in the first 8 months living here,than we did in nyc in almost 8 years!
We were warned by an Italian friend when we first arrived that we may not be welcomed with the same enthusisam that we have, but luckily that has not been the case.
We try our best in fumbled Italian, we always smile & take the time to chat… I don’t know what it is exactly but I am thankful for it! We are proud of where we live & the people of this area, that is why we are so excited to share it with our guests.
this question is so hard – it really touches me…I dont’ know….I thought we’d always be considered strainieri (strangers) – please note that in Italy if you move from a Lombardy to Le Marche, you would be considered strainieri as well – I just thought – we’ll put it out there, where our heart on our sleeve, jump right in! how could they not like us?!
It seems that there are so many wonderful things to love about living in Italy, what would you say that you miss about the US?
Access to high speed internet at home. Our business is mainly web driven and we currently connect through the cell phone at a mind numbing slow speed.
Ethnic food, don’t get me wrong the food here is out of this world! But sometimes you crave Mexican, curry, or something different. Italy’s version of ‘ethic food’ is eating from a different region.
If you could give one piece of advice to those of us who would love to live in Italy, what would it be?
Do it! Don’t give up – we moved here within a year & a half of making the decision! If you have any questions email me!
Dive in face first with research – read everything you can get your hands on from expat sites to fun Italian Magazines, going to local Italian events in your town, taking language lessons – tutti!
What would you like to say about La Tavola Marche to potential guests?
You are invited to la tavola – the table – the hub of Italian life!
La Tavola Marche is a secluded 300+ year old stone farmhouse Agriturismo set on over 500 acres of rolling hills, farmland & truffle filled woods. Wood beam ceilings, tile floors & cozy fireplaces remind you that you can only be in one place – bella Italia! Enjoy local specialties & cook with the seasons as we teach the traditional recipes of cucina povera (peasant cooking). Or if you prefer, relax by the mineral water swimming pool in a hurry to go nowhere. If you are willing to muddy your feet, we will guide you off the beaten path where you will experience Italy at its roots!
La Tavola Marche is located in the picturesque region of Le Marche, Italy, filled with rolling hills, medieval castles & a rich culinary history nestled between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea.
Our cooking classes – These are hands-on, roll up your sleeves, dive-right on in classes! Totally relaxed, with a feeling of cooking at home with friends, feel free to ask any questions along the way. Half day & full day classes are available. Whenever possible we like to custom create a class based on what our guests are most eager to learn. From rolling pasta by hand into paper thin sheets to making sausages from scratch anything is possible! You can expect to have a glass of wine in your hand the whole time!
Who would be interested:
Someone looking for a bit of peace & quiet, the natural beauty of Le Marche, take a hike into the hills along the trekking paths, or strolling..
Someone who has already visited Rome, Milan, the big cities & really looking to see authentic Italy, away from the tour buses & deep into the countryside.
Also a culinary tourist – a traveler that shares a passion in food, cooking or not! But enjoys a good meal, made with local fresh ingredients. Also a traveler looking for a bit of an adventure of the unknown – not many locals speak English, and if it’s harvest season & there are nuts to picked or the vines down the street are juicy & heavy, then it’s time to pick! Join in, grab a basket, lend a hand – have a great story to tell when you return home!
Guests can explore the sprawling hiking trails or relax by the mineral water swimming pool, in a hurry to go nowhere. The famed black truffle is found on the property and if you are lucky enough to visit in the fall, you can taste its unique flavor. The surrounding wooded areas are perfect for those who enjoy excursions into the forest to gather wild berries, delicious wild mushrooms, or even participate in the search for fragrant truffles under old oak trees with the guidance of an expert truffle hunter. La Tavola Marche offers a vacation spent in close contact with nature and the tradition of times gone by.
I would like to offer a big thank you to Ashley and Jason for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their journey here. I know where we’ll be staying when we finally make it back to this special corner of Italy.