We love to travel. We have travelled a lot before Little F was born and continue to travel no less now that he is with us. We were never fans of all inclusive packages (we only used this style of holidays once). My favourite holidays – the ones I have best memories from – are staying with friends (or in friends’ houses), staying in small villages and camping on tiny almost wild campsites. Apparently there is a name for less eventful, but more fulfilling holidays. It’s slow travel.
Many of our most memorable holidays are the ones where seemingly not much has happened. We didn’t tick off a huge list of sites and museums. We didn’t party like crazy every night. We didn’t even traverse a country in a week. And a lot of those holidays seem to happen in Italy.
Our first visit to Italy was about 10 years ago. We mostly stayed with my husband’s friend (and his now wife) or his family. We’ve visited Turin, hiked in the Alps, admired Sienna and briefly walked the streets on Genoa. But with all these grand and ancient cities and awe inspiring mountain views my favourite part was enjoying a few quiet days in Bagni San Filippo.
It’s a name you are unlikely to have heard of. It’s a tiny village in the province of Siena. What made the stay wonderful was a hot spring flowing into the stream, running along the village. It’s a natural spa! We stayed in my husband’s friend’s granddad’s (ufff) holiday home. It had a piano, a vine draped terrace to dine out and a pomegranate tree in the small courtyard. Peace, tranquillity and endless supply of hot water (it’s one of life’s little annoyances when your bath water goes cold before you’re ready to get out).
We were sad to find out that most of the hot springs have been redirected to feed a newly built spa (that explained presence of a few expensive cars on the street). What was once everyone’s to enjoy for free now can only be enjoyed by a few at a (steep) price.
London is full of Italians and I had the pleasure to work with quite a few. One of them became a friend and has generously offered for us to stay in his house, attached to his parent’s home – and this is the great bit – within a national park in Basilicata. It was a perfect place to take Little F for his first holiday, at tender age of 2 months.
It wasn’t trulli houses – the main tourist attraction of the area – but the local food which has made this holiday special
After a peaceful flight (Little F was awake but calm and taking things in) we stayed a couple of nights in Alberobello – the capital of Trulli houses. Our host turned out to be a huge food lover and very knowledgeable about local specialities. He introduced us to delights of taralli (pretzel-like snacks baked in an oven fired with almond husks), burrata (mozzarella with a soft centre of cream and soft mozzarella), caciocavallo (cheese shaped like a snowman or a figure of eight, because it is hanged to dry) and my favourite nodini mozzarella (little strips of mozzarella tied in knots). He also showed me how to make a local pasta shape – cavatelli.
Our host was so attentive and generous (with his time and money) that the first night it felt a little weird. I joked with Daddy that he will kill us in our sleep and steal our passports! He is either a lonely retired guy who rents out a room to holiday makers to get company, or he is a one-man-band ambassador for his region.
When we finally reached my friend’s parent’s home in Moliterno we received a warm welcome. His mum was wonderful with Little F – a true Italian nonna. We quickly settled into the small house and the next day we were ready to explore.
Parco Nazionale dell’Appennino Lucano is a relatively new park. It was only created 10 years ago and sadly there are no walking maps available. Unless you know a local shepherd to guide you on the trails, you are left with drives and short walks to admire the beautiful mountainous landscape.
Being in a village where people grow and make their own food is always refreshing after seeing shops full of convenience foods and ready meals in UK. Without a doubt our best meal of the holiday was home-made tomato sauce (made by nonna and stored in beer bottles) and dry bread (especially baked, and sold, by her friend for that purpose). The simplicity of preparation, the rich tomato flavour and the texture of bread going from crunchy to soggy in one mouthful was a revelation. Italian food is the best and the simplest cuisine, but you really must use the best and freshest ingredients.
The rediscovery of simplicity of good food was in many ways a bigger event during this Italian adventure, than visiting world famous Matera – a UNESCO city of cave dwellings where Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was filmed.
Our slow travels don’t always happen in Italy. We’ve spent a wonderful week in small nearly wild Lake District campsite with a stream running through it (I didn’t take a note of the name and could never find it again online – it’s now the stuff of legend for us). A few glorious days in Tyrol in a small campsite overlooking the Alps and a glacial lake (Am Plansee – this one I made sure to make a note of!). A couple of weeks in Mallorca in winter – yes, in winter – enjoying the sunshine, hiking paths and trying to buy locally caught prawns – not as easy as it may seem even though we stayed in Port de Soller (a working port). When we finally managed to get some they became one of Little F’s favourite foods along with olives. An unusual choice for an 18 month old.
Because I am Polish we also get to enjoy what this turistically underdiscovered country has to offer. On one occasion we have followed my friend’s suggestion and stayed some nights in a B&B (sort of) on a mountain top, in a village comprised of about 7 houses. Our hostesses’ main concern was that her 8 year old son did not come home until dark from playing outdoors in the local woods and meadows. This is in an era where all the other mothers complain about their children having too much screen time! We asked for peace and tranquillity and we seemed to have been transported in time. This magical place is called Studzionki (Stoo-jon-keeh). As soon as you step through the door you have a choice of hiking trails at your feet, and if you come at the right time of year, you can pick wild blueberries and strawberries to sweeten your walk.
So, what is slow travel? For us it’s all about taking time to get to know the culture of the country we are visiting. For us big part of that culture is food: what is eaten, how and when. It’s taking a walk to take in the sights, smells and sounds. The smell of local soil and mixture of plants is unique for each place. It’s the little things, and not the grand brick and mortar monuments, which make a place special. It’s great to have a knowledgeable local host, who can open the door into the community, as coming as a tourist you are very much the outsider.
The best holidays are not necessarily the ones you can speak volumes about (boring your interlocutor), but the ones you took time to listen to your inner voice and do what it tells you. And it’s unlikely to be rush rush rush.
I have been invited to share my thoughts on slow travel by Inntravel – they have introduced me to this term. And slow travel is something they do, because not everyone has friends in every country, who can share the best the local culture and community has to offer. Apart from having great pleasure in revisiting my favourite travel memories I have also been compensated by Inntravel to create this post (my thoughts and opinions are my own and entirely honest). My only hidden agenda is that Inntravel will include Poland in their offer and help people discover beauty of my country.