Holiday ideas

AgriStories: Agriturismo Valtidone Verde

We went to visit Agriturismo Valtidone Verde in Zavattarello (Pavia), with our special reporter Adrienne Baumann. 

As evening descends, the hills surrounding Agriturismo Valtidone Verde burst into song. Sopranos pierce the wide blue sky with high-pitched notes, while low-toned baritones fill the green valley with deep refrains. In the background, an ensemble of winds hums softly. Not a person nary an instrument is in sight. Sunset’s serenade is an impromptu arrangement of birdsong, lowing cows, braying mules, rustling branches and the occasional ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ of an ill-timed rooster.

The all-natural orchestra accompanies breathtaking views of Val Tidone, a lush valley surrounded by densely wooded hills stretching as far as the eye can see. Once in a while, the melody is joined by the faint sound of a distant car, proof that the faster tempo of city life plays on just a stone’s throw away.

And that’s exactly the allure of this hillside retreat in the Oltrepò Pavese province. Located just over an hour from metropolitan Milan, it’s an easy-to-reach haven for both city-dwellers and tourists. The serenity and slower way of life is something Ludmilla Wolf, owner of Agriturismo Valtidone Verde, hopes more people will come to discover.

Born and raised in Milan, she worked for a multinational corporation but spent weekends on the farm helping her mom, who opened the agritourism in the late 1990s. When her company was bought out in 2009, at exactly the same time her mother was considering selling the property, Ludmilla and her husband made a life-changing choice: to leave the city they’d long called home and move permanently to the countryside.

Uprooting her young daughters and drastically altering the family’s lifestyle didn’t come without hardship, both financially and logistically, but Ludmilla has no regrets. “It’s a question of values, of priorities,she notes. “Here I’m grounded in nature and that makes me feel at peace and alive.

At Valtidone Verde, Ludmilla carries on her mom’s long-time commitment to organic farming. Grapes, cherries, pears, strawberries, kiwi and other seasonal fruit, all grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, are harvested and turned into delicious homemade jams. Local organic wheat is stone ground and transformed into loaves of freshly baked bread, whose flavor is enhanced by a century-old lievito madre, or “mother yeast”, affectionately called Vera. Kefir grains are added to fresh organic milk from neighboring cows to make yogurt rich in probiotics.

In addition to a healthy homemade breakfast, guests at Valtidone Verde will appreciate the agritourism’s commitment to sustainability around the property, and the clock. Solar panels, water heating fireplaces and low watt lightbulbs save energy, tanks collect rain and water run-off, food waste becomes compost and only natural soaps and cleaning products are used. In the rooms, there are no televisions and at night WiFi is turned off, inviting guests to find alternative entertainment like stargazing, fireside chats or a game of chess.

An accredited kinesiology teacher, Ludmilla offers her visitors demonstrations and hosts workshops at the farmhouse. The therapeutic approach to well-being, which focuses on muscle monitoring to identify and correct physical and emotional imbalances, is all part of Ludmilla’s holistic approach to hospitality. “This is a place where people can really unplug and destress,” she emphasizes. “My hope is that they truly find themselves here and rediscover their balance in rhythm with nature.

On the horizon, the small medieval hamlet of Zavattarello beckons. Named one of Italy’s “Borghi più belli d’Italia” (loveliest villages), it’s home to Castello del Verme, a medieval fortress open for visits on the weekend as well as evening tours and annual events. Ludmilla is happy to organize horseback riding excursions for her guests at a farm just down the road and she has loads of advice on the best places to go in Oltrepò Pavese for wine tasting, hiking, swimming and mountain bike riding, as well as where to eat authentic local cuisine. Her perfect English often comes in handy too, both day-to-day or on pre-arranged guided tours.

Whether a weekend getaway or longer, a stay at Valtidone Verde feels like visiting long-lost relatives. While Ludmilla’s husband works remotely from his computer in the living room, Lidia, their 15-year-old daughter, plays barefoot in the grass with the family’s two golden retrievers. In the kitchen, her father peels potatoes while her mom scours a cookbook in search of a recipe for the just-foraged mushrooms they’ll soon have for lunch. Ludmilla herself hangs freshly washed sheets out to dry in the sun, pausing to admire the panoramic view. From the expression on her face, it’s crystal clear: there’s no place she’d rather be.

Ludmilla’s ‘pancrêpes’ recipe:

100 gr. mother yeast (or liquid sourdough)

200 gr. milk

100 gr. flour

2 eggs

Prepare the batter the evening before serving. Mix the yeast and milk and then add the eggs and flour. Stir until the batter has a creamy density (some lumps are okay). Leave at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to activate the yeast, then put in the fridge overnight. In the morning, take out the batter and let it return to room temperature. Pour batter by ladleful into a pan over medium heat. Cook until the liquid starts to dry out and surface is bubbly. Flip briefly, then serve hot with homemade jam or the topping of your choice.

Photos and text by Adrienne Baumann ©

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