This article first appeared in our Women: time for action issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 02 July 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
When Bob and Ian decided to swap their London home for a dilapidated farmhouse in rural Italy, they were determined to build a holiday rental business with sustainability at its heart.
Bob had returned from visiting a friend in Rome with tales of Le Marche – ‘a region more beautiful, less touristy and more authentic than Tuscany’ – and Ian took no more persuading.
On their first visit to Le Marche in 2003, Ian and Bob found the perfect project: a farm that stood in a sunflower field with only a magnificent fig tree for company. Fig Farm – or Casal dei Fichi – was born.
‘The farm had been abandoned for 30 years and needed a lot of work’, Ian said, ‘but the views were stunning and everything else could be changed.’
Beyond the shell the entire building – from foundations to roof – had to be replaced, but this presented an opportunity to combine modern technologies with traditional efficiency features.
‘Stone walls, half a metre thick, protect the farmhouse from the summer sun’, Bob tells us. ‘This meant our decision not to install air conditioning is one we have never regretted; our 60% return rate suggests that our guests agree.’
At Casal dei Fichi sustainability goes beyond the structure. The spacious apartments make self-catering the luxury option, but thoughtful details help guests to minimise their waste.
Filtered water, still or sparkling, is available in each apartment, along with a Jerry water bottle to take to the beach. The loos are stocked with Who Gives a Crap toilet paper – a company which, like Jerry, funds sanitation projects in developing countries.
Over 100 indigenous trees have been planted, and today Casal dei Fichi’s grounds are bursting with an abundance of organic produce. Guests are encouraged to gather eggs from the hens, fruit from the orchard, organic vegetables and salad from the garden – and to dress it all with oil made from the olive trees.
‘Sustainability is a journey and our guests are welcome to accompany us for a few steps while they enjoy their stay’, Bob tells us, ‘even if it’s just filling one of our reusable bottles at an excellent local vineyard for a guilt-free tipple.’
An indisputable highlight of any visit to Italy is food, whether that means a seafood lunch overlooking the stunning Conero bay, ‘slow food’ dinner in an ancient palazzo or pizza on a terrazza.
Ian and Bob have partnered with some of their favourite restaurants to secure a discount for their guests. ‘We add our contribution to organisations like Ecologi, which is spearheading the global reforestation challenge by planting indigenous trees in developing countries’, Ian explains.
Collaborating restaurants gain regular customers and a great sense of achievement. To date, this initiative has planted over 2,000 trees and
eliminated 200,000kg of CO2, while providing employment and helping to combat deforestation.
‘Our guests can pride themselves that simply by eating delicious meals they have helped contribute to a fantastic cause’, Bob says. ‘This is the reason Vacation World Rental Summit rated us top for Excellent Guest Experience.’
As a member of Tourism Declares, Ian and Bob must state their targets for Casal dei Fichi and publish progress towards them. Their commitment to sustainability has brought accolades rolling in; in 2020 Casal dei Fichi won the inaugural Shortyz Eco Award and gained Green Tourism Gold.
‘Over 500 five-star reviews consistently quote our environmental passion as a highlight of the stay’, Ian says. ‘We couldn’t ask for a greater accolade.’