BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 20 Nov'14

JARVIS SMITH VISITS THE SUNFLOWERS IN ITALY

After such a beautiful summer, and having spent the winter months in India, we didn’t want to go too far for a summer holiday; somewhere just a few hours away would be perfect. We wanted tranquility, outstanding beauty, sunshine and heart-warming character. Italy or France?

Of course there are loads of options in Europe, so I started searching online. Italy kept playing on my mind and seemed a good idea; I’d heard glorious things about Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast, but for some reason it was Umbria — right in the middle of Italy — that kept calling.

Sunflowers of Bargiano

I narrowed my search to a privately owned property called Girasoli di Bargiano — ‘Sunflowers of Bargiano’. It was located near the famous town of Orvieto, Allerona, on the border between Lazio and Tuscany. It’s near the nature reserve of Val Monte Meana and Peglia — an area populated by wild animals such as deer, wild boar, hares and pheasants — halfway between Rome and Florence.

Within a few kilometers there are tourist destinations such as Bolsena (with its beautiful lake) and Corby (with its stunning castle), as well as Città della Pieve, Assisi, Perugia, Gubbio, Todi, Viterbo, Pienza and Siena — not to mention the renowned spas of Chianciano and San Casciano dei Bagni.

We flew to Rome from London; my fiancée, Mum, six-year-old daughter and I jumped into a hired car and, in just over an hour, arrived on top of a hill in the dead of the night — with the Milky Way lighting up the sky above us.

The manager, Njambi, had stayed up to wait for us — a lovely (and completely unexpected) gesture at 1am. Thankfully she spoke English, as our Italian left a little to be desired. Could we have some wine, please? And out came a bottle of local Chianti.

The farmhouse

The property was stunning: a converted farmhouse made from gorgeous local stone, solid wooden beams and stacks of original features. We took the wine off to our room; by this time my daughter, Sophia, was asleep so we kicked back with a deep sense of peace and quiet.

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The next day we woke to glorious sunshine beaming through the wooden shutters on the windows; we flung them open and my jaw nearly hit the ground. The view was breathtaking. Mamma Mia.

Breakfast was served on the patio and accompanied by an even more stunning view of the panoramic countryside, with sweeping hills and gothic buildings extending out into the distance. My spirit felt like it had expanded to maximum potential, like the biggest, deepest breath I’d ever taken, my energy field running wild with no boundary. Not many places make me feel like this so quickly, but this place was like magic.

The owner, Claudio, was a very fine gentleman — full of warmth and smiles. ‘Good-a-morning’, he said. ‘You happy? You happy?’ We all laughed and confirmed that yes, we were indeed happy — to which he replied, ‘You happy? I’m happy!’, and that was the theme for the rest of the holiday. As long as we were happy, then Claudio continued to smile all day long.

The grounds

After a satisfying breakfast of Italian breads, local jams, eggs and dark, rich coffee, we went to explore the garden. We checked out the large swimming pool, which we had to ourselves for most of the week, and admired the 120 olive and various fruit trees. Sophia was in her element when she spotted the goats, sheep, pigs, geese, puppies and other animals.

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An old tool shed on the grounds housed an ancient cistern to collect rainwater from the surface of the roof of the 700-metre farmhouse, which was surrounded by around 12 acres of land — four of which were arable with the rest left covered with forests.

The nearest houses were across the valleys on neighbouring hills, and we could see the occasional car bumping along the old Roman roads that cut across the green mounds.

We absolutely fell in love with this place, and Claudio said it was for sale. He had renovated the home for his family and, now they had all flown the nest, he felt it was simply too big and wanted to move on.

The fantasy

We’ll buy it! Well, he said, if you have €1.2million, it’s yours. I was amazed at the price considering what you’d get for a similar budget in some parts of the UK. Still, we’re not exactly millionaires — but this place would be perfect for anyone who is and would like to move abroad to a beautiful and expansive rural environment.

It’d be perfect for retreats — I could imagine a yoga session on the patio for at least 20. There are enough rooms for 24 to sleep comfortably, plus a well-equipped kitchen and spacious dining area. As far as I could see, the farmhouse had everything we needed for the alternative lifestyle we so badly want.

Italy’s ‘most dramatic city’

We did a little bit of sight-seeing but, to be honest, we were not in rush to leave this haven. The gothic city of Orvieto is a must; it well and truly lives up to the title of ‘the most dramatic city in Italy’.

We had a real treat when we visited; yes, the pasta was fantastic — but while we were high on top of the town looking out at all the beautiful lights way in the distance, the blood-red Moon popped over the horizon.

Because we were so high it felt like we could see through the illusion of distance and space; the Moon was absolutely huge and felt so close — I had never seen anything like it before and probably never will again. Absolutely amazing: an anomaly and visual experience I will appreciate for the rest of my life.

Lago di Bolsena

Our only other trip — apart from eating out on the best pasta and pizza euros could buy — was to Lake Bolsena. It was my birthday and Claudio had promised to take us out on his boat; a picnic and a swim in the lake were both necessary.

I can’t wait to visit Claudio and Girasoli di Bargiano again — not only to experience the chilled white wine, fresh melon and Claudio’s hand-cooked pasta, but to live with such a vast and expanded awareness of consciousness, with my eyes fully open. It was a rare treat indeed, and one I want to experience again and again.

TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT AVAILABILITY, RATES AND THE PROPERTY ITSELF, VISIT GIRASOLIDIBARGIANO.COM.