The idea is as ingenious as it is charming: In order to keep their little village in the countryside alive, the people of Portico di Romagna have turned it into a hotel – BRIGITTE author Christine Dohler has checked into this “Albergo Diffuso”.
Albergo diffuso? Anything but ordinary
Where is my bed again? In the darkness, after a dinner full of pasta, I stumble across the medieval cobbled streets. In Portico di Romagna, the shutters are collapsed, and I really can not remember in which of the houses my suitcase is. All I know is that my room was rustically charming, with dark wood and whitewashed walls, and somehow smelled of history. It can not be that difficult, after all there is only one main street in this village …
Anyone who sleeps in an “Albergo Diffuso”, does not return to any accommodation, that is finally clear to me. The alley counts as a hotel corridor, the market square acts as a lobby, and the pub is the hotel bar.
Photographer Julia Rotter and I needed two hours from Bologna airport to Emilia-Romagna this morning. Our goal: We want to be part of an Italian village with 400 inhabitants.
Portico di Romagna is located in the mountains between Forlì and Florence, idyllic on the tiny river of Montone. What we notice very quickly there: the bell tower towering over all the buildings, which sounds as if it were still ringing by hand, the absence of hustle and bustle and the friendly residents of a retirement home, sitting on benches in front of the front door, until the evening bingo Play on the marketplace, to which we are cordially invited.
An entire village becomes a hotel – and thereby revived
So far, so unspectacular. What makes this place so special? He was converted into a hotel 13 years ago. The reception is located in an old palazzo converted into a restaurant with guest rooms. All around you can either stay overnight in the former butcher’s shop, under the belfry or in an apartment with a romantic garden where once Dante’s supposed muse Beatrice used to live. There is space for up to 55 guests and there are also apartments for families. And so every year 3,500 visitors of the “Albergo Diffuso” populate the streets.
The villagers offer guests accommodation in their parents’ homes, which have been passed on for generations. For example, Bruno, the pensioner, who is happy when tourists move into the apartment in which he grew up. His parents are long dead and without a visitor the flat would be empty.
“Thanks to the tourists, the rooms are revived,” says Bruno, opening the windows so that we can feel the fresh wind blowing here.
And indeed we would like to sit down immediately at the table with flowers or let the view from the balcony into the green hills.
In many picturesque spots in Italy , the question has been asked for years how one could save the place from the desertion of the boys before the departure of the boys. An Italian tourism consultant finally had the brilliant idea: What if you made the whole village to stay !?
Albergo Diffuso means “Scattered Hotel”, and there are now more than 100 in Italy, each one different from the other. Some are more luxurious, the others follow the eco-approach, but all fulfill the same conditions: the inhabitants themselves have taken the initiative; they ensure that the guests get food and contact the locals; nothing must be rebuilt, the original structure of the place must be used, and the individual rooms should not be further than 150 meters from the “reception”. There is always a permanent contact person. And all residents have a similar wish: They want to bring the world into their little village, so they do not have to leave it.
This is where real master chefs cook
Our “caregivers” are Marisa Raggi and her husband Gianni Cameli. While the 64-year-old Marisa is still working, Gianni has already handed over the kitchen to his sons Massimiliano, 44, and Matteo, 41.
With a top restaurant and renting the rooms, they have made an existence here: Gianni helps in the restaurant, Marisa runs the service, and three grandchildren play football with the young guests. And we should now belong to it for a few days.
Massimiliano and Matteo have learned the fine art of cooking at the Paul Bocuse Institute and cooked in houses like the world-famous “Noma” in Copenhagen. They would find a job everywhere, but they want to stay here in their village, which is certainly not as picturesque as Florence, but home. All of them could not survive without the holidaymakers in Portico di Romagna.
Some tourists stayed forever – because of love
Once a week, the locals organize a party on the market square, sometimes a giant event with 20 chefs and 600 international and regional guests. “It’s amazing what such a small place can do!” Enthuses Matteo. No comparison to the village where I grew up myself and left because it was so boring there.
“More than 53 nations were already visiting,” Marisa proudly tells us, who whirls her energy through the dining room. “And some women stayed here forever because they fell in love” – she winks at me.
The Danish wives of their two sons, for example, who once came as tourists and now help out in the language school and restaurant. In fact, there are rarely so many marriages on holiday as here in Portico di Romagna, even a Japanese woman lives here today, although everything is really different for her than in her home country.
It feels like being in a big family
That does not surprise us at all – wherever Julia and I appear, we must invent excuses to get away again. For example, with the painter who exhibits in the bell tower and explains each of his works in detail. “Should I paint a picture for you?” He asks. Or the artist, who runs a small ceramic shop and invites us to one of her workshops. The teacher at the language school wants to teach us Italian at once, and the three hipsters who run the “Chiosco di San Rocco”, a small riverside pub and even offer vegan food, generously provide tips for local restaurants.
Like family members, we are sent on to distant relatives and acquaintances. “In Rocca San Casciano you should buy cheese and have dinner in Tredozio!” Is noted! Let’s see what we can do in four days … learning Italian and pottery is not, but the cooking class, truffle hunting, and olive oil tasting sounds appealing.
But first I relax in a rocking chair on the sidewalk. He stands in front of the open library, which has moved into the old butcher shop. Here it is better to rock than in a sterile lobby with elevator music, and life is playing around me: The ladies from the old people’s home come by and sort out the shelves that can be used. Everyone gives me a smile and a cheerful “Buon giorno!”. Cozy I let the rest of the day splashing.
With Matteo and the dogs we go for truffle hunting
To the truffle search The next morning we go – Chef Matteo takes us with us. Otto and Rex, his two dogs, one black, the other knows, chase ahead. We hurry through the forest, taking morning dew and cobwebs.
Such tours can also be booked elsewhere in Italy, that is clear, but probably we would nowhere so close to everyday life, because basically we are “only” company. Rush even a little, because Matteo urges: “I still have to harvest tomatoes in the garden by the river and then immediately in the kitchen, so that lunch comes on time on the table.”
As soon as one of the dogs begins to rummage in a rush, Matteo rushes to him, distracts him with a treat and digs himself with the spade. Every time a shriveled little tuber comes to the fore. “It will pay four euros per gram,” he says. But Matteo does not sell his truffles, they all end up in the kitchen. He will later turn her into ice cream for us and rub generously on spaghetti as if we were his very best friends.
One highlight is chasing the next
On the way to the garden he shows us one of the most bizarre sights I have ever encountered: the miniature “volcano” Monte Busca on a hill overlooking the village, a cairn with a flame kept alive by natural gas and has been blazing since at least the 16th century. “In the evening we grill here and there to marshmallows,” says Matteo. I take a selfie immediately, nobody else believes me!
With three truffles, a box of picked tomatoes and many herbs we come back, where already the village Nonna Elia with two aprons in the hand is waiting for us. We should make our ravioli ourselves, says the 75-year-old, from flour egg dough to well-filled pasta.
Although my Italian is too poor to chat with Elia, I can mimic her movements and manipulations, and I understand that not only do you have to make sure that the dough rolls are well, but also that your hips wobble.
With hands and feet Elijah explains that this joy of life flows into the food, and who would not like it? Anyway, cooking has rarely been so much fun, and Elia is happy if my dough is not perfectly flat enough and she can then hand it over.
We quickly arrived – and at home
Who is in the middle of it, as we in our hotel village, of course, also sits directly at the insider tip source. As we stroll around a little after the meal, all those we meet on the street shoo us for a swim to the “Ponte della Brusia” in the neighboring village.
When we arrive there, we are entranced: the old stone bridge, the small waterfall that pours into natural swimming pools. We are the only tourists among Italians who lie like lizards on the big stones.
On the last evening we sit at the “Aperol Spritz” on the marketplace, wave and greet. The painter who strolls with his girlfriend. And there is the potter …
Almost all of us have already met the other guests at Aperitivo. The Finnish couple, for example, who spend every summer here and came home earlier today from the day trip to Florence. The food in the village tastes best. “Probably because we feel at home here.”
Christine’s tips for holidays in the village
Governing body. An overview of all Alberghi diffusi in Italy, sorted by region, can be found on www.alberghidiffusi.it
EMILIA-ROMAGNA, Al Vecchio Convento. This is the “Albergo Diffuso” in Portico di Romagna, where we spent four days. Here you can stay in rooms or apartments for up to six people. The villagers offer a varied program of cooking lessons (55 euros per person) to language lessons (20 hours per week cost 300 euros) and truffle search (60 euros / shared by all participants). Double / Double from € 108 (Portico di Romagna, Via Roma 7, Tel. 05 43/96 70 53, www.vecchioconvento.it ).
CALABRIA, Eco Belmonte. On the Tyrrhenian coast lies the eco-village Belmonte. Here young people are especially committed to the place and have renovated the accommodations. Particularly popular is the “Boyfriend House” on the canal; A grandmother is said to have once given it to her granddaughter so that she could meet there secretly with her lover. Some of the accommodations are caves carved in the rock. DZ / F from 90 Euro (Belmonte Calabro, Via Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, 65, Tel. 340/327 90 35, www.ecovacanzebelmonte.it ).
LIGURIA, Muntaecara. Ten suites spread throughout the village and 24 lovingly furnished rooms await guests in this small village in the mountains. You will be greeted at the reception at the beginning of the pedestrian zone and then accompanied to your accommodation – the village is said to be one of the most beautiful in Italy. DZ / F from 105 Euro (Apricale, Piazza Vittorio Veneto 2, Tel. 01 84/20 90 30, www.muntaecara.it ).
ABRUZZEN, sextantio. In Santo Stefano di Sessanio, the historic buildings have been converted into quite luxurious and stylish accommodations. On-site there is plenty of comfort, including spa massages and babysitting service. DZ / F from 144 Euro (Santo Stefano the Sessanio, Via Principe Umberto, Tel. 08 62/89 91 12, www.sextantio.it ).
TUSCANY, Locanda Senio. This village is located in a forest on the border between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. At cooking classes, you get to know the locals and relax at the pool. DZ / F from 140 Euro (Palazzuolo sul Senio, Via Borgo dell’Ore 1, Tel. 055/804 60 19, www.locandasenio.com ).
… for Emilia-Romagna
OVERNIGHT & ENJOY
Agriturismo Pian di Stantino. For those who love farm holidays, this is not far from Portico di Romagna, surrounded by nature and run by a young couple. The rooms are simple but comfortable, in the restaurant there is a homemade menu for 28 euros in the evening. Absolutely by phone to sign up for food! DZ / F from 56 Euro (Tredozio, Podere Pian di Stantino 54, Tel. 05 46/94 35 39, www.agriturismopiandistantino.it )
Il Chiosco di San Rocco. The small restaurant with a nice terrace in Portico di Romagna is especially popular at lunchtime. Serves snacks such as mezze or home-made piadina (stuffed flatbreads) from 5 euros (Via San Rocco 1).
Hotel Ristorante Rosa Bianca. In Dovadola, about 15 kilometers from Portico di Romagna, and a nice place to sit in the garden for sunset. Served is (meaty) local cuisine; Menu from 35 Euro. You can also stay in one of the 14 rooms. DZ / F from 70 Euro (Via Guido Guerra, Tel. 05 43/93 33 44, www.damoreno.net )
Pecorino and ricotta. The steep path up to the sheep farm at Portico di Romanga is worth it, because there are great cheeses to try and buy. The best way to ask the hosts when open is, no one speaks English locally. Pecorino: 14 euros / kilo, ricotta: 9 euros / kilo. The Pecorino is great to take home and lasts a long time (Rocca San Casciano, Via Monte Forcella 45, Tel 0543/96 04 83).
Ceramics. Lucia Gennaretti sells home-made, colorful ceramics in Portico di Romagna. She likes to show how she processes the sound (Via Roma 13b).
Olive oil tasting. Small shot glasses with olive oil to exen may take some getting used to, but it’s really interesting how different different pressings can taste. Please register (Castrocaro Terme and Terra del Sole, Via Pianello 34, Tel. 348/233 35 10, www.lapennita.it ).
Take a bath in the river. On the outskirts of Portico di Romagna you can refresh yourself in the Montone. There is a larger swimming area in the neighboring Bocconi: The “Ponte della Brusia” is about five kilometers southwest, towards Florence. There is a public car park and a restaurant nearby, but otherwise no infrastructure.
Mini volcano Monte Busca. Approximately Six kilometers north of Portico on a private property (which may be entered), less than ten minutes drive from the “Albergo Diffuso” on the Via Monte Busca direction Tredozio. Especially impressive in the dark.
Hike. Especially popular is the way to the most beautiful waterfall in the area: Cascata dell’Acquacheta. The starting point for the signposted tour is located near the campsite Acquacheta (Viale Acquacheta) in the hamlet of San Benedetto in Alpe (12 km from Portico, in the direction of Florence).
IMPORTANT TO TAKE
Selected books to exchange in the village library.
The area code of Italy is 00 39. The 0 of the area code remains even with calls from abroad received.
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Right in the middle The rooms are located in the center of Portico di Romagna
Home One of the lovingly renovated rooms in the Palazzo
Family thing Jonas, Matteo, Massimiliano, Gianni, Marisa, Björn and Ulla (from left) organize the “Albergo Diffuso”
Spying nose Chef Matteo with his dogs on truffle search
Instead of beach Below the “Ponte della Brusia” the Montone forms natural pools that give me a perfect swimming pool with their big stones
Takeaway Mezze from the “Chiosco di San Rocco”