We had heard a lot about HelpX; from those who had had wonderful, life changing experiences, to those who were practically forced into slave labour. Luckily, our experience turned out to be the former.
Luogomano was perched on the hills outside Florence, but our original host was at Lake Orta, near Milan. They cancelled on us, without an explanation, two weeks before we were due to leave.We emailed around frantically trying to find a new host, and we finally found Francesca who was already full, but sympathised with our situation and invited us to stay. Honestly, I couldn’t be more glad that the hosts at Lake Orta cancelled because our two weeks at Luogomango were genuinely incredible.
We met Francesca in a town called Vernio, two separate train rides from Florence. As we left the station, we were met by a young, tall slim woman with thick wavy hair and a dusty Ford Fusion. We throw our bags in the boot and she took us off, speaking competently in English but lacking the necessary grammar to sound fluent. The whole thing was just very typically Italian. We climbed into the mountains and as we drove higher, she explained that Luogomano was a hamlet of houses that were bombed during WW2 and repaired poorly thereafter. Her parents owned the houses we were going to be working on, but Francesca was essentially in charge. As we spoke, I forgot about our surroundings until we hit the near-vertical 3km dirt track that led us from the ‘main’ round up to Luogomano. The car suddenly started jolting around like we were on safari and I was genuinely worried her suspension would give in. I gave Daniel some worried looks in the wing mirror but Francesca continued on, rallying the car round tight corners.
Luogomano is truly the land that time forgot. When we arrived at the top, we saw a collection of about 7 gorgeous old Italian farm houses perched on the hill, a couple in a state of disrepair. I saw a white horse with its head thrust in what seemed to be someone’s kitchen window, and 4 dogs lying across the road lazing in the sun. The view across the top of the mountains was honestly like none I had seen before, and I already felt like our two weeks were going to be a genuine taste of the simple life. I was right, because Francesca soon explained to us that if we wanted a shower, we would need to light a fire in a boiler to heat the water. I had never successfully lit a fire in my life. Once we worked that out, we met the ten other helpers from all over the world, as well as Francesca’s boyfriend Claudio and their gorgeous 2 year old, Pietro. That night, we had a bbq behind the rose garden overlooking the hills, and we stayed up late drinking red wine as the night got gradually darker and the only light we had was from the thousands of fireflies around us.
Our daily life worked like this: breakfast at 9am, working at 10am, lunch at 1.30pm. Siesta 2.30pm-4.30pm; working until around 7pm for dinner. The work varied from clearing fields, sanding and varnishing old chapel doors and windows, looking after Pietro, preparing food, buildings shelves, re-plastering cracks in the walls etc. Some of the work was physically tiring, but we never really lost our enthusiasm for it because the other helpers quickly became our friends, and Francesca served the most ridiculously healthy but tasty traditional Italian food. I have heard of some hosts leaving scraps for their helpers, but Francesca genuinely cared about the food we were eating, spending hours preparing it and even hand-rolling fresh pasta for us. Our vegetables came mostly from the vegetable garden and in the morning, honey and jam was also made at Luogomano. The simplicity of life there was so refreshing; not to mention the lack of 3G and wifi meant we quickly adapted to this new way of life.
Our days off consisted of taking hikes, chilling by the riverside or heading into Florence for an overnight. However, after two hectic days in Florence, we all agreed that we couldn’t wait to get back to the peace of Luogomano, and the much more slow way of life that seemed to make us all so happy.
Francesca is a fresco artist and Claudio makes wine. They are committed to eventually restoring Luogomano to its former glory but they rely on organisations like HelpX and work away and even Air Bnb in order to continue the renovation. So, if anyone reading this wants an authentic Italian experience with a wonderful, welcoming family in the beautiful Italians hills, for free, please contact Luogomano. It was be a terrible shame if the work were to cease, and I can guarantee that like me, you would enjoy the stripped-back experience and real ease from the pressures of modern life, if only for a little while. Thanks to my good friend Ryan Hall who took most of these beautiful photos.