After descending from Rifugio Bignami, we spent a day getting moved out of our apartment in Morbegno and headed to our new home, a little further south and a little lower in elevation: Rifugio Madioce. Madioce is located at about 1000 meters elevation in the Apennines of Emilia Romagna, nearly on the border with Tuscany and practically a stone’s throw from where the Tiber River is born as little mountain stream. Originally the area was part of Tuscany, but Mussolini, a native of Emilia Romagna, shifted some borders to put the Tiber’s spring in his own region.
Rifugio Madioce is owned by Carlo Lisi and his family. For many years they have been working to restore and renovate the two historic structures on the site. They have converted what used to be the barn and storage areas into a beautiful little house, maintaining much of the historic look and rustic charm. The larger structure on the site is still in the process of being converted to the guest area of the rifugio as well as a bed and breakfast. Unfortunately, some ill-performed work during the construction of the stone walls has led to moisture infiltration and the project is mostly on hold while the issue is in litigation. Thus, the rifugio is not yet open, and Carlo and his family are focused on developing the agricultural side of the business: constructing a chicken coop, establishing an orchard, planting two large gardens (one certified organic and the other using permaculture techniques), etc. We arrived just as the snow was disappearing and the weather starting to warm up; Carlo had just begun to plant the new saplings to form the orchard.
The first day we started working was cold and pouring rain - not good conditions for tree planting. We worked inside on the renovation project, cutting staining hardwood sills for all the windows and various small tasks. It was nice to do a little construction work and interesting to see a little more in depth how things are built here. My Italian tool vocabulary expanded a lot in one day of work!
At dinner the first night, Carlo introduced us to a very important aspect of life at Rifugio Madioce: the food. Another seasoned WWOOFer, Luciana, was spending the week at the rifugio, and the talk around the table was focused on the typical foods from the various regions around Italy. We feasted on a traditional Romagna dish: homemade piadina (typical flatbread) filled with cooked cabbage, a salty dried fish, and squacquerone, a soft ricotta-like cheese. Delicious!
The sun soon came out and started to dry up the mountains of mud that the previous weeks rainstorm had created. We finished planting the orchard and I made a map of the 30-some trees: various pears, apples, and cherries. Over the next week we did a little more work on the house, tilled the soil to prepare the organic garden, and cleared a lot of brush where wild rose brambles line the trails. We clipped the roses back along a trail that goes through the orchard and cleared a large space for the chicken coop that we’ll construct soon.
On the weekends, Carlo’s son Lorenzo comes up to help out. He is studying agriculture in Padova and his knowledge is very useful for the food production aspects of the rifugio. The first weekend at Madioce, Carlo’s wife Oriella came up as well. She works in Rimini but comes up to Madioce when she can. She taught us to recognize and collect some of the wild herbs that grow in the area and then cooked them into a cassone - like a piadina but folded to make a pocket filled with the fresh herbs. Oriella cooked quite a feast for us when she came to visit. We definitely eat well at Madioce!
For Easter weekend, Carlo went down to Rimini to be with his family and Alessio and I held down the fort at the rifugio. The first day we took a trip to Sansepolcro in Toscana, the birthplace of 15th century artist Piero della Francesca. We visited the museum to see his frescos and toured the small Tuscan town. It was starting to rain as we walked the town, and by the time we got back into the mountains in the evening, the rain was turning to sleet and snow. We woke up to a good 20 centimeters of snow covering the fields, cold temperatures, and a biting wind. So much for spring! We weren’t going anywhere with the road conditions as they were, so we hung out by the fire and experimented with cooking while it continued to snow for a couple of days.
The forecast had called for a little snow that was likely to melt quickly, but when Carlo and Lorenzo returned to the mountains they were shocked to see that the world was still completely white. Farm work was on hold for a little while - a good time for us to take a short break and depart on another big adventure: roadtripping Italy from top to bottom!