So, this used to be a little something called a lifestyle blog. Call it passion, obsession or go ahead and throw out the word greed, but this has slowly spiralled out of control down the rabbit hole of food porn. Albeit a delicious hole, it is a hole of lies. As often goes with the love of food, I am constantly consumed by wanderlust.
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen I did a little traveling last month and have wondered where I was or what I was doing, so I’ve decided to share it with you.
As we pull in below the clouds, the rolling hills and symmetrical rows of trees instantly reveal the essence of the Italian countryside. Having grown up visiting Tuscany and Veneto, Perugia felt familiar in the way memories from a once visited place cling to the back of your mind, but still maintain enough of a foreign element to feel like an adventure.
We left the slow chaos that only an Italian airport could manage to function with and crawled into our taxi. We drove away from busy streets filled with drivers indicating left, but veering right, old men bickering using one hand for their phone and the other waving about in the air, and wannabe Formula 1 racers speeding past slower cars into oncoming traffic to overtake on single lane roads.
After following several hidden signs and turning onto various unmarked roads, we asked the driver what the beautiful building perched on top of the mountain far off in the distance was. It was our destination, The Country House Montali, which sat at a seemingly unattainable height atop a forest-covered mountain with no visible path leading to it.
The road was made of gravel and wound up steep, perilous cliffs with any signs of modern civilisation disappearing below us. Eventually, each turn led to the assumption that we must finally be there, this must be it. But, we continued to climb to the very top, 500km above everything else before we saw it. A beautifully painted sign at the gates welcomed us to The Country House Montali, allowing a sigh of relief marking the end of our journey.
Leo, a longhaired dachshund barked incessantly, grumpily welcoming his new guests who only pass inspection once loving pats are given out. Although he thinks he runs the place, The Country House Montali is actually owned by the lovely Alberto & Malu who opened the hotel 25 years ago. The hotel is completely vegetarian and is comprised of a main house with the dining room and kitchen, a games room complete with a billiards table and past the stunning pool and through the olive grove are the hotel’s guest rooms.
Before being shown to our room, like all classic Italian hospitality, we were fed. Our cases were left by the door and we sat outside under a shaded canopy with Leo standing guard against the property’s many wild cats. Most of which he has undoubtedly marked as plotting, miscreants carrying out some sort of evil plan.
We grazed on freshly baked bread before a beautiful dish of warm, cheesy faro with fresh vegetables arrived. It was such a simple dish, but was so full of flavour and ended up being the perfect introduction to our vegetarian journey.
This was then followed by a delicious coconut tapioca topped with fresh whipped cream.
As the chefs were busy making dishes for the hotel’s next cookbook, we were lucky enough to sample a few extra treats, including warm biscotti with almond, chocolate and orange zest.
Having taken my fill of delicious food, I ran straight to the room, stripped into a bikini and headed for the pool. As autumn falls upon London, the California in me has begun to panic. Flashbacks of snow pouring from the sky and London’s “longest winter in 50 years” have me shivering already. A dose of Italian sun was exactly what I needed to at least attempt to tide me over until the sun next decides to shine over the gloomy city I’d soon return to.
Feeling the sun soak into my bones, I felt a smile spread across my face.
And then, I felt something else.
Something furry rubbing against my arm and then cuddling against my face.
One of Leo’s rivals, a grey tabby I decided to name Picolo for his stubby, little legs, perched himself at the head of the sunbed and waited for some loving.
He purred away, grabbing onto my hand whenever I pulled away from stroking him. Finally deciding he had received enough affection, he took off into the olive grove chasing one of the black cats.
Not being able to sit still for any longer, I decided I needed an adventure. We walked out to find a medieval castle I had spotted on our way up the mountain.
Once we arrived, we discovered Castello di Montali is now private property with a beautiful home built inside the walls. We ventured round, marveling the architecture rich with history, framed by a stunning view of the scenery below.
We came to the castle’s gate with a ferocious barking guard dog, who quieted down after a few stokes and tummy rubs.
At the end of the property, we stood and looked out over miles of land with trees, lakes and mountains in the distance.
Having done enough exploring, we headed back as the sun set to get showered and ready for dinner, which begins promptly at 8pm each night.
There is no menu at The Country House Montali.
A series of four courses is presented each night and you are only expected to give everything a taste. This didn’t prove to be a problem as course after course never failed to please. Colourful, inventive, beautifully decorated plates arrived one after the other with all the attention and care from staff expected in a five star restaurant.
To start, pear and melon crudités with a balsamic reduction, slices of Piedmontese cheese, Prosecco jelly and a strawberry-grape jelly.
Next, homemade cannelloni of ricotta with salsa di pomodoro and lemon zest.
Then, puff pastry filled with spicy potato on pumpkin coulis served with sweet & sour shallots.
Last, but certainly not least, chocolate lava cake with fresh fig ice cream.
We were the kind of full that makes you feel warm, tingly and happy inside. This is what I fondly refer to as food drunk. After some fresh mint tea and endless conversation, it was time for bed. We had been up and travelling since four in the morning and the 8.30am breakfast meant I was going to need at least a few hours sleep before the full day ahead.