Agro Turismo and biodynamics are becoming increasingly common, also in Italy. But the way in which the Lo Franco family runs their Fattoria La Vialla is unique. Brothers, Gianni, Antonio and Bandino show with passion how delicious the sweet life of pure land can be. The result is top products in a jar and authentic Italian hospitality.
Text: Angelique van Os | Photography: Henk Bothof & La Vialla/ Copia
On both sides of the steep driveway, the metre-high cypress trees stand majestically on the horizon. All kinds of seductive food smells penetrate the nostrils: pink-marin, fresh bread, roasted chicken… The romantic image of cena – dinner together – is recognizable from the seasonal brochures that customers get delivered to their homes and therefore not a marketing trick. At a dining table set for metres with a red and white rug, more than fifty guests wait for their primi under a fig tree, after which three more courses follow. Life is good at Fattoria la Vialla and all that good stuff is for sale in ready-made jars.
The Fattoria, or farm, is located just outside the village of Castiglion Fibocchi, about 14 kilometers from Arezzo, Tuscany. La Vialla was born in 1978 thanks to Piero and Guiliana lo Franco. Together with three befriended couples, they bought abandoned farms and land, which they renovated together. While the other families returned to their business lives, the Lo Franco’s made a vocation of agriculture. Gradually they developed their paradise by renovating almost twenty (holiday) houses, restoring and creating new vineyards and olive groves, taking care of 950 Sardinian and French sheep, rearing the almost extinct Valdarnese breed of chicken, growing grain and growing dozens of vegetables and fruit trees. Together with their sons, Gianni, Antonio and Bandino and now more than 120 employees, Fattoria la Vialla has grown into a successful biodynamic company. You can even taste the authentic warm-heartedness of the family during a guided tour of the ‘little factory’. Here the fresh pasta sauces are prepared on a low heat and placed directly in the pot to maintain the concentration of freshness. The staff laughs, talks, but cooks as if their lives depend on it.
Those who like to stand behind the stove can enjoy themselves in one of the classically furnished guest rooms, which sometimes require half an hour’s drive on unpaved winding roads over the 1100-hectare estate. Once at the holiday home there is nothing but peace, space and smells of blossoms, mint and grasses. And as befits Italian hospitality, the refrigerator is filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese and there is a basket full of pasta, sauces and wine on the table, to get through the first two days. It is enjoyment without modern equipment. More than a good glass of wine and delicious food, this paradise of open fields surrounded by forest, wild boar roaming around and distant mountain views is not necessary.
Balance and harmony
Descending down, in the morning the farm is in full swing. Fresh breads are ready, the first day-trippers come by for breakfast, a visit to the museum or a wine tour. The cheerful brothers Antonio and Bandino Lo Franco tell passionately about their love for La Vialla: “As a child we learned from our parents that vegetables were grown without pesticides and other chemicals. Everything that man takes from the land has to be returned in the most natural way in order to maintain a good balance and har-mony. This is Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic thinking, which our father embraced and which we have applied since 1994.” The purity of the products is at the heart of the Lo Franco’s business. Antonio: “I am convinced that organic food is much better for the human light-am. We don’t just produce for commercial purposes, we strive for good, pure products.”
Donato Ciofini, head of bio-dynamics and forest management, shows the principle of pure farming. The organisms must form a holistic whole, in which the feeding of animals, fertilization and irrigation of plants and the sowing of the land make the difference between conventional and biodynamic farmers. The key here is vital fertility of the soil in which micro-organisms live, so that human intervention remains limited. Instead of ploughing the soil, Donato produces special preparations using the lunar calendar. “The lunar cycle causes different light reflections and water circulation on the earth that have different effects on the growth of plants and crops. What interests us is the moon’s cycle around the earth, which lasts between 27 and 29 days. The position of the moon is important to achieve a certain result. Within that time we keep a close eye on everything in terms of growth, fertilization, pruning and timing for the harvest. When the moon rises, we cannot prune and plant, the other way around we can. Some people think we read the plants’ horoscope, but in fact it’s no more than following the rhythm of nature through a special lunar calendar.”
In a shed there are two wooden containers filled with ‘holy’ earth. It contains the end product of cow manure that has been put underground in mineral-rich cow horns for six months and has been turned into fertile compost. This preparation is so concentrated that only 90 grams of the compost mixed with dynamic water is needed to activate and spread microorganisms over an area of 1 hectare. And the result is amazing, La Vialla grows and blooms visibly. They have set up several projects with universities and organizations, such as a study that shows that La Vialla emits less CO2 than it produces.
An extensive lunch with the Lo Franco’s at the picturesque mansion La Lignana is reminiscent of an impressionistic scene by the Italian painter Silverstro Lega. The richly filled table in the high pasture grass, surrounded by cypress trees, the hills and the beautiful expansive landscape strengthen the bond with nature. In this private family house, in November, the olives are freshly pressed from the land into a rich paste with an (old) marble mill and then refined into tasty oils. The pure farming is easy to taste. The recipes of la mama Guiliana have been passed down from generation to generation and adapted by her. She doesn’t do anything by the book, it’s all about taste. In a travel report, after 15 years of research, she has summarized Tuscan culinary secrets in two books: Carefree on the road through hidden Tuscany.
Antonio likes to experiment with new wine, with which he and his brothers have won many prizes. For example, he is proud of the Vin Santo, the velvet Tuscan dessert wine. For the little ones there is the red pasta sauce, Pomarolina, and there are various mini pastas for kids, such as the mini farfale, fusili and penne lisce.
Although there is plenty to do in the vicinity of Castiglion Fibocchi, with Arrezzo around the corner, day trips to Sienna and Florence, or by vespa, bicycle or car chatting along the many picturesque villages, it is especially relaxing around the country estate of the fattoria. And make the most of it, making the most of all that delicious food and drink.
You can fly via Pisa or Florence. Rent a car, it is more than an hour’s drive from Florence. The nearby train station is Arezzo. This beautiful city is located about 14 kilometers from La Vialla.
Via di Meliciano 26| Castiglion Fibocchi, Tuscany
www.lavialla.it | +39 057547697
Fattoria La Vialla sells its products directly via the Internet and word-of-mouth advertising. The half-yearly editions can be ordered at www.dolce.lavialla.it/ and products can be ordered via an attached reply card.
Holiday homes can only be booked by regular customers well in advance by telephone or online between March and November. Spontaneous lunches and guided tours are possible without appointment, such as a visit to one of the wine cellars or a visit to the cheese dairy on Friday. Groups must register in advance. And in the summer it is wise to book in advance for a visit or lunch. Products are for sale in the shop (from 10.00 to 18.00) hours.
Also read our story about the 40th anniversary of Fattoria la Vialla