Monday, May 31, 2010

Strange vole guests

Went downstairs to our bedroom - the house is upside down as the living rooms are above the bedrooms so that the livings rooms have the best views and the bedrooms are cooler in summer - and something caught my eye on the floor. It was this - a tiny vole.

I called Rachel and then immediately saw another one on the floor.

How do two very small baby voles get to be on our bedroom floor when all the doors and windows are closed so they can't just run in. Its a bit like a Coen brothers film or something.

Rachel then proceeded to turn the cupboards inside out trying to find the nest so now our bedroom looks like a bomb has gone off.

Very strange anyway.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Basking lizard

There are lots of these lizards everywhere. They tend to be quite inquisitive and so if you do any work outside then they will soon be there to have a look at what you have been doing.

You see some who have lost their tail which they do when scared or to distract or confuse a predator.

You also see some very much larger ones which are a very vivid green with no patterning. These are quite agressive in their behaviour and do not run away when you approach.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

La Comunanza

This is the local community association which you are eligible to join after living for 5 years in our village of Manciano. Each village will have its own association.

There was a meeting this evening to discuss in part the building of a new community centre for the village. The groundwork for this has been done but there is funding shortfall for the building works and so the Comunanza want to call for a additional contribution from the membership and approach non-members to ask for a contribution. This was a hotly debated topic. We are not members of the association and so await the letter from the association to find out what the contribution requested is and the conditions of this contribution.

As with all community organisations there deeply held views on what should or should not be done.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A New lodger - Jerry. and....

Our friends in Manciano, have had to go to Puglia because of a family emergency and so we are looking after their dog Jerry.

This is the first time we have another dog stay in the house with our slightly over indulged Westie. She is ok with it at the moment but is showing signs of missing being the absolute centre of attention. This however will actually be good for her.

and... the best news is were having Valentino and his son start tomorrow levelling a piece of land so we can have a swimming pool.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


There are many lovely hilltop towns in Umbria - Todi, Spello, Assisi, Norcia, Spoleto to name just a few but Trevi is up there with them in my book. I took this photo today which looks at Trevi from the south. The foreground is full of olive groves.

As you can see we have had another nice sunny day and so spent the afternoon trimming the grass in the grove.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Vines and machines

Over on this side of the valley there are mostly olives with very few vines being grown. On the other side of the valley the reverse is true with Montefalco being the local wine growing centre with the Sagrantino being a very fine grape which produces a very fine red wine. There is also a dessert wine - Sagrantino Passito which is great with the local hard almond biscuits dipped into it.

Just below Casa M is a small grove which today has just been ploughed over between the lines of vines and looks just perfect. Orderly, neat, precise. I think it looks great.

Unfortunately the olive grove does not look like this as there is a lot of grass to be strimmed and our strimmer is going to be in the workshop for a couple of weeks! I couldn't believe how many strimmers this place had in various states of repair.

I have had to borrow one from a neighbour - hopefully I can get some done tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pheasant family

Last evening around six or so there was a ruckus not far from the back door as two young pheasant chicks were escorted off the property by our fearless Westie Winnie. Not long after the mother pheasant appeared calling after them - hopefully you can make her out in the photo above. If you can't then this shows how effective her colouring is in the grove rather than our bad camera work.

By this time we had Winnie under house arrest so she wasn't able to chase the mother off. Then after a short interval by which time the mother had wondered off the male pheasant arrived calling quite loudly.

They must be nesting not too far from the house and hopefully they managed to regain contact with each other.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Clearing the land

Spent this afternoon cutting the grass in the grove with a grass strimmer. Because we had so much rain the grass this year is very high and think and is still wet and claggy underneath making it quite slow work to cut it down. You might think that it would be best to wait for the grass to dry out but each day is slightly warmer than the previous and I have 10,000 sq metres to do so I need to get going.

Inter Milan completed the triple over the weekend - La Liga, Coppa Italia and on Saturday the Champions League. This will obviously make Jose Mourinho even more unbearable than he is already but at least it seems he won't be working in Italy next season or ever again. I don't think he has particulary enjoyed his time here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Trevi Farmers Market

Today was the 4th Sunday of the month and so it was the monthly farmers market in Trevi.

For the first time this year the weather was sunny and so there was a good turnout of stallholders - including Casa Margherita - and there were a lot of people browsing. These included a good number of tourist from the UK, Australia, America and other parts of Italy.

So overall everyone was a bit chattier and friendly and it was therefore a nice way to spend Sunday morning.

I bought some potatoes and a kilo of peas which were lovely and sweet most of which I managed to eat at the market.

Came home and within a hour saw two quite large grass snakes one of which was around the house being chased by our Westie, Winnie, and the other in our veg garden which I dispatched with a rake.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

La Panda

Here it is, the Casa Margherita company car. A classic 1986 Fiat Panda 750 Fire in a rather fetching light olive drab!

Affectionately known as Alf (short for Alfonso) its a great car - basic in the extreme but goes and goes and goes. No expensive extras on this one.

These are a very common site here and its easy to see why as they are small, go forever, cheap to run ........... style icons.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Umbria - Cuore Verde

Umbria is known as the green heart of Italy. As well as being in the physical centre of Italy, one of the reasons for this could be the quantity of olives being grown. There are roughly 6.5 million olive trees in Umbria.

Those trees produce nearly 10 million litres of olive oil but most of this production is by small businesses such as, Casa Margherita, with a relatively small number of trees.

Umbria is also the only region in Italy where all of the production of olive oil is covered by DOP status. So you can be assured of the quality of Umbrian oil.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The sun returns

After what seems like forever, bit in reality is only three weeks of very wet weather, the sun has finally returned.

This has signaled a frenzy of activity on the local hillsides with people pruning olives, moving the grass in the grove, burning prunings etc. A release of the pent up frustrations of the past few weeks.

We also today have finished our small garden design project and we think it looks good - our neighbour does as well which is the most important thing. Will post a photo when I can.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


This pair of Hoopoe were photographed this morning as they searched for insects amongst the freshly cut grass of our neighbours grove.

They are migratory birds that we often have around here and are generally quite inquisitive and playful as well as being very striking to look at.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Garden design update

The rain has finally relented here so we spent a few hours working on our friend's garden. We planted the lovely Prunus they have bought together with the rambling rose and the hedging plants. Will go back tomorrow to complete the planting hopefully.

Thought Alonso had a fabulous drive in Monaco starting from the pit lane and finishing 6th - subject to the Mercedes appeal. Still think Ferrari in with a shout.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Welcome Sybil or is it Bridget?

Our neighbours Guiseppe and Reggine have adopted this kitten who has taken wonderfully to their kindness and affection and is enjoying the delights here of Rachel's printing press in her studio - see my earlier blog of 2 May The Hay Barn.

She was a bit thin when she arrived so is on a good diet of meat and pasta. All cats and dogs here are fed a diet which includes pasta. This can be bought in great sacks from any garden/animal supplies outlet.

As to the name Rachel refers to here as Sybil and Guiseppe calls her Bridget although I am sure she doesn't mind what she is called as long as the mince keeps on arriving and she gets lots of affection.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Medoliva - Olive Oil Exhibition

Took a trip up to Arezzo today which is about 1 3/4 hours north of us over in Tuscany.

We went to have a look at the above bi-annual exhibition to check out what new equipment there was and what were the latest ideas and issues in the world of olive oil. Picked up some ideas and new contacts which was useful.

It was interesting, but you got the feeling that is wasn't quite as busy and there were not quite as many exhibitors as there had been in previous years. The effect of the recession or 'la crisi' as it is called here.

Still good day away from the grove and a nice plate of Pici al ragu for lunch- Pici is a traditional Tuscan pasta and is like a very fat spaghetti.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Best Ever Lemon Cake

As usual on a Friday we went to Trevi for the market and popped into our butcher which is run by a husband and wife team of Giovanni and Irena.

Irena told us that she had made the lemon cake recipe from our website and thought it was fabulous and had passed it on to her daughter who was making a couple of the lemon cakes.

It is a good recipe (thanks Caryll) because it uses olive oil instead of butter so the cake is very moist and last very well.

So if Trevi's best butcher says it's great why don't you have a go

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Olive Tree - Budding Flowers

Here is a picture of what stage most of trees in the grove are at. They are full of flower bud that just needs some sun to flower.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Spanish GP & Garden design

Good work by Alonso to secure 2nd on Sunday - fortunate that Hamilton had a wheel failure but he drove well and wasn't far off the pace of the Red Bull's. The result keeps him the hunt especially with Rosberg off the pace thanks to Mercedes redesigning the car solely for MSC.

Did get the ok to do a little garden design for our friends in Manciano - made a start yesterday but has rained for most of today resulting in a little pond ideal for ducks at the moment. Will get a photo up when finished and after the Chelsea Garden Show has finished!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Snacks, pasta and olive oil

Went to see our friends Massimo and Gabriella at their Enoteca, Vincanta, yesterday for a glass of wine some of their great snacks - this time a spicy tomato tuna on bruschetta amongst others.

After we came back to Trevi to have a plate of pasta at La Vecchia Posta. It has the best position of all the restaurants in Trevi being located in the small central Piazza with an outdoor seating eating area - great in summer.

We decided to have a salad after the pasta and teased the owner, Marco, over his choice of olive oil ie. it wasn't ours. He confirmed that it came from the Manciano area of Trevi and ordered 12 bottles on the spot.

This makes in the first time I have been out to dinner and then return home richer than when I left.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Olive Varieties in the Grove

Here at CM we have around 500 trees of which 95% are moraiolo and the other 5% are split between leccino and frantoio. These are the classic Umbrian olive varietals.

The moraiolo is sterile and so needs to be planted with polinators such as leccino and frantoio but is very hardy.

Some newer groves are being planted with Pendolino and this is a great polinator and has a high fruit yield.

All of these are for oil production only and are not eating varieties. The fruit is extremely bitter and leaves a quite nasty taste in the mouth if eaten. The oil however, is fruity and strong flavoured.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wood and lots of it.

In the non-urban parts of Umbria the most common household fuel is wood. Having had a reasonable cold winter and spring continuing to be damp and cool the fires are still burning. Indeed our fire is burning away again tonight whereas say last year would have have seen us stop having fires in over a month ago.

If you are a member of your local Comunanza (community association) then for 50 euros you have an entitlement to 50 quintale (5,000 kilos) of wood. Although for this you do have to cut the trees down and log it yourself from the community owned woodland around us. Still, this is considerable cheaper than the 8-10 euros a 100 kilos you would need to pay a wood merchant.

The sun is forecast to appear on Sunday so hopefully things will start to warm up.

Forza Alonso for the race on Sunday!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

DOP Olive Oil

DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) is the Italian system of product protection based on the EU system introduced in 1992.

It signifies that the product is traditionally and entirely manufactured (prepared, processed and produced) within the specific region.

Umbria is unique in Italy as it is the only region within Italy where the entire production of olive oil is covered by the DOP status.

There are five DOP regions within Umbria and Casa Margherita falls within the Colli Assisi-Spoleto DOP area. If you are interested to find out more then please go to for more information.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rain Again

Rain again today which is definite confirmation I have started to cut the grass in the
Casa Margherita grove too early.

The long winter/damp spring has also resulted in us running low of wood pellets for our wood burning boiler which supplies hot water and eating for the house. So we had to pop out today to buy ten 15kg sacks which will hopefully keep us going until the sun appears and our solar panels start working.

Tonight we have the final of the Italian Cup or sadly the Tim Cup, as it is called after its sponsor. It's Roma vs Inter Milan so I will be backing Totti and the lads to get one over on Mou and the Inter lads. Also good to see Steve McLaren winning the Dutch league with FC Twente - odds to be the next Liverpool manager anyone?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Saw our friend today with an idea for her garden (see 22 Apr - Spring time). She needs to speak with hubby tonite so fingers crossed for that.

We have done some research in terms of prices of plants etc and saw this olive - price - only 280 Euro!!. Not sure they'll go for this. But we did find a eating olive, as all the olives round here are for oil and so are unedible - extremely bitter. So thought for them as a family it would be nice to have something in the garden that has fruit you and pick and still seem Umbrian and have an olive in the garden.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Olive Grove Update

We have now completed two of the three major tasks required at this time of year.

We have fertilised all the trees. We use an organic fertiliser which comes in a pellet form. We give each tree 4 kilos which we spread on the upper side of the tree at the edge of the canopy. When it rains (of which we have had plenty) the fertiliser will get washed down to the fibrous roots.

The second part of to prune all the trees which we have now done with the help of Alveiro who tends the trees below our house on behalf of a locally famous lawyer who has a handlebar moustache and a liking for cigars. He comes up once a year on Ferragosto which is a big holiday in Italy to check on his grove.

The third task is to cut the grass. Now timing is crucial here as you do not want it to rain after you have cut it as you will probably need to cut it again. But you do not want to leave it too late as it becomes too hot and seriously hard work. I have started but fear I am a little early as there is rain forecast for most days this week. Ho hum!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Hay Barn

My partner, Rachel, is a painter and print maker and up until last October had been trying to do this in our house which is basically a 2 up and 2 down albeit stuck on an Umbrian hillside.

This was not a situation that could continue and so we put word out that we were looking for a workshop/studio type space locally. Word reached Stefano who talked with his father, Giuseppe, and said why don't you suggest your old hay barn as it empty (see above).

Giuseppe spoke with Rachel and we walked up the hill to have a look at it. It was perfect. A big open space - exactly what any artist needs. The rent? - the occasional painting for Stefano/Guiseppe - even better.

Being a haybarn it is absolutely xxxxxx freezing in winter but for 8 months of the year it's great.

Rachel now goes up the hill most days to paint and is reveling in the fact that after many years she finally has a decent space in which to work in. A selection of her work can be seen at www.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Today is Labour Day here in Italy and so round our way all the shops are shut except for the garden centres who were doing a good trade in veg and annuals to brighten up the garden.

We went to get our tomatoes, chillis, aubergines etc and to check out some plant prices for a garden project that we might be doing. More on that later if we get the go ahead.

Saw this field of poppies on the way out. In the background you can see the Torre di Matigge.