Thoughts of Italy tend to conjure up images of ancient towns and cities of architectural splendour, rolling landscapes, diet-destroying food and wine and an enviably laid back lifestyle. Now, however, one corner of this magical country is fast becoming a haven for vegetarians seeking a completely different taste of Italy and a unique holiday experience.
Country House Montali claims to be the only exclusively vegetarian hotel in Italy. The owners, husband and wife team, Alberto and Malu Musacchio, have lovingly developed a unique and extensive repertoire of exquisite vegetarian gourmet dishes which they call å‘vegeterranean cuisineå’ å- a clever fusion of vegetarian and Mediterranean cooking.
The couple have transformed a redundant farmhouse near Perugia, Umbria, into a veritable haven for culinary tourists, committed vegetarians or those who just want to try something different. They have won a string of awards for their ‘vegeterranean cuisine’ along the way and they grow many of their own herbs and vegetables sourcing the others from local suppliers.
Country House Montali has been featured in a BBC television travel programme and justifiably claims to be the perfect antidote to the stress and exhaustion of modern living. It also features in many of the best-regarded international guides, including the Michelin Guide.
The hotel lies off the beaten track, on a plateau at the end of a scenic gravel drive with elevated panoramic views of the surrounding countryside just south of Lake Trasimeno. It sits within a 25 acre olive grove and is surrounded by an evergreen wood, just some of the attractions which brings visitors from around the world to the beautiful Umbria region.
The 10 individual guest rooms are arranged in three separate single storey stone buildings, all designed by Malu Musacchio, a Brazilian architect who has specialised in restoring historic monuments. All the rooms are equipped with modern facilities, including telephone, hand-carved teak furniture and original oil paintings. They all have patios or verandas on which to relax and enjoy the cool evening breezes and magnificent sunsets.
A swim in the delightful pool, with its breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, is the perfect way to relax after a day of sightseeing before changing for dinner. Montali is also the ideal base from which to visit all the famous medieval cities of Umbria and lower Tuscany such as Assisi, Sienna and Gubbio.
And for the serious ‘foodie’, the hotel also offers Gourmet cookery courses during the off peak season for those wishing to learn how to prepare Alberto and Malu’s ‘Vegeterranean Cuisine’ for themselves.
” Both my wife and I have been vegetarian for a very long time we tend to cater for foreign visitors as Italians are very traditional about their food, staying with the dishes they have known since childhood. They are very slow to try anything new.”
“English people are much more adventurous in trying new eating experiences and it’s probably the best country in Europe now for vegetarians with 75% of our overseas customers come from the UK.
” We have been running vegetarian restaurants and hotels for 20 years now and there are very few restaurateurs anywhere in Europe who can claim such experience. We both enjoy travelling and wherever we are in the world we try and bring a vegetarian recipe back home with us and adapt it to our menu.”
According to the Vegetarian Society there are some 3 million vegetarians in Britain and the number is growing.
Malu added however: “Not everyone who stays with us is a committed vegetarian. Many are people who just love the attractions of Italy, enjoy good food and are willing to try something a little different when they are on holiday.”