Corte Pellegrini, Italy
Resting behind majestic iron gates prefaced by a babbling brook, sits Corte Pellegrini, a gracefully ageing villa surrounded by verdant gardens nestled in the countryside near Verona, Italy. Belonging to the Pellegrini family since the 12th century, the villa offers a charming bed-and-breakfast farmstay experience. Whether you spend your days nestled by the villa’s woodfire reading a book, or wandering the country fields, Corte Pellegrini is imbued with the warmth of Italian hospitality.
The Italian winter pinches my cheeks as I leave the warmth of the taxi and brave the chilly downpour outside. As the cab drives off back to Verona, I stand alone on the country road, taking in the majestic view that stands in front of me: an old Italian villa sitting amongst verdant fields with a picturesque backdrop of snow-capped mountains. As the rain pelts down, I ring the bell attached to the locked wrought-iron gates and wait – but there’s no response. I consider straddling the gates but am deterred by the sharp points that line the top, clearly designed to discourage such behaviour.
Unsure what to do next, I take refuge from the rain under the awning of a nearby farmhouse – the owners don’t appear to be home. Chickens gather around my feet, pecking curiously at my suitcase. The rain doesn’t let up, and my coat begins to soak through. I set off in search of human contact and am trudging down a dirt farm road when a young Italian man in a pick-up truck, canine companion resting in the front seat, slows down, alerted by the sign of a rain-soaked tourist lugging a suitcase through the mud.
He speaks little English, so we begin the linguistic tango common between two people who don’t speak each other’s language. A phone call ensues to Bernardo, the owner of Corte Pellegrini, the Italian villa in which I will be staying for the next few days. Soon the iron gates spring to life, slowly swinging open. We wander through a mass of old farm machinery, its dress of dust and cobwebs a sign of retirement decades ago, though it still retains the charming bucolic aroma of straw and freshly ploughed earth. The inviting scent of chimney smoke from a woodfire nearby fills the air.
Bernardo, an innocuous blue-eyed Italian gentleman, pushes open the door to Corte Pellegrini and the crackling woodfire is a welcome solace from the wet outside. Decorated with the charming accoutrements one would imagine of an old Italian villa, Corte Pellegrini is everything I hoped. As we climb a narrow, creaking staircase, Bernardo hands me the key to my room – a large old-fashioned key rarely found these days. I note the silence, and enquire how many other guests are staying at the villa. Bernardo informs me with a smile that I have the whole place to myself.
My room exudes the cosy pastoral charm of a Van Gogh painting. Walls stippled with terracotta-hued paint that convey instant warmth. A cosy wrought-iron bed and a humble dresser with a mirror that yields the patina of being well used. A pine wardrobe and a single chair with a woven straw base that completes the Van Gogh-inspired setting. The large windows, fringed by serpentine vines, that just beg to be flung open and leaned out of to take in the beautiful country scenery.
Bernardo tells me with pride that his family has owned Corte Pellegrini since the 12th century. He now runs a poultry farm in the surrounding fields, and offers up the farmhouse as an ‘agriturismo’ farmstay for visitors, (guests are not required to partake in the actual farming, though I’m sure Bernardo would gladly oblige any willing volunteers).
I spend most of the day indoors, curled up on an ancient couch in the villa’s common area, reading by the dancing flames of the woodfire, comforted by the pitter-patter of rain that tap-dances against the window. That afternoon, as the rain lets up, I set off walking down the country road to the tiny village of Campalto to sample some of the country Italian lifestyle. I soon discover that when it comes to local dining in this town (which quite possibly has a population below 100 people), pickings are slim. The glowing-light of a little bar shines like a beacon against the winter sky and I nudge my way through the door. Clearly it isn’t the time of year for tourists, because the entire patronage of the bar stops and looks in my direction, staring inquisitively at my foreign style of dress. In my broken Italian I order a glass of red wine and sit sipping it, as old Italian men wink charmingly and young Italian men mumble to each other about the new addition to their tiny community.
As I return to Corte Pellegrini, I run into Bernardo, who kindly invites me to dine with him and his two children Isabella and Francesco, and their uncle Valentino (my rescuer from this morning). I gratefully accept, and we eat a hearty meal of pasta, meat and potatoes with a delicious red wine from the vineyard of Bernardo’s sister. The courses keep coming and I struggle to fit them all in, but I can’t resist tasting all the delicious fare on offer. After dinner, I am treated to an animated game of cards, and we resume our linguistic tango, but this time Spanish is thrown into the mix (I can speak it marginally better than Italian and both Valentino and Francesco can understand it better than English). I head back to my room later that night with a full stomach and a big smile from an evening of beautiful food and hearty laughter.
The next day, after eating breakfast in the charming dining room (a spread of fresh croissants, local cheese, bread and meats and fresh Italian coffee) I set out to explore the grounds of Corte Pellegrini. I follow the gurgling brook lined with trees, past lush gardens and beautiful old stone furniture and statues, and I encounter goats, a donkey, several farm dogs and a small odd-looking miniature horse along the way. Wandering the grounds, I can imagine just how vibrant the place must be in summer when all the rooms are full, outdoor activities are in swing and the farm is drenched in sunshine. Still, I relish the opportunity to have my own private slice of Italian farmstay luxury for the next few days, and the chance to spend time with the locals. I love it here and I vow to return again one day in summer when Corte Pellegrini is in its element.