Many say that the countryside is a nice place to visit, but living there is hell – and having spent a few years here in the wine hills of the Monferrato, sometimes I feel like I’d agree.
Country living has a lot of positive elements: slow rhythms, quiet, healthy food, physical activity, the fact that one is a few steps away from the fast urban life- off the web, cell phone turned off…
And yet, each and every positive trait of country living can become a problem: boredom, the sense of isolation, the lack of hi-tech…
It is really all just a matter of finding one’s bearings, and yet, it can be heavy.
But a weekend once in a while?
Ah, that’s something else altogether.
So, while I plan not one, but two great weekends here in Monferrato, and get ready to share them with you, here’s a few general thoughts on countryside weekends.
And before we start – I’d be happy to read your countryside weekend tips… the comments are open!
Choose the best time of the year
This is not always summer. The country is beautiful all year around, in many different ways.
I personally prefer the Fall, for its colors and the generally pleasant weather – not too hot, not too cold. But Spring also brings its own color palette, and the countryside in Winter may look dreary and brown-black, but hides many wonders behind closed doors and frosted windows.
Maybe you know where you are going to spend your weekend, maybe you’ve been there before. Or maybe it’s the first time.
Both ways, plan ahead – check out local news and websites to get an idea of what’s going to happen, and when.
If you’re planning a quiet, relaxing weekend sitting on a hillside, minding your own business and staring at the clouds as they roll by, you want to avoid cropdusters, harvesters or noisy local celebrations. There is still ample space for the unexpected (like finding a horde of boy scouts camping in your favorite quiet place), but forewarned is forearmed.
On the other hand, if you want to experience as much as possible in three action-filled days, it would be quite a let-down to find out that the local fair is scheduled for the next weekend after you have booked.
Don’t plan too much
Which might sound contradictory, but it is not.
You want to know what’s going to happen, to either join in or avoid it, but you don’t want to be trapped by a schedule that’s too rigid and too tight. Leave space to improvisation.
A countryside weekend is – also – about getting the rhythm of country life, and this means setting aside some time for yourself.
Visiting a busy antique market on Saturday morning? Fine – set aside half an hour to enjoy a good coffee in a local café.
Cycling through the hills to get by dusk to that small village where they are having a country ball and communal dinner? Excellent – but leave yourself the time to stop by and take some photos of that old Medieval church you did not imagine was there.
Or quite simply, give yourself time to enjoy the environment.
Use local transport
Traveling by train or bus is an excellent way to experience the land.
Check out timetables and prices of services, and plan a few alternate combinations to make sure you’ll be able to miss a bus and not be stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Bicycles are also a great way to feel the countryside – but check out elevations on a good map. Pedaling uphill might not be your idea of a great weekend.
Don’t be a bloody tourist!
… and mind you, I take photographs wherever I go, and I often wear an aloha shirt. But I also try and mix in.
Which does not mean that I try and pass myself for a vineyard owner (even if my family owned vineyards) or for a cattle driver (even if I read Lonesome Dove and loved it). It simply means I am ready to acknowledge the locals in both their curiosity and diffidence.
Start with greeting with a simple “Good morning!” (or “Good evening!”) the people you meet along the road. Smile, and everything will be fine.
Oh, and just in case – that’s “Buongiorno!” and “Buonasera!”, in Italian.
Bring a book
Culture is important, and no stretch of land on this planet is devoid of it.
So, if you are planning a weekend somewhere in the backwoods, check out the local library or bookstore (or Amazon!), and see if there’s something you might like to read as part of the experience.
Here in the Belbo Valley, for instance, you could check out Cesare Pavese, a man who knew these hills and the people that live in them like no other.
And yes, we know you want to go to the country fair and sample the local vintage, and dance till midnight – but maybe reading a few pages before sleep, or on your train ride in or out, might add a layer to your experience.
Lots, of course – and in a next post we’ll look deeper at things to do, people to see, places to visit, and how to build a three-days plan mixing fun, relax and discovery.
Then there is all the rest, and all the rest depends on where you are going, if you are going alone or with a friend, with your partner or with your whole family. That’s too specific for me to write down anything sensible and useful about it.
But just consider this: the preparation for the trip is in itself part of the trip, and part of the fun. So have fun preparing your weekend.
And please add any suggestion or comment below.