WHEN I began planning my trip around Italy, I didn't envisage myself spending hours in lengthy queues and battling other tourists to see the sights of this beautiful country.
I saw myself spending time with real Italian families, getting to know their lifestyle and being swallowed up by their culture.
I had heard about the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program through my mother, who had friends and neighbours who had hosted "WWOOFers".
The organisation allows travellers to arrange to stay with farmers (in their chosen country) in exchange for work.
The opportunity gives the traveller the chance to learn about organic farming, the local culture, and any niche skills (depending on the farm), in exchange for meals and accommodation.
With some research and a small fee, I became part of WWOOF Italia and was ready to start looking for a suitable farm.
I was hoping initially for a Tuscan farm (picking grapes in Tuscany just sounds so idyllic), but I couldn't go past the charms that Monticino offered in the region of Emilia Romagna.
I had been emailing the owner Nevio for months leading up to my trip and was a little nervous all his email responses were in Italian.
When I queried him about this, he informed me English was not spoken on the farm.
It was equally exciting and nerve-wracking knowing I would not be able to communicate properly for two weeks, as my Italian was almost non-existent.
Monticino dates back 600 years but Nevio bought it in 1997.
The small bed and breakfast farmhouse is above Castrocaro Terme e Terra del Sole (Land of the Sun) in north-east Italy.
The primary venture is breeding and training Bardigiano horses and the education of natural equinity but they also have geese, chickens, pigs, hares, goats and doves and grow and sell their own olives and grapes (for oil and wine, of course) along with a vast selection of fruits and vegetables.
At least 60 guests were present on my first day.
My room was a lovely space in the attic of the farmhouse, with my own bathroom and a window overlooking Monticino's vineyards and rolling green paddocks.
My days were spent working on various areas of the farm - from fitting tractor parts, digging trenches, feeding and fetching animals to babysitting, resetting the rooms for the bed and breakfast guests and preparing restaurant meals.
I was usually up by 8am, ready for work to 1pm, when everyone came inside for lunch - the biggest meal of the day.
It was always three courses consisting of freshly made pasta, followed by salami, prosciutto, pancetta, fresh olives, cheeses, salads, pork, chicken (or other small birds that were hunted nearby) and bread.
Lunch typically lasted three or four hours where much wine was drunk and mostly everyone would totter off to their rooms for a sleep.
Work would start again about 5pm until 8.30pm or so when dinner was served.
Saying goodbye to these beautiful people was hard. I loved every minute at Monticino and I hope the friendships I made with this family last forever.
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