A Gardener's Travels: Lispida & Venice
One goal I had for our trip to Italy last year was to experience fruits and vegetables in season in the part of the world that grows them best. As a gardener and cook, you never know what may inspire you, what you may find to grow in your own garden. Having a garden inspired by travel is so exciting, it’s like reliving the experience of enjoying the vegetable in a whole new way. I am so excited to share some of my favorite vegetable flavors and experiences from our trip. Check out the previous post to hear the first half of our trip starting in Rome and driving to Tuscany in our cute little Fiat Fabio.
When we pulled down the long dusty gravel lane leading to the castle, I thought my heart would leap out of my chest. Wait, it’s a castle?!? Once again Airbnb did not disappoint - we stayed in an actual castle amidst beautiful rolling hills covered in vineyards and olive trees. It was breathtaking.
Turns out castello di lispida was one of multiple castles nestled in this hilly region of Italy called Lispida. It is a spot of lush green hills that seem to pop up out of no where, with miles of flat fields surrounding it. The area was actually volcanic, leaving the soil rich in nutrients, perfect for vineyards and gardens.
Upon entering the castle, they gave us a tour of the grounds. Past the inner courtyard through a beautiful rot iron gate was a stunning private garden. I don’t even know where to begin describing this! The steps leading into the garden are flanked with huge rosemary and lavender bushes, and pomegranate trees just beginning to form fruit. As you walk through the center path, a vegetable garden is located off to your left. During our stay we were welcome to harvest whatever we liked! The gardener in me was going crazy!!
Beyond the path in on the rest of the grounds was a beautiful orchard. Here they have peaches, figs, yellow plums, cherries, deep brown pears, and bright green apples. The peaches and plums were in season, and were also available to pick whenever we liked.
Our room was in an archway of the castle, with a full kitchen and window overlooking the grounds. I loved opening the window wide, taking in the view while sipping a glass of wine.
To take advantage of our full kitchen, I decided to cook dinner the nights we stayed in the castle. One vegetable I fell in love with was a round zucchini. I may have grabbed it at first because it was such a cutie, but discovered that they were incredibly delicious. The zucchini has no seeds, with dense, tender flesh. They are nutty and do not have the bitterness of a traditional zucchini. I loved them so much I had to track down the seed to plant them in my own garden.
I planted Ronde de Nice, which grew a beautiful crop of round zucchinis this past season. They did not have the same seedless, dense quality, but were equally delicious. Love that our time in the castle inspired us to try growing something new.
For dinner on the first night, I wandered into the castle garden to see what might be available. Big lush lettuce heads and vibrant pink radishes were there to greet me. I dressed our salad with a drizzle of olive oil, and just a sprinkle of salt and pepper – it was divine.
I liked radishes in moderation at this point, but after Italy, I started growing a range of different varieties, from French Breakfast, to Garden Party, to Watermelon. Radishes can be sweet, spicy, crisp and tender. Love the variety of radishes that have found their way into our garden, all starting with that vibrant root in the castle garden.
The next morning, I woke with the sunrise and decided to take a walk to the castle garden. I headed down our narrow, creaky spiral staircase and made my way across the courtyard, the early light glowing on the castle towers and walls. It had rained the night before, and the ground and plants were still dewy. As I walked into the garden, the incredible smell of rosemary and lavender wafted towards me. I made my way to the orchard and picked a perfect little peach. I sat on the garden steps beside those rosemary and lavender bushes, taking in the view, the incredible scent of the herbs and the taste of the sweet, lightly warm, incredibly juicy peach. If I need to close my eyes and pick a happy place, this is it.
One morning we decided to take a drive into Venice. Walking into Venice is one of the most incredible experiences, hands down. To have all the streets be water, the smell of fresh, salty sea water in the air, and endless winding sidewalks and streets to explore – just amazing. Amidst all the fish mongers, tourist shops, and gelato, vegetable carts abounded.
One of my favorite sites from our walks was an incredible artichoke bloom, with vibrant purple petals. I have always been curious about growing artichokes, and have definitely put it on the list of things to try and grow someday.
On our last day at the Castle, we took a bike ride around the countryside. To our surprise, the flat fields between the hills were filled with asparagus plants. They were so stunning. I have a few plants in my garden, but nowhere near the size of these. The fields made me excited to keep tending my asparagus to create more lush and robust plants.
One of my favorite things on our bike ride was where we found gardens. Often times we would be biking by vineyards, and see a squash plant growing up a fence post. I love how the vineyard owners found ways to use every ounce of space–loved it!
One of our final experiences at the castle was exploring the winery and the cellars beneath the castle. I mean you cannot talk about Italy without talking about wine right? This winery was one of very few left to use a completely organic process of creating wine. Grapes are placed in large terra-cotta pots buried in the earth, fermenting the wine at the perfect temperature. It was hands down the best wine I have ever had. I am not sure I will ever grow grapes to make wine, but the experience taught me to respect the process and appreciate good wine with good food.
So excited to share recipes from our travels. Hope these posts inspire what you grow in your gardens, or grab at the farmers market this next season.