Perched on its little mountaintop, Monte Castello is home to about 300 residents, most of whom are descended from generations of Montecastelesi. These local people are directly involved in the day-to-day functioning of the school. The surrounding landscape is quilted with vineyards, olive groves and sunflower fields, and stitched in with rows of cypresses and umbrella pines. It is one of the richest areas of farmland in the country, hence Umbria’s designation as the “green heart of Italy.” The rich and bountiful harvest from these farms yields equally rich traditions in cooking, olive oil production, and wine and cheese making. Our program participants directly benefit from the bounty of this countryside, with traditional Umbrian meals prepared each day by our cook with fresh, locally grown ingredients.
Monte Castello is not a tourist town, there are no busloads passing through eager to take snapshots of monuments. It is a real community in which people continue to live out rich traditions in a village whose foundations predate ancient Rome. It is not unusual to meet farmers on the streets returning from their crops, or families on their way to church to celebrate a wedding or a baptism. At the same time Monte Castello exists in the contemporary world. In the local bar one hears heated political discussions, speculations on the outcome of the World Cup, or opinions on the latest European fashions. It is commonplace to enjoy a morning cappuccino in the central piazza overlooking the magnificent Tiber Valley, standing in silence alongside a shopkeeper or retired craftsman whose life has been spent within these walls. It is also a place to join residents in a festive night of dancing and a bottle of excellent local wine.