Hand-written directions encourage us to ‘persevere, keep going’, and we do. After veering off wide mountain roads in the Abruzzo region of Italy, we bump up a windy track, past rows of olive trees and through an atmospheric canopy of overgrown hedges until the trees give way to views of olive groves, neat fields and little hilltop. Behind us the Majella Mountains loom majestically over a whitewashed farmhouse, home to Fern and Jono and their little settlement of yurts, Fireflies and Figs.
Eating at Fireflies and Figs
Fern and Jono make the most of their produce-rich surroundings to provide guests with three-course communal dinners at the farmhouse. Soaking up the views with an aperitivo, we then settle at a long wooden table between the turquoise shutters of the kitchen window and the property’s thriving kitchen garden.
All the ingredients here are hyper-local; cherries picked from surrounding trees, mushrooms foraged from the woods and faro from a small farm over the hill all contribute to these informal al fresco dinners. Fern and Jono own a handful of olive trees, so suppers are seasoned with the freshest organic extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed in a mill in the valley to create a sweet and fruity oil with almond notes.
Fern focuses on fresh, unpretentious food. We were treated to squidgy pillows of handmade ricotta gnudi followed by pork solomillo served with local faro, asparagus and a creamy cashew nut and basil pesto. Pudding was a generous slice of cherry and almond tart accompanied by homemade cherry ice cream drizzled with ratafia, a southern Italian liqueur made from fresh cherries and Montepulciano wine.
If you’d prefer to try the wine by the glass, Fern and Jono can arrange a tasting. Perhaps the region’s most acclaimed wine, heavy red Malandrino is made with Montepulciano grapes to give dark cherry and rich prune flavours that pair perfectly with lamb. A light and citrusy white from the neighbouring vineyard makes a zesty aperitif. For something a bit more basic, carafes of pink Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo from the local enoteca make pleasant plonk for a summer evening.
Yurts at Fireflies and Figs
Tread carefully down the steep track at the side of the farmhouse to one of two little clearings among the wild hillside shrub. Fern and Jono have rallied the troops – family, friends, neighbours – to build yurts made from English ash and oak that fit snuggly in to the natural surroundings. We stayed in ‘olive blossom’, shaded, appropriately, from the midday sun by gnarled olive trees.
Inside, whitewashed oak king-sized beds are scattered with throws and rugs (very hygge), and the olive tree branches cast a dramatic shadow across the canvas roof.
Guests also have access to separate wooden bathrooms, no less lavish than those of a smart boutique hotel. Ours boasted a huge walk in shower with a view of the valley adorned with antique mirrors in all shapes and sizes.
The atmospheric setting is as much a part of the appeal as the accommodation itself. Take time to pull a bottle of wine out of the makeshift wine cellar built into the ground, sit out on the terrace and soak up the peaceful surroundings. As darkness steals away the stunning views, the resident fireflies carefully creep up on us until we are surrounded by the ethereal glow of hundreds of tiny flickers. A magical moment.
Breakfast at Fireflies and Figs
For breakfast, climb back up the steep track to the main house. Breakfast is served in a pergola perched on the very edge of the valley. Put together by hand, the wooden structure brings the outside in, with an up-cycled dresser and pretty tiles reclaimed from a church in nearby Penne.
You may well find a ginger cat snoozing gently next to wooden tables laid with turquoise crockery and freshly baked goods – homemade banana bread and brown seed bread with honey from the neighbours. Freshly squeezed melon, apple and ginger juice and golden granola are also on offer fills us up, along with a main dish of the day – perhaps scrambled eggs with crisp bacon or silky porridge with freshly sliced strawberries.
Activities near Fireflies and Figs
There are Italian day trip possibilities in all directions – sleepy towns with market stalls sprawling across golden squares, secluded beaches, tranquil lakes and forests to explore.
Head to neighbouring Guardiagrele to enjoy an Aperol spritz in the busy square, drink espresso the proper way (while standing at the bar) or tuck in to a casual dinner at one of the local trattorias (the local speciality is arrosticini lamb skewers grilled over open fire).
Venture further to Pacentro, a stunning hilltop medieval village where in-the-know tourists join local regulars at Taverna de Li Caldora. This laid-back restaurant is a must-visit for its pasta tasting menu (try three small dishes, including pink peppercorn pappardelle, creamy ham with linguine and orecchiette with broccoli rabe). Take your espresso on the terrace, with a dramatic mountain backdrop and breathtaking valley views.
Or if you prefer to make the most of Fireflies and Figs’ natural surroundings, ask Fern and Jono to pack up a picnic for you and head out on an adventure to one of the forest-lined lakes in the surrounding valleys.
Written by Alex Crossley
Photographs by Alex Crossley
This week olive’s new sub editor Hannah gives a glimpse into her heritage, with a virtual gastronomic tour of Gibraltar; the team reminisce about their favourite foodie adventures in Italy; plus, editor Laura talks about the recent renaissance of authentic, regional Italian restaurants in the UK.
olive magazine podcast ep62 – Gibraltar gastronomy and Italian food adventures