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The new type of hotel rescuing Italy’s hill villages

The alberghi diffusi model is saving dwindling communities across Italy by making hotels from their unused buildings

It was an unusual intrusion: well-to-do people, most speaking strange tongues, and pulling their belongings behind them on little wheels. Arriving as couples, families, groups of friends, they spent fund in the village store and feed at its few restaurants. Plumages were occasionally ruffled when an outsider sat in some locals chair at the bar but, overall, these tourists were seen as a good thing. This is not somewhere remote in the developing world, however, but Tuscany, just a few years ago. People often fail to comprehend how much more there is to this region than Chiantishire and coach tours. Tuscany is bigger than Wales and almost as mountainous, with plenty of places where no ones heard of Waitrose or until recently wheelie bags.

Italy map

One of these villages, Semproniano, amid undulating woods and golden farmland in southern Tuscany, is Fulvio Ponzuolis childhood home, to which he returned in 2008 after a business career. He could see the potential of the 1,000 -year-old village atop its wooded mound, and decided to develop it using a model dreamed up in Friuli , north-east Italy, in the 1980 s as a way of resurrecting earthquake-ravaged communities. The model is the albergo diffuso , which translates best as scattered hotel and has really taken off this century. Rather than building a hotel to bring tourist euros into a picturesque village, or knocking houses together, an albergo diffuso takes the more sustainable route of refurbishing empty or abandoned homes generally within 150 metres of reception as its guest rooms.

A bedroom at Borgo di Sempronio,

So at Fulvios Borgo di Sempronio( doublings from 85) reception is up the street from the bar, breakfast is in a former medieval storehouse round the corner, and rooms( with bathrooms and kitchens squeezed in corners and up steps) are in a dozen listed houses, largely built before 1400, dotted through the labyrinth of alleys.

And though Fulvio and his partner, Roxana, are serious foodies they grow a lot of their own food, plus ancient different forms of wheat and pulses they purposely didnt include a eatery, preferring to see their guests bring custom to existing village businesses.

My husband and I had a two-bedroom suite up the hill, furnished with a mix of stylish new pieces and antiques one bed was from an 18 th-century brothel in Prato, though the mattress was new, Roxana assured me and staying there offered a real village feeling, particularly on warm evenings, when people sit on steps to chats and two small boys defeated baddies up and down our street.

If marriage been able to tear ourselves away, Grosseto, Lake Bolsena and the Maremma coast are within an hour or twos drive, the Saturnia hot springs and ski slopes of Monte Amiata nearer. But we favor ice-creams at local hub Bar Tubino, reading in the square at the top of the village, and a 10 -minute pootle to the tiny Knights Templar village of Rocchette di Fazio even prettier than Semproniano, it is now home to just 10 permanent residents.

Locanda Senio in Pallazzuolo sul Senio , northern Tuscany

At the other aim of Tuscany, over a high Apennine pass, Ercole Lega has been running eatery Locanda Senio in the village of Pallazzuolo, by the Senio river, for over 30 years. His spouse, Roberta, runs slow-food miracles in the kitchen and they have gradually been adding cosy period-feeling en suite rooms in narrow streets( doubleds from 105 B& B ). Alpine-feeling Pallazzuolo is very different from Semproniano, with red and green shutters on sturdy stone houses and immerse wooded mounds all around. Theres wonderful strolling nearby, in mountains reaching to 1,187 metres, and, for urban buzz, develops run from nearby Marradi station to Florence( 12 return, about an hour ), Bologna or Faenza.

Ercole is passionate about alberghi diffusi. Its the most genuine type of tourism, he said. It cant be faked, packaged or taken over by a multinational. Visitors live cheek by jowl with the people of the village, feeing food and wine created here, or next door.

Pre-dinner crostini at Locanda Senio. Photo: Colin Boulter for the Guardian

And the food and wine are excellent: at dinner( on the terrace by the chlorine-free pool ), Ercole was full of information about the history or provenance of each of the five courses he brought out to us. Standouts were radicchio and almond crostini, smoked salmon with tiny grapes the size of redcurrants, gnocchi stuffed with ricotta, and Robertas homemade breads.

Italys regional governments are gradually setting up legal norms for alberghi diffusi, simplifying the licences enormously. To Roxana and Ercoles irritation, Tuscany is still wrangling over details, but Puglia, in the south, enacted laws in 2012, and several of the regions white stone villages have taken the idea and run with it.

Founded by Greeks in the fourth century BC, Polignano a Mare, south of Bari, is famous for cliff diving and for Domenico Modugno, novelist of the Frank Sinatra made Volare. In its old township, B& B dei Serafini( doublings from 90) is diffused around nine houses, with breakfast at its own coffeehouse on Piazza San Benedetto( pouch the cliffside terrace table for over-water caff and cornetti ). Our diminutive but sweet room was on the other side of the square: we sunbathed on its sea-view roof terrace then enjoyed live music, drinkings and food in the piazza till late, before staggering, ooh, 75 metres back home.

B& B dei Serafini, Polignano a Mare

One problem with alberghi diffusi can be getting to them by auto: satnavs struggle with immerse, narrow alleyways, and village centres are often car-free anyway. Albergo Diffuso Monopoli( doubles with kitchen from 120 B& B) solves this by collecting guests from wherever they park in Monopoli town and taking them to their house in a tuk-tuk. Opened by a group of friends in 2014, it has 16 rooms and apartments in builds around the old township, plus reception with cafe for breakfast. Our first-floor open-plan room, with a typical Pugliese arched ceiling, was in a courtyard off a street full of Italian life, and minutes from beaches and great-value fish eateries such as Da Zi Ottavio( 77 via Barbacana ).

Another thing that has taken off this century in Puglia is wine: and nights in alberghi diffusi can be blithely interspersed with vineyard tours. Try Cantine Polvanera, 50 km from Monopoli, a running family winery rendering top-quality reds, including a Decanter gold award-winning primitivo. A slicker operation is Tenute Rubino, near Brindisi, which stimulates classic and innovative wines from salty seaside vineyards. A tour can finish at its wine bar on the seafront, where wines are paired with bruschette, cured meats and cheeses( tour and savouring with lunch 40 pp ).

Albergo Diffuso Monopoli

The Itria valley, south of Monopoli, is the place to assure Puglias trulli houses, and in its centre loom the whitewashed walls of Locorotondo which instead of traditional conical houses has cummerse , narrow townhouses with steep stone roofs. In several of these, the Sisto family have created albergo diffuso Sotto le Cummerse( doublings from 90 B& B ), with, so far, 10 apartments in formerly abandoned houses( two more should open this year ). Breakfast is at super-cool Docks cafe, with valley positions from its terrace.

Roof terrace at Sotto le Cummerse

The albergo diffuso is perfectly suited to Italy, where almost every hill is topped with an ancient settlement, most beautifully atmospheric and tragically depopulated. Its also perfectly suited to travellers wanting a sense of place and linked with locals , not other tourists.

And if your vacation spending can help keep a 1,000 -year-old village alive well, as the Italians would say, Come non amarlo ?( Whats not to love ?)

The trip-up was organised by Best Holidays In Italy (+ 353 1 254 4280, ) and DiscoveryPuglia ( ), which run group and tailor-made Italy tours. Accommodation was provided by the hotels mentioned. Flights were provided by easyJet , which flies from Gatwick to Bari from 68 return


Border hideaway, Piedmont


High in the Piedmont Alps, near the French perimeter, Locanda degli Elfi is a great base for ski touring or snowshoeing. Its six rooms, one suite and one apartment are in renovated stone houses in Borgata Preit hamlet.
Doubles from 90 B& B,

Rimini refuge, Emilia-Romagna

Verucchio sits on a bumpy spur predominating the plains of eastern Emilia-Romagna. Le Case Antiche has rooms in four homes in its historic centre. Your fridge is stocked each day with generous breakfast furnishes, including fruit and cake. Adriatic beaches are a short drive away.
Doubles from 85,

Assisi agriturismo, Umbria


Combine an albergo diffuso with Italys other vacation invention, the agriturismo, at Malvarina in Assisi. It has bungalows and rooms in old houses, does regional dinner each night, and offers wine tours and cook courses. In January, guests can attend a maialata killing of the swine and see it attained into sausages, pancetta and more before a huge feast.
Doubles from 80,

Sleeping beauty awakened, Umbria


Hilltop Castello di Postignano was one of Italys myriad ghost townships, dubbed le belle addormentate , until 2007, when architectural firm Mirto acquired and renovated it. Now the barns, stables, prison, school and warehouses home beautiful suites, several of which boast impressive 16 th-century frescoes, and come with a terrace, balcony or small garden.Reception, in the old olive mill at the upper part of the village, can be hard to find be prepared to get lost as soon as you arrive. Breakfast and dinner are served at La Casa Rosa, which offers regional specialities such as fettuccine with wild boar and porcini mushrooms; the Cantina wine bar serves local cold cuts, truffle bruschetta and cheese platters.
Doubles from 160 half-board,

Fairy tale home, Abruzzo


The hill village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio was abandoned in the 1960 s but now the inhabitants descendants have come back to run coffeehouse and stores in the resort dubbed Sextantio. Stone cottages are now suites, and everything is hand-made: olive oil shampoo, honey soap, patchwork bed covers. Breakfast and dinner are served at La Locanda Sotto Gli Archi, a former stonecutters workshop where the signature dish is eggs in purgatory cooked in hot tomato sauce.
Doubles from 100 B& B,

Seaside stay, Molise


In the little-visited Molise region , north of Puglia, Residenza Sveva has single, doubled and family rooms in former fishermens homes in the seaside village of Termoli. Reception and breakfast are in a period building by the 12 th-century church, and there are beaches within strolling distance to north and south.
Doubles from 80,

Pagan pleasures, Sicily

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The ‘Merica restaurant is an American Dream of fatty foods

This debate isn’t just about ironic blouses anymore. It’s about lying bags of burger and hardcore( if also kitschy) American pride.

When the ‘Merica eatery opens Oct. 15 in NYC’s East Village, it will feature all of those things and more, reports DNA Info .

Expect Chuck Norris week( discounts for wearing camo gear and Chuck Norris flicks on the television screens ), debate night Thursdays( food-based penalties include the loser paying for the winner’s food) and menu items like the T-rump burger( rump roast cut of meat with, “slices of American and Mexican Pepper jack cheeses separated by a wall of onions, peppers and mushrooms”)

The restaurant is the brainchild of Zach Neil and Radoune Eljaouhari, previously of the Beetlejuice- themedBeetle Houseand Stay Classy, a Will Ferrell tribute bar.

Neil tells DNA Info that the concept for the restaurant came from Donald Trump’s political ascending and is based largely on his childhood growing up in “Pennsylvania…next to a NASCAR race track […] Imagine the Donald Trump campaign coming to your backyard every weekend.”

The restaurant plans to skewer legislators of all parties with menu items like the Hillary Clinton-themed burger, or the “1 00 calorie lie” a triple bacon cheeseburger slathered in mac n’ cheese that’s falsely advertised as being 100 calories.

Tie on your napkin and start pledging allegiance to some burgers and fries.

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The Best Pizza for Your Diet: Since We’re All Fucking Snowed In

As the title suggests, youre probs already snowed in or about to be. Some of us have been drinking since 9 a. m ., and we dont is considered that an issue. What IS an issue, however, is the lack of food or energy to stimulate food. You may end up turning toward the dark side pizza delivery. Were here to outline your best and absolute fucking worst selections when it comes to ordering this delicious diet killer.

Pizza Hut

That grease layer attains it extra delicious, apparently.

Worst: The fucking hot dog bites pizza. We dont know how high you need to be to actually want this shit in the first place, but please is understood that 1 slice of this bullshit is at least 460 calories. GAG.

Best : Luckily, Pizza Hut is now carrying skinny pies( although if you wanted something skinny, we recommend NOT feeing pizza ). One slice of the Veggie Lovers Thin N Crispy medium size is about 180 calories; so, like, better.


Probably your best friend during 2 a.m. cravings in college, its probably best to stay away from this shit show.

Worst : Maybe not the absolute worst for you, but definitely up there the 14 Extravaganzza Feast Pizza. Each slice is 368 calories or more. Best : Usually a viable fake pizza option, go for the Thin Crust Lighten Up Veggie Pizza. A quarter of a 10 small pizza is merely 180 calories, so yay. Its not an official menu item; so merely order the smaller thin crust and pile on spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and olives and a small portion of cheese.

Papa Johns

Can Peyton Manning save us from gaining 3 lbs? Probs not.

Worst : Seems typical but a shitty a 14 The Works pizza with ultimate deep dish crust is, like, 370 calories. Yah, so dont order that. Best : If you must order PJs, opt for the Garden Fresh small. One slice will merely operate you about 140 calories.

Little Caesars

If for some reason you brave the snow to grab a Hot N sweaty Ready, heres what you should get 😛 TAGEND

Worst : You could think this wouldnt be bad but, youd be wrong. One slice of a Hot N Ready deep dish pepperoni pizza is wait for it 350 calories. Kill me. Best : There are no winners at Little Caesars, but if you must get a tart, go for the plain round pizza, cheese , no toppings. One slice is 250 calories.


Did you break out the emergency frozen pizza? We all have one.

Worst: Hopefully, the emergency pie isnt a DiGiorno For One Traditional Crust Supreme Pizza. Why? Because the entire thing( which, again, is for ONE PERSON ), is 790 calories.

Best : Candidly , not that astonishingly, the best frozen pizza you can buy and stock for snow days is Kashis Stone-Fired Thin Crust Pizza with mushroom and spinach. A third of the tart is merely 150 calories, so you can feel like youre pandering when youre totally not.

Get out there and make smart pizza choices.

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Royal chef sets record straight on what Queen Elizabeth feeds and drinks

( CNN) At 91, Queen Elizabeth II of England is the longest-serving monarch in British history, having celebrated 65 years on the throne this year. A glance at her calendar is like entering a Jane Austen novel — with a multitasking heroine. Her listing of duties includes attending dinners and jubilees, appointing officials to obscure high offices, and receiving and entertaining guests including assorted ambassadors, archbishops, pastors, generals, chiefs of state and various excellencies.

The Queen’s hectic schedule demands equal quantities of polite dialogue and extravagant dining. So how does she bide healthy and fit?

“The queen’s not really bothered about food. All she cares about are ponies and dogs, ” said her former cook Darren McGrady, who worked for Elizabeth and their own families from 1982 through 1993.

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Ayahuasca: The Shamanic Brew That Produces Out-Of-Body Experiences

Ayahuasca, known by various names by different indigenous groups in South America, is a generic word usually associated with preparations of the mildly psychoactive vine Banisteriopsis caapi . Ayahuasca literally translates from the Quechua language of the North Andes as soul vine or vine of the dead and “ve always been” consumed by indigenous communities such as the Aruk, Choc, Jvaro, Pano, and Tukano across the upper reaches of the Amazon River system in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

Ayahuasca is most commonly consumed by indigenous communities in liquid form as part of shamanic rites designed to communicate with celestial supernatural forces-out or the spirits of the forest. The psychotropic effects of the drink are caused by three beta-carboline alkaloids: harmine, harmoline and tetrahydroharmine. Owing to their ability to intensify and prolong this psychotropic consequence, other natural substances such as tree barks and coca or tobacco leaves can also be combined with the vine.

People outside of indigenous groups may come across ayahuasca through a variety of more or less formal context such as new religion motions, enlightenment retreats, neo-shamanic workshops, self-discovery weekends and eco-lodges specialising in spiritual tourism. As with the recent death of Unais Gomes, who was killed while taking part in a shamanic ceremony in the Iquitos region of Peru, most of the fatalities linked with consuming ayahuasca are available in the unregulated and often ad hoc rituals of these latter scenarios.

A shaman performs a ritual therapy after drinking a beverage containing ayahuasca in Lima, Peru. Enrique Castro-Mendivil/ Reuters

Use of ayahuasca began to spread beyond traditional indigenous groups in the latter part of the 19 th century due to inter-marriage and contact with non-indigenous people working in the region.

The most common kind in which ayahuasca passed from indigenous to non-indigenous use was the combination of the vine Banisteriopsis caapi with the leaves of the shrub Psychotria viridis . The foliage of the P. viridis shrub contains the psychoactive agent N, N-Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, which intensifies and prolongs the psychotropic effects of ayahuasca intake. The chemical structure of DMT resembles that of psilocybin, the compound found in psychedelic mushrooms.

A Santo Daime ceremony. Lou Gold, CC BY-NC

Beyond the indigenous communities of the Upper Amazon Basin, ayahuasca is most popularly devoured in two kinds of ritual practices. The first is within the Brazilian ayahuasca religions of Barquinha, Santo Daime and A Unio do Vegetal. These religions have many of the formal attributes associated with mainstream traditional religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism for example the inclusion of prayers, songs and ritual disciplines.

Ayahuasca is also devoured within a variety of more or less formal contexts such as new religion motions, enlightenment retreats, neo-shamanic workshops, self-discovery weekends and eco-lodges specialising in spiritual tourism. As with the recent death of Unais Gomes in the Iquitos region of Peru, most of the fatalities linked with ayahuasca consumption are available in the unregulated and frequently ad hoc rites of these latter contexts.

The Consequences of the Brew

In its most common form, ayahuasca is a strong reeking brown liquid with a bitter savor. In addition to the age, quality, and type of plants use, the psychoactive effectivenes of ayahuasca differs relative to the environmental conditions in which they are grown, the ratio of their combining and the amount of processing they undergo. The size of dose and frequency of intake varies from one ritual context to another. Depending upon individual physiology, ayahuasca begins to make itself felt 20 or 30 minutes after first being ingested, with subsequent dosages increasing its psychotropic effects.

Aya cooking. Xichael, CC BY-SA

Most renowned for the visual imagery it renders, ayahuasca may also generate auditory and olfactory sensations. The earliest effects of the liquid tend to be a warming of the stomach followed by a spreading impression of physical relaxation and mental pacify. There is, though , no loss of vigor or alertness.

Weaker doses of ayahuasca produce a mild detachment from ones body and surrounds which lets a mental objectification and critical examination of the smallest of details, feelings and thoughts. Stronger different forms of the liquid promote the visual dread of irregular shapes, recurring and colourful geometric patterns, distorted and fleeting images, and out-of-body experiences or dream-like visions populated by the familiar and the fanciful.

Sounds may also be heard as aberrations of external stimulus or self-contained auditory experiences. Likewise, smell and savour may be affected to a more or less pleasant degree. Given its emetic qualities, ayahuasca consumption often induces vomiting and may also result in the involuntary evacuation of the bowels. While these effects may be moderated by practice and dietary regulations, their purgative nature is positively construed as an external physical manifestation of inner spiritual cleansing.

DMT is a proscribed substance in various parts of the world; for example it is categorised as a Class A drug in the UK and a Schedule I drug under UN conventions. Ayahuasca is often subject to many of the same regulations and sanctions as drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Nevertheless, the powerful forces of globalisation are spreading ayahuasca intake beyond its traditional geographical heartlands and this, in turn, is resulting in the legalisation or decriminalisation of ritual employ( but not production) in a growing number of countries( incuding Holland, Italy, Spain, and the United States ).

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive substance to be used with care and, like other psychotropics, should not be consumed by individuals with certain physical or psychological conditions.

Andrew Dawson, Professor of Modern Religion, Lancaster University

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Do Animals Use Drugs In The Wild?

The desire to experience altered states of consciousness is something that has united virtually every human culture and civilization since the dawn of man. Yet we arent the only species to seek out mind-bending substances, and several animals have shown a similar propensity for drugs, whether for medicinal purposes or simply for the thrill of it.

In fact, legend has it that the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and his flying herd-mates originates in Siberia, where the highly hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom grows in abundance. Containing the hallucinogenic compound muscimol, the red and white speckled toadstool can be toxic to humans, but is safely metabolized by reindeer.

The animals have often been seen acting high after ingesting the shrooms, giving birth to the notion of Santas flying reindeer. Some Siberian shamans are even said to drink the urine of these intoxicated creatures, as it provides a less toxic source of psilocybin.

The idea of Santa’s flying reindeer may be rooted in the animals’ tendency to get high on magic mushrooms.Shebeko/Shutterstock

Many animals also have a taste for alcohol, with boozy bees being a prime example. When the sugar in nectar is fermented by natural yeasts, it becomes intoxicating to the insects that collect it, causing bees to fall into a drunken stupor.

However, returning to the hive drunk is a major faux pas, and the workers guarding the entrance to the comb will often refuse entry to anyone trying to enter while under the influence.

Another animal that feeds on fermented nectar is the pen-tailed shrew. However, unlike bees, the shrew is able to metabolize this alcohol into ethyl glucuronide, which is then incorporated into its fur.

Vervet monkeys, meanwhile, developed a taste for booze after being transported to the Caribbean from Africa several centuries ago. The early arrivals regularly got completely trolleyed on fermented sugar cane, and recent studies found that most monkeys now prefer alcoholic solutions to sugary water when given the choice.

Aside from rum, Latin Americas other famous export is cocaine, which is produced by the Andean coca plant as a type of pesticide. Most insects die if they ingest it, although a caterpillar called Eloria noyesi is immune to the effects of cocaine, thanks to the fact that its dopamine transporters are resistant to the drugs effects.

The bug has therefore developed a taste for the coca leaf, and the Colombian government has in the past toyed with the idea of unleashing the caterpillar on illegal coca plantations.

And while cocaine may be one of the most addictive drugs of abuse known to man, the coca leaf also has some medicinal value. Chewing it helps to relieve altitude sickness, which is extremely useful in the high Andes. According to some legends, the leafs benefits were first discovered by ancient llama herders, after noticing that the animals became more mobile when chewing on the plant.

The coca leaf can help to alleviate altitude sickness.Yakov Oskanov/Shutterstock

Opioids are another highly addictive class of drugs, and are responsible for a huge number of overdose deaths every year. In Australia, wallabies have been known to act strangely after eating poppies the plant from which heroin is produced. A government official recently highlighted the issue in a parliamentary debate, explaining that the marsupials tend to get as high as a kite and wander around creating crop circles.

Therefore, while philosophers and anthropologists have tended to take the lead in the quest to understand the roots of mankinds ubiquitous fascination with altered states of consciousness, evolutionary biologists may actually be better equipped to solve this riddle. Given the number of different species that use drugs, its highly possible that the impulse to get out of our minds could be a product of our evolutionary heritage.

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