Rosie is a journalist and author and mum to five kids. She has been travelling with my children since the eldest was six weeks old. She is one of Britain's leading experts on travelling with kids. Her books are full of tips to keep them happy - and you sane. She is usually out and about on the road with some if not all of her five kids. Here's a taste of what they have been up to.
It’s the end of a blistering hot afternoon as we drive up to Azienda Calcagno Paolo behind Celle Ligure. The greenhouses rise up in steps above the motorway. Paolo Calcagno converted his father’s farm into a small basil empire in 1984 when he finally brought the land his family had farmed for generations.
Paolo’s father made a living out of growing tiny wood strawberries but once the big beefy variety arrived on the market the business fell on bad times. In 1984 Paolo built his first greenhouse. He now has 11 and 5000sqm of his land are under glass. Today Paolo supplies some of the best restaurants in and around Portofino, the top tables in Milan and London’s most sophisticated eateries including the River Café. “Every Wednesday a lorry leaves from here full of basil and after a stop off in Milan arrives in London on Saturday morning,” he explains, “It’s expensive but this is top quality like Mercedes.”
This is a state of the art farm. Under the steep road that rises alongside the terraces of greenhouses is a large engine room similar to the steam engine on a boat. From the end of September until mid-May the greenhouses need to be kept at a constant temperature of 22C.
“We keep the tradition but embrace the new technologies,” he beams as he shows off the orange generator that runs by burning wood chips. It cost Paolo €286,000 to install but has cut the cost of heating the greenhouses by 55%. “You have to have courage in this business,” he says. Alongside sits the emergency backup generator that runs on diesel. It cost just €30,000 but as Paolo explains running it is like burning €500 notes. “That’s why I took the step away from the normal way of heating the greenhouses by using diesel. It is just too expensive and this way is more environmental.” The modernization was done with the help of the EU Rural Development Fund and the Azienda is now one of the most modern in Liguria.
Its not just Paolo’s energy that has kept this business sheltered from the economic crisis of recent years. “Quality functions well,” he says “It’s like Ferrari or a handmade shirts these businesses like this do not have a crisis.”
Paolo would like to expand but you can’t simply buy up pieces of land that are not close to the farm in this business “as it would be like trying to heat a room 500m away from the boiler in your house.” In the steep valley he is hemmed in and clearly frustrated.
The weather has made life difficult too. “Last year was a disaster with the rain he explains and now it is too hot, but the heat I can deal with. See how the leaves of the basil plants contract with stress in the heat and become dark green. In the cool of the night they will relax.” He lets out a deep breath. As we speak the mist is creeping in across the mountains behind Celle.
Early morning or late afternoon is the best time to harvest basil. It’s 6.30pm and inside the greenhouses are a couple of Senegalese, an Albanian, a Tunisian and a Ukrainian picking the tiny shoots of basil by hand. The plants that are left in the soil will be allowed to grow to about a foot high before they are harvested. In his cold storage room Paolo shows us a large orange plastic bag containing the latest harvest of this crop. “It’s the best,” he says tossing the dark green leaves with his hand as the air fills with a strong also peppery aroma. In the warehouse, his sisters are busy packing up the freshly harvested basil. Each box carries the date and the special DOP label showing it’s the real thing. “I am lucky,” he says. “I have three sisters.” He is hoping his curly haired 19 year-old son will take on running the business with him so he can develop a new plot of land he has just brought above near by Varazze.
Paolo disappears for a minute and then reappears with a tiny plastic bag of basil seeds. He sprinkles the tiny black balls into his hand and wets them. Moments after they are moistened with water they produce a sticky gelatin like glue that holds them together and stops them being washed away. “It’s nature. They glue themselves to the earth,” he says proud of his new babies. “The soil is mixed with sand and manure before we plant them. Then you wait 27 days for them to grow.” The dates are all marked up on the calendar in the warehouse.
Basil seeds are not grown in Liguria as 100sqm of basil needs 1000sqm of land to produce the required seeds and in Liguria there simply is no space for this. The seeds are grown in Emilia Romagna, Camapania, Le Marche and Lazio. “There was a trend of buying seeds from Cambodia,” Paolo explains, “but it was a mistake as it imported a blight that we are still dealing with.”
Paolo is keen to welcome visitors to his farm and is one of the few producers who sell directly to the public. “You must leave you door open to everyone who wants to visit. This is the future of tourism in Liguria.”
Azienda Calcagno Paolo, Via Postetta 45a; 019 993961; m 335 6883003; www.calcagnopaolobasilico.it. The basil is distributed in the UK by www.natoora.co.uk. Pesto making sessions can be arranged in advance. Azienda Calcagno also sell seasonal fruit and vegetables.
The peaks of Monte Sibillini are covered in mysterious low-lying clouds as we drive into the tiny village of Montemonaco. The legend has it that the prophetess Sybil lived here in a cave surrounded by faries that liked to seduce young men. I make a mental note to keep an eye on fifteen year old Jacob.
Well off the tourist trail Monte Sibillini on the border of Le Marche and Umbria is remote and wild. It was declared a national park in 1994 and is covered in fantastic walking trails. In late May the high mountain pastures burst into life and are covered in wild orchids and cornflowers.
This is perfect sheep country but nearly all the shepherd’s who once lived here have hung up their crooks and moved away. The forest is growing over the ruins of the villages they abandoned. Wildlife is returning among them chamois and wolves. Wild boars snuffle in the field outside the window as we eat dinner much to the kids delight.
High up in the mountain top village of Cupi, however, a little revolution is under way. The villages of Monte Sibillini are beginning to slowly come back to life.
Beniamino Ciammarucchi is stirring up a cauldron of boiling sheep’s milk in a brand new stainless steel kitchen. He son Arcangelo is delivering huge milk churns that are being loaded into the dairy.
In the late 1980s Beniamino left his home village to settle in down in the valleys of Le Marche. Summers spent on the high pastures and wintering his flock in the low lying fields near Rome was no longer economical and new regulations brought an end to the traditional ways of producing cheese.
After generations of sheep herding and cheese making his son Arcangelo was forced to take a job in a factory producing cookers and fridges. He longed for the shepherd life that was in his blood and decided that he would return to Cupi and set up a modern dairy producing top class artisan cheese.
It was a lucky move. He secured a bank loan just before the crash of 2008 and in its wake the factory where had had been working closed down. “Everyone thought he was crazy,” laughs his father. “They thought Cupi was the end of the world but the irony is all his friends lost their jobs and many of them are still unemployed. Look at Arcangelo he built a business.”
Sandra, his mother is by now pressing the curds into huge, round moulds. She makes ten pecorino cheeses in under an hour. Beniamino then puts the whey back to boil. It will make ricotta, which means twice cooked in Italian.
He spent decades living the hard life of a shepherd. Every winter he would drive his flock to the fields near Rome. It was in Vitterbo that he met his wife. The family lived for months in a small cabin with a hole dug in the earth for a fire. In summer he camped alone up in the high pastures above Cupi.
He is delighted to be back in the old house but misses the natural rhythm of the past and the rough and ready days of un-pasteurised cheese making. “What doesn’t strangle you makes you fat!” he laughs patting his tummy.
The economic crisis has been good for Cupi. The families of the shepherd’s who moved to the bright lights are doing up their old family cottages as second homes as more Italians decide its cheaper to spend their holidays in Italy.
We drive over the mountain passes on to Castelluccio. It’s a tiny hilltop village that sits in a mountain plain. It’s the highest settlement in the Apennines and a lonely spot.
On the fields below they grow the best lentils in Italy and in the summer months they are a riot of colour as the wild flowers spring up among the lentils.
Castelluccio is a tumbled down village covered in graffiti of the gossip variety dating back to the 1950s. She left me for that b***** kind of thing. No one has bothered to clean it off because most of the inhabitants moved to Rome. Sandra Barcaroli and her son Diego are now among the ten full time inhabitants. Diego is the only young man.
He too is running a high-class cheese business with his mother. More and more young people in Italy are returning to the old ways of making a living. Sandra and Diego are more traditional than the chaps in Cupi and still use wooden moulds. I spot some jars of honey on the shelf.
Sandra explains to me that Diego had been experimenting with keeping bees. It is so cold in Castelluccio in winter that the bees are now the only people plasticising transhumance and they spend the coldest months in Ancona.
I am with Daniele Pintaudi from Palazzo Seneca a high class gourmet hotel in nearby Norcia down in the valley below. The hotel and its fabulous restaurant are doing a lot to keep this town going and bring guests up here to make cheese with Sandra and to buy lentils and local salamis. When Daniele discovers that she sells her honey for €5 he reels back in astonishment. “You live in the best flower valley in Italy. This stuff is priceless,” he stutters.
On the way back to the Palazzo Seneca we stop off to see another local business that they have been helping. The restaurant buys its pork and salami from Alessandro Salvatori. Seven years ago he thought there must be a better way forward than travelling the country selling local salami.
“My father was the best butcher in town and I thought why not start raising pigs and setting up a new business.” He brought some classy rare breed pigs and now has a thriving business.
I dispair of arriving in Trouville as the GPS leads me down yet another deadend country road. I brought the GPS in Florence, it clearly doesn't know what's what in France.
Trouville is the place to be seen on a sunny weekend, if you are a Parisian on the know. It's not called the 21st arrondissement for nothing. Not that I am exactly in the know but my sister in law certainly is.
What do guide book writers do on their holidays? Here's my answer: drive the kids 3957 miles across Europe and back.
The school holiday road trip has found its way to Rakhiv, a little town hidden in the Carpathians in western Ukraine. It’s been a bumpy ride. Roads in the Ukraine are full of pots holes; cows, horses and geese wander along them this way and that.
It doesn’t look very promising I think. My husband is determined to stay with a Ukrainian old granny. We meet half way and book into a guest house by the market, Smerekhova Khata. I recommend it if you are passing, the owners couldn’t be more friendly.
“What is there we must see in the area?” my husband asks him. “Ah, the centre of Europe! Yes you go!” We duly set off. Luckily we take our passports as the centre of Europe is close to the Romanian border and not in the EU. There is a police road block just before it.
A tiny unasuming monument by the roadside sits looking at the bubbling Tysa river. It was placed here in 1887 by the Hapsburg monarchy when Rahkiv was the wild east of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Many places across the continent claim to be the heart of Europe but this one is certainly the heart of the old Europe. One of borders and pot holed roads and it’s full of charm.
A tiny road winds its way down the valley. The guidebook given to me by our host describes it as a motorway. Actually by Ukrainian standards its a rather good road so I don't think something got lost in translation. The kids have their picture taken by a tour bus from Belarus.
In May 1990, just before the first free elections in Romania after the revolution, I arrived in Cluj with my two-year old son Ben. We were being groupies on a pre-election reporting tour that my husband was conducting.
It was early afternoon and Ben was hungry. There was a large padlock on the door of the restaurant in the hotel that was perched high above Cluj. I rattled the door. A grumpy waitress stuck her head out. On seeing Ben she smiled and to my surprise unlocked the restaurant. She soon scurried up with a tiny piece of meat and mashed potato. Ben gobbled it down and immediatley was sick on the plate.
"Eat it up again quick!" I whispered. Now I am not really a bad mother but I had a sneaking suspicion that the waitress had given him her lunch. To top that meat was a rarity in Romania in those days. He did as he was told.
Last month I pitched up again in Cluj. The first time since the worst lunch ever incident. This time still with my husband but now joined by three of Ben's four younger brothers and sisters. I popped out to buy something for dinner. When I walked into this supermaket, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
We lived in Bucharest just after the revolution for almost two years but I hadn't been back to Romania for twenty years. It was like visiting a new country. I felt at points totally disorientated.
Back in 1990 Ben and I set off downtown early the next morning to hunt for food. We queued for three hours for lemons. I was triumphant. Then I could not believe my luck when I spotted a a one ring electric stove. With this wonder in the shopping bag, the two of us headed for the market. We brought peas and new potatoes. I was on a shopping high.
Next we brought a wooden spoon and a wooden football rattle from a friendly old granny who gave Ben a kiss.
Back in those days the market was a filthy run down place. Imagine my surprise when I saw it in its new reincarnated self. I was however begining to worry if all the charm of Romania had been driven out by EU regulations when I took a left turn...
To my utter surprise the old lady, who sold us the spoon and the rattle, was still there and selling exactly the same spoons and football rattles as she was back in 1990.
Oddly she didn't sem to have aged but perhaps we are just on parallel tracks of aging. Both Ben and I have aged for sure.
She ushered me behind the counter for a photo. She made my day for a second time.
I have been handing out advice all year long to French expat families about how to help their children do well in the British education system. Get out and show your kids the places they are learning about in the classroom from Hardy's Dorset to the geography of Snowdonia, I tell them all.
This summer I decided to apply the same holiday medicine to the twins. It's time to practice what you preach. We set off on a GCSE History tour of Germany.
I have always wanted to go to Nuremberg to see the famous parade grounds but wasn't expecting a Nazi Colliseum. It's gargantuan. A living history lesson. There is also a fabulous museum inside.