They're Living Happily Ever After in the Italian Countryside

How one couple  from New York founded a cooking school in rural Italy.

by Melissa Ruttanai
International Living, agritourism, Italy
La Tavola Marche Cooking School and Organic Farm, in Le Marche, Italy is one of the most successful agriturismos in the region
Photograph: International Living

As newlyweds, Ashley and Jason Bartner were beginning a new phase in their lives. Jason was a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Ashley was an aspiring actress. But when they stepped off the plane for their honeymoon in Italy, they had no idea how different life was about to become.

The couple had planned to settle down and buy a home in New York, but during their honeymoon, exploring cozy cafés, cobblestone avenues, and seasonal fruit markets, they fell in love with Italy.

As soon as they got back to Manhattan, they booked their flight back to Rome. They had a vision of a farmhouse with a cooking school and a B&B. They conjured up scenes of free-range chickens and tabby cats, with a garden sprouting parsley, cucumbers, and strawberries…

Within 18 months, that dream had become their La Tavola Marche Cooking School and Organic Farm, in the Le Marche region of Italy.

How did they do it? The pair developed a concrete business plan, detailing their objectives and how they would specifically achieve each goal. They broke down their plan into tangible steps, and they took intensive language classes, immersing themselves in Italian for a year. Four times they returned to Italy, searching for property, networking, and experiencing the country in each season. With an interest in slow travel and farm-to-fork eating, they attended conventions on these topics, meeting people and asking for advice that would help them prepare for a move to Italy.

“You have to focus your energy on this one plan,” says Jason. “And that energy will filter out and change everything that you thought was important.” Their dream seeped into every nook of their lives.

Shopping, saving, and cooking all revolved around their impending business venture. Money that they had saved for a new house became a down payment on property outside of Piobicco in the Le Marche region.

They bought their 300-year-old farmhouse, perched atop a rolling hill, in 2006. With a solid foundation and sturdy roof, the property was livable from day one. But the Bartners wanted their new home and business to be perfect.

So they renovated the large kitchen with professional-grade appliances for cooking classes and built an outdoor wood-burning oven for homemade pizzas. With his own hands, Jason turned a small plot of land at the foot of his steps into a traditional organic garden and Ashley tended to the free-range lifestyle of their chickens.

Work on the farm begins in the early morning hours, but the long days have paid off. Now, five years on, La Tavola Marche is one of the most successful agriturismos in the region. The garden sprouts aromatic herbs, hearty potatoes, and tomatoes twined traditionally around bamboo staves. A spring feeds water into the house for cooking and into a hillside pool for cool afternoon swims.

Ashley and Jason have no intention of moving back to the U.S. And, during the off season, they can travel around Europe, vacation in Belize, and plan getaways to Thailand, always relishing the moment during their honeymoon when they said to each other: “Wait a second. We can do this!”

 

The full version of this article first appeared in International Living magazine. 

Related stories: Couples Who Reinvent

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First Published March 26, 2012

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