Marco Sepe is a computer engineer who took his first steps in the local area as a simple tourist in 2004. He was one of three people who knew nothing about this part of the world but loved hiking here. They found that they were all on the same wavelength and ended up as business partners pursuing the same dream.
I was aware that there were some houses in the Park that needed someone to look after them, but no one was interested. That’s how I started out, trying to bring added value to the area – even just in little ways – because… I liked it and it made me feel good.
Every project takes a huge amount of effort. At the start your enthusiasm carries you through, then you begin to realize how hard it all is. Fortunately, we’ve managed to achieve some important goals and we’re beginning to see some rewards, including on the economic front. It’s fair to say that we’re facing some big challenges right now. I’ve bought a number of properties in the heart of the village of Cecciola that have been derelict for a very long time and need to be renovated. I’ve spent years looking at them and dreaming about how to fix them up so that we can offer higher standards and a wider range of services to visitors.
I subsequently broadened my horizons and started taking charge of the agricultural side of things, focusing in particular on chestnuts. I keep adding pieces to the puzzle. Every initiative and every job takes time, energy and investments. Each project takes an average of around three years. At the same time I’m still continuing my career as a computer engineer. It’s a job I love and the busiest time is in the winter, so it fits in perfectly around the busy times with the chestnuts and the houses.
The biggest challenge was starting to dry chestnuts in the village metato: a traditional construction that was built especially for the purpose. Back in 2004, I didn’t know anything about chestnuts or chestnut woods. I watched the van picking up the chestnuts and tried to figure out how it all worked. I was guided by my unconscious mind once again and without even realizing it, I began to contemplate the idea of keeping the chestnuts and endeavouring to dry them in the metato.
On our first attempt, we tried drying chestnuts using someone else’s facilities. We made lots of mistakes and had all sorts of problems that I would be able to prevent now that I’ve got into the swing of things. The following year we made a deal to use a metato in the village for free. It hadn’t been lit for around 35 years, but we got it back in working order with a builder and we ended up buying it.
We were joined by 13 families from the village as we got the project off the ground, making mistakes but also enjoying some success along the way. For two years, we were able to count on the help of an old man from the village who taught us how to dry the chestnuts. That was our starting point. Now we have an organic farm and we manage chestnut woods.
What I’d really like to highlight is that absolutely no one in Cecciola knew us when we first arrived and all of the initiatives that we’ve promoted have been put together with input from all of the people in the village. Unconscious intuition has played a key part in our success because we’re three business partners from down on the plain who are used to working with companies and associations in a very smooth-flowing way.
There are certain lines of thinking that seem natural to us, but if we hadn’t had the backing of the locals then we could have hit all sorts of stumbling blocks and really struggled to establish ourselves up here in the mountains. The first big step that we took was sorting out the main square in the village, which was still unfinished when we arrived. It was springtime and every weekend for more than a month and a half, we would meet up and eagerly work side by side. We never made any specific arrangements and it all came about rather serendipitously, as the old folk oversaw the laying of the paving.
It was like a post-war scene and it felt like everyone was coming together in a carefree, natural way to rebuild part of the village that had been destroyed. It helped to forge friendships and paved the way to other projects. People up here in the mountains are often wary of outsiders but it gave them a chance to get to know us and broke down barriers as we shared a few laughs and the occasional glass of wine with each other. I think that the most significant moment came when we decided to put a piece of paper with the date and all of our names on it into a bottle of wine that we’d just drunk, then bury it under some of the stones in the square.
That’s now our most precious hidden treasure and very few people know exactly where it is.