What to Expect WWOOFing at Castello di Potentino (Part 2)
In Part 1 of this post, I talked about where wwoofers at Castello di Potentino live, what we eat, and some tips for what to pack for your volunteer stay there.
Here, in Part 2, I share my experiences on what wwoofers did with our free time, the awesome music culture at the Castle, and my overall thoughts on my personal experience wwoofing at Castello di Potentino in October 2016.
What We Do When We’re Not Working
Wwoofers at Castello di Potentino work five days and get two days off each week. During work days, we would also usually find some down time before lunch and dinner (if we weren’t helping to prep meals).
After lunch, we typically had a little coffee break before resuming work. And after dinner, aside from cleaning up, the wwoofers had free time to hang out, have a drink, or sometimes dance it up in the chapel.
(As for me, I was almost always ready for bed as soon as dinner was done!)
Generally, people would use their free time to send emails/use the Internet, read, play cards, draw, write, go on a hike, or just sit around and chat with a beer.
When there was a bit more time to spare, some of the wwoofers would get together and watch a movie.
Tip: Wifi is available in an office near the cantina, and in the Castle kitchen and lobby.
I did manage to take one long weekend trip to Rome. I wouldn’t advise returning on a Sunday from out of town though, unless you can catch the morning bus from the Grosseto train station to Castel del Piano.
Otherwise, you’ll be waiting hours for the only other bus running there that day. Leaving the Castle for a short getaway did feel quite refreshing though!
Tip: Castel del Piano is the closest town where you can catch a bus heading to the train station. It’s also where you’d get picked up to get the rest of the way to Castello di Potentino (~15 minute drive away).
During my last week at the Castle, I finally got to have a picnic in the olive groves that I had been planning for a few days. In need of some true alone and quiet time, it was the perfect spot to kick back and be one with myself and nature.
I enjoyed an amazing view of the mountains and the Castle, and read, wrote a poem, took a nap, and savoured my packed lunch of bread, cured meats and cheese.
Music at the Castle
I almost wrote an entire post on just this. That’s because, aside from the incredible food, the other thing that really made my experience wwoofing at Castello di Potentino was being immersed in music daily.
One thing that had actually attracted me to volunteering there was seeing the Castle’s Instagram feed full of people playing music – whether it was a wwoofer on the piano or a string quartet performing at an event. It seemed that a music culture was alive and well at the Castle.
I had brought a little travel guitar with me, and played it and sang in the chapel during free time. The Castle also has a classical guitar and piano situated in the dining room.
Other wwoofers brought their musical talents, and we’d often give little performances after dinnertime. I really liked that Charlotte and Alexander encouraged us to share our music with everyone, including guests.
Will from Nantucket played a mean guitar, and performed a hilarious song he wrote called “Hotel Potentino” – spinning off from “Hotel California” – that became the wwoofers’ anthem.
Matt McGill, who had gone to school for theatre, did a beautiful performance of “Anthem” from the musical Chess with Colin accompanying him on the piano.
I also got to sing the duet “Falling Slowly” from Once with Matt. The song could be heard in the vineyards days afterwards from wwoofers humming the tune.
(Photo Credit: Zsofi Bende)
Colin Mason played his own amazing piano solos, enchanting us with classical pieces by Rachmaninoff and even some of his own compositions.
And others, like Karen, Isla and Manuela performed their own tunes, whether in front of a crowd in the dining hall or as a farewell song to bid one of our leaving wwoofers adieu.
My experience at Castello di Potentino would have been very different had I not been surrounded by all of this music.
Being encouraged to perform for my fellow wwoofies, as well as some of the Castle guests, was a special experience for me. I definitely feel that by the time I left, my self-confidence in sharing my music had been lifted.
(Photo Credit: Zsofi Bende)
As our dear wwoofmate Zsofi Bende said in her farewell speech: “Janice … With your music you can say everything you have to say. I said to make music, I want to listen … it seemed you could not believe that someone wants to hear your music … You have to believe.
Your staying here is like an opening ceremony … The opening ceremony of your soul, and I am grateful to be part of it.”
Indeed, in some ways being able to express my music at the Castle reflected both a continuation of my personal journey, as well as a new breakthrough within it.
My Overall Personal Experience at the Castle
What I expected of my time volunteering at Castello di Potentino — hard work, good food, and a well-run WWOOF program — was pretty much what I ended up experiencing.
However, the friendships you develop and incredibly scenery you are immersed in every day can never be fully imagined in advance.
When I first arrived at the Castle, there were 16 of us wwoofing. They were: Colin (Boston), Dora (London), Emily (London), Graham (South Africa), James (Yorkshire), Laura (U.S.), Matt (New York), Natalie (U.S.), Rachel (Ireland), Sita (London), Suzi (Idaho), Will (Nantucket Island), Will (London), and Zsofi (Budapest).
That count also included Karen (U.S./Italy), who helped us at times with wwoof tasks, although she was primarily there to do an art project: painting the ceiling of the grand dining hall. As well, Christina (Colombia) had originally come to wwoof, but had ended up as the Castle chef.
There was a mass exodus of people over one weekend, and afterwards we were blessed to receive some new wwoofers: Manuela (Uruguay), Clara (France), Isla (California) and Lev (Ottawa/Paris).
All of the wwoofers I volunteered with were in their 20s or 30s. Many were either travelling before settling into a first job, or had made the “big quit” from their former jobs and were pursuing a different kind of lifestyle.
Indeed, there was something that connected all of us, whether it was the love of being in nature, our love for traveling, and/or our love for wine!
Looking back at the end, I would say that the hardest part of the wwoofing experience for me was also the best part — being around a lot of people.
It meant not having much privacy or alone time — not always easy for an introvert — but it also meant meeting some incredible friends who I now miss very dearly.
In terms of work, a motto had developed amongst the wwoofies: “No expectations.” People who typically need to have set schedules and tasks laid out in advance had to put some of those expectations aside. It’s a great exercise in learning to adjust and adapt.
At the same time, we did appreciate when a schedule of known activities (and how the wwoofers would be needed to help with them) was communicated to us with enough notice, so we could plan our own down time around it.
To be honest, some days would feel long and hard. There really isn’t anything glamorous about much of the work we did.
We’d get grape sprayed in our faces, and dirt under our nails that would never seem to come out. We’d have to lift heavy crates, scrub dirty crates, and take out garbage and compost that didn’t quite whet the appetite.
Tip: When going out to work for the day, bring along a water bottle, snack (if you get hungry easily like me!), and an iPod (if you like music while you work).
But it was when I’d see us wwoofies all come together to get it done, to pick up where someone just didn’t have the heart to that particular day, that made our bond stronger.
And it definitely is what makes the amazing meals that much more delicious and hard earned!
Saying good-bye to the friends you make while wwoofing can be tough. Time at the Castle moves strangely – after living and working at the Castle for four weeks, it felt like I had spent a few months there. The longer I stayed, the closer I got to my fellow wwoofers, and the more tearful goodbyes I had to say.
When it was my turn to leave, it felt like the right time for me to move on. Yet, it also felt like I was leaving behind a special community and place that I had become attached to.
I will never forget my time wwoofing at Castello di Potentino. It was everything I had hoped for and much, much more. Thanks to my fellow wwoofies and our hosts for an incredible adventure!
>> Read the last post in my WWOOF Italy series, Castello di Potentino: My Goodbye Reflection, which is a more introspective piece on the impact and learnings that I gained from my experience at the Castle.