July 18, 2024

Adventure Chronicles Forum

Navigating Travel Tales

Meet the couple who travelled Europe to learn eco skills and are now putting down roots in Italy

4 min read

Their adventures in France and Portugal taught ‘Growing Greener’ how to create an eco-lodge built around nature, sharing and community.

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Living in the tumult of the city, who among us hasn’t wondered if we’re really marching to the beat of our own drum?

Naples’ nightlife brought Francesca Tortorelli and Eliza Cox together in 2020. But the couple, a video editor from a town near Salerno and an English teacher from Nottingham, became disenchanted with the big city, in contrast to the fulfilment they found away on camping trips.

The determined duo decided to act on their dissatisfaction. In September 2022, they embarked on a year of travelling and volunteering in Europe while refining their dream of opening up an eco-lodge in southern Italy.

“It broke life down to the simple things,” Eliza (23) says of those experiences on eco-retreats. “Just those simple rhythms of life with all the other chaos and drama taken away, in a community of other volunteers. It was a really, really special experience and taught us a lot.”

Now living in the small town of Perdifumo in south-west Italy, they’re working towards their goal while connecting with the local community to make their future destination as inclusive and sustainable as possible.

We caught up with Francesca and Eliza – aka ‘Growing Greener’ – to hear about their journey and what it takes to create a truly communal tourism experience.

How can you travel while volunteering in Europe?

Though they tuned into their feelings, the pair didn’t uproot on an impulse. It took six months of preparation and research to find the best way to travel on a budget, Francesca (30) explains.

They used a website called Worldpackers where hosts offer opportunities for travellers to stay and eat in exchange for five hours of work a day.

In Growing Greener’s case, this wasn’t just a chance to meet like-minded travellers on a long-term adventure; they also gathered valuable skills for their future project.

In Portugal, the couple stayed at an off-grid eco-retreat farm in Aljezur, sleeping in a tent while getting stuck into a variety of jobs. Eliza foraged for fruit in the forest and cooked for the other volunteers, while Francesca cleaned and prepared breakfast for guests.

Their next stop was an organic farm in France where they learned about growing vegetables and agriculture, helping to plant a ‘food forest’ of over 150 trees.

They were also tasked with looking after chickens and a herd of goats which had recently joined the family: “something completely new and foreign, for a video editor and an English teacher living in a city, going to the middle of nature and everything,” Eliza recalls.

Life on the road wasn’t always easy. “It can be quite intense, difficult, not having personal space,” the bilingual couple say, weaving in and out of each other’s sentences, “but it was a real experience where we grew a lot.”

“It was one of the best years of my life,” says Francesca. “It taught me how to listen to myself, how to do what I really want to do.”

How can you build your own eco-lodge in Europe?

Growing Greener now want to create a place for other travellers to come and learn – but first things first they’re putting down roots. Francesca’s grandparents are from Cilento, near where the couple are living, and she’s eager to build something authentic within the area.

The eco-lodge they envision will be a place for travellers who are mindful about their impact on the wider world as much as where they live.

“At the heart of this project we want to have the local community in mind,” Eliza explains, “we want to show off the beauty of this area, but in a way that’s not going to have a negative effect on the people who actually live here the full year round.”

So what does positive engagement look like? Growing Greener’s Instagram – which has over 21,000 followers – is full of heartwarming examples of the couple taking time to get to know their neighbours in Perdifumo and organising events, like a beach clean up last month.

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Part of the project will be hosting different courses and workshops, from permaculture and yoga to pasta-making and other local traditions. The idea is that visitors will pay to learn something new, which will make another course free for locals with limited resources.

Growing Greener are hosting their first events in Cilento from May 2024 – to be announced on their website later this month.

As for the physical eco-lodge, they’re still looking for the right location and seeking a state grant to get going. It may take a few years, but it’s clear the communal foundations will be well laid by then.

Watch the video above to learn more about Growing Greener’s travels and project in Cilento.

Video editor • Joanna Adhem

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