This article was written by Martha Hayden and was originally published on The Restless Viking website on April 25, 2023.
Ivo and Rita have created a cultural workshop hotel called Casa Mediterranea on the island of Sardinia, Italy. Since we’d met Ivo three years ago this couple has not only transformed a bed and breakfast, but in addition they have created a family! Come with us as we traveled back to Sardinia to reconnect with Ivo and meet his family.
We’d been impressed with Ivo from the moment he’d bounced his way into the hotel lobby. Three years ago Ivo had been our guide in Sardinia, an island west of Rome. Ivo’s energy and knowledge had been astounding! Our connection had been instantaneous!
Ivo brought us to his parents’ home where we had baked traditional Sardinian bread. While the dough was rising, he took us to see ancient Nuraghi ruins. That evening we attended a traditional suckling pig meal at DeBrio’s, his friend’s winery. The next day choir music lofted from a barn as we witnessed the dressing of the horses for the Sa Sartiglia festival. The whole time Ivo had teemed with information and energy! Being brought into his circle of close friends, which he’d spent seasons nurturing, had been an honor!
Three years ago with an exuberant bounce in his step, Ivo had shown us his recently purchased hotel. At the time this building had needed a lot of updates. Ivo’s vision had been to create a cultural workshop / bed and breakfast, where he could teach visitors about his island’s traditions.
Chuck, my husband, and I departed from the island the next day. When we had landed in Rome we’d been met by a trio of airport workers in orange hazmat suits who were taking everyone’s temperature from a distance.
Once we’d returned to the states, Chuck and Ivo messaged regularly through “Whatsap.” Since tourism had shut down, Ivo had begun joining his Dad in masonry jobs. In the evenings Ivo steadily continued to remodel the bed and breakfast but his messages would sometimes reflect doubt about the future.
Blue Zones – Sardinia
Ivo had casually mentioned that he’d been part of the “Blue Zone” study. The Blue Zones are areas that have been researched due to the high number of centurions, people who live to be 100 years old or more. Their life habits and diets have been recorded to learn what has brought these individuals to have lived a full century. There are only five “Blue Zone” regions which include Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California and Sardinia, Italy. Sardinia has the highest number of people living to 100 years and beyond.
When we had arrived at home, I looked into these, “Blue Zones.” I had learned that Doctor Ivo Pirisi had not only been one of the lead scientists investigating this phenomenon, but had also developed a program for tourists who wanted an authentic “taste of Sardinian lifestyle.” Ivo had earned his PhD in biology, specializing in nutrition. Through reading and podcasts I had realized that Ivo had regularly taken people on “Longevity Retreats and Tours,” which he had designed. This explained why he’d been so incredibly knowledgeable and amazingly patient explaining these facts. We had been so fortunate to have had Ivo escort us around his island home!
In my research about “Blue Zones,” I found some of the key factors to longevity: connection to others in a community, having a daily purpose, daily activity, farming and pasteurizing, eating a natural diet (without preservatives) and having minimal stress.
Casa Mediterranea – A Cultural Workshop
Arriving at Casa Mediterranea had felt like a deep exhale. Ivo had transformed this building into a welcoming hotel and cultural workshop. His partner, Rita, had been working alongside Ivo over the past three years.
Ivo bounced from room to room as he energetically explained how he’d layered the limestone walls. “This method had been used for centuries. Moisture can be absorbed while keeping the room cool.” Each room had a unique design to suit a variety of guests. The rooftop patio provided a view of the village’s terracotta rooftops and lemon trees. The word, ‘refreshing,’ danced through my mind.
Three years ago Ivo had taken us to his parents’ home where we had baked traditional Sardinian bread. The lower level of Guisseppe and Dolorio’s home had a specially built bread oven. Baking bread would be a weekly, community event. In fact, their neighbor, Marta, had joined us.
Using the family’s 300 year old yeast culture for the bread making, we learned how the bacteria and special wheat had blended to create the unique loaves. This style of meaningful learning while connecting with Ivo’s family proved to put a smile on my face each time the experience crossed my mind.
In order to replicate this form of first-hand education for larger groups, Ivo had created a workshop space, counter and built a bread oven in his backyard of Casa Mediterranea.
Completing The Guest House
Along the backside of the yard had been a storage garage. Ivo had been transforming the space into a guest house with two rooms. He explained how he had been using an ancient technique of adding mud and straw halfway up the wall. The three layers need to be pressed with a brush before it completely dried in order to create a leathery look. This covering will help collect moisture and insulate the walls which will keep the rooms cooler. Woven straw mats on the ceiling will work the same way.
“Do you prefer sweet or savory in the morning?” Ivo had asked us. “I suppose savory, please.” Chuck and I had answered. Soon after, Ivo had presented homemade sausage from his own pig. “It doesn’t have sulfates. I have worked to find a way to preserve the meat without using nasty sulfates.” he had explained.
Another specialty in Sardinia has been their uniquely soft, yet spiky artichokes. These “Caricofi Spinoso Sardo” cone-shaped, sharp spiked artichokes only grow in the southwestern portion of the island and parts of Sicily.
Rita and Antonello
On our last journey, Ivo had spoken of Rita, his partner, with a glimmer and a grin. Well, just over a year after we’d arrived back home, Chuck received a message from Ivo. It contained a photo of a newborn, Antonello, their son. Named for Rita’s father, Antonello, has charmed everyone in his presence much like his parents.
At the time of receiving Ivo’s photo, Covid restrictions had been daunting, I couldn’t imagine ever having the opportunity to meet Antonello. So being able to bond with Antonello and meet Rita had been a delightful dream come true!
Our friendship and admiration of Ivo, Rita and Antonello spans across the globe! Our connection will be carried in my heart all my days. The future looks so bright! Salute! (Cheers!)
Chuck and Martha Hayden, aka The Viking and Poppins, enjoy going on adventures off the beaten path. They also like to share their explorations with others. The Viking is a retired expedition leader while Poppins is a retired teacher. The two offer independent views of their journeys showcasing places, people, and cultures as they explore the world. Visit and follow them on their website and social media accounts. Website | Facebook | Instagram |YouTube