Who says you need a lot of money to travel? If you have the desire, the world is at your fingertips. Consider this: Could you work 30 hours a week in exchange for free room and board in a lovely part of the lake district of Italy? If you’re one of those who could, read on.
Centro d’Ompio, as one example, offers lodging and meals gratis in exchange for helping out at the retreat. Centro d’Ompio provides accommodation for at least 75 people, who often arrive in groups on spiritual retreats that may involve silence, yoga, and other new age (and non-new age) pursuits.
It’s situated on a wooded hill overlooking Lago d’Orta, the smallest but some say the most romantic of the lakes, with a fairytale-ish island in the middle and a backdrop of mountain pinnacles.
Staff, including working guests, resides at a group house located ten minutes downhill from the retreat in a small community called Pratalungo. The rustic lodging houses 15 staff members who share a kitchen, common room, two toilets, and a shower. Another nearby house provides additional shelter.
Working guests receive free meals, which is the same food served to the retreat’s guests. Meals consist of international vegetarian cuisine, including eggs and dairy. Desserts are a highlight at every dinner, but the tiramisu outshines them all. Enjoy it with a cup of cappuccino (two free cups a day) or a glass of wine (working guests enjoy a discount at the bar).
A typical day starts with a brisk 15-minute uphill walk. Breakfast begins at 8:30 with scrambled eggs, porridge, cereal, and croissants. Work often commences at 9, perhaps dishwashing. Working guests need to provide six hours of help a day, so another two to four hours may be spent on housekeeping, gardening, or kitchen work.
Many of the working guests come from nearby Germany. Others tend to come from other parts of Europe. Often, working guests range in age from their twenties, most common, to their forties, but one can participate at any age.
During the time off from work, folks can hike or visit the nearby waterfall. Lago d’Orta is only a 25 minute walk downhill and it’s a great place for a swim or a picnic. The town of Orta and Stressa are great places to visit. And, Milan, Italy and parts of Switzerland offer farther escapes.
It is not necessary to have skills to be a working guest at Centro d’Ompio, you simply need to have the energy to complete (mostly physical) tasks, the desire to work in exchange for room and board, and the willingness to adapt to the multicultural, multi-lingual environment.
For more information about working guest programs, search under “volunteer in Italy” or “farm internships in Italy.” Here are a few websites that might also be helpful:
- Centro d’Ompio: http://www.ompio.org/en/our-offerings/working-guests
- Help Exchange: www.helpx.net Volunteers work in exchange for food and accommodations at farms, home stays, ranches, lodges, inns and hostels.
- Spannocchia: www.spannocchia.org. This program accepts interns (typically ages 18 to 30) for farm work and guest services. There is a $250 fee that goes to the Spannocchia Foundation. The program introduces participants to farming, tourism and Tuscan culture and language. It lasts three months.
- Backdoor Jobs: www.backdoorjobs.com. Check out “sustainable living and farming work” among others.
- World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms: www.wwoof.org. WWOOF is a program for those interested in learning about farming. A very small fee gets you a one-year membership, which includes a list of farms that provide free lodging in exchange for voluntary labor.