Like most city dwellers, I ached to get away; not only to bask in the Italian sun and dine on rich cuisine, but to have an adventure.
Traveling to Baldissero, near Turin, offered exactly that. The landscape stole my breath; pine forests dotted amongst the foothills, deep blue lakes and clear, reflective skies.
Quaint streets travelled by buses that rarely moved added to that further feeling of separation from the rest of the world. But it wasn't just the scenery I had come for. Recommended by the UN as a model for sustainable futures and a member of the Global Eco Villages Network, the charm and mystery of the Damanhur Community had drawn me here.
The construction of an underground temple, hand built by the Damanarians over a thirty year period, was initially hidden from the Italian government, but since its unveiling it has been revered and praised. It's now classed by some as the eighth wonder of the world and visited by thousands of inquisitive tourists.
As well as the temple the Damanarians have established their own functioning society which includes a doctors surgery, fire service, supermarket, guesthouse, tours, workshops, restaurants and cafes, stocked with ice cream and bubbly waitresses. Alongside these services, the community has its own constitution, newspapers, magazines, an open university, social structure and appointed hierarchy. They even have their own language, used in ceremony and within sacred texts.
But most impressive of all is the currency, the Credito, used to promote the independent local economy. This caused a slight problem when I purchased a drink at a party and received the equivalent of 18 euros in change, in money I knew I could never use again.
Damanhur boasts a thousand citizens, separated into forty four families, thickly spread over a hundred and twelve acres of Italian mountains. The community is varied and diverse; some produce wine, others focus on event organization, yet the most memorable of all are those living in the trees. Twenty of the families dwell amongst the swaying treetops, occupying hand built huts all joined together by sturdy walkways. Their days are spent working; one of them in the local town as part of an IT team, another behind the deli counter in a supermarket. Their nights are spent under a blanket of stars and vegetation.
For me travel has always been about adventure, I‘d get disheartened if I was just lying on a baking beach in Malaga. It’s about feasting my eyes upon the diversity of culture, the richness of people, the ever changing natural environment. In this sense, Damanhur offers everything one could hope for in a traveling adventure; inspiration, possibility and insight into other ways to live. Especially if that means living at the top of an Italian tree.