American students learn about sustainable agritourism at Casa Nardi

Paul Smith’s College students have been enjoying the hospitality and beauty of Casa Nardi in Apella, Lunigiana, for the past week. The tranquility and atmosphere of this restored medieval village have been an ideal setting for a series of excursions on the Tuscan side of the Appennine Park.

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The students have experienced Casa Nardi’s bioparque, learned the secrets of chestnut flour production, discovered that the acacia honey season has arrived, and awake each morning to the music of the bells on the resident sheep herd. Each day, the students enjoy the variety of the tastes of the regional cuisine, sampling dishes crafted using traditional local ingredients and methods.

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We also have had the opportunity to observe and speak with other visitors to this hotel, learning what has attracted them to this destination, and discussing their preferences and impressions of tourism in Lunigiana. We have discovered a jewel here in the mountains!

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The Italian Job

Prof. Eric Holmlund and five Paul Smith’s College students are in Italy helping officials develop an ecotourism plan for the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines National Park.

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From left, students T.J. Johnson, Barrie Potter, Emily Bertora, Victoria Lore, Professor Eric Holmlund, and student Jane Swartz

The students and professor have learned that the Apennines became a national park in 2001, and since then, the protected area has faced many of the same challenges and opportunities as New York State’s Adirondack Park: It needs a tourism economy to grow and environmental regulation to protect it, but it also needs to balance those ambitions with the needs of the people who have lived there for generations. Paul Smith’s College is located within the boundaries of an immense state park which is 100 times as large as the Parco Nazionale Appennino Tosco-Emilano.

The five-student team is working with the Marco Polo Study Abroad Italy program to understand the balance between community development and natural resource protection . “I’m especially excited about this project because it’s not just a study-abroad program,” says Paul Smith’s College President John W. Mills. “Our students are over there producing an actual product.”

The students are well versed in ecotourism, natural resource management and policy, hospitality and culinary arts, so they can help Appennino park officials promote the many opportunities for recreation, agricultural tourism, and community tourism in the region.

The park is underused in terms of year-round visitation by domestic and foreign tourists, and is essentially undiscovered by American tourists. “We’re among the first American tourists to visit these small, exquisite mountain communities,” Holmlund says. “But we hope to change that. The students are conducting interviews with local officials and community members to help the park administration shape tourism development strategies into the future.”

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The Paul Smith’s College group meets the Mayor of Berceto, Park Director Guiseppe Vignalli, the Priest of the Berceto church, and Giacomo Berselli of the Marco Polo Institute.