Saturday, 31 May 2014


It’s about time we went biodegradable.  

Kokopelli sunflowers
Slowly we’ve been disentangling ourselves from a way of life out of harmony with the natural world.  The easy ones are well entrenched now: shopping locally, eating seasonally, growing our own, making, mending, re-using, re-cycling, and so on, and so on.  

But to extract yourself completely and live a truly “green” lifestyle isn’t easy.  

Kokopelli bell tents & hens

We are a campsite with toilets to keep clean, showers, sinks and floors.  We have bell tents for hire, along with their cleaning and the laundry of linen and towels.  

Our campers cook and they wash their clothes, they wash their dishes and, if we’re lucky (and we usually are) they clean the cookers too.  Lots of chemicals going down the pan.

However, two problems:

1. Eco products are not cheap
2. Eco products are not easy to find here in Serramonacesca.

Abbazia di San Liberatore a Majella, Serramonacesca

I have been pondering this for a while.  If I can make my own creams and lotions from products that are all natural and good (and at a fraction of the commercial cost), then why can I not do the same for household products?  

This last month, a rather wet spring with a number of rainy days have given the opportunity of enforced inside labour.  So I surfed and shopped and experimented, and found we can do it and cheaply too.  Cheaper, in fact, than using commercial chemical products.  Here’s how, and how much it costs (details of where to purchase are at the end):

Universal Detergent from Solara

This wonder product is completely biodegradable and can be mixed and used for almost anything.  

It’s €4.50 a litre, is super concentrated and unperfumed.  

This is how I’m diluting and mixing it for household cleaning and laundry:

Large surfaces cleaning (€0.02 per litre - yes, really!)

15ml diluted in 4 litres of water = €0.02 per litre.  No brainer.

It works, its good.  Add a few drops of your favourite essential oil and you're away.  Lavender, geranium, peppermint, tea tree, lemon, all enhance the cleaning properties and smell delicious too.

Small surfaces cleaning (€1.15 / 500ml)

Popped in a spritzer, 50% dilute and you have a kitchen cleaner, bathroom cleaner and just about anything else cleaner for only €1.15 for a 500ml spray.

Again, mix & match with essential oils, different ones for the kitchen, different ones for the bathroom, drop some citronella in for the kitchen one and help keep the pesky bugs at bay too.

Further dilute it and you've got yourselves a furniture cleaner.

Washing the dishes (€0.46 / 500ml)

Buy an eco washing up liquid from the supermarket (I used Winni's bought from Conad for €1.32 per 500ml) and mix it with Solara's Universal Detergent diluted for large surfaces (as above).   Use two thirds Solara, one third Winni's and, bingo, you've got a pretty effective washing up liquid that cuts through grease at low temperatures for €0.46 for 500ml.

Damned kind to the hands too.

Now this little baby is totally gorgeous.  Pure soap flakes of the gentlest kind, lightly scented with rose.  All natural and not an animal fat or chemical in sight.  Beautiful used on their own, and I will certainly spoil myself from time to time (loads of information on the Marsiglia soap below), but I needed to bring the cost down.

I mixed one third soap flake solution (soap flakes dissolved in a small amount of hot water) with two thirds Solara (diluted for large surface cleaning, ie 15ml Solara in 1 litre of water), filled the dosing ball supplied with the soap flakes, gave it a go and, by jiminy, it worked.  Not only did the wash come out sweet smelling and clean, but it was soft too.

Used with a cube of Marsiglia (see below) for rubbing on stubborn stains and you have the perfect solution.  Doing the laundry becomes an absolute pleasure.  

No going back for me.

Il Marsiglia - Natural Soap from Marseille

The picture is not complete without a little information (or a lot) about sapone di Marsiglia, of which I cannot believe I have gone all these years without.

Il Marsiglia is soap from Marseille, and is about as natural as it’s possible to get.  It’s made only from vegetable oils, soda, water and sodium chloride (normal salt).  It is therefore truly hypoallergenic, 100% biodegradable and completely free of the fragrances, preservatives, animal fats, petroleum and other synthetics found in commercial soaps.  

What is more, it is a completely universal cleanser as it can be used gently, safely and effectively for both yourself and your house. 

Seven good reasons for using Marseille Soap:

  • All cleaning needs, of the person and household, can be met
  • Little expense achieves great results
  • Completely biodegradable
  • The scent is delicious, yet never intrusive
  • This soap is not tested on animals
  • Antiseptic properties
  • Natural repellent for pests of people and animals

Two Types

Each true Marseille manufacturer has its own recipes and many "secrets", but substantially the soaps can be divided into two types:

“The Green”

Dark green in colour that comes from the olive oil that it is made with.  “The Green” is definitely the most suitable for personal hygiene, but can also be used for hand or machine washing, or as universal cleanser.

“The White”

More clear with a slight cream or beige tint.  It is made ​​from seed oils (palm, peanut or coconut).  This type is recommended for hand or machine washing, or as a neutral detergent.

The properties & uses of Marseille Soap

The extent of this product can only be fully appreciated when we start to look at its properties and uses.  Whoever thinks that Marseille soap should only be used for washing clothes, will be amazed to discover how many of their current products can be thrown away in favour of a bar of Marseille.

Personal Hygiene

Bolognano swimming hole, Valle dell'Orta, Abruzzo
The “Green", based on olive oil, is perfect for all aspects of personal hygiene and leaves your skin feeling clean and fresh and with the delicate aroma that is characteristic of this soap.  

It rinses easily and can be used by the whole family.  

Eating arrosticini, Serramonacesca, Abruzzo

Being hypoallergenic it is also suitable for the little ones and those with the most sensitive skin.  

With its known bactericidal effect it is also effective against parasites, and regular use can benefit those with skin problems, such as eczema or acne.

As an exfoliant, well lathered into an exfoliating glove the Marseille can be effective for the removal of dead skin cells, leaving the body silky and shiny.


Used with a good (ideally badger hair) shaving brush and very hot water, lathering the area to be shaved until you get a soft foam softens the hair making it easier to shave and allows the blade to flow beautifully. 

Hand washing

Sheep, Passo Lanciano, Abruzzo
Being an effective, yet gentle, cleanser the Marseille can be used on any fabric, even the most delicate, such as wool, silk and lace.  

All you need do is lather the soap directly onto the clothes, rub and rinse.  If you’d like to leave the clothes to soak, simply grate the soap into flakes (or buy a bag of the soap already flaked) and dissolve about 10 grams of soap to 5 litres of warm water.    

In the washing machine

Drying washing, Abruzzese style.
The soap flakes can be used in the washing machine either alone or, as I do, mixed with another (biodegradable) detergent which gives a more cost effective solution.

It is recommended to always use a dosing ball placed directly into the drum as this gives a more even distribution of soap, increases its effectiveness and reduces the amount required.

Revive shoes

Winter shoes!  Serramonacesca, Abruzzo
If your shoes (even those with leather parts) have reached the point of no return, you can make them look like new by leaving them to soak overnight in a solution of 1 tablespoon of soap flakes and 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda dissolved in 5 litres of warm water.  After soaking, rinse thoroughly and allow to dry in the shade.

Shine your jewellery

Soak your gold and silver in a solution of 1 tablespoon of soap flakes dissolved in 1 litre of hot water.  After a quick rinse your jewellery will shine like new. (Should not be used ​with pearls, coral, bone or ivory.)

Clean and soften brushes

After cleaning paint brushes with the appropriate solvent leave them to soak for a few hours in warm water saponified with Marseille.  Just let them dry, no need to rinse.  Soap is great protection for the bristles and keeps them soft.  Even works for make-up brushes.

Leather cleaner

Shoes, handbags, furniture, biker suits, etc. The leather can be cleaned with a brush or a cloth soaked in Marseille soap.  After washing, rinse and allow to dry slowly (never in the sun)

Tile cleaner

Kitchen and bathroom tiles clean well and quickly with a Marseille soapy sponge. If dirt has accumulated in the grouting, prepare a cream of equal amounts of soap flakes and baking soda and dilute with a little water.  Apply with a brush, leave for at least an hour and rinse.


The majority of the floors, including wood, can be cleaned effectively and without rinsing with a weak solution of Marseille. Once dry the soap leaves the floor shiny, unlike many detergents.  (Test on a small area first to check the compatibility of Marseille with your floor.)

Perfuming & protecting clothes

A cube of Marseille (or a bag of flakes) when placed inside cabinets or drawers will release its fragrance for a long time.  You can also use the “scented” versions.  Your fabrics will also be protected against moths and pests .

Plants and flowers

Tomato growing, Kokopelli Camping, Serramonacesca

Aphids can be easily combated by spraying the plants with a solution of 5-10 grams of flakes dissolved in a litre of water.  The parasites will disappear and the effect will be long lasting. 

Antique restoration

Due to its absolute absence of synthetic chemicals, solvents, fragrances and preservatives, Marseille soap is often used by restorers to remove dirt from walls, furniture, wood, frescoes, paintings, etc

The Alento, Serramonacesca

Where to buy:  provided the majority of the info above and sells all the products listed.  

The website is only in Italian, let me know if you need help ordering.  

If anyone locally (Abruzzo) would like to avoid the delivery charges for orders under €60, let me know as I'm happy to do combined orders.

Looking down from Mammarosa, Parco Nazionale della Majella, Abruzzo

Thursday, 15 May 2014


It's not every night you go to the bar and come home with a piglet.  Poor little porker had been hit by a car and was on the side of the road looking very poorly indeed.

We picked him up and carried him home.

We didn't expect him to still be alive in the morning, but he is.  He's still rather poorly, but is snorting and has shown he can be a feisty little chap.  Just taken a bit of milk from a bottle too.  

Whether he'll still be alive tomorrow, who knows, but we'll keep you posted.