Deep in a valley in Southeastern Sicily, Italy, sits a cobblestone home nestled among a grove of orange trees. Inside, a family of five crowds in the kitchen that doubles as the living room around the breakfast table that sits adjacent to hand-built shelves crammed with homemade jam, sauce, and fresh-grown herbs.
Husband and wife Angelo and Angela first met while working in an eco-village. They decided to travel around Italy afterward before settling down in Sicily with their three daughters, Hybla, 6, Lua, 4, and Siria, 2, all delivered via home birth. The couple’s first home sat at the top of a hill, but having outgrown the tight quarters of their old space, they later purchased a piece of land at the bottom of a hill where an abandoned home in need of serious repair sat. Angelo initially had the goal of completing all of the repairs himself, but when it became clear that the work of upgrading and repairing was too much he enlisted the hands of friends. Built in three parts, Angelo began repairing the first part of the home while his family remained in the old house. Upon completion of the first part the family all moved into the new home — equipped with an open shower used in the summers, an “open air” toilet, and electricity.
Photographer Simone Donati first met the couple in 2008 when he visited their home with a friend. The impression of their humble lifestyle lingered, and two years later Donati returned to explore a project on different kinds of home life across Italy. His stunningly ethereal and whimsical series “Valley of Angels” observes a family living with little disturbance to the solitude they’ve built around them.
But perhaps the biggest stars of Donati’s series are the couple’s three daughters, jovial, playful, and bubbling with an unfiltered imagination. Their curious spirits convert them into mini explorers of the lush fields nearby, hiding out in farming equipment, dancing on top of their family’s van, or collecting sticks. For a few hours each day, Angela home schools the oldest, Hybla, and both Hybla and Lua help out with chores.
The family’s life is a simple one, tending to their vegetable garden, collecting water from a nearby river, eating their own organic foods made from their breads, jams, and sauces, and preferring to teach their daughters at home rather than in a school. And while the family has chosen a remote home that operates on alternative energy sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels, they have not withdrawn entirely from the world. Friends visit regularly, and they have a cellphone and a computer that the girls occasionally use to watch cartoons.