We recently had the pleasure of being invited to visit the factory of Ponte Giulio, one of our accessible bathroom suppliers, which just happens to be in Italy! They didn’t have to ask us twice (well, actually they did because we didn’t think we had heard correctly the fist time)!
We flew out on the Thursday afternoon and were met at the airport by Marco and Massimo who then drove us the one and a half hour journey to their beautiful historic town of Orvieto, which is just north of Rome, built high on a cliff top, with five ancient gates in and out of the town. We arrived early evening and were immediately whisked off to dinner to a traditional Italian restaurant across the road from our hotel. We were joined by Enrico, the owner of Ponte Giulio who warmly welcomed us as friends, as well as business partners and we learnt more about the hugely successful family business which was started by his father, Emidio Carloni.
We were up early the next morning and taken to the factory which is a short distance from the main town of Orvieto and were initially driven around the property which is impressive in size. The business employs 50 people and is run as a warm and friendly family business. The founder Emidio is in his 80′s and retired but still visits the factory on a daily basis, keeping a watchful eye and we had the great pleasure of meeting him.
The morning was spent meeting the employees, touring the factory and watching the manufacturing processes, which in many cases were automated with robotics. The rails are bent, cut to size and polished by machinery but the anti-bacterial vinyl covering on the grab rails is completed with a manual process, to enable it to be applied to the rails.
Their very stylish acrylic basins are made manually, using one slab of an acrylic based material, which is then placed on top of a mould and gently smoothed into place by hand. They are then placed in a vacuumed environment to complete the process and to set the acrylic to a hard finish. The acrylic basins are a show stopper, very contemporary, smooth and elegant, they are pore free, easy to maintain, with anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Some basins have an integral grab bar at the front which can provide extra stability for the user, if they are unsteady on their feet or a point to pull against for a wheelchair user to manoeuvre themselves under the basin. The rail can also be used as a towel or flannel rail. The basins do not have an overflow and so the drain is free flowing, but an overflow can easily be added upon request.
We broke at lunchtime with a quick dash into town for a delicious lunch of mixed seafood and roasted vegetables and a glass of their very special Ovieto Classico wine, which is very easy on the palate. We were then treated to the stunning panoramic view of Orvieto (see image top of page) on our way back to the factory, to discuss business and to look at their research and development area and exciting new products in the pipeline. Ponte Giulio trade internationally with distributors in many countries, and have a strong presence in the U.S.A. The UK is a relatively new area for them and so it was interesting to discuss the opportunities that are available for us both here in the UK.
At the end of the day, we said our thanks and farewells to Enrico (above centre) and arranged to meet Marco Ragno (above right) for dinner. The food in Orvieto is heavenly; cake, fruit, cured meats and cheese, bread and croissants for breakfast. We loved the antipasti selection for cured meats, cheese, olives and bruschetta. The other delights that we sampled were wild boar, rabbit kebabs, pasta with hare, seafood , fried chickpea pancakes ( these were amazing) and fish of the day with olives, cherry tomatoes, oranges and dauphin potatoes. This was our last meal and the powerful taste of the sweet oranges stayed with me all the way back to the UK!
As a wheelchair user, I did have slight trepidation in staying in Orvieto, with the one in 4 hills and cobbled streets, but I took my Freewheel with me and all was good. We had the weekend to explore the town which is full of shops, cafes, restaurants and so much history. The Duomo stands proudly at the top of the town, towering majestically over Orvieto.
The shops offered an interesting array of designer leather bags, ceramics and sculptures, olive wood homewares and small fashion boutiques, which made it very easy to wander around and take in the atmosphere. It was also lovely to sit in the sunshine and enjoy a coffee and people watch.
Just before we left, we happened to spot a lady walking past with an OMHU cane. OMHU was then bought by Sabi, who re branded the canes. designed2enable are the UK sales agents for Sabi canes and pill boxes ( as we also were for OMHU), so it was a real treat for us to see our canes in use in the small town of Orvieto. The lady was visiting all the way from Hawaii and she kindly let us take a photo – see below, and said how much she loved her cane.
Sadly our time came to an end on Sunday afternoon and Massimo drove us back to the airport for our journey home. Needless to say it was typically cold and raining when we landed. Boo hoo!