I happen to inspect holiday villas in Italy as a job. That means I can only allow myself to be miserable if something really terrible happens, because this is rather a gift from heaven than something I would call work.
The first time I have entered this enormous villa I have sensed a deep peace. A feeling of pillowcases washed with lavender hand made soap, ironed close to an open window and folded back while singing Son Tutte Belle Le Mamme del Mondo. I have felt secure, like I was back in my original childhood country house - but a better version, more colorful, with a lot of space for my friends to stay over for a night, many dinners and a picnic.
<<This will be perfect to reunite. To gather. Assemble. Meet again for the first time>> I have thought to myself, and started the inspection of pristine, simple bedrooms, happy rustic kitchen and a living room for at least thirty people to sit comfortably while grandson Luke plays the piano. I have taken notes of the bathrooms: ‘one can eat on the ground’ type of loo always makes me happy. People spend a lot of time in bathrooms and they shall be treated as minor libraries, think tank boxes, spiritual corners.
I have noticed the house is perfect for kids: no chinese vases non-sense, no crystal chandeliers to be refunded at the end of holiday, materasses don’t scream the name of great-grand-mother Quintilia.
We have learnt in the past twenty years that the world ‘luxury’ sells, so everything down in Tuscany right now is advertised as luxurious, featuring this, boosting that - with stunning views over everything, of course. ‘Welcome to Luxury Villa La Vuota, with mounds as beds and the same cozy charme of a butcher’s shop in Instanbul - oh, by the way, electricity and towels are not included, help yourself with the curtains. We didn’t invest in a new photoshoot since 1973, but you can be sure we will be generous with you, instead’.
I never get impressed with a spectacular view as much as I do when the house is clean and smells of generous proprietor: I do hate those greasy owners who rent because their fiscal advisor told them to do so, or because they have six villas too many - and I can spot them in seconds. It is about a dream coming through for your guests, a fantasy that you want to deliver better than they think you might, it is provided through great loving service and requires a strong personality people can transmit to their own house.
Truth is. Tuscany is about vegetating in the porch, with a glass of nice vino rosso, not being afraid to spill some of the tuscan cigar hash on the ground - and why, on earth, would you. It is indeed about the vistas but let me tell you this: when you are inspired, an old dusty road works just fine. But the house, that element needs to resemble us, or it will be a terrible disappointment we are setting ourselves for.
Tuscany is a place of questions.
This can happen because this is an intelligent spot of universe, where things change only when it’s time to: one won’t find any life-coaching resorts to stay in down here, no boot camp, no gentle people you can make friends with in minutes, because Tuscans are as gruff as humans can get: they exercise the art of NO as nobody else in the planet. But if you manage to break through one, eventually, that means his home, money, friendship is yours for good. Your house, by the way, will never be his, not even for a sporadic visit, because he loathes your life style and thinks the place you come from is hideous: there is nothing like Tuscany for a tuscan. Nulla.
The monastery, converted by enlightened, elegant Ludovica and Pietro, stands on a hill, of course, and it really offers same views one needs to be quite cool not to lose breathe, but nobody brags about it: Ludovica spends more time studying her guests possible rooming list than looking around, really - she masters the Who Sleeps With Who fine art. Everything is green, the patio is scented like spring itself all year long and it is quintessentially Tuscan.
This house is where one can come and break those personal routines. This is where one can reset before life does something naughty. This is the perfect place to rediscover mum, dad, brother, sister, husband, friends - with this amount of square feet please calculate at least twenty of your beloved ones.
So if one day you are coming over, think about taking that hiking path on the back of the villa, start walking and when back stop by the little private, sacred, chapel. It doesn’t really matter if you believe in God or Lady Gaga, but do not deprive yourself of the pleasure of silence on an uncomfortable wooden bench.
Spend an entire day in these surroundings and, when back, ask your tuscan mamma to prepare a simple insalata di farro (farro salad) with some fresh tomatoes from the back garden. She will add some olive oil, row. Probably some pepper. Pair it with a glass of cold Felluga, if I may, or Passerina d’Abruzzo. Make sure you chew the basil as well and, when nobody sees you, use your nose again as hunting dogs do. Feel part of the monastery, Lucca, Tuscany and Italian culture in its real, authentic, core. Forget that luxury fluff, and go immerse in something atavic.
When back home in London, where I spend six months a year, I have skipped the buy two and get hundreds because they all taste like water anyway. I have found a farm where I can grab those tomatoes that look the worst and taste the best. I try to eat well and drink better, although sometimes I surely love to compromise. I learnt from our tuscan mamma we are not supposed to throw pieces of things in the bin at night, because they become quiches, frittate (omelets), sformati (casseroles) and even sauces.
I am not sure if I broke my routine, but I brought back the monastery happy one with me and bought a collection of medieval music I used to listen to down there. It’s a start.
Full article and photographs on Wall Street International Magazine