My first ‘Tuscan’ blog in January captured, I hope, the child-like excitement that I felt on signing the final deed to our Tuscan Property. After years of searching, our dream has come true. We are now the proud owners of a 60 acre olive tree farm in Southern Tuscany that we will restore over the next two years. We will transform this run-down building into a home or small boutique hotel.
Last week I arrived in Tuscany alone (Hans – my old man, one of my boys and a small camera crew were following on to document the ‘before’ shots of our new home). The farmer, Luciano who we have just hired, met me at the B&B we’re staying and took me up to my property. He sauntered off to work in the vineyard leaving his new ‘boss’ to wander around this ‘podere’ alone. A podere is a large fortified farm that would have once housed 3 or 4 families on its top floor with the animals living below. This particular farm was once 3 medieval towers constructed over different periods and kind of ‘stuck’ together. This was the first time I’d seen the property without the previous owners and all their stuff. The sky was a rich, Mediterranean blue, the surrounding undulating hills seemed to swim off in the distance like giant waves and that infamous Tuscan sun gave the butter, ochre and terracotta exterior walls a shimmering golden glow. I unravelled the chains on a massive door with a patina that only a baking hot sun could have weathered. It creaked open and there was my future living room. Impossible to imagine now but one day! The floors are ancient stone, pitted with holes from centuries of cow urine. The tiled drain still runs through the centre of these floors and there is a manger with scatterings of hay around the parameter. Four rooms, well spaces really, are joined together by huge brick arches. Kind of like todays modern open plan living. I stumble back outside into the winter sunshine. There are pigsties everywhere. Empty now except for floors of straw and the rather strong aroma of their previous inhabitants. These will be the guest bedrooms for the future luxury B & B. I shake my head at the daunting task ahead as I stubble over piles of ‘something’ smelly and foreign to this city slicker!
I am not sure if there is an emotion that mixes pure excitement and gut wrenching fear. Probably the same feeling as when one bunged jumps off a cliff, which I am afraid to say I have never done… But I have invested my life savings in a pile of stone in a foreign land. The lump in my throat is growing bigger. Outside again, I climb up the outside stairs. My legs are heavy with dread. This is actually the first time I have explored the top floor. Most Tuscan farms have exterior stone staircases as the families would have lived up here with much of their heating coming from the animals living below. I think my gasp on entering must have been heard in Rome! I stood among walls covered in black mildew. Bare light bulbs cast a depressing mood across massive bedrooms with soaring 15 foot ceilings. Oh! and these aren’t your typical stucco ceilings. Huge chestnut beams hold up a surface of terracotta bricks. Each room shrinks away from the midday sun with shutters tightly closed. I flung a pair open and that lump in my throat surfaced with a stream of tears. One day I will wake up to this view. The ancient town of Montepulciano in the distance, lines of cypresses , vineyards rolling over hills that seem to emulate the curves of a rotund renaissance beauty. The quiet hit me, then I realized it was not quiet at all. I heard the sheep in the fields below and then a peel of bells from the three different churches in the village nearby. With a slap of optimism I smiled. Mildew can be removed, walls plastered and painted and of course bathrooms can be added (there’s only one – a 1960’s eyesore). I am Debbie Travis I say to myself. I can do this, I’ve done it before. Well never quite like this, but I am ready to give it a bloody good try.