First Day in Italy

When I last left you we had just fallen into our cosy Italian beds after a massive day of driving through the Swiss Alps.  

The town we stayed in, Rossena, was chosen at random.  It is part of a little known province called Reggio Emilia.   The villa we were staying in was built in the 14th Century and was absolutely amazing.  Ben was so full of admiration of the structure of the villa.  He said “It’s so solid that I reckon you could drop a bomb on this place and it would still be here”.  Calling it a “villa” is a bit misleading in my mind as it was absolutely HUGE and seemed to go on and on forever.  There were secret rooms everywhere and it had 3 floors, possibly more as I suspect there was a section underground that we did not get to explore.  It was furnished in antique furniture and every single wall was adorned with paintings, so close to each other that they almost became a type of wall paper.  

The villa was perched on top of a hill and had 360 degree views of the countryside. It was also ideally located between two castles who were on neighbouring hills.  I had a brilliant view of one of the castles out of my bedroom window.  Pinch me now!!!

Our host Isolina did not speak English so we relied on gestures and charades.  She runs a B&B (which I had found on Airbnb) and she also had some Italian guests staying from Florence.  The fact that her place attracted locals, rather than tourists, made me smugly think that I had definitely made another superb choice.  I think I missed my calling.  Should have been a travel agent.

Isolina prepared us the most beautiful breakfast of croissants, pancakes, fruit and something delicious called Erbazzone.  Over breakfast the Italian couple from Florence told us in broken English of places to visit.  They live in the historic section of Florence and have to leave town during the summer as the place is overrun with tourists.  They did not recommend visiting Florence or Venice as they said it is crowded with tourists and not an enjoyable experience.  We immediately crossed those two off our list.  They did however, recommend that we go into Rome, which was some thing we had been trying to decide upon.  Decision made.  We will go to Rome!!

After breakfast we packed up our things and said goodbye to Isolina, who had treated us like long lost relatives in the brief time we had met her.  I took a few pictures of her villa but honestly the photos just do not do it justice.  I really don’t want to post them because I feel I wasn’t able to capture the beauty accurately.  

After leaving Isolina’s villa we visited one of the local castles “Castello di Canossa”.  Europe is ridiculous.  Seriously – there are castles EVERYWHERE!!!  How the heck they managed to build these magnificent structures in a time when everything was done by hand is a bewilderment to me.  Ben said that slavery was all the go back in ancient Rome so that was how it was achieved and I did recall reading something about Romans buying children to use as slaves off poor parents in exchange for dog meat.  But regardless of how/why/who built them – they are amazing.  

My spoilt children have viewed so many castles and old buildings in the past few weeks that they have kind of desensitised to them.  There were groans when I announced that before setting off for our farm at Roccalbenga (remote Tuscany) we were going to pop in and view “Castello di Canossa”.  “Not another castle!!!” moaned Jazzy.  I told her to suck it up.

Rohan and Isabelle were overly enthusiastic about visiting the castle.  Unfortunately, when the castle was first built back in in 940, no one had the foresight to build a road right up to the top of the castle meaning that it was a bit of a steep hike to get to it.  At the top there is a museum where you can read all about the history, relics and then there are parts of the castle that the kids were allowed to clamber all over.  I was a bit worried that these parts had managed to survive for over 1000 years but had never been faced with Rowie – the ultimate destructive force.  I was fully expecting some kind of landslide to occur with the way he was enthusiastically jumping all over it.  

After we left the castle we began to make our way to our next destination, a farm stay in remote Tuscany.  This place was also chosen at random and is another notch in my belt for spectacular Airbnb choices.  Roccalbenga is a tiny town in the Tuscany region with only just over a thousand residents. It looks straight out of a medieval picture book as the streets are so narrow that they only allow for either walking or one tiny car drive up them.  It is a true relic of former times and seems to be a very traditional town – definitely not touristic.  I will take some pictures and find out more about the history for a later post.  Our farm is about 15 minutes out of town and is perched on top of a hill with spectacular views.  Our host, Luciano, runs this farm and has sheep, cows, bees, chickens, grapes, and olives.  He makes his own wine which Ben declared to be “the best red wine he has EVER tasted” and milks the sheep.  We are not sure what he does with the sheep milk.  I haven’t figured out whether people drink it or if it is used for cheese.  His house is very typical of Tuscan houses.  It may or may not have been the one used in the movie “Stealing Beauty” (I’m guessing it isn’t but it is so similar in many ways that I’m just pretending that it is).  

Luciano showed the kids the baby sheep and all the other animals on the farm.  The kids were delighted to find out that he had some dogs and we have rarely seen Our children since we have arrived here.  

In fact, Rohan has become Luciano’s shadow, following him everywhere and helping with the animals.  

I will write more about Luciano’s farm tomorrow.  Kids are desperate to go to some thermal springs that Luciano told us about up in the mountains.  He is full of local knowledge as he was born on this farm and has lived in the area his whole life.  We feel super special to be having this unique experience of Tuscan life.  I don’t think our 5 nights here will be enough – we may want to stay longer!!

Thanks for reading!!

B xx 

Pictures from Rossena:

Photo’s from our farm at Roccalbegna

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