My first morning waking up under the Tuscan sun did not mirror the fantasy I have held since watching “Stealing Beauty” 22 years ago. Rather than waking up of my own accord and stretching out lazily in my bed whilst gazing calmly at my serene surroundings and stunning view, I was impolitely woken by an over excited child who wanted to know if he had missed sheep milking and where/when would his breakfast pastries be ready. It was 4:30 a.m. Not even Luciano, the resident farmer, was up.
After yelling pseudo-swear words at said child (you know the type of swear words like “GET THE FRIG OUT OF HERE!!!” when really you meant to say f*ck) I tried to go back to sleep. But every time I would start to drift off the little killjoy would “sneak”, back through my room to check if Luciano was awake and making him pastries and or milking sheep. Sneak was in “” because this was done not at all stealthily (as the word sneak implies) but brazenly slamming doors, clomping about and knocking things over. How he managed to stomp about making noise on rock floors in bare feet is nothing short of miraculous. You see, the kids and us have two rooms (each with it’s own bathroom!!). The rooms are side by side and each face the beautiful view. Our room has doors to the outside plus a door to the main house. The kids room just has a door to the outside which means access to the main house for them is through our room. Very clever planning on Luciano’s part to have the children in the room with no access to the house.
Eventually I think Rohan woke up Luciano (or it possibly could have been my pseudo-swearing and empty threats that woke him) and he arose and took Rohan off on the scooter to start milking sheep and feeding animals. By this stage I was awake and grumpy that the fantasy I had held on to for 22 years had been ruined.
The other kids all disappeared to help with the sheep while I did some washing and tried to tidy up the explosion of clothes in their room.
Breakfast was not handmade pastries (much to Rohan’s disappointment) but a delicious spread of fresh fruits, toast, homemade peach jam and famous Roccalbenga type pretzels. Rohan kept saying things ever so subtly like “I can’t WAIT to taste Luciano’s homemade pastries!” while we all shot him death stares.
Over breakfast Luciano told us about some thermal springs about 30 minutes drive away in a place called Saturnia. The water is heavily mineralised, about 37 degrees and bubbles up out of the ground in the most picturesque setting. The waters have been said to be a source of healing for thousands of years. It was first discovered by Roman colony arrived in 183BC and since then has been a well kept secret until tourists recently discovered it. Thinking that some mineralised thermal springs might get me back on track with my “Stealing Beauty” fantasy I quickly agreed and the “Where are my togs? Who took my sunnies/shoes/drink bottle?” squawks from the offspring quickly began.
Ben, having only packed enough clothes for 4 day’s, was tog-less, as his 1 pair of boardies had been recently placed in the front loader washing machine by me, and set to a cycle that took almost 3 hours. Never phased, he decided he would go in in his undies. He assured me that he had a good pair that did not have holes in them and could, at a glance, be mistaken for dick-togs.
Before heading to Saturnia we had to go into the town of Roccalbenga. The previous night we had ordered pizza and as all the phone lines in Roccalbenga were all down, we were unable to pay for our pizza by card or withdraw any cash from the towns atm. I was mortified. But the lady who owned the little pizza shop just told us to not worry and to return in the morning to pay. That’s how lovely this town is. It is completely void of tourists so we stick out like a sore thumb. We have already made friends with the pizza shop owner (the pizza restaurant has two tables inside – so cute!!), the lady and man who run the tiny grocery shop, and the brother and sister who run the towns gelato shop and restaurant. I feel right at home already.
I snapped some pictures in Roccalbenga of the town to try to give you an idea of the vibe but it is really hard to capture. I found out that it is named Roccalbenga after the Albenga river that runs through it. The “Rocca” part I’m assuming is named because it appears to be atop a rocky hill. In fact, a lot of the buildings are built in to the rock. At the top of this rocky hill is a fort, which Ben and Rohan are determined to climb and the girls and I are determined not to climb. It seems quite common here to have the towns sitting atop a hill. I will try to get a picture today of a barren landscape with a hill covered in tiny houses. It is quite something.
The drive to Saturnia was quite peaceful, for once. I think all the kids were excited about swimming in the scorching, Tuscan heat.
Unfortunately, when we arrived, the whinging began. As I tried to lay back and relax in the mineralised waters (reminiscent of my time in a floatation tank), Jazzy, who had obviously misunderstood the term “thermal” complained constantly about the heat. Rohan, who usually LOVES everything, could not stand the smell of the mineralised water, which he said was akin to stench of rotten eggs. He found it so offensive that he immediately got out and laid down in the dirt with a towel over his back like a little turtle.
Kylah, Isabelle, Ben and I loved it but eventually the misery of the others overcame us and we all abandoned the waters.
On the way home I asked Ben to stop off at Coop (the Italian version of Coles/Woolies) so I could buy some groceries to cook dinner/feed the kids). I wanted to make shepherds pie but found they were missing more than 50% of the ingredients I needed to make it. There was no sweet potatoes, Worcestershire sauce, beef stock etc but they had an ENTIRE isle (both sides) with different types of pasta’s.
After purchasing what I could we drove back to Roccalbenga. I wondered why I hadn’t seen anyone swimming in the Albenga River to cool off (which looked divine) and thought that perhaps it was forbidden. We stopped into the ice-cream shop to ask about whether we could swim there. The lady in the shop told us about a secret location, a short walk from town, where there is the ruins of an ancient building, a waterfall, swimming hole and little cave.
We excitedly set off, fully expecting it to be chocked full of sweaty Italians trying to cool off. When we arrived there we were surprised to see that we were the only ones. We soon found out why. The water was FREEZING but perfectly clear and with enchanting surroundings. Just being down near the water made me feel cool so I was happy to sit on a rock, eat my ice-cream and take pictures.
Kylah needed to make three attempts to get in before she was able to stay in and the others barely put a toe in before squealing about the temperature. Friggen hell. First thermal spring was too hot (and smelly from minerals) now this one is too cold and refreshing. Some people can not be pleased.
Determined that I was to have happy family photos of the kids in the water I gently coaxed (forced) the others in and made them look happy for the 3 seconds it took me to take a picture. Rohan discovered that in the cave he could climb stuff and didn’t return after the photo. I, being a very responsible parent, suggested that perhaps Ben should give me his phone incase he had to urgently dive in to rescue Rohan. He declined. I guess we were both still shitty from this morning when he woke us up at 4:30 am.
After the kids hopped out we made our way back to the farm. Ben, having been sick of all the whinging, made the kids get out and run for the last km of the drive. This was met by lots of protests but turned out to be in the kids favour when they discovered a tortoise on their jog. Jazzy got wee-ed on by the tortoise so her joy was short lived but the others were delighted.
Back at the farm the kids took turns at feeding the baby orphan sheep a bottle while I cooked dinner.
Everyone had an early night and Ben and I decided to finish planning the unplanned parts of our trip.
Yesterday I had decided to try to come up with things the kids would like (swimming) and it was only Kylah who was pleased with the thermal springs and the very cold swimming hole. So today I’ve decided we are going to do something I enjoy – shopping. More specifically, antique shopping. Luciano has given me directions to a little village with an antique shop and I’ve decided that’s what I’m doing.
Roccalbenga has a festival on this weekend (so reminiscent of Stealing Beauty) so I am super excited. The members of our troop who don’t like crowds, loud noises or fun are not so keen but I am prepared to go by myself. I already have my outfit planned and it’s totally something I’m sure is similar to what Liv Tyler wore in the movie.
Thanks for reading!!