Monday, April 23, 2012

Our Home in CITTA DELLA PIEVE is completed & ready for rental!!

After 4 months, driving thousands of kilometres and searching in countless markets, shops and little known villages, we have finally arrived at the completion of renovating and furnishing our home on the Umbrian Tuscan border. We are thrilled with the outcome and have thoroughly enjoyed the process of transforming our dream to a reality. The exceptionally comfortable beds are made, the wine glasses ready and now we are keen to have our first holiday renters enjoy the delights of this house and the atmospheric village in which it is situated. There is much to do in and around Citta della Pieve - all the well known towns in Tuscany and Umbria are within easy reach - Orvietto, Siena, Cortona, Montepulciano to name just a few. Rome and Florence are within a 1.15hr fast train trip from Chiusi (which is 15mins drive down the hill from our village), and of course the sumptuous produce for which this area is renowned, is at the doorstep - so what are you waiting for??

The original palazzo this apartment is a part of, was built in about 1650, and divided into 6 apartments about 25years ago. It has many of the original architectural elements, very thick stone walls, ancient timber beams and cotto floors that over the years have become quite uneven. We bought the apartment from the gentlemen who had owned it since it was divided 25yrs ago, and as artists they had painted many of the walls and ceilings with great detail. We chose to retain a portion of this work, removing the brighter of the colours they had painted, but our biggest change to the interiors has been to make them feel more in context with the age of the building and its Italian heritage. We have also gone to a great deal of effort to source beautiful chandeliers for every room as when we bought it there was no overhead lighting at all, and the addition of these makes the places feel significantly more sumptuous. The remainder of the furniture is largely market finds, some antique, some more recent, but the mix is what makes it interesting and extremely comfortable and relaxing. There is also a beautiful loggia - an outdoor covered space which has lovely views to the valley below and a perfect place to enjoy a glass of local wine. 

Here are the first photos of our house - we are in the process of completing the website, but the house is ready for rent, so if you are contemplating a holiday in this part of the world, send us an email, we will delighted to hear from you! 

View from the loggia to the valley below
Living room with view to Main Bedroom on right and Loggia on left
Living room with view to Entry room. The fireplace is in working order but with central heating it is only required for ambience, not warmth
All of the artworks, in their original frames were found in markets across France and Italy. This wallhanging on the right, was bought in Morocco and is an old wedding blanket handmade by a woman from the Berber tribe.
We bought this beautiful handmade Beni Ourain (a Berber tribe) rug, on our recent trip to Morocco and it is superbly soft underfoot and gives a lovely texture to our living space. 
Entry with view to 2nd bedroom
Gorgeous candelabra 
These beds were sent all the way from UK as we wanted beds that could be either 2 King singles or convert to a Queen bed by zipping the mattresses and locking the bases in place - so this can be another Queen bed if required
These furniture pieces were found in Antique markets across Italy and France
This large map of Europe enables you to plan the rest of your journey while enjoying a meal 

Kitchen with view to the loggia

The Main Bedroom has an exceptionally comfortable Queen size bed and french doors opening to the covered loggia 

There is plenty of space in the bedrooms for all your luggage 
View from living room to kitchen
The Loggia 
View from the loggia
Citta della Pieve 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Berlin, Germany

We have been running a conference in Berlin over the past week and it has been a pleasure to discover this city. The events of World War 2 and the aftermath, are still a major factor in this place, yet it doesn't define Berlin, as there are so many wonderful things to see and do. With the almost total decimation of the city's buildings, much of the architecture in this city is new, however they are experts in restoring even with little of the original building remaining, so they were able to save quite a number of the original buildings. 

We stayed in the beautiful Adlon hotel which has a very scenic position right at the Brandenburg gates and the 2nd photo below was taken directly from the window in my room. The Adlon hotel was originally built in 1907 and was very famous throughout Europe due to  innovations like hot & cold water in each room and between World Wars 1 & 2 it attracted royalty and stars. It largely missed the bombing of WW2 that levelled the city, and was used, in part, as a hospital, however 3 days before the war finished the hotel was burnt to the ground by Russian soldiers. The area then sat in no man's land during the period of the division of Berlin and was only rebuilt in 1998, loosely modelled on the original hotel from 1907.

The Brandenburg Gate, considered a symbol of Berlin was commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm in 1788 to represent peace and was originally an entry to the city. The five passways of the gate are formed by twelve Doric columns and in previous times citizens were only allowed to use the outer two. On the top of the gate is the Quadriga, a chariot drawn by horses and driven by Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory.
This photo was taken directly from the window of my room

The interior of the beautiful Konzerthaus Building. This was in the East Berlin sector and was largely destroyed during WW2. It was then renovated to the original plans and opened as a concert house in 1984
We had dinner at the beautiful Marguax restaurant which has a degustation menu with wines matched to each course - expensive but really delicious food and wines.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Food Festival & Truffles in CITTA DELLA PIEVE

In between 2 conferences we are running, we returned to our village, Citta Della Pieve in Umbria, for 24hrs over the Easter period and were delighted to see a lovely food festival in progress. Many produce suppliers from near and far, had set up stands to sell their salamis, cheese, porchetta, wine and other delicious food products - one of my favourite type of festivals! We were thrilled to see one of the stands was a Truffle supplier who among truffle infused products such as pasta, rice and salsa, also sold fresh truffles - these little odd shaped nuggets are "Brutto ma Bouno" (ugly but beautiful). Fresh truffles are very expensive to purchase in Australia and must be used within a few days, but this stand sold the Black Truffle for a very reasonable price - in fact a little handful for only €6. We also bought a special truffle slicer so we are able to grate delicious thin slices of fresh truffle over our fresh pasta - hard to get much better than that! 

We chatted to Pamela who sold the truffles and she was telling us that these days they use especially trained dogs to source them as previously when they used pigs in this role, once found, the pigs often ate the truffle nugget before the handler could pull them away - defeating the whole process really! I am very keen to join the truffle hunter and his dog on their quest to sniff out these little nuggets of gold at the base of oak trees - it is one of those experiences one would not be able to encounter in too many places, so I am working on being able to join the hunt - will keep you posted on that.

The ugly but beautiful nuggets of fresh truffle for sale 
Pamela and her truffle stall in our village Easter fair

The leg of Porchetta behind the glass is traditional Tuscan food and particularly good when served hot

Friday, April 13, 2012

Getting closer to the completion of our apartment fit out in CITTA DELLA PIEVE

6 months since purchasing our Italian home, and many thousand of kilometres driving across France and Italy, we are getting closer to finalising our interior fit out. In the 3+ months since we arrived here just after Christmas, we have continually been on the hunt for things for our house. During this time, I have been to Maison et Objet World trade fair in Paris, then drove across France and Italy to visit and place orders with several of the wholesale suppliers I met at the fair, visited almost a dozen antique/brocante fairs through Paris, southern France and Italy, plus more retail furniture suppliers in North & Central Italy. In addition we spent several  weekends (both Saturday & Sunday) wandering the Arezzo monthly antique market scouring for the 'perfect piece' - and in the process found antique chestnut wood chairs, marble topped chest of drawers and a pretty french commode to hold our TV. Added to this we bought several hand crafted pieces in Marrakech which are individual and add a very personal charm to our home plus have imported beds from UK (Italy do not sell the 'zip & lock' beds which allow either 2 x single beds or a queen size without the 'gap' in the middle). It has been an exhaustive quest to match the image in my mind with the pieces available for purchase and our budget, but ..... we are almost there! 

Some purchased pieces are yet to arrive, (hopefully in the next week) so the house is still a little bare, but the difference from when we began is enormous! Added to this, we had the painter in for  10 days and new paint colours have made a monumental difference. The previous owners were artists and over the 20+yrs of their ownership, they had painted numerous finishes in most of the rooms. While their technique was incredible, I wanted to 'tone it down a little' by not eliminating the work they had done, but removing some of the intense colour from a few of the rooms. This manner of repainting some sections only, probably took our Italian painter Stefano more time and he was very patient, but in the end it did allow us to get the look we wanted. 

The end result is it is looking fabulous and very soon I will post the photos plus I will complete the website so we can begin renting it out. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable process and I am very keen to repeat the process, so ........anyone need an Interior Designer in France or Italy??!!

On our car trip home from Southern France to Citta della Pieve, we were unable to fit any more items inside - in fact I had to sit in the back seat with a chair on my lap for the 10 hour drive as there was no other way to make it work!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Skiing & Snow Shoe Hiking in VAL THORENS, France

We are in Val Thorens in Savoie in Les 3 vales area in France, running a conference. The lectures have been interesting and informative and the skiing is sensational - spring skiing at its best - warm sunny days (T-Shirt skiing for some), crystal blue skies and several nights a dusting of 5cm of snow. Delightful really!! At 2300 metres, this resort is the highest ski resort in Europe, so one can expect snow here for much later in the season - in fact the resort does not close until early May, particularly this year when the season has had exceptional snow. We got a bus up the mountain from Moutiers (1.15hr transfer), which is an easy arrival/departure point by train (except for no lifts for your luggage on the platforms - I don't understand that about Europe - surely a large amount of passengers have luggage, so why do so few train stations have lifts??). Our hotel has a spectacular view of the whole front valley which is extensive and has a vast number of ski lifts which give access to the multitude of exceptionally long ski runs over the mountains to the valleys beyond. With so many ski runs, the wait at lifts is never long even though it is busy with Easter travellers.

There is also a very well organised walking group here called Raquette Nature, who, for  small fee, take half and full day snow shoe walks in a variety of different locations across the mountains. I did 2 of the half day (3.5hrs) snow shoe walks and thoroughly enjoyed them. One was focused on walking to areas where we saw local wildlife - a fox resting outside his hole, a hare, and a family of local marmot who are now just active as the weather warms. My 2nd walk took us up the cable car to 3000mtrs, then we ascended a further hundred meters to the foot of the Glacier de Peclet, then descended to the resort across virgin snow, often sinking to my knees in the untrodden snow - hard work but spectacular mountain vistas that seemingly went on for miles. I enjoy walking in the snow shoe attachments as they give incredible grip and allow one to walk on angles that would be impossible without them.

The other thing this resort offers which I thought amazing, but admit I did not try, is a 6km dedicated toboggan track! It leaves from the top of the 3000mtr cable car, and as I hiked down the mountain I watched  as people flew past with a small metal arm as the only means of a hand brake. One can even do it at night which must be rather frightening, to say the least. It looked like a huge amount of terrifying fun, an open air, natural theme park ride - one does has to leave something to do on the next visit!

The deck chairs covered in 5cm of overnight snow - once the morning warms up it doesn't last long,
but certainly looks beautiful in the meantime

I am leading the pack here as a fellow walker falls into the virgin snow. It was a thoroughly
enjoyable way to see the vistas, expend some energy and master a new sport! We are wearing the modern version of the 'tennis racquets style' attachments to our snow shoes which give incredible grip in the snow.
The foot of glacier de Peclet where we were snow shoe hiking

I took this on my snow shoe hike from the glacier - these mountains are enormous, the views went for on seemingly ever

It is hard to get much better than this when skiing - clear blue skies, warm weather and a dusting of fresh snow. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Art Deco in CASABLANCA Morocco

Casablanca was a surprise - everything I had read said there was not an enormous amount for travellers to do, but with our plane leaving from there we chose to spend a night to check it out. There is not the depth of interest that Marrakech has, however the best thing to do in Casablanca is to spend a few glorious hours walking the city centre to view the enormous amount of Art Deco buildings - they are fascinating! Casablanca has an air of "faded glamour" - very faded indeed as these days the place is filled with traffic fumes and many buildings are in disrepair. The style is not entirely Art Deco - in fact it is a melding of various styles - firstly French colonial design (it was a French protectorate from 1912 - 1956) added to traditional Moroccan style - the resulting combination became known as "Mauresque" architecture.  Then it is heavily influenced by Art Deco so the buildings embrace decorative details such as ornate wrought iron balconies, detailed plaster work and intricate linear symmetry. They are graceful and elegant and I think are best described by the term 'faded glamour'. If you are a Art Deco enthusiast then this place is certainly worth a visit for a day or so.

Imagine this building cleaned - it would be utterly glamourous!
What a beautiful house! The palms trees frame it perfectly and the lines are graceful and elegant

The dining room of our hotel Le Doge which was in Art Deco style

A newer version, but in keeping with the rest of the city