We are sitting round the dinner table at Lavacchio when my mother jumps up to check the eggs. She’s not aiming to make an omelette; she’s just interested to see if the first chicks of the season are starting to break their way out of the eggs.
A sojourn at Lavacchio, the gorgeous Tuscan villa where we run our spring and autumn walking trips, is to spend time in your own mountain haven experiencing the Italian version of the ‘Good Life’. Every day promises the unfolding of a potential rural drama – the goats have escaped, the fox has got into the hen run, one of the cats is missing, or quite simply the figs are ripe, the roses have bloomed, the guinea fowl have laid an abundance of eggs, and all in the land of Lavacchio is rosy. It really is a slice of pastoral bliss in Tuscany.
Jamie and Ailsa Reynolds, our hosts at Col di Lavacchio, discovered the farm ten years ago, and despite the impenetrable jungle, which at that time covered the derelict buildings, they set about turning it into an agriturismo business. The aim to breath new life into the land which had been abandoned by two farming families who could see no future in farming on just 27 acres of land which had been laboriously claimed from the steep mountainside. For their predecessors it was a hand to mouth existence living off chestnut flour through the winter months, and whatever their pigs had provided them with in the way of dried meat and sausages.
The criteria for agriturismo are that you must spend more time working the land, than you do providing care for your paying guests. That’s not hard at Lavacchio where the day starts at 7am and is never finished until at least 8.30pm, though frequently I hear the hens being tended to until well after dark. For Jamie and Ailsa it’s definitely a case of ‘lifestyle’ before profession, with the goal of being as self-sufficient as possible. After a day guiding our guests on our Wild Tuscany walking weeks, I adore wandering the grounds biting into a ripe fig, or picking a few leaves of mint to add a zing to my cup of tea.
The produce springing from the terraces in front of the villa includes, olives, chestnuts, hazelnuts, figs, plums, quince, pears, apples., aubergines, tomatoes, courgettes, cucumber, lettuce, onions, rocket, herds galore, and not just one variety of some of these but up to several of each! Ailsa, who is a qualified chef, makes ample use of the fresh ingredients from the garden and your meals will feature many of the plants you will stroll past on your way through the gardens.
Livestock comes in the form of sheep, and various fowl – five different rare breed hens, which read like a list of old fashioned dishes on an English menu -Welsummer, Gold Laced Wyand Dotte, Silver Pencilled Wyand Dotte, Cream Legbars, and Buff Plymouth Rock. Then there are the ducks, the guinea fowl, the geese and the turkeys, no wonder the fox likes to attempt to scale the fence! But we reckon she has cubs right now, and in her own way she is just attempting to look after her own kind, but we would prefer not by snacking at Lavacchio.
Surprisingly, the EU does little to contribute to the continuation of agriturismo businesses in Italy. There used to be grants available, but sadly an abuse of the system by agriturismo businesses across Italy put paid to that. Now, funding is only available for threatened forms of agriculture, or specific uses such as bee keeping and the growing of spelt barley.
Of course at Lavacchio they now also have 400 vines, and are aiming to produce their own wine. The first vintage was, in fact, taken last year and pronounced by Jamie as “dreadful stuff that should have been chucked away” but apparently that’s normal for a first harvest from young vines and it can only get better.
After a day of hiking in the stunning mountain landscape of the nearby Apuane Alps or the Apennines I will be hoping that a well-earned glass of vino will be waiting on the terrace by the villa swimming pool. It always is!
Oh, by the way, there are now fourteen healthy chicks chirping happily away. All hatched in the few days I have been here. At Lavacchio the cycle of life is to be witnessed on a daily basis, and a connection to the land long since missing from everyday lives is re-born.
We have two weeks already Guaranteed to run this September, 2014. Book online here!