Was it an ancient wayside inn, a convent, or refuge from the turbulence of the 16 century? Built into the hillside on the edge of a village, this ancient house has looked out over the green wooded landscape for 400 years or more, untroubled by the outside world. Few tourists have strayed into this part of Tuscany since the days when pilgrims passed close by, and (we dream) lodged under our roof for a night or so. Thanks to skilled local craftsmen the property has been sensitively restored to combine historic features such as vaulted ceilings, an inglenook fireplace, a centuries-old stone staircase and terracotta floors with modern bathrooms, two fully equipped kitchens and well-designed comfortable furniture. The long, low building is divided at ground floor level by a medieval galleria which runs from the ancient borgo into the large sunny garden where you can swim in a crystal clear pool against a background of green wooded hills and distant mountain peaks.
The house and village : A quiet road snakes through chestnut woods to the hilltop hamlet of Caugliano. According to born and bred Caugliano neighbours, our house is the oldest building in the village, dating from the late Middle Ages. It is listed by the Belle Arte as a protected building, but its history is lost in time. Maybe it was once an inn used by pilgrims on the route from Canterbury to Rome, perhaps the uniform-sized bedrooms once housed monks or nuns, or was it merely a farmhouse sheltering a family with delusions of grandeur at one end, peasants at the other, animals below? Some rooms were certainly used (or abused!) to roast chestnuts (chestnut flour ranks alongside porcini as local specialities in this part of Tuscany). Whatever its age or purpose, the house , the garden and the pool represent a peaceful haven - the perfect escape from today's manic world.
Places to go, things to do nearby: Five minutes away ancient Fivizzano has shops, bars, restaurants, a weekly market and during the summer 'manifestazione' ranging from a festa of locally grown food and wine to a car rally, medieval flag throwing to a fashion show almost every week. Eating out is an everyday delight. Most local restaurants serve beautifully presented antipasti (a bewildering number of traditional appetisers), freshly made pasta, locally produced meat, fish and seafood fresh from the nearby coast, seasonal vegetables that taste 'just-picked', the 'best ice-cream in Tuscany’, and a bill that's usually a pleasant surprise. Riding/trekking nearby, castles on our doorstep the coast 40 minutes away, ski slopes, an hour away.. With its heart-stopping views, and peaceful atmosphere it is an area you will return to again and again.
Lunigiana and Liguria: Lunigiana is Tuscany's best kept secret - a land of rivers and castles, vineyards and forests, steep wooded valleys and walled hilltop towns silhouetted against a background of mountain peaks piercing the sky. Here life still follows the seasons. Yet the sandy coves, stylish marinas and cliff top walks of the stunning Ligurian Coast are only 40 minutes away. This breathtaking coast may be relatively busy in the summer, but amazingly it remains unspoilt. Colour washed houses stacked close together appear to tumble down the cliffs to the sea, much as they did when Byron, Shelley and later DH Lawrence lived and worked here on a stretch of coast that became known as the Bay of Poets.
And for culture lovers and shoppers? The great Tuscan cities of Florence, Pistoia, Piacenza and the less known medieval jewel of Lucca are all easy to reach by train from our local station. Parma, Pisa and Genoa are all about 1.5 hours via the motorway.
A virtually retired advertising copywriter. Born in West Yorkshire, where I have lived all my life except for 4 years in East Cornwall when my husband was Principal of Plymouth College of Art. Sadly he died very young just before I graduated from Plymouth College of Education. So I headed back North with the children and settled in Ilkley, a delightful Victorian spa town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. My life began again when I met my partner, David,who was a technical director in the engineering trade. .He had no apparent connection with the art world but he is incredibly appreciative,. Casa delle Rondini has more than its share of original paintings - mostly from my side of the family but the blue painted brass beds, the 'bateau lits' and other pieces of old furniture were rescued from mainly French junkyards and restored by David. Between us we have 7 grandchildren (4 born in the same year). Every one of our offspring love being here, which is why we only set aside a few weeks in the summer for paying guests.
We didn't intend to buy a property at all -didn't believe in 'second homes' However, looking back it seems that Casa delle Rondini was waiting for us.
Back in the bohemian sixties my late husband who was a practising artist and lecturer, our toddler, Sarah, and myself loaded up the car with camping equipment and took off to Italy. each summer. (Once, would you believe, we drove all the way to Siena in a 2CV and by that time there were four of us!) Each morning we went on a tour of the local cultural gems. In the afternoon we lazed around the local swimming pool. Then we had a week or so camping on the coast.Of course we must have passed through the Lunigiana on our way from Parma to Levanto near the Cinque Terre but we were desperate for the sea and scarcely noticed the unspoilt green wooded landscape that typifies the area.
A decade later I find that my partner, David, is just as enraptured by Italy as I am. We lost count of our trips to Chiantishire, grew a little tired of high prices and crowds of tourists and together we re-discovered the Lunigiana. The only snag in the mid Nineties was the poor standard of rented accommodation, and the number of ruined houses which had been abandoned. At New Year 1999 we rented a 2 bedroomed apartment for a few days. We walked onto the terrace looked over the wilderness that had once been a vineyard to the mountains on the horizon and we were lost. Would the English owner sell us the apartment? Not without buying the rest of the medieval semi-ruin. Fortunately for us the price we paid wouldn't have bought us a cupboard in Ilkley. So the oldest and most beautiful house in the village became our joy and our responsibility.
Like many other villages in the Lunigiana, Caugliano is perched on a hilltop, with panoramic views of the countryside below. It has neither shop nor bar, but what it does offer is the antidote to stressful, modern living - peace, tranquility and a warm welcome from the people who live here. You will hear cow bells by day, owls or the bark of a deer at night. And yet you are not cut off. Within 8 minutes you can be sipping a beer or enjoying 'the best ice cream in Tuscany' in the Piazza Medicea, Fivizzano. This ancient walled town has bakers, butchers, alimentari, a fishmonger, a brand new supermarket, banks, pharmacies, hairdressers, restaurants and bars. There are castles and riding stables on the doorstep, a thermal spa half an hour away. It's 45 minutes to The Bay of Poets, and the Cinque Terre on the beautiful Ligurian coast. Lucca, a little known gem and Puccini's birthplace is an hour away. Florence 2 hours. and Parma 1.5 hours. Pisa airport 1.5 hrs. Genoa 1.75 hrs
Other Activities: Trekking on horseback or on foot, river walking, wine trails, country markets and festas. Castles to explore, land-and-seascapes to die for.
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