Agenda columnist Jennifer O’Connell: Tavernelle, Lunigiana, Tuscany
My family’s love affair with Italy started, as all the best things do, quite by accident.
About 14 years ago, as my father’s thoughts turned to his retirement, he found himself responding to a small ad in a British newspaper from a woman selling a house in the south of France.
He phoned and the house was sold, but they got talking and, by the end of the conversation, he’d somehow agreed to buy instead a tiny studio in a medieval village in the Tuscan hills.
My parents had never been beyond the established Italian tourist trail, but she told him it had the best terrace in Tuscany, and apparently that was enough.
Taking the long, winding road from the motorway up into the hills of Lunigiana in the driving rain, my mother had brief cause to doubt his impetuosity, but when the sun broke onto their terrace the following morning, revealing breathtaking views over the terracotta rooftops of the village to the bell tower on the mountain above and into the lush valley below, he was forgiven.
Since that fortuitous phone call, one wet Sunday morning all those years ago, Italy has played host to some of my happiest memories.
I’ve celebrated my 21st birthday, my wedding and my daughter’s first birthday there; I’ve looked on as she felt the sea lap against her toes for the first time and fed her her first spoonful of proper food (fresh-from-the market pumpkin-mashed according to my mother’s Sicilian cleaner’s instructions).
Next month, I’m hoping for more precious firsts with my baby son when he joins us on our now-annual trip to Italy.
I’ve since spent time in gorgeous Liguria, and the sophisticated environs of Lucca, Florence and Rome; I’ve island-hopped around Sicily and holidayed on Elba; but nothing really competes with that first-morning-of-the-holidays feeling you get as you step out into the sunlight on that terrace in the Tuscan hills, take a deep breath of the mountain air, and realise that the only sound you can hear is the clanging of the goat bells. To me, that is the sound of peace.
First published in The Sunday Business Post on Sunday June 8, 2008