Italy has a dazzling array of profoundly beautiful art. The whole world knows that. The food is wonderful too. We in colder climates dream of Italy, to immerse ourselves in beauty, to feast, to bask in sunlight and to look over the rolling countryside of Tuscany and know what it is like to be in love.
What you do not expect is much wildlife, because we also know the Italian love of shooting, almost anything that moves, so one thing you are unlikely to enjoy is the sound of birdsong.
But here, in this little bit of Tuscany, only 11 miles from Florence, things are a little different.
There is birdsong. Because chemicals are not used there are even a few insects, so amongst the returnees are swallows swooping and soaring in front of the villa. I was very happy to see some mining bees making use of the outside wall of the house. These bees don’t have the capability of stinging, and it was wonderful to see them settling on the wall and disappearing into tiny holes they have made in the mortar. Do you like honey? There are honey bees too. I saw them working the thyme, and some cheery orange coloured bumble bees blissfully busy on a plant I didn’t recognize that had a flower like a rosemary and a leave like a ceanothus. Primrose yellow butterflies with a mosaic of grey fed on flowers the exact same primrose yellow they were themselves.
It was heaven.
There are apparently even mouse eating snakes, which completely harmless though they are would have been particularly fun to see as they are an impressive 3’ or 4’ long. I would have been very lucky if I had seen one as there has only been one sighting in 25 years. Tant pis, you can’t have everything your way. However, I saw that wonderful component of Mediterranean countries, the lizard, in this case the ramarri green, as brilliant and vivacious as anything in Italy. You rarely see more than the brightest of green flashes as it darts impossibly quickly back into dry stone walls at your approach.
What were farm buildings and a fine old farmhouse have been turned into a sophisticated, contemporary living space, aiming for a light ecological footprint. The heating is ground source, so warm in winter and comparatively cool in summer. You have to learn how to use the house. There is no point in keeping the doors open in the summer if you wish to be cool inside, but if you do want to open the windows, then all the bedrooms have mosquito nets.
Is this a bit of Italy where you have everything? Art, food, sun, birds and bees in the most lovely of countryside, and a house with all mod cons as though you were in the middle of a sophisticated metropolis.