Italy 2019:: the Arrival

My happy place with my happy cocktail, an Aperol Spritz, the New York Times may be hating on it but there’s nothing more refreshing and Italian than this baby, am I right?

Ciao Everyone! If you’re following on social media , you know Vivi and I arrived in Italy. We had a great flight over. Vivi is amazingly chill on a plane. As long as I am near, she’s just fine. I think that most dachshund owners would agree any anxiety is gone if the owner is nearby. She ceases to need food or water for the entire flight which makes me anxious, but she just sleeps. When we land in Milan, she’s cool as a cucumber and relieves herself for about 4 minutes once we are outside the terminal (how does she do that?). She’s the best.

We arrived and La Fortezza was in tip-top shape thanks to Gian Luca, our master gardener and overall amazing man. Cristina, our house manager, is the best. She caught that there was very little gas in our reserve (thank goodness because there is nothing worse than a cold shower after traveling for 15 hours, am I right?). I am blessed with a great group of people and darling friends in the neighborhood who look out for me (us). It’s country living at its best. I spent the first 2 weeks with friends and neighbors stopping by to say ciao and asking if I needed anything. It’s one of the many reasons we love it here.

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Panigacci a local specialty, we call them Italian tacos but they are so much more

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I also spent the first 2 weeks here prepping for upcoming workshops and entertaining visitors. First, our mother of the bride joined me for a quick tour and some wine tasting. Sometimes my job ain’t so bad. After the mother of the bride, was Ros Atkinson from Her Dark Materials . She was scouting La Fortezza, checking our gorgeous light, and playing in our studio. We also went prop shopping which was pretty darn dreamy. She’s more amazing than I had anticipated which was a lovely treat. We got along like a house on fire as they say. I love her and cannot wait to host her still life photography workshop. If you are at all interested in creating the most incredible images this workshop is for you. She’s so friendly, funny, and talented. We have limited spots, so check it out.

Still life Caravaggio style, created in the studio at La Fortezza by Ros, she is a master.

I just picked up our workshop chef, Philip and we literally stopped at my favorite shop on the way up to La Fortezza. Love this photo of him fresh off the plane stuffing his mouth with cheese and salami. Have you ever seen a happier guy?! He will be teaching everyone how to make pasta, and so much more this year. It is his second season, and now that he knows his way around the local food scene here, this year will be epic. Don’t forget to follow my stories and see what we are all up to as we launch the new La Fortezza Creative Workshop season.

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Come on summer!

xx

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March visit to Italy 2019:: A Quick trip

The sunset at La Fortezza is insane most nights

Ciao Guys! I made a quick trip to our place in Italy last couple weeks. I am finished with renovation, and now comes the fine tuning. Plus I needed to renew my residency which is the ultimate Italian experience. Renewing is much much easier than getting residency is.

I have loads of people ask me about residency. Honestly there are so many types of residencies and visitor visas available, and I am no expert. My advice if you’re seriously thinking about living in Italy is to head to the Italian Consulate and sort it out. You can start your research here in the US instead of trying it in Italy. My other advice is to start learning Italian, so when you have to do paperwork in Italy, you can understand what is needed and what to do. After all, if you’re planning to live in Italy you should speak the language as best you can. It is also great if you have an Italian friend willing to help you (or you can pay someone in Italy to help you with the process).

That process took up a day of my trip, but it was pretty seamless which was a relief. The one thing about Italian bureaucracy is that it is unpredictable. Sometimes it takes hours and hours, and sometimes it’s super efficient. My point is that when living in Italy, you must be patient and remember it’s not the US; things are done differently and going with the flow is a great idea.

I also started to get ready for our upcoming workshops this year. I did a little prop shopping with my stylist friend Barbara in Modena. She showed me some of her favorite places in Modena to grab props for photoshoots. Oddly the places she goes are not that different from the places I go to in Atlanta. We had and amazing leisurely lunch at her favorite restaurant in Modena Franceschetta 58

It was a lovely meal, and we talked about all sorts of subjects: styling, our upcoming collaboration at my Strictly Styling Workshop June 12-17th,  book writing and media and magazines in general. Barbara is a lovely friend, and I am so happy we found each other; she’s a beautiful person.

Barbara at our lunch date in Modena

Did you know that Modena had canals at one time? This building was on one of the main canals.

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I had the fabulous Betty Soldi come for lunch, too. We had an amazing time, and she wrote on my walls which was a highlight experience for me.

 

 

Forrest and I went to the Parma Antiques Fair as well. I found the perfect bench for our guest quarters, and a fantastic storage piece for my studio. Walking around the fair is so inspirational and fun. Forrest and I discussed possibly leading a shopping trip through Parma including the antiques fair next March. I posted the question on instagram and we got loads of yeses. Please add your yes on the IG post, if you’re interested.

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We had a great time at the Parma fair as always.

The best part of the trip was, of course, cooking at home and visiting with friends on the off season. The weather was great which allowed us all to enjoy the great outdoors.

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Our daughter brought a group of friends my last weekend in Italy. They are still there now. One of the best parts of owning this place it to be able to share it with family and friends which makes these paperwork infused trips worth every hour of time spent waiting and waiting. One of the highlights was watching spring appear on the property. It was magical.

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I will be back for the summer on May 16th. Until then more shoots, finishing my book, Italy is my Boyfriend, and more dreaming of Italy.

xx Annette

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A Visit to the Enchanted Valley through the Palette of Steve McKenzie

Today I have a special treat for you. One of our guest instructors and one of my dear friends, Steve McKenzie, is sharing a bit about his experience in May at La Fortezza. Steve is a brilliant interior designer, artist, and textile designer in Atlanta. His workshop here in Italy with us is in September, and I cannot wait to welcome him and his students. Enjoy today’s post from Steve, and be sure to sign-up for one of the very few remaining spots for his workshop. Take it away Steve:

My wife, Jill, and I recently had the chance to visit Annette at her magical Fortress in a verdant valley in Northern Tuscany. I wanted to see everything as I prepare for the abstract painting class I will be leading there in September. Inspiration is everywhere, and I cannot wait to return.

The magic begins as you approach her home, and up on the mountain sits her Fortress. They have created beautifully appointed living and working spaces as well as incredibly comfortable guest quarters for the students that are unparalleled. It feels a little like a visit to a monastery where the furnishings and the views take you to a place of contemplation and inspiration.

These cozy places, coupled with a superb cocktail, encourage congregation and conversation.

We were greeted in typical Annette fashion with a delicious, as well as beautiful, Aperitivo of Negroni and nibbles, taken straight out of her new book, Cocktail Italiano. A delicious dinner of pasta and salad followed, reminding me of what a talented cook Annette is.  I am excited that a cooking lesson in the commercial kitchen will be part of our fall workshop.

Day two we had a chance to visit the charming local village, Fivizzano, on market day. It is charming and again, inspiration is around every corner. Following our visit to the market, we visited some of Annette’s favorite vintage and antique dealers. These are a must during the workshop on our free day.

I also strolled over to the La Fortezza vineyards with Annette and Jill. The beauty of this location really spoke to me and inspired me to paint en plein air.  During the workshop, we will take a picnic lunch out here and paint, eat and drink. The colors and vistas are one of the most inspirational places I have visited.

On the journey back to the house, I filled a market basket with wild flowers from the property as well as colorful roses from her rose garden. The most beautiful arrangement quickly came together in a beautiful pitcher from Annette’s copper collection. We will incorporate a quick floral arranging lesson during my workshop as well.

I can’t wait to return and share all the fabulous experiences with my students during the workshop September 19-24, 2018.

There are only a few spaces left, so register now

Thank you for guest posting today, Steve! As always, if you have questions about our workshop, feel free to send me an email or leave a comment below.

xx Annette

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Renovation at the Fortress :: Where are we now?

Commercial kitchen view from the dining room, you can see the configuration and where the student lounge is located on the left

Commercial kitchen view from the dining room, you can see the configuration and where the student lounge is located on the left

Hi Guys, time for another update about our renovation in Italy before I head over in mid May. Here’s where we left off in case you need to catch up.

We had specific areas of the fortress we wanted to focus on this winter.

  • the fortress guest quarters
  • the commercial kitchen
  • the student lounge which also serves as an extra bedroom that sleeps 3 people
  • outdoor oven, the forno
  • kitchen garden patio under the pergola

The guest quarters are almost finished. We will have 3 bedrooms and one with a fireplace. All of the bedrooms will have bathrooms with soft comfy towels and a custom natural soap collection. Our beds will be very comfortable with 100% cotton sheets bedding from Merci in Paris. We will make sure everyone has a stellar experience during our workshops; luxurious monastic rooms are our credo. I had so much great feedback from our attendees last year about their expectations and desires as far as housing goes. We listened, and we hope that our guest rooms will meet your expectations. Our goal is to make you feel super comfortable.

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We found a great checked concrete vintage tile to use in the kitchenette in the guest quarters.

We found a great checked concrete vintage tile to use in the kitchenette in the guest quarters.

As you know, we live in a defensive tower from the 12th century. It has 4 floors. The main house is located on the 3rd and 4th floors, the guest quarters is located on the 2nd floor under the main house, and the cantina (storage room) is located on the ground floor.

pictured the defensive tower the guest quarters on he 2nd floor

pictured the defensive tower the guest quarters on the 2nd floor

We finished the main house project last May 2017, moved in, and then used the main house kitchen for our workshop cooking lessons and photo lessons last summer and to prep all meals for our attendees and guests. Full disclosure, having lots of people cooking in your own kitchen is challenging; we all had a great time but at times it was a bit out of control. Teri, our private chef, really cranked out some incredible meals for a large crowd during our workshops from our smallish narrow kitchen.

Teri working her magic

Teri working her magic

Commercial Kitchen

entrance from the student lounge to the commercial kitchen dining room

entrance from the student lounge to the commercial kitchen dining room

As you can imagine, it was so exciting once we pulled the trigger on completing the commercial kitchen located under the studio. Of course, Teri was also excited. The studio is a separate building from the tower, a space we teach and work in all year long. Our styling and photography lessons happen in the studio. It’s where we store props as well.

We have most meals outside the studio on our expansive terrace. However now with the commercial kitchen, we will have another gorgeous dining space where we can all gather for breakfast and some dinners and use for photos and extra prep space.

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The kitchen has Cararra marble countertops all around to allow everyone cooking to have their own prep area. Watching the delivery complete with a crane was so exciting. Of course the highlight of the kitchen will be the Lacanche stove. It’s a biggie, and I am excited to welcome my second baby to the family. The floor is terracotta tile which was installed in the last few weeks. The decorative tiles behind the counters are coming soon.

Next to the kitchen will be a full pantry, and full bath complete with shower. The student lounge is next to the kitchen as is the entrance to the kitchen and dining room. Double metal doors with glass panes will lead you to the kitchen garden from the student lounge area where we have built a patio area that will be under a wisteria covered pergola. Here breakfast or drinks can be enjoyed while taking in the kitchen garden and rose garden view. It will have large pots surrounding the vintage tables and chairs, planted with herbs and eatable flowers.

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The most exciting addition this year is the outdoor oven. I can hardly wait to stoke the fire and make homemade pizzas, focaccia, flat breads, and slow cooked Tuscan beans. I am jazzed!!!

I can’t wait until mid-May to share the progress with you all. Our summer workshops are full, and I can’t wait to meet everyone! x

Photo credit: Forrest Spears

 

 

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All About Olives Workshop Recap

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What can I say? Our All About Olives Workshop went off without a hitch. Perfect group, perfect weather, and perfect instructors, Emily Followill and Alisa Barry.

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This is Emily’s second time teaching with us in Italy, and it will not be the last time. She’s an amazing teacher and mentor, and most of all, she’s a just a wonderful person to be around. She had many lessons for our attendees and was most importantly loads of fun.

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We enjoyed hiking through the olive grove and seeing the olive harvest in full swing. Our picnic in the olive grove after a long morning trekking was picture perfect. It included the ever popular brown butter chocolate chip cookies, Teri’s super secret recipe. Let’s just say they are the best cookie I have every tasted, and our attendees agreed. A beautiful vegetable torta baked by Alisa was a special treat while we enjoyed the sunshine on our faces. We also stuffed ourselves with homemade focaccia sandwiches, so thanks to Teri, we could barely get up to go to our cooking lesson that afternoon with Alisa. I think we would have all loved a nice nap under the olive trees.

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Saturday we all went to see the olives pressed. We had tastes of the fresh press and of course, stocked up on fresh olive oil to take home.

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In a tiny village, we enjoyed a tour of a small family winery and then an amazing lunch in the family owned restaurant where 2 sisters run the show. We had crepes filled with nettles and pasta with sausage and greens, housemade wine, and delicate desserts with strong espresso to wash it down. It was the most incredible little lunch stop for our group.

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The workshop was a smashing success. I made new friends and reconnected with old friends as we had several attendees who had returned. It really makes me happy that people want to join us again and again. I love welcoming everyone, and I love leisurely suppers where everyone shares stories and dreams and goals. My goal next season is to have everyone join us and experience our tiny piece of heaven here in the Italian countryside. Until then, ci vediamo spero a presto xx

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