Italy renovation:: where are we now?

As you know, Frank and I have been renovating La Fortezza our, 12th century fortress in the countryside for over a year. With the studio and main house complete, we have turned our attention to the guest quarters and commercial kitchen and lounge. The guest quarters are almost complete, and when they are finished, we will have 3 bedrooms in the guest quarters, all with their own bathrooms, a small kitchenette, and a lounge area for guests to enjoy snacks, coffee and wine.

The most exciting area is the commercial kitchen where we will teach cooking classes, and hold our Preserving Italy Workshop with Domenica Marchetti in the fall. We will also be hosting Canadian foodstylist, Marisa Curatolo in our kitchen. The decor will be practical and dynamic. The lighting is gorgeous as it has the exact same orientation as the studio upstairs. The giant Lacanche stove will settle into its new home, and we will prepare all of our workshop meals from the kitchen. To say I am super excited would be an understatement. Where are we now?

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The guest quarters are almost complete; windows are in, floors are set, and paint is done. We now will be placing the lighting, and the last steps will be the state of the art resin showers (as we have to wait for temperatures to rise for a proper set).

When I return in May, I will hit the ground running to finish furnishing the guest quarters with all the decor I have been collecting of the past year. Beds, lighting, cool rugs, and custom chairs from Marrakech. I can’t wait to see it all come together. Yes, I swear, it will all come together in May…

You can follow along on the progress report on my instagram. Once these projects are finished, then we will move on to the last project: the out building which will have 3 more bedrooms and bathrooms. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and believe me, it’s been a long time coming.

xx Annette

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Dispatch from the Parma Antique Fair

I have always wanted to attend the Parma Antique Fair because I have bought many things from the fair thanks to my pickers in Italy. Since we have been working on La Fortezza, I have woken up on Saturdays to tons of pics and choices sent to me by my designer Forrest and his partner Roberto from the Parma Fair. They both have an amazing eye. I am blessed to have them in my world, and the objects they have found for me over the past 2 years are astounding. This year I wanted to go along and see what all the fuss was about.

Well…I can tell you that the fair was dizzying. I have been to lots of fairs and antiques shows, like Round Top in Texas and Isle sur la Sorgue, but nothing compares to the beauty and the perfection in selection at Parma; it is like nothing I have every seen. There is row after row of Italian treasures. I was gob-smacked. No words could describe the sheer quantity and quality on sale. Mind you, we attended at the end of the show, but there were still gobs of beautiful objects everywhere. We waited until the end of show on purpose, too. Since I was shopping for basics, I felt that I could miss the crowds and leisurely take advantage of end of show pricing.

With Forrest by my side, we flew up and down the aisles with laser beam focus. I picked up a large dining room table and classic Italian wood chairs for the commercial kitchen as we plan to eat some meals in the commercial kitchen, mostly in the fall and winter if it’s too cold outside. The table will also serve as a beautiful surface for cooking, foodstyling lessons, and photography. The student lounge, located next to the commercial kitchen, now has some wonderful leather club chairs – all worn in, soft and comfy. The club chairs were in the most elegant booth manned by a most elegant vendor. She gave us a great deal, and we bought the last matching set. The guest quarters has a really cool rustic table for the entry, plus I found some wonderful wire chairs and a table for folks to hang out on while enjoying an espresso of a glass of wine with a few nibbles in the guest kitchenette.

We loaded all our finds into the old Range Rover. It’s incredibly roomy, but even I was surprised how much fit into the back, and we headed back home just in time for Aperitivo. It was a super successful trip – efficient and inspiring, just the way I like it. If you’re thinking about attending the Parma Antiques Fair, I highly recommend it. I would definitely schedule at least 2 to 3 days since there is so much to see. Plus Parma is such a wonderful place to visit.

Make sure you check in with the blog over the next months as we will be outfitting the rooms with all of our finds starting in May. I can’t wait to share the end results with you as we get ready for our summer of workshops and retreats.

xx Annette


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The Marrakech Express

Last weekend my friend Oma and I decided to take a quick trip to Marrakech. Since it is a quick flight from Italy, it is a rather easy weekend excursion.

We stayed at a charming Riad, and once we figured out how to get back to the place, we were golden. It is quite hard to find your way around the center of town, even if you’ve been there a bunch of times like I have. One incredible discovery was a map app that literally saved us a couple times called

The app, once downloaded works offline. If you’ve every been terribly lost in another country, this is a MUST.

The food in Marrakech is delicious and fresh. Some of my favorite places include Le Jardin, Nomad, and Terrasse des esepices  , but make sure you make reservations, this is very easy to do online. Note: Don’t miss Norya ayroN at the top of the stairs at Le Jardin for one of a kind Moraccan style kaftans and tunics.


We had a great time shopping for rugs and furnishings for our guest quarters. One of my big finds this trip was the most glorious rug vendor Bazar Du Sud, introduced to me by our guide Monica. I highly recommend that you hire a shopping guide. If you are interested in hiring my guide, just contact me through my site and I will connect you to Monica. I had a few places in mind for my shopping excursion, however our guide Monica had some new places on the schedule as well. I love shopping at Mastupha Blaoui, and if you have not been, GO! I found all sorts of great pieces for the guest quarters.

Warning: Leave plenty of time in your schedule as this place is enormous and chocked to the brim with amazing rugs, furnishings and home accessories. One amazing place we went, although it was not Moroccan and is owned by a Belgian woman, is called Magasin General. It is in an industrial part of town and is styled perfectly with treasures from all over Europe with a focus on Belgium. The owner is charming and full of helpful information; not to be missed. It is swoon worthy for sure.

All in all, our Morccan adventure was successful, and I managed to snag a few treasures for La Fortezza. I hope you will come visit sometime and stay with us in our newly appointed rooms.

Check out my instagram feed for more photos of our weekend trip to Marrakesh…Ciao for now

xx Annette

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Workshops: Summer 2018 Updates

I cannot believe that we’re just a few months away from embarking on our second summer of workshops at La Fortezza. If you follow along on Instagram, you’ve probably noticed that we’re in the thick of renovating our guest quarters. They will hopefully be done soon, just in time for our guests.

If you’re considering coming to Italy this summer, we’d love to have you. There isn’t anything like summer in Italy. While I might be partial, I can assure you that you’ll agree with me. Our location is just a short drive from just about anything you could possibly want: beaches, historic towns, mountains, quaint spots – it’s all at your fingertips.

We have just a few spots left in several of our workshops. While some of our events have already sold out, we do have a few spaces left (and a few surprises, too!) in the following workshops:

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My June 6 – 11, 2018 Strictly Styling Workshop will be the traditional styling workshop we’ve offered over the years and will feature two AWESOME guest instructors and stylists that you are going to love: Joanna Hawley & Eliza Honey.

Joanna Hawley is a Seattle-based blogger, stylist, and digital influencer. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in Industrial Design, she worked as a product designer and trend scout for Nordstrom and Anthropologie before turning her keen eye to the online space. Her talent for curation has earned her a Pinterest following that totals 3.8 million, and her frank, funny, and fashion-forward approach to content creation has made her site a go-to resource for modern yet casual lifestyle inspiration. When she’s not documenting her renovation misadventures, she’s mostly likely sailing the Puget Sound with her wiener dog companions.

An ex-editor at goop (yes, that goop!) and at Elle Decoration UK, Eliza Honey has made the fulfilling switch to floristry at the legendary Harper & Tom’s in London.  Her focus is on arrangements and installations with a wild, naturalistic and joyful feel.

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We also have a few spots left in our Figurative Photography workshop with renowned photographer, Harriet Leibowitz. We will provide the experience, the models, the location, the instruction and the motivation to make memorable and magnificent images.  With our experienced male and female figurative models, you will have the opportunity to create beautiful and unique work involving the human body.

We’ve been working to create the most amazing experiences imaginable. Our location at La Fortezza in Tuscany offers breathtaking vistas and intimate interiors. Every detail has been created with photo shoots in mind. There will be technical instruction to maximize our creative vision. We will dine on chef created organic food from the garden, drink wine from the vineyards and indulge in all that Italy offers.

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Finally, join me along with premiere Southern wedding and event professionals, Master Florist/Event Designer, Kim Cheney, and Luxury Fine Art Wedding Photographer, Donna Von Bruening at our Tuscan Wedding Workshop. Our exclusive instructors to share their knowledge and insight on storytelling, creating and documenting the perfect celebration or wedding.

This intimate workshop is for creative minds seeking inspiration, world travelers looking for a new experience abroad and wedding and event professionals looking to broaden their palette and build their portfolio. You will enjoy hands-on experience mixed with lively lectures and one-on-one instruction throughout the week. Expand your visual language and hone your artistic voice to tell stories that arouse emotion whether you are setting a table for your own special guests or seeking to enhance your professional portfolio.  For inspiration and fun, you will scour super-secret Italian flea markets for special props, enjoy Italian dinners al fresco while mingling with creative and industry professionals. It’s truly a creative retreat – a picturesque place to recharge and refresh.

We truly have a workshop for everyone this summer. Come along and experience Italy in a creative, life-changing way. We’d love to have you!

xx Annette

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Holiday Entertaining: Italian Fruit Cake Recipe

While perusing through my archives, I rediscovered this Italian fruit cake recipe and felt like with the holidays in full swing, I should share it again.

A few years ago, I asked my friend Skye McAlpine to put together a little holiday cheer in the form of a post for my blog, and she delivered in a big way! She put together this absolutely stunning (and delicious) Italian fruit cake recipe. While perusing through my archives, I rediscovered it and felt like with the holidays in full swing, I should share it again.

On Skye’s recommendation, this cake is lovely with a sweet red wine, like Port. If you have a local wine merchant, picking up a Port to finish a holiday dinner party. It’s such a fun ending to a fun evening.

While perusing through my archives, I rediscovered this Italian fruit cake recipe and felt like with the holidays in full swing, I should share it again.
Certosino di Natale: Honey, Pinenut and Almond Fruitcake
Serves: 8-10

For the cake, you will need:

– 40g raisins
– 40g mixed candied peel
– 30ml dry red wine or Marsala
– 320g flour
– 30g cocoa powder
– 2 tsps bicarbonate of soda
– 300g honey
– 40g butter
– 70g sugar
– 1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
– 1 tsp ground cinnamon
– 3 tbsps water
– 60g pinenuts
– 200g blanched almonds
– 60g dark chocolate

For the decoration, you will need:

– 2 (heaped) tbsp apricot jam
– 2 tsp water
– 10-12 slices of glacé orange
– 3 glacé pears
– 10-12 glacé cherries
– handful of blanched almonds

To prepare:

Add the raisins and candied peel to a medium sized bowl and pour in the wine, then leave to soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, grease and line a 25cm cake tin. Sift the flour, cocoa and bicarb into a large mixing bowl and set to one side.

Add the butter to a small saucepan along with the sugar, honey, fennel seeds and cinnamon, then set over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Stir now and then to make sure that nothing burns on the bottom of the pan.

Add the raisins (with all their juices) and pine nuts to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl, stir well.

Roughly chop the chocolate and the almonds, then add them too. Stir again.

Now pour in the melted butter and honey, and stir until well combined. The batter will be quite stiff, so stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. If needs be, add another splash of red wine.

Pour the cake batter into the tin and bake for 45 mins to 1 hr, until it’s golden on top, and when you press a skewer into the cake, it comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

To decorate, spoon the jam into a small saucepan with the water; set over a low to medium heat until the jam becomes syrupy and begins to bubble. Take it off the heat and use a pastry brush to glaze the cake, then lightly press the glacé fruits and nuts on to the top of the cake leaving no gaps. Brush the remaining glaze over the nuts so that it is all shiny.

For those of you that need measurements in cups see the conversion chart here

Photos by: Skye McAlpine

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