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Oh, and we have a vineyard…Lunigiana, Italy

our wine

I’ve been known to bury the lede as they say…when we bought La Fortezza, I was so enamored with the house/fortress that I forgot about the property itself. So, here it is: we have a vineyard. It’s 5 acres on the upper edge of the property. Obviously Frank and I know nothing about making wine. Hell, Frank does not ever drink the stuff (he’s a beer guy).

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The vineyard was in bad shape about 5 years ago. The brothers that owned the property were approached by a local winemaker, Manolo (I know perfect name, right?). He was in the process of setting up his wine business. He’s a former teacher, and he and his family wanted to launch their own label. It’s not uncommon here to work many smaller vineyards to produce a label, and that is exactly how he works. You need a ton of acres to produce wine, so working 10 smaller vineyards in the region makes perfect sense. It’s a win win for us, too because we have no interest in working the land, not to mention we don’t have a stitch of knowledge. It is the perfect accidental hobby. No sweat…just vino delivered once a month. He pays rent in wine, and we will take it. For now, it’s the perfect arrangement. We feel very lucky. Manolo was an unknown perk.

Manolo has vineyards all around the area. He and his family cultivate, rent vineyards, and make both red and white wines, although this year he will put up a batch of Rose just for the Joseph label. It’s a win win because he came with the house as part of the deal. Now I am busting at the seams with wine. Some of you have asked if you can purchase our wine. Since this is something new for us, right now it’s our own private stock. However who knows?! Down the road, we may become a wine brand, but for now our workshop attendees and guests will enjoy the fruits of the land at every meal. So if you want to partake, you may just need to join us here for a workshop or retreat in the fall or later next year.

Levi and Frank and Syd in the vineyard

In the meantime our son Levi, a recent business school graduate, has a keen interest in developing our wine label, so who knows? It may become the new family business. It’s all about generations in Italy after all…

I would like to thank my dear friend Penny for the cool label design. We love it. xx

We have a vineyard! I am still pinching myself… cin cin xx

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chestnut honey, mountain views, secrets things and places, and other sweet things about living in the Italian countryside

The only way to see Italy is with an Italian, or someone that has lived here for many years. We are still discovering secrets about Italy everyday.

As most of you know, Frank and I have lived in Italy now for over 15 years, enjoying our summers here with family and friends. You have also heard me say that Italy is like an onion. Most tourists only scratch the surface, so when reading all these travel guides, keep in mind the best stuff (just like the olive oil) is reserved for Italians.

The only way to see Italy is to see it with an Italian, or someone that has lived here for many years. We are still discovering secrets about Italy everyday. It’s actually one of the many things I love about Italians. Unlike Americans, Italians are not over-sharers. In Italy you have to earn trust, and then the world opens up to you like an exotic flower. The treasures here are endless, and the rewards of putting your time in will be the exquisite payback for your patience. Finally, right about now, I am starting to feel like I have a few Italian secrets of my own to share. It only took 25 years, LOL.

We lived on the Italian Riviera for 15 years, and now we are living the countryside in a very unknown region called Lunigiana. We live on 27 acres with a working vineyard and giant ancient fortress that has kept me on my toes for just about a year.

I will say country life agrees with me, and I can see growing older here watching the changing seasons in mountain range that is our view. The life is slower here, the people are authentic and friendly which is a big difference from living in a bustling vacation destination like Alassio where people only appear each summer.

People here stop by and drop off eggs from their chickens, chestnut honey from their bees, freshly jarred preserves from their fruit orchards, and olive oil from last fall’s harvest. It’s pretty much what I expected in my fantasies, but the reality is so much richer.

Everyone eats local here. Hell, we eat out of our garden: lettuce, eggplant, zucchinis and herbs. Tomatoes abound; they literally sprung out of the earth as soon as we planted them. We have sour cherries and figs, and our plum trees and grape vines are maturing as well. Unlike in the US, in the country here in Italy, it’s no big thing to eat off the land everyday. So yes, I love it. Milk comes from the cows and goats up the mountain, and beef comes from the steers down in the valley. You can smell the steers as you drive by the butcher/slaughter house everyday.

One of the things that surprised me was that when we lived in Alassio, there was so much pressure to dress in the latest fashion and look presentable everyday. I would never go out on the streets without the “right” look. Here it is easy, and the feeling of fashion pressure is gone. It’s more laid back and therefore much more livable. I have slowed down. Enjoying nature is something that is a daily routine. What’s in my closet is an after thought.

I will continue to write about my experiences here in the Italian countryside this summer.

As you know, I am in the middle writing a book of our story here in Italia.

Stay tuned for more updates, and for now I will relish all the gifts from my surroundings, the people that live here, and all the secrets Italy has to show me. The secrets I have patiently waited for.

ciao xx

Photo credit: Frank Joseph MD

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Italian House Update

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Well I have lived in our place for 2 months. Time for a house update.

We are still waiting for our residency cards, they are, as they say, “in process.”

Well I have lived in our place for 2 months. Time for a house update! We are still waiting for our residency cards, they are, as they say, "in process."

In the meantime, I am getting used to country life. Our renovation is slowing down in the dog days of summer, and the truth is, I a need a break from the constant banging, drilling and sawing, not to mention the bulldozer which Italian men love to work with. These guys love a bulldozer; they use it for digging, lifting and moving earth. But mostly they like the macho-ness of it all.

I am starting to see the fruits of the garden grow; we enjoyed eggplant and basil on our pizza the other night. It’s so satisfying to be eating out of the garden.

Well I have lived in our place for 2 months. Time for a house update! We are still waiting for our residency cards, they are, as they say, "in process." Well I have lived in our place for 2 months. Time for a house update! We are still waiting for our residency cards, they are, as they say, "in process." Well I have lived in our place for 2 months. Time for a house update! We are still waiting for our residency cards, they are, as they say, "in process."

The main house is comfortable, and the kitchen works like a dream. I have been cooking like crazy. So the country life, the house and the studio are all working like a charm.

We feel like we have breathed life into this ancient fortress; the thick walls are welcoming and protective. When there are not a million construction workers on site, like on the weekends, it’s really quiet and still.

Well I have lived in our place for 2 months. Time for a house update! We are still waiting for our residency cards, they are, as they say, "in process." Well I have lived in our place for 2 months. Time for a house update! We are still waiting for our residency cards, they are, as they say, "in process."

In Italy they say the house finds you, and I truly believe it. I feel quite at home. A sense of calm has washed over me.

We still have a ways to go, but just having this space in the countryside makes me enormously happy. Oh and Vivi likes it too.

I hope you will join us for a retreat someday, so we can show you around the Fortress in person.

xx Annette

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My Life in Photos, June

If May was a good month, then June can only be described as great. We had tons of visitors at The Fortress in June, including our very first workshop attendees. My son, Levi, and his girlfriend spent some time with us, too, along with other friends. I’ve loved every second of being here.

The Fortress has proven to be a wonderful place for workshops. The energy is rhythmic, the lighting spectacular, and the views awesome. Of course, June has been a busy month too.

There were lots of things that had to be done to prepare for guests, but we found time to tackle it all. We even managed to squeeze in a few area adventures, too.

If this month is any indication of what the rest of the summer will be like, I can’t wait. As always, follow along on Instagram to see first-hand what our day-to-day looks like here. From lots of antiquing to aperitivo on the terrace, there’s always something to see.

If May was a good month, then June can only be described as great. As always, follow along on Instagram to see first-hand what our day-to-day looks like.

Just a day at the beach

Coffee bars are something we like to have everywhere. This one is in our bedroom what a way to wake up in our 12th century fortress.

Coffee bars are something we like to have everywhere. This one is in our bedroom what a way to wake up in our 12th century fortress.

Loving my new side table (and sofa).

Loving my new side table (and sofa).

Morning conversations.

Morning conversations.

It's here it's here the workshop is about to begin, and we are off to the local markets to collect goodies for our photoshoots this session!

It’s here, it’s here! The workshop is about to begin, and we are off to the local markets to collect goodies for our photoshoots this session!

Our welcome dinner was truly dreamy last night.

Our welcome dinner was truly dreamy last night.

Tour day in Parma

Tour day in Parma

Our farewell gathering was lovely the perfect send off.

Our farewell gathering was lovely the perfect send off.

 

xx Annette

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Ciao from Pisa, Italy

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All these years, I avoided Pisa like the plague. I took the kids once to see that leaning tower. The piazza where the famous tower leans is full, and I mean chocked full of tourists. They are everywhere and FROM everywhere. Watching every person on the planet taking the same ” look I’m holding up the leaning tower” picture definitely makes me vomit in my mouth a little bit, I am not going to lie. I never tell my guests to visit Pisa, “Avoid it,” I say, “and just use the airport.”

However as many of you know, we have moved to the Lunigiana which is northern Tuscany and about 1 hour from Pisa. It’s a pleasant and easy drive, so frequently I find myself hanging out in Pisa (mainly to go to the IKEA..but anyway…).

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A couple months ago, Frank and I spent the night in Pisa. We had a wicked early flight, so we thought, why not? We walked over to the Tower which was about 30 minutes from our hotel and to my surprise in March, there was hardly a tourist in sight. The piazza is quite beautiful, and approaching from the city side was extremely visually interesting, as the town is quite normal and sticking out of the city-scape was this incredible leaning building. I did not clue in at first because it was such an unexpected vantage point, but it was indeed the leaning tower of Pisa, go figure. It looked so odd jutting out of the city view.

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Last week, my son and I decided to take a stroll in the University district of Pisa, and again to my surprise Pisa has its very charming areas, great shops, funky college town fashion and cool edgy eateries, like Filter, a super groovy breakfast spot in the middle of the University. So yes, I have changed my mind, and Pisa is a great place to spend a few hours wandering the pretty cobbled streets and of course visiting the tower…especially since to my surprise, the tower is not the thing that makes Pisa kinda cool; there’s a whole city out there if you take the time to look.

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Every once in a while one’s viewpoint is changed; that’s what makes life so interesting…indeed.

Plus bacon and eggs? Why yes please! Pisa, we will be back soon…

Ciao for now xx

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