Touring the Marble Mines of Cararra, Italy

When a local Italian home goods manufacturer approached me to collaborate, I was pretty thrilled. I was even more excited when I saw that they made all of their products using Cararra marble. The marble mountains of Cararra are located about 30 minutes from La Fortezza. I pass them all the time and marvel at the glow of the distinctive white marble cavities that have been carved out of the massive mountain range for centuries.

The idea that these enormous craters were carved and transported by hand is mind-blowing. Of course, over the years the cutting, collecting, and transporting of marble blocks has been modernized. Still, it is hard work, and the miners are in danger and take great risks to this day. The FiammettaV Home Collection is impressive. But honestly, when I drove to their location, right under the marble mountains where their materials are mined, I was even more impressed. One thing that I cannot get over is my proximity to amazing experiences. I think sometimes the Italians take for granted the amazingness around them. I guess when your office is at the bottom of a marble mountain with the most incredible view, that’s just normal, right? But for me, I am always in shock and awe and frankly pure glee.

Seriously always pitching myself.

Mattia, the PR director for FiammettaV casually suggested that we take a look at the mines where their product materials are mined. I was like, “Sure why not?!” I never expected to be driven literally into the mine. I have never seen anything like it. I have toured the mines before, but this was VIP access, and I was speechless. Which if you know me, takes a lot.

Our driver Michael was amazing, The ride to the top of the mine was treacherous, and the switchbacks were precarious. Some of the steep angles made me laugh; they were so ridiculously dangerous. Not to mention the giant trucks hauling hundreds of tons of marble down the mountain. We had to pull over several times to let them pass. As you can imagine, it’s hard for the loaded trucks to stop once they start their downhill descent. Let’s say it was the most insane ride at an amusement park you can imagine. Once we reached the top, the giant carving machines were in full action. It was so vast that the full Starwars sized vehicles looked like a child’s toy from our vantage point. Some of it was hard to comprehend. At one point we had a view of the mountain and a view of the sea. It was like a dream.

Watching the giant marble slabs fall as they were pried from the mine walls was amazing and unreal. The sound alone shook the ground as the block toppled to the ground. The walls look like art installations, and even the giant blocks look like they belong in a museum. I have always loved marble and marble products. FiammettaV made the experience very special. I will keep you posted on our collaboration. I can not stress enough if you’re in the area, make sure you tour the mines. Head to my site to the free day activities page to book your tour. Grazie mille FiammettaV for the very very special experience.

xx Annette

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Pool Furniture in Italy

FINALLY!!! The pool was ready for furniture.

While the workers constructed the pool deck and the pergola, I shopped for outdoor furniture.

The first thing I wanted to establish was the vibe. Since I have a rather bohemian approach to design, I wanted the pool design to reflect the rest of our space. We love Mykonos, so I thought drawing inspiration from the hotel pools there would be a good jumping-off point. Plus it would look great with the gorgeous view surrounding the pool area. I wanted something serene and cool but nothing fussy or colorful. Although I do love a little quirkiness in my designs, I found that all white was the way to go, and I could add a little whimsy as well.

photo: David Loftus

Most of the furniture is very natural and organic. I found the most amazing pink Bulgarian fish stand at one of my favorite props houses outside Bologna. My friend and partner in crime and producer, prop mistress Barbara took me to this place over the winter. When I entered this warehouse, I nearly fainted from overload…yes beauty overload. I saw this amazing ‘bar.” Actually, they had some extraordinary bars, but this pink one had my name on it, and it was the perfect addition to my pool vibe. We love to make cocktails and serve them, so why not have a really cool pink bar to serve them from?! The bar really made the look of the pool perfection in my eyes.

We bought it, and set a delivery date. Of course the delivery date was on a day we were shooting my new cookbook, La Fortezza Cookbook, and let me tell you, thank God it was because the company sent 1 driver to deliver 1 heavy heavy bar, and we needed all the crew to help unload it. Barbara was a super hero as she not only made a plan of how to unload this 500 pound bar, but she jumped up on the truck and single handedly unloaded it with help from our chef Leo and our stylist’s husband Charlie. It was quite the group effort. Along with the driver, a very nice woman, they managed to unload and place the pink bar without injury to them or the bar.

The pergola serves as a respite from the sunshine, and a breezy place to read or take a nap. I have also been working at the table. In fact I am writing from here right now. I found this really cool table at one of my favorite little stores. It’s actually a chain store much like World Market in the US. I saw the table, but unlike my usual shopping decisions, I did not buy it right away. When I went back the next day, it was gone. They had sold the last one. I asked if possibly there was another at another store location? They looked at me like I had said something so odd they could not wrap their brains around it. In the states that would be the natural question, but in Italy not so much. So I googled the store locations while the girls just looked at each other and scratched their heads. “Here,” I said. “Livorno, could you call and ask if they have the table?” “Livorno?” one of the girls replied, “I guess we could, Si.”

They called the store, and they had 2 tables. “Please have them hold one, and I will come get it,” I said. Now in the US, they would have taken my credit card, and then had it shipped to the house. But not in Italy, no such thing. I waved goodbye, and I jumped in the car and headed to a strip mall in Livorno, about 30 minutes away. When I arrived at the store, I made my purchase and met the salesgirl at the back door to load my table. It would not fit. She said you could strap it to the top of the car. Um, no that sounds dangerous and illegal I thought. I asked for the manager. She walked to the car and looked at the table and the Land Rover, and said this will not fit. “So can I have it delivered?” “No”, she said. Pretty blunt, I thought, but there was no way that this table could not be delivered. She worked at a furniture store how could that be?

Then I looked at my phone and realized it was lunch time, and everything stops in Italy at lunchtime. I surmised she just did not want to deal with me. “We can give you a refund,” she said, mildly annoyed. I was going to have it delivered I thought; nothing would stop me. I asked her to call a delivery company and find out how much to deliver. About 15 minutes later she walked towards me phone in hand and said, “It is very expensive”, …”How much?” I said. “100 euros”, she replied. “Sounds good, I said let’s have it delivered.” She continued to talk on the phone for another 10 minutes and then turned to me and said, they can’t deliver it.” Then she hung up.

Mildly pissed off, I called Barbara the solver of all things. It took her about 5 minutes to call a delivery company and arrange to have the table delivered, the same day. I handed to phone to the store manager, and she and Barbara got it all worked out. I profusely thanked Barbara. Jumped into the car an drove off. In Italy this entire scenario is what we all to refer to as “Normale”(normal). Everything is more complicated, but in the end I got my table, and I LOVE it.

The pool is really great. We love the entire set up, and although it was a project and a half, it was worth all the effort, all the pain, and the endless work involved to make it happen. Remember I am a pit bull when it comes to projects, and NO is not an option. When in Italy renovating, this is the best way to be. Ciao all and hope to see you poolside, here at La Fortezza someday. xx

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Building our Pool in Italy.

It’s been a long haul building the pool at La Fortezza. It seemed like an easy task, but then Covid struck and everything was put on a BIG hold. I arrived here in February, greeted by the pool covered and surrounded by loads of dirt and debris.

One thing about projects in Italy is they can be on hold endlessly. The idea of starting, let alone totally completing a project is in normal times pretty daunting, so with this monkey wrench thrown into the works, it is truly a miracle that it is finished.

Well almost. The truth is that building projects in Italy are a never-ending story. The idea of everything being perfect and completed is not a concept here. Nothing is perfect, and for my ever-present OCD, this fact is the medicine that I need in order to chill out. When I say chill out, I mean I can sleep at night knowing that there are 10 tiny steps to completing the project, and those may never come to fruition, and I can live with it.

The nighttime lighting has just been completed at the pool. The stairs leading to the pool deck have been a challenge as I bought lighting and the electrician kept dragging his feet to place the final 3 spots light on the bottom step. HE thought I did not need it, but I thought that I or our guests might break an ankle if we missed the last step because of the darkness. We literally fought about these lights for 2 months and FINALLY, he gave in. Now we won’t miss that last step. The last 3 spots on the final step will save lives. He was semi unhappy that I did not take his suggestion of a big stadium light mounted on the house to flood the entire pool area. He actually thought it was a great solution. See what I am dealing with here?

I compare building the pool and the pool area to being pregnant for 2 years and delivering a 400 lb baby…yes painful. The pool company was alright, but we ended up firing them because their service was subpar at best. Which means they barely came to clean the pool and complained if we called them. Yep. But finally, finally on June 12th, 2021 we had a pool. Only 1 1/2 years late. You ask why it was so daunting? Well, let’s just say micromanaging was a must, as the work schedule was all over the place. Then, of course, the weather it rains here a lot in March, April, and May.

The time came to start furnishing the pool deck which was the fun part. I looked online and then discovered a local outdoor furniture and accessories place that was fantastic. It literally is 3 football fields chocked full of the most amazing outdoor furnishings. I will post about my choices in the next blog post so stay tuned!

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Meet our new Guest Liaison- Jenna Galowich

IMG_3314 I would like to introduce our newest Annette Joseph Style team member. Jenna Galowich.

Full disclosure: I have been looking to fill this position for a few years. But I took my time to find someone that was the perfect fit. Imagine my delight when Jenna reached out. She told me her family was from Fivizzano. “What luck!” I thought. Then we met over zoom for several interviews, I knew she was just right. She’s enthusiastic and well-traveled, her background includes the hospitality business, as well as marketing. Please join me in welcoming her. I really look forward to working with her and seeing what her talents bring to enrich our guest experience here at La Fortezza. For those of you signed up for fall workshops and experiences, you are in for a treat,

Benvenuta Jenna!

A little about Jenna in her own words, take it away Jenna:

Buongiorno a tutti! It’s Jenna here – the newest member of the Annette Joseph Style Workshops & Retreats dream team. I am so thrilled to be working with our guests as the guest liaison, ensuring that everyone has the best experience possible during workshops, as well as working behind the scenes as we prepare every year for new workshop experiences and offerings.

A little bit about me: although I am a Chicagoan by birth, I am incredibly fortunate to also call Los Angeles and Paris home as well. An interesting fact about me the location of La Fortezza, in Fivizzano, Italy is in my blood – it is my ancestral hometown, as my Italian side of the family has their roots there and called it home for centuries! I recently earned my bachelor’s degree in marketing from The American University of Paris, which was one of the greatest and most transformative experiences of my life. Prior to Paris, I briefly lived in Rome, where I fell even more in love with Italy, Italian culture, Italian food, and the Italian people more than I already was.

When I’m not working at La Fortezza, I love traveling and hanging out at the dog park in front of the Louvre with Charlie my rescue pup, learning new languages, meeting new people from all walks of life, going to the authentic family-owned restaurants and spending time in the mountains hiking. There is nothing that I enjoy more than working with people, and I am so excited to meet and work with our guests at La Fortezza this fall.

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Garden Update

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loading these baby olive trees to be added to our grove

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Ciao Everyone! If you’re following me on instagram, you most likely saw me at the local garden center yesterday. My groundskeeper/gardener Gianluca accompanied me. We had a great time. I thought I’d share an overall garden update, along with a few more updates about the grounds.

One of the things I will be working on this season is adding 50 olive trees to the grove. We currently have about 150 trees on the grounds. We had to plant an olive grove on the property. Oddly our property had a few olive trees, but the terraces had no more than 10, so Frank decided we needed a proper olive grove. We had a fully functioning vineyard, but not an olive grove which in these parts is pretty rare since we are surrounded by abundant groves. I asked Gianluca what he thought had happened to our olive groves, and the only thing he could come up with is the maybe the property was planted with grain-like wheat. I guess we will never know, but right now our olive grove is expanding.

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The pool project is a big one this year. I met with the company working on the pool hardscape. Tiles will go on the deck in April once the chances of freezing are reduced. Our timeline is to finish by the end of May. I bought two large olive trees, one large pomegranate tree, a huge agave, and some fucshia azaleas. We will plant lavender and rosemary, succulents and cactus as well around the pool plus loads of soft green grassy areas. We will also have a fire pit on the lower portion of the pool deck.

Right now the pergola is going up at the end of the pool. It will provide loads of shade for relaxing, dining and reading. It’s pretty exciting around here. I love designing the garden. There will be loads of additions this year to the landscape, but the most beautiful part of our garden is the view. I never get tired of it.

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Our incredible view

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Gianluca with our new addition

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I am excited for our workshop attendees to come and enjoy the pool addition this year. I can’t believe I am saying this, but we are almost full. Folks are signing up every week. I guess everyone is excited and optimistic. I am too. Working outside always gives me a boost and puts me in my happy place.

For more updates from La Fortezza…definitely follow me on instagram if you aren’t already.

xx Annette

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