Debbie Travis - Thursday, October 08, 2015



The intense heat of our Tuscan summer has now cooled, the leaves begin to turn, the walnuts drop continuously from their branches, the fig trees continue to fruit and our pomegranates burst open, ripe with luscious seeds. It is autumn here in Tuscany in all its splendor.


Our land is dotted with 800 olive trees, some as old at 700 years, some wee babies, which are full with plump black and green olives. They are elegant and serene as they wait their turn to be picked. They remind me of groups of people chatting quietly away during these last warm days of the year. The young ones are small yet robust, like a playground full of pre-schoolers, the ancient ones regal and seemingly in charge, lording over the masses. They whisper in a rhythmic sway under light winds as their leaves twist skywards showing off their silvery underskirts. It's a beautiful sight.


In two weeks our olive tree orchards will be filled with the sound of our own chatter and laughter as friends, family and guests throw down the nets and begin the task of climbing, picking, combing and shaking the olives out of the trees. We will pick, enjoy fresco lunches in the olive groves and dinners tucked around roaring fires at Villa Reniella. We will press, bottle and label and then we will ship our golden elixir to all our customers’ doorsteps by mid – December.



I am very passionate about the world of olive oil. The reason is simple. Olive oil is a superfood and an important part of life in Mediterranean countries. It is one of the oldest and healthiest foods, but it can also be one of the deadliest. With the rapid rise of the popularity of olive oil around the world there has been an immense increase in fraud. Where there is money to be made there will always be exploitation . Much of the commercial olive oil on your supermarket shelves is not what it seems. Take two minutes to just Google about the corruption of the world of olive oil or read extracts from Tom Mueller’s best selling book Extra Virginity. It will really shock you. Olive oil can be doctored with other cheaper oils, even with the lowest grade oil called Lampante or lamp oil which is unfit for human consumption. Several years ago in Spain, olive oil was contaminated with a chemical used in the manufacture of plastics – it caused 24,000 people to become sick and over 1000 died. Many of our supermarket brands uses low grade oil, flavored and dyed. Many olive oils whose label proudly pronounce it as Italian or Tuscan are actually lower grade olives from around the world that are packaged and labeled in Italy. There are too many scandals to mention but please take a look at the facts – they are out there for us all to read.


Here is what you should look for in a good olive oil:

Extra Virgin: This means it is the first pressing of the olive fruit. Anything other than this is a lower grade.


Cold pressed: This means that the olives have been pressed between metal plates or stones to squeeze out the oil, a fairly natural process. If it has not been cold pressed then the oil has been extracted by a chemical process.


Organic: It is important to only use organic oil. If the trees are sprayed with pesticides then much of this ends up inside the bottle of olive oil.

Harvest Date: Olive oil like most vegetable oils goes rancid after a few months. Many will have the expiry date on the label, but it is much better to have the harvest date than you really know when the olives were picked.


The bottle: Never buy olive oil in a clear container. Light affects the oil dramatically and it is said that the oil can become carcinogenic.

The price: Be realistic about what you pay for Extra Virgin olive oil. You can pretty much guarantee that you get what you pay for. Beware of the word ‘pure’. In the food industry, it means anything but. Again, Google this – you will be shocked.


So how do you make sure you are getting a good, healthy fabulous fresh olive oil?

The best way is to order your oil from a farm you trust in Italy, Greece, Turkey, or even California. You should be paying between 30 and 70 dollars a liter. We produce one bottle on average from each tree and it can take us a couple of hours to pick that tree. Alternatively, find an olive oil consortium who take orders in the early fall, pick, press and ship to your door.


This is what we do at Villa Reniella, our farm in Tuscany. This year we will produce about 700 liters. When it is sold, there is no more. We go the extra mile and Fedex the bottles to our office in Canada, then on to the customers home. You only have to pay for shipping within Canada and this ensures that you have our wonderful Extra Virgin, organic olive oil for the holidays. It makes for a unique hostess gift or Christmas present.


If you would like to order this year’s olive oil please go to my website and visit the SHOP.


We must appreciate and respect good quality olive oil in the same way as we treat wine.


Debbie Travis





Debbie Travis - Friday, September 04, 2015


The names of the workers on the massive construction site board on the perimeter of my Tuscan property have long since faded. The crane has gone, the orange security fence has come down, and the plumbing and electrics are finished. The gravel is down outside and the furniture is in. Air-con is on, bedside flowers picked, pillows fluffed. And now we wait.


I have a lump the size of a pear in my throat. My team stands in our Cyprus tree lined driveway. The air is still, the excitement palatable. After three and a half years of construction madness my place in Tuscany is finished, completely finished. It has to be, because any minute now 20 women will arrive from across my valley in two white vans driven by my old man and our best friend. Everything is perfect.



The sun shimmers in the midday heat, the sky is cloudless, the chickens are clucking on cue - all is as I have imagined so many times. As the vans come into sight my gang of helpers - my oldest, dearest friend who has created these retreats with me, our life coach, housekeepers, yoga instructor, pool guy, massage therapist, and the chefs -move towards the ancient olive tree in the centre of the driveway. The doors open and the women spill out.



I have imagined their reactions for years and they don’t disappoint. “Wow,” “Oh gosh,” “Oh my,” “I can’t believe I am here,” “I am Jenny from New Brunswick, I’m sorry but I can’t stop crying!” There is an abundance of hugs and some screaming whoops from the American ladies like a typical surprise makeover reaction. All are gob-smacked and tearful. Why? Well, I delivered on a promise. I would bring them to a little corner of paradise where they would have a very special week. They will embark on this journey with a group of strangers and they will leave with many new friends. They are moved because as women, they know the week will be good… more than good. It will be life changing, emotional, breathtaking, and one they will never forget.


As glasses of chilled prosecco are thrust into their hands, luggage is forgotten as they follow us onto the Lemon Terrace. There is a lot to take in - the infinity pool, green & gold glass tile, glistens below and an iron pergola covered in roses with a table made from 700 year-old beams is laden with prosciutto, slithers of pecorino cheese, and plump olives. The chatter reaches a deafening level and the tears have dried - for now - and the fun begins.


One by one I have the privilege of escorting each woman to her suite - her sanctuary for the next week. These are the first guests to see the rooms and it is a heady moment for me. I’ve had a couple of other female guests. Two weeks earlier my friend Marilyn Denis came to visit. I’d been asking her for years to come to Italy and see me, and finally she arrived. The work wasn’t quite finished but her room was perfect and the pleasure I felt when she tearfully hugged me was quite overwhelming. I feel the same now as I lead each lady by the hand and swing open the shuttered French doors. As they take in the room, I take in their reactions. I have to admit I knew they would be pleased, but I never quite expected the emotions.



I have worried, researched, imagined and created every inch of these spaces, from the slabs of Moroccan stone on the floors that gave me sleepless nights after wiring money to an unknown quarry in the Atlas Mountains (they arrived right on time In the port of Livorno, Italy (then of course a nightmare to get out of Italian customs) to the 14 iron beds that I designed and then redesigned because the scale did not work - at great cost. Even the colour of the hand-plastered walls took me several tries. I ran through miles of hallways at the largest furniture trades shows in Paris and Milan. I was there searching for the latest taps, sofas, ceramic tiles and everything in between. I met with an iconic European designer to persuade her to let me buy her brand new parasol shade umbrellas before they were actually on the market. I tested countless sheets and towels before I invested in hundreds of sets. I brought gorgeous plates from the UK that all arrived smashed. I ordered 30 metal outside chairs with a stunning band of lemon yellow and 50% of them arrived fuschia pink, but after 2 hours of screaming on a cell phone I decided I loved the mix of the two colours . I hired twin painters who slept most of the day hidden under a large olive tree who had to be replaced immediately. I found a plumber who I may have to marry one day as he is the only person in the world who can possibly understand a plumbing system more complex than the control room of NASA. I fell in love with my foreman who orchestrated the daily build and whom I have yet to share more than a stilted sentence with because of our language challenges. I had headboards made from the most beautiful print that arrived upside down and of course all had to be re-made. But the best has to be a large metal chest that I wanted ‘aged’ with paint, but when I went to pick it up at ironmongers, the ‘rust’ effect looked like the walls of a rather nasty prison cell. I bought an entire ancient stone floor from a monastery in Sicily that I adore & often chat to lovingly. I found lighting that is magnificent because it hides my flaws and illuminates the very best of the room. I designed a kitchen counter top that arrived so long (my fault) that it resembled an airport runway in the centre of my kitchen and had to be removed by hot sweaty builders seconds after installing. And the list goes on and on, but as these wonderful ladies teared up again and embraced their rooms I was ecstatic, relieved and very proud of myself, my old man, and the enormous group of people who have brought this property to its magnificent fruition.


Over the week with the first group of ladies I often sat back and reveled in the talk and laughter around every meal held in the gorgeous setting around my property. I nodded to myself happily as I watched the ladies relax around the pool or watched them sip wine quietly in their own private gardens. Many of these women are contemplating their next chapters when they embark on this journey to Villa Reniella. Now that my renovation is over, I begin mine.


If you would like to see Debbie’s entire adventure from the ‘dream’ of finding a property in Italy to the renovation of a 100 acre stunning estate in Southern Tuscany, stay tuned for the upcoming documentary series “La Dolce Debbie” available soon on a TV channel near you.



Should I be celebrating or panicking?

Debbie Travis - Thursday, June 25, 2015


Two years ago I began my Tuscan renovation. It was so very exciting as the ‘ brute’ metal and orange, plastic security fence (compulsory on building sites in Italy) was erected around the property. A portable office arrived plus of course the quintessential portable loo . Many men arrived with strange faces. Machines of every description found their home on the site and a towering, delicate crane that looked as if it would blow over at the first Tuscan gust of wind. 24 months later the crane has stood its ground, the machines have multiplied like growing families and the strange men have become as familiar as my own children.


So is it cause for celebration? I think so, but as I commute back and forth from these glorious Tuscan hills and my working life in Canada, I have to keep reminding myself to keep the faith. Every time I witness the Toronto skyline it has changed. New buildings may not go up nightover , but bloody hell, entire skyscrapers reach for the skies in less time than my wee ‘empire’ in Italy gets a roof! Houses can be built from scratch in North America in under two months – I know, I have done it. For my TV series From the Ground Up we knocked down a 50’s ranch house and built a sprawling modern mansion in just weeks. Ok… so it was for television and 400 workers made it happen. I guess it’s not really fair to complain.


My Italian builders are beyond fantastic. They put in long hard days in either the scorching summer heat or this soaking, wet winter. They are also not building with prefab plywood, but with stone by ancient stone which they have taken down and rebuilt. This is my love, my future, my oasis, away from the noise of everyday life. They are passionately restoring a building that has housed hardworking families for generations and I in turn will invite stressed out women from all walks of life to come and share the delights of the Tuscan countryside with me at my Tuscan Girls Getaway. I must restore that faith, hold my head up high and smile the smile of the sweet life ahead. But please can I have windows soooon !

And the panic sets in

Debbie Travis - Friday, May 01, 2015



In seven weeks, 17 women will arrive at my villa in Tuscany. Am I ready? NO! The massively tall crane that has lorded over my reno for three years is finally gone, but there are still cement trucks, diggers, and men everywhere. Lucky me, you may say – but these men are working! There are electricians, landscapers, carpenters, stonemasons, upholsterers, and of course the plumbers who have been here forever. Will they ever leave? I am praying for the day that does not begin at 7:15 am with the sound of truck engines, the whistling under my window as some electrician happily works away, or the shouting from one worker to another as if they were trying to reach someone in Brazil. Even though they are great lads and they really appreciate how desperate I am to make sure the women who are coming to my retreat in June are not showering or peeing behind a tree, I need them gone!


Oh the horror. The nightmare. The hated, nighttime panics that wake me at 3am, that awful hour. “I need soap dishes! Have I forgotten to get extra glasses? Will the shower doors arrive?? Oh yes, I forgot, they went in yesterday…” Talk about working myself into a frenzy. Then there are the mistakes. They have been constant – sometimes weekly, even daily over this renovation journey. Doorways have been knocked out on the wrong wall. After ordering gorgeous linen duvet covers from the UK, I discovered that Italian feather duvets are a different size. (Seriously, why does ever bloody country have different sizing? Why can’t we have a single, double, Queen, and King that are all the same in every country in the world!?) The stunning plate order arrived with egg cups, dessert bowls, etc. – everything except plates!! Will these poor ladies be eating their pasta from weeny eggcups ?


I bravely left for a two week holiday with a gang of girlfriends to India in February. Before I left I OK’d the paint colour for all the bedroom suites. It was white… not brain surgery. When I returned it was SO the wrong white – it was beige. I loathe beige. After sobbing uncontrollably in front of the terrified painters and regretting ever leaving my driveway, I asked them to repaint the rooms. Yes, fourteen bedrooms. Of course I made each one swear on their children’s heads that they would never tell my old man Hans back in Canada. I paid them out of my secret little stash of cash (money I was squirrelling away for a designer purse).


I spend my days now pacing around the site. The pool guys, who are fastidiously and slowly applying emerald and gold glass tiles to the inside of the pool, have told me to go away. I think what they said translates as something like, “Debbie, it’s not going to go any faster with you sitting staring at us – bugger off.” My wonderful Italian assistant runs in the opposite direction when she sees me lest I ask her for the hundredth time that day if she has any more ticks on her to–do list. And then there are the deliveries several time a day – furniture arrives, linens, towels, hammocks… you get the picture. Yes, I am a pain in the bum, but you have to understand – this is the fruition of my dream which began with the search for a property in Italy, the purchase, the restoration, and now the final decoration. Yes, I am obsessed. I want it to be perfect.


I have created a haven for women to come and feel special. I want that mom, wife, sister, aunt, and hard working girl to snuggle under the best linen sheets covering their comfy organic mattresses in their modern fourposter metal beds. I want them to gaze up at their whitewashed beamed ceilings and stare out of their delicate blue French doors to the ancient olive trees beyond. I want them to laugh and share stories on my sumptuous new sofas and sip their delicious, local wine and enjoy plates of the very best Tuscan food…. that is, if my plates show up.


OK, I have to go back to my list – no time for blogging!!

– Debbie XX

Timing & Opportunity = Success

Debbie Travis - Thursday, March 26, 2015



Life is a funny thing! Just when you are feeling madly exasperated and about to throw in the towel there is often a silver lining that shines through the fog of despair. We talk about “silver linings” at my Tuscan Getaways. Last summer, as we all sipped chilled Prosecco in the glorious, Tuscan evening light, there was suddenly an overwhelming gasp. We had been chatting about the ups and downs of our busy, complicated lives and how these “silver linings” have a way of appearing when we need them most. Out of the blue, a real silver lining appeared behind a beautifully shaped, gigantic cloud. Among the tears, smiles spread across our faces and more personal stories unfolded.


Several months later this happened to me. I found my own “silver lining.” I was having a bad day. I had bought a very large container of old stone from a supplier in the middle of Italy. It was expensive – the price of a small car – but it was a stunning creamy white antique stone that had come out of a palazzo in the south of the country. It was a worthwhile investment as it would sit in the living area of the main villa for the guests and future generations to enjoy. When it arrived, about a third of the container was broken. Through my own tears, I tried to explain to the stone dealer that it was not my fault as it had happened during the delivery. I was alone on the site – Hans, my old man and interpreter, was back in Canada and I had to handle this alone. I was getting nowhere with the man on the end of the phone. He spoke no English and I have 20 words of Italian. It was beyond frustrating and it really felt like the end for me. “ Basta ” (“enough”) as the Italians say. This renovation was all just getting too much.


Even though I have an architect, I have taken on the role as designer and project manager because this is my project and I want it my way!! Now I needed help. As I had a tantrum that would put a toddler to shame, my computer dinged. I scanned through the latest email which was from a fan who was a design student. She was enquiring to see if she could help or shadow me, learn from me, etc. In return for helping me in my design process I would teach her my craft. Now, I have received the same email for 20 years from around the world. We have taken on interns during the making of my TV shows but they need to live near by . A helper from Florida, Syndey, Brussels, or Vancouver is of no use to me on my building site in the heart of Tuscany, but this request was different. This eager fan lived in the next village to me in Italy, spoke English, and was wondering if I ever came to Italy could she come and say hello.


Hello!!! You must be kidding!!! I wrote back immediately and planned to meet her in a local café first thing the next morning, which I did. She came armed with a husband just in case I was a nutter. She had not expected an email response never mind being leapt on immediately. It all worked out deliciously. She is sweet, eager to learn, and fascinated by the world of design and she began working alongside me a week later. Laura helps me translate as we work with the builders and tradesmen and she also has wonderful ideas and opinions. I love “all win” situations. A “silver lining” appeared for me. Laura was not afraid to ask and she got me as her teacher and mentor (well, there are worse) and she grabbed that opportunity. This equals success all round. Oh, and it all worked out with the stone guy.

Motto here: never be afraid to ask.

When Harry met Debbie

Debbie Travis - Monday, August 11, 2014

Harry is one of the most popular guys I have ever met. Both men and women swoon over him. They scramble for his attention the moment he enters the room. They seem to grow with importance if he glances their way with his boyish smile. 

If he actually stops to say “Hi” they have a tale to tell their friends back home. Harry is neither recognizable to the average folk, handsome or young. Harry is actually in his mid 80’s, but with the charisma of someone who has spent a lifetime greeting royalty, legends and celebrities from around the globe and last night he met me.

So what happened when Harry met Debbie, and who is this Harry? Yesterday was my birthday and I was lucky enough to be on the outskirts of Venice scouting for furniture for my property in Tuscany where I will be holding my Tuscan Girls’ Getaway. My old man Hans was treating his birthday girl to a night in this magical ‘floating’ city. We were the quintessential tourists for the evening with a gondola ride through the historic canals and dinner at the legendary Harry’s Bar.

This landmark restaurant has been frequented by the likes of Hemingway, Truman Capote, Orson Wells, Alfred Hitchcock and just about every movie star who has ever spent time in Venice. The bar was opened in 1931 by a local bartender, Giuseppe Cipriani, who had been working as a bartender in Venice for years and who had befriended one of his clients, an American called Harry Pickering. Harry had been a regular in the bar where Guiseppe worked but suddenly disappeared. Finally, some months later, he turned up again and told his friend, the barman, that he was broke because his family had cut him off due to his heavy drinking. The barman lent Harry about $5000 dollars in today’s money to help him get on his feet again. With this unexpected help, Harry managed to become prosperous again and a couple of years later returned to the bar where Guiseppe worked and not only re-paid the original loan, but added another $50,000. The lucky barman used this windfall to open Harry’s Bar, named after his generous benefactor. The rest is history, as Harry’s Bar became the place to be seen by the wealthy, the important and of course the beautiful people. Still as popular 83 years later, it is now run by Giuseppe’s son, Arrigo, whom everyone calls Harry.

We ate that night in the small room, packed with diners and waiters who looked as if they were not only part of the furniture but were born to be there. They bustled between crammed tables with ease carrying plates of steaming risotto and curry sauce, spaghetti alla vongole and fish soup. As we fell onto our third glass of local Pinot Grigio I noticed a quiet, elegantly dressed white haired old man tucked into a corner with what looked like an old school pal. The two of them chatted in such an animated way that they reminded me of the old geezers in The Muppet Show. But what really caught my attention was the constant stream of guests who greeted this distinguished gentleman . At the end of our meal he began to circulate around the room shaking hands with just about every table but when he reached ours, Harry sat down. Ignoring Hans, he asked me where I was from and was I enjoying his food? We chatted for a while ignoring the jealous glances from other patrons. Harry signalled to a waiter who promptly brought a copy of the Harry’s Bar cookbook, a beautiful recipe book filled with stories of its famous guests. Harry scribbled on the opening page, “To dear Debbie, I have enjoyed your shows here in Italy for years – Arrigo”…. . Who knew!The night Harry met Debbie made me feel like a million bucks!! I also love the story of Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy.

Caught with my pants down

Debbie Travis - Friday, April 04, 2014


This must be one of the most common expressions. A favourite with journalists as they create headlines around badly behaved politicians or celebrities. ‘He was caught with his pants down, as he enjoyed a drink in a remote bar with his mistress.’ Or, ‘you don’t want to be caught with your pants down at work as you surf the net looking for new shoes instead of working.’ We have all been caught in some kind of embarrassing situation but have you ever actually been caught, literally with your pants down? Well, today I was. Let me explain.


My ancient villa and farm in Tuscany that I am renovating to hold my women’s getaways sits on the knoll of a hill. There is a small castle above me in a medieval village, and below the land rolls down through olive groves to a river and woodland. In typical Tuscan style, the land climbs back up the other side of the valley through vineyards until it reaches the steep, medieval walls of the town of Montepulciano, which, high up on this neighbouring hill, lords over the entire valley. My eighty-acre farm consists of these woods, olive groves, two lavender fields and two vineyards. Now you would think I could find a quiet corner behind one of my hundreds of trees to have a quick pee, but there are builders, plumbers, plasterers, painters, etc. everywhere . They are on the rooftops, in the windows, in trenches – well, you get the picture. As yet I have no plumbing except for one bright blue port-a-potty used by the ‘ ragazzi .’ I think I have mentioned in other blogs that I am absolutely the only female on this site and there is not a chance that I am going in that portable loo .


This morning I casually walked along a ridge as far away from the construction site as I could, desperate for a pee. Finally circling the area like a dog with its nose to the ground, ears pricked up for sound, I found what seemed like a private area. With jeans and knickers around my ankles I was feeling like a successful boy scout but then out of the undergrowth lurched our local truffle hunter with his two sniffer dogs. They had sniffed me out. What do you do, what do you say? Pulling my pants up as casually as I could with, I am sure, a look of absolute humiliation on my face, he completely ignored my predicament as if he had met me walking along the cobbled streets of our local village. He just smiled as he fumbled around in his pockets, handed me the largest truffle I’d ever seen, and then strolled off whistling in what I know had to be bloody amusement .


What’s a girl to do?

It’s Olive Harvest Time… and Time to Place Your Order!

Debbie Travis - Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Dear Friends,


Hans and I are getting ready for this year’s, our third, olive harvest at our organic olive farm in Tuscany. This year, we will be not only picking the olives with family and friends but also with a group of ladies (plus a few husbands) who are here on a reunion. They were at the Tuscan Girls’ Getaway in 2011 and became great friends.


The olives from this year’s harvest will be cold-pressed as soon as they are picked at our local Frantoio (oil press). The oil will then get bottled, labeled, and readied for air shipment to Canada to ensure ultimate freshness.


Harvesting the olives from our organic farm is a labour of love and I hope you will try this liquid gold. Our oil is a mix of six varieties, and has a robust, flavourful and slightly peppery taste – ideal for garnishing your salads, grilled vegetables and meats, or just drizzled over some toasted plain bread. The grassy aroma has a scent of sweet hay and a hint of artichoke. It is delicate and flavourful ( smooth but slightly peppery).


Ordering our Certified Organic Extra-Virgin Cold-Pressed Tuscan Olive Oil is easy and we will get it to you well before the Christmas holidays since it also makes for a delicious and interesting hostess gift or present. A good wine is gone in an evening, but here is a product that will last for months and is so good for you.

I would like to make a note about something I have become passionate about since becoming an olive farmer – and that is that yes, olive oil is a superfood, but much of the olive oil on our supermarket shelves is not extra virgin olive oil, and much of it is not even olive oil. I will be talking about this on the Marilyn Denis Show on Thursday, November 6, and I suggest that everyone read the wonderful, enlightening book Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller.


This link will take you to our order page where you will find more details. We have tried making the ordering process as simple as possible by using PayPal Merchant Services. You can pay for your order with most major credit cards and all the shipping costs within Canada are included in the price.

We are truly excited to be continuing with this new venture. I think you will agree when you taste our hand picked, Certified Organic Extra-Virgin Cold-Pressed Tuscan Olive Oil, that it is one of the best and freshest olive oils you have ever tasted. And perhaps one year you will be able to come and pick your own olives – wouldn’t that be fun!


Thank You and Ciao,



And Reality Sets In...

Debbie Travis - Wednesday, October 10, 2012
February, 2012 My first ‘Tuscan’ blog in January captured, I hope, the child-like excitement that I felt on signing the final deed to our Tuscan Property. After years of searching, our dream has come true. We are now the proud owners of a 60 acre olive tree farm in Southern Tuscany that we will restore over the next two years.  We will  transform this run-down building into a home or small boutique hotel. 

I am sharing this journey with you all, so you can dream along with us and one day bring your loved ones and come and stay – under the Tuscan sun. Last week I arrived  in Tuscany alone (Hans - my old man, one of my boys and a small camera crew were following on to document the ‘before’ shots of our new home). The farmer, Luciano who we have just hired, met me at the B&B we’re  staying  and took me up to my property. He sauntered off to work in the vineyard leaving his new ‘boss’ to  wander around this ‘podere’ alone.  A podere is a large fortified farm that would have once housed 3 or 4 families on its top floor with the animals living below.  This particular farm was once 3 medieval towers constructed over different periods and kind of ‘stuck’ together. This was the first time I’d seen the property without the previous owners and all their stuff.   The sky was a rich, Mediterranean blue, the surrounding undulating hills seemed to swim off in the distance like giant waves and that infamous Tuscan sun gave the butter, ochre and terracotta exterior walls a shimmering golden glow. I unravelled the chains on a massive door with a patina that only a baking hot sun could have weathered.  It creaked open and there was my future living room.  Impossible to imagine now but one day!  The floors are ancient stone, pitted with holes from centuries of cow urine.  The tiled drain still runs through the centre of these floors and there is a manger with  scatterings of hay around the parameter.   Four rooms, well spaces really, are joined together by huge brick arches.  Kind of like todays modern open plan living.  I stumble back outside into the winter sunshine.  There are pigsties  everywhere.  Empty now except for floors of straw and the rather strong aroma of their previous inhabitants.  These will be the guest bedrooms for the future luxury B & B.  I shake my head at the daunting task ahead as I stubble over piles of ‘something’ smelly and foreign to this city slicker! I am not sure if there is an emotion that mixes pure excitement and gut wrenching fear.  Probably the same feeling as when one bunged jumps off a cliff, which I am afraid to say I have never done... But I have invested my life savings in a pile of stone in a foreign land.  The lump in my throat is growing  bigger.  Outside again, I climb up the outside stairs.  My legs are heavy with dread.  This is actually the first time I have explored the top floor.  Most Tuscan farms have exterior stone staircases as the families would have lived up here with much of their heating coming from the animals living below.  I think my gasp on entering must have been heard in Rome! I stood among walls covered in black mildew. Bare light bulbs cast a depressing mood across massive bedrooms with soaring 15 foot ceilings.  Oh! and these aren’t your typical stucco ceilings.  Huge chestnut beams hold up a surface of terracotta bricks.  Each room shrinks away from the midday sun with shutters tightly closed.  I flung a pair open and that lump in my throat surfaced with a stream of tears.  One day I will wake up to this view.  The ancient town of Montepulciano in the distance, lines of cypresses , vineyards rolling over hills that seem to emulate the curves of a rotund renaissance beauty. The quiet hit me, then I realized it was not quiet at all.  I heard the sheep in the fields below and then a peel of bells from the three different churches in the village nearby.  With a slap of optimism I smiled.  Mildew can be removed, walls plastered and painted and of course bathrooms can be added (there’s only one – a 1960’s eyesore).  I am Debbie Travis I say to myself.  I can do this, I’ve done it before.  Well never quite like this, but I am ready to give it a bloody good try.

Debbie Travis Organic Lavender Oils

Debbie Travis - Thursday, September 20, 2012



There are 32 different types of lavender, a beautiful purple plant that flowers all summer. Eighteen months ago I bought 2000 tiny organic plants, each the shape of a large fist. I had a pebbly, dry field on a steep hill on my Tuscany property. It is south facing and has very little water which is apparently what lavender loves. I’ve been told by the local village gossip machine ( most takes place in the café in the square) that lavender is very much like women and grape vines. The more they suffer, the better they do! I take this with a pinch of salt, especially the women bit. Mind you, some of the ancient old ladies I have met in these medieval towns, widowed and all dressed in black, seem to have made a living out of the suffering bit. That’s probably not fair to say as I am sure they have had their share of suffering but I think you know what I mean.


My marvelous farmer Luciano and I ( well me just really getting in the way) planted these baby lavender bushes hoping that one day they would grow into one of those magnificent visions you see in the South of France. Sadly, after all the expense and the effort, I began receiving pessimistic comments from both locals and expats. There are few lavender farms in Italy. In fact, the Italians rarely grow anything they can’t eat! They will grow every type of vegetable, edible foliage and all kinds of crops, but you will encounter few flower shops. But I swallowed all the head shaking advice and stuck to my vision. Between us, the real purpose for the lavender was just to make the barren field look pretty, the idea being that as the ladies taking part in my retreats approach my property, they would be breathless with the colours and perfume.


Well, the lavender flourished. Each grassy little ball suddenly sprouted long arms emulating a green hedgehog. By mid summer, the hillside had become a rolling sea of purple. Woo hoo, I was a ‘farmer’! At our Tuscan Girls’ Getaway, every woman is given a pouch of our dried lavender to help with jet lag and to take home to sweeten her linen closet.


One evening my old man and I were at dinner party chatting with mostly Italians. Well, he was chatting and I was sitting quietly, a rarity, as I understood only the odd word. The more wine was consumed by the party of revelers, the more sober and quiet I became. The thrilling, hilarious conversations surrounded me and I understood… nothing, niente. I love dinner parties and I am usually the chatty one as I have so many stories to share that I think are fascinating, even though the other guests might be bored rigid. I was sitting quietly nibbling on yet another bowl of olives when a beautiful Venetian woman began to chat to me about her lavender oil .


She was a specialist in making herbs and oils and had just moved her entire operation to produce essential oils to a laboratory a mile from me. She made her oils from all kinds of organic plants which she grew, but she had yet to plant lavender. How often does a business opportunity throw itself at you like that? I have a field of lavender… she makes the oil but has no lavender… hello! By the time ‘ dolce’ was being served, we were in business. This summer, Maria Christina infused several massive glass jars of my olive oil with my lavender. These bulbous glass domes soaked up the summer sun until the end of September like fat Buddhas outside their temples. We then filtered the oil and, voila, we had the most natural, luxurious perfumed massage and body oil imaginable.


Making the essential oil was a little more laborious. Rows upon rows of the lavender were cut, washed and then put into a contraption that looked like a distillery from the deep South for making moonshine. This produced the strongest essence of lavender imaginable. We sat and stared at this oversized chemistry set for hours, as drop by drop the oils were distilled from the plants. No wonder a tiny bottle of essential lavender oil is so expensive.


The properties in these oils are also quite astounding. Lavender was used extensively in the hospitals during World War 1 for its ability to heal everything from wounds, burns, headaches and calming the nerves. Lavender, in all its forms from, including teas, seeds and oils, is today used for many purposes, especially to aid sleep. A tiny drop on a pillow will relax you, help with any anxiety, and send you into the most relaxing sleep.


The exciting news is that these bottles of both essential lavender oil and massage/body oil have been shipped to Canada for you all to enjoy. Just check out my website and you will see them available for purchase. I only have 400 bottles from my sunny field in Toscana so it really is first come, first served. They are not expensive compared to whatever else is out there and all they contain is lavender, olive oil, sunshine and the occasional rain.

Please, please let me know what you think if you try it!





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Debbie’s newsletter is a peek into her life between London, Tuscany and Toronto – running her television company, Tuscan Retreats and living life to the fullest.