And Reality Sets In...

- 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

- 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.