Happy guests make for a happy host

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, July 21, 2017

 

The heat and dust of this year’s Tuscan summer has left us floating around in a dreamlike haze.  We have come to the end of four quite incredible retreats and now I get to rest and enjoy my Italian home. Nearly eighty women and a few men (included in our gourmet getaway) have spent a week with my team and I at our Tuscan Getaway.  

Our guests have laughed and cried. They have shared stories and brainstormed ideas. They have eaten everything from formal, fancy dinners to bowls of lasagna made by a ’nonna’ in the local village. They have drunk copious amounts of alcohol from the very best Brunellos and Chianti wines, to the rustic red from my own vineyard. They have not only sipped on the sweetest Limoncello but have also made their own from over-sized Sicilian lemons. They have shared Aperol Spritz in the village bar with a bevy of farmers and nursed glasses of Prosecco while opening their hearts to us all. They have roared with laughter throughout their yoga classes and behaved like giggling teenagers while rolling pasta in the cooking class with Chef Francesco. They arrived here at Villa Reniella quite unsure of what to expect and I think they have all left with hearts swollen with happiness and minds inspired for the future.  

I have received marvelous letters from everyone and I thought I would share just a few. They have all come here for different reasons – whether exhausted from their day to day lives, ticking off their bucket list with an experience in this stunning part of the world or trying to find their passion for their own next chapter. It has been wonderful to share my home and I am privileged to have been able to be part of their lives, even if for a short time.  

~ Debbie 

  
Photo:  A fabulous Tuscan lunch on the terrace.

 “I’m still in awe of how 19 women gelled so quickly so well!  It was a week of fabulousness and I am just so grateful.”
Karen
California, USA

 “The only thing to say is – this week changed my life, forever!”
Gene
Belgium


Photo: Great way to start the day – with a wee bit of morning yoga


“I am sitting at my desk at work and I am writing a list of changes that I am determined to make. I arrived at Debbie’s Girls’ Getaway unsure of why I was there. I did not know what to expect. I am a successful business woman but was exhausted and needed to get away. Never, in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this week would change my life. I inhaled the week… the food, the company of other women from all backgrounds and most of all the daily forums where we all talked and talked and talked. As I listened to others’ stories, my own next chapter began to unravel in my head. I am now on a new path. Debbie, I cannot tell you how excited and inspired I am for my future. Something just clicked for me at Villa Reniella with you and the entire astounding team.”
Nancy
Melbourne, Australia


Photo: Our wonderful staff Eve and Marianna with our fantastic guests from Melbourne, Australia


“From the moment Ryan and I stepped onto Debbie’s property, we were made to feel like royalty. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by Debbie personally, along with her entire team, we knew this was going to be an unforgettable experience!
Exploring the breathtaking and beautiful Tuscan countryside, with all its magnificent scenery, enjoying the fresh, seasonal, local food, drinking the delicious wines of the region, and experiencing a week of relaxing, introspecting, and discovering all that Tuscany had to offer was amazing! We did this all without the worries of work, kids, or our demanding daily routines – we managed to leave that all behind and really immerse ourselves into living in the moment and taking in every aspect of the Italian culture.
The atmosphere at the Villa was one of peacefulness, relaxation, and enjoyment, in addition to allowing for laughter and lighthearted fun. Ryan and I managed to reconnect on a personal level, not just as ‘mom and dad’, but as ‘husband and wife’, which was truly a necessity for our relationship. Not only did we cultivate our own relationship, but we developed new ones with interesting individuals, some of whom we still keep in touch with today.  I learned a lot at the Villa, not only about Italy, but about life in general. I have taken away some important life lessons, and have already started making changes at home with respect to diet, activity, and what’s really significant from day to day, which I am sure has already made me a better person. I feel truly blessed and thankful for having experienced the trip of a lifetime at Debbie’s Tuscan Getaway and I commend Debbie for being so inspirational, for opening up her home and sharing her life with perfect strangers and for impacting people’s lives in such a positive and profound way – thank you from the bottom of my heart!  La vita è bella!”
Simone
British Columbia, Canada


Photo: What a team!


“I am now home after my week spent under the Tuscan sun at Debbie Travis’ Girls’ Getaway. I have resumed my usual work/home routine. However, thanks to you and the whole Tuscan Getaway team my attitude and in turn my life has changed for the better!

I have become much more aware and mindful of what I do, what I eat, what I feel and how I conduct my life. I have come away from my week with more self-confidence and joie de vivre (I don't know how to say that in Italian!). Increasing the level of activity with walking and swimming everyday really made me feel good both physically and mentally. When I returned home I realized that even though we ate and drank so well and so much (with such good quality of food) I had lost three pounds!
What Debbie and the team have taught me is that I am worthy of my best effort and what I give out comes back to me manifold. When I take care of myself and my needs I am ready to give the world a better version of myself. Life is feeling much more precious right now and I don’t want to waste any of it! This week has been one of transformation for me. I am ready for a new chapter. I am studying to become a trained Colour Expert so that I can soon launch a business in colour consultation, something I love and enjoy.
Thanks so much for this life changing experience, I am so grateful to you all!”
Barbara
Ontario, Canada


“It has been almost two weeks since leaving Villa Reniella. I have spent much of my time sharing many stories and pictures with my family and friends and reflecting on my Tuscan experience.  
My husband asked me, upon my return home, what my favourite part was. My reply was, there wasn't one thing or one day that was better than the other. Everything and every day was simply...PERFECT!!!  I can honestly say that I walked away feeling more inspired, grateful for the experience, more educated about the Italian culture and new friends. As I sit here writing this to you, I can't help but feel envious about the next group and wish that I could do it all over again!”
Debra
Manitoba, Canada

Summer is officially here!

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, June 23, 2017



Summer is officially here!

The summer solstice has us all celebrating as we embrace the onset of summer. Mind you, in Tuscany, the summer heat this year has been with us for months - one of the hottest Junes on record according to the local farmers here in Italy. The much-needed spring rain was just a trickle, then departed. The near-drought conditions soon bleached the vibrant green fields of newly sprouted, waving and undulating wheat that surround our property to a shimmering golden yellow. Even our hardy olive trees seemed to be gasping for a drink under the relentless sun.

I have always loved the heat. The long hot summer days of my childhood in the north of England were blissful. Memories of blue skies and no rain, absolutely no rain. This is doubtful in one of the wettest area of Europe, but in my mind those summers were perfection. Thin cotton dresses, best friends and lazy school holidays that seemed to go on forever. Lying on our stomachs listening to Mungo Jerry (google him and smile) on a portable radio whilst licking fluorescent ice lollies and giggling about some boy at the other end of the football pitch. The only miserable moments occurred as the summer sun set and I was called inside each evening by my hateful mother. She would scream into the street to leave my soccer game or rounders (a kind of British version of Baseball.) “Bed!" she would yell. “So not fair, everyone else gets to stay up." I would wail back as I was dragged inside. Of course, I wasn't the only kid to be bathed and put to bed before the village street lights came on announcing grown-up people’s bedtime! The next morning, the sun always rose, cereal was laid out by my lovely mum and another glorious day of freedom blossomed before me.

Jump forward forty odd years and unbelievably to me, I am in another country, Italy. I am still lapping up the summer with the same relish and joy of that seven-year-old. Now I get to share the great outdoors in this foreign land with others who visit our Tuscan Getaways. On their first day of this weekly retreat I guide them along the pathways that snake amongst the olive groves. We wander along the rows of vines that stand to attention in our vineyard and explore the dense chestnut woods. I marvel at their delight as wafts of mint floats up from under foot followed by wild oregano and garlic. The sheer pleasure of sharing my plot of summer paradise with complete strangers is reminiscent of ‘schools out.’

These women, who visit our annual retreats from around the world, are luxuriating in being far away from their daily responsibilities, work and even family. They shake off their woes, lose the endless noise in their heads as they abandon their everyday lives, albeit for only a week. I watch them blossom with happiness and childlike enthusiasm. They come to my getaways for a variety of reasons. Many to tick off something from their bucket list or to experience everything that spectacular Tuscany has to offer and always to revel in the comradery of new friends. They bring their often weary souls to mend and change. I would love to think it is my lovingly decorated property, or our chef’s delicious Tuscan food or even the copious amount of local wine, but I am convinced it is the sunshine and the sense of summer school holidays. The bombardment of vitamin D, the relaxation of tight winter muscles and the smiles that soften faces as the Tuscan sun guides us through each breathtaking day.

For years I had a vision of what my endless summer days would be like in Italy, in fact I began buying floaty dresses years before I'd even decided on the furnishings. I often envisioned my new life as I dragged myself through airports and meetings. I pictured myself, basket swinging on my arm as I gathered the delights from my vegetable garden, sipped wine in the hammock in one of those flowery dresses and chatted to neighbors with names such as Luigi or Giovanni. And I pulled it off. I now look forward to the endless summer months in this baked land as I welcome my guests, family and friends. Summers in Tuscany are perfection. Enjoy yours, wherever you may be.

~ Debbie

ROSEMARY – The Next Big Thing

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, May 19, 2017


My farming adventures began five years ago on a hillside in Tuscany. The rundown property (big understatement) we had just purchased came with a hundred acres and 1000 olive trees. Even though the restoration of the centuries old buildings was years from being completed, harvesting waits for no one.  I immersed myself in the camaraderie of farming with family, friends and neighbours, as we threw down nets, climbed ladders, picked olives and relaxed under the majestic trees, soaking in the last of the sun with a bottle of vino at the end of blissful but exhausting days of olive picking. For me, this first experience of working the land was exciting, exhilarating, absolute heaven.

I was soon racking my wee brain for alternative crops to grow on our sunny Tuscan slopes. The long, hot summers are extremely dry and water, or lack of, is often a problem. Grape vines do well as a few others have discovered - just kidding - we sit among some of the world's best wineries.  Lavender on the other hand is not typically grown as a crop in this area, (think of Provence and its endless rows of this glorious plant), yet the climate is similar. Why not here? I said to myself. 

Spade in hand plus Luciano, my long-suffering farmer, and off we shuffled, planting 20 long rows of baby bushes down a south facing stony hillside. The lavender bushes flourished. I now have more lavender than I can handle. I dry the fragrant flowers and fill silk bags, which I tuck lovingly under pillows for our guests.

Lavender’s natural oils are found in the base of the stalks. They go through a small distillery at a local farm, and drop by drop we extract the oil, which is then bottled. One drop will gently relax the atmosphere in a room, or the tiniest trickle on a pillow will have you melt into the deepest sleep.

The rest of the plant and the flowers are infused over several months in our own organic olive oil to create the creamiest, most delicious lavender body oil.  I started selling the oils on-line and to our guests at Villa Reniella to great success, and, as a typical entrepreneur, I was ready for my next venture.

Rosmarinus Officinalis, or rosemary to the rest of us, peaked my interest when I noticed several bushes the size of mid-sized cars growing on the property. Hmmm, I thought, mind whirling. Now what is rosemary good for apart from a sprinkling on a leg of lamb and to flavour the most scrumptious roast potatoes?  It may be on everyone’s spice rack but I was astounded that this bush, which is part of the mint family, has been used for centuries for just about every ailment under the sun. It’s now having a massive resurgence.  Packed with iron, vitamin C and vitamin B6 these herbaceous woody leaves can be sprinkled over food, infused in water, or their oils rubbed over your body. There are some impressive benefits to our health. As a congestive stimulant rosemary is said to improve memory, help us focus and even increase intelligence. Stress and anxiety, which burdens us all at some point, are relieved with just a few whiffs of rosemary oil. Rosemary has been used as an anti-inflammatory for centuries and I have to say that I agree with our Roman and Egyptian cousins. Working the land is painfully hard on muscles and joints and I now pour rosemary oil into every hot bath. Within minutes I can feel the aches and pains dissolve away. 

I have been astounded though at its success as a stomach healer.  We have many guests who arrive in Tuscany bringing with them regular upset stomachs, bloating and the rest!  We infuse branches of rosemary in jugs of fresh water and suggest the ladies drink as much as possible. Within a couple of days, they have all gleefully announced that their stomachs are calmer. 

This list of benefits goes on, from constipation and relieving bad breath to pain relief and even the stimulation of red blood cells. And, there is one treatment that is getting a great deal of attention. Hair growth or lack of it, is a worry for us women as we become menopausal. For the lads, balding always seems a humongous issue. Mind you, I would rather have my man thinning on top than with a ‘rug’ - please guys don’t - just don’t!  The cosmetic companies have jumped on the rosemary bandwagon, and there is now a plethora of shampoos, gels and tonics all claiming to be a remedy for hair loss.  I have yet to catch my old man, Hans, secretly rubbing the rosemary-flavoured gravy destined for our roast lamb through his scalp, but you never know what goes on behind closed doors! Actually, I have noticed that his locks have been rather shiny and luscious lately.

There are many claims to the magical properties of rosemary, lavender and olive oil, and many are still being researched. On a personal level I feel healthier having them in my life and knowing that they are organic, freshly produced and not synthetic, which is the case of many essential oils on the market. I am proud to take part in producing these simple oils, and so thrilled I can share this bounty with everyone.  I am keeping a diary of comments from those who have tried the lavender and rosemary oil so if you do purchase some from our website please let me know how you feel!

Have a wonderful spring everyone,
~ Debbie

Every Picture Tells A Story

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, February 03, 2017


Pictures mean so much to me. I should have invented Instagram, but I didn’t! Every picture really does tell us so much. Here is a wee recap in pictures of my 2016. I travelled to Barcelona, Germany and Koh Samui off the coast of Thailand. Back and forth like a uneventful bus circuit between Tuscany, London and Toronto. I was groomed and fluffed in make-up rooms across the country. I’ve smiled and chatted to television hosts for countless interviews. I’ve launched my very own Pinot Grigio and a furniture line and not forgetting my first documentary series, La Dolce Debbie. I spoke to magnificent crowds doing my best to inspire the next generation of working gals. I’ve shaken hands, kissed babies and smiled and smiled. I’ve become a farmer producing organic olive oil plus our own lavender and rosemary products.

At Villa Reniella we’ve entertained hundreds of wonderful guests at our retreats from all around the world and held our first gourmet retreat with men – the less said the better!! The highlight of the year has to have been celebrating my 30th wedding anniversary to my most special person, Hans. My best friend Jacky was my bridesmaid alongside my nieces (I could not afford bridesmaids the first time around) and we partied all night with my dear boys, my brother and all our closest friends. One of the happiest times of my life. It was a good year and I am truly, truly grateful.

~ Debbie

 

A VERY EMOTIONAL DAY

Tuscan Getaway Team - Monday, June 27, 2016

 

 

Today is June 24 – well not when you’re reading this, but when I wrote it. It’s always been a very special day to me. Not because of someone named Jean Baptist but my hero, Josh. It is his birthday – my first born. A child’s birthday is always emotional for a parent – all those memories, but today was packed with a lifetime of intense feelings for me and not just me, but for most Brits. We woke this morning in Tuscany to the daily chorus of two fat roosters and numerous gossipy hens, plus the poetic chatter of what has become our resident builders. After 5 years of renovation, a handful seem to have forgotten to depart the premises. Since there is always 'stuff’ to do, they just turn up every day at the crack of dawn.

 

So anyway we were all ready to wake up our beloved boy, who now resides in Geneva, when all our electronic gizmos lit up the bed. I know, I know. You’re not supposed to lovingly say goodnight to your cell phone (I have 2), iPad and laptop instead of the bloke you’ve been married to for nearly 30 years, but sadly in my house we cannot break the habit. Lights were flashing from inside the duvet as the BBC news flashes were, well, flashing. Britain had voted to leave the EU. A terrible decision for so many, especially the young. We started our day as expats in Italy, with one son working in Europe... to S&%#T I never thought would happen, which I am sure was going on in every bedroom across Europe. The uncertainty begins. Of course as the selfish human beings we are – maybe just me – we immediately think how it will affect us. If the pound collapses, which it did, but so did oil, prices could make sending money over for our ludicrous, out of control renovation in the UK a little easier to our status in Italy.

 

As I Skype my son singing happy birthday and field calls from numerous friends, family and business associates about Brexit, my electrician comes racing into the villa with a beaming smile as wide as the now widening English Channel. He had been hanging three of the most glorious, glass chandeliers under my long metal pergola. Now I know I am shallow, but I had to flee the best wishes my darling Skype call and panicked phone calls and hurtle outside – third massive emotion of the morning. The lights were magnificent; the oversized glass drops glittering in the morning sunshine. One day my children will hopefully get married under those lights plus this summer we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and there will be legendary party under those glistening, shimmering chandeliers. It is going to be a difficult and tumulus few years as Britain moves forward on the emotional and sad departure from the EU. The unknown is always scary but I have to say, I do love my outside chandeliers!!

 

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas

Debbie Travis - Wednesday, December 23, 2015


 

“The mystery of human existence lies in not just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 

As I am saying goodbye to 2015, I would like to share what I have taken out of the turbulence and atrocities of this year. It is simplicity. The joys of a simple life. I have a busy life but it is the simple elements of the everyday that give me the greatest pleasure. The long Skype chat with my sister over mugs of coffee as if we were in the same room together, not on different continents. Or a quiet glass of wine under one of my ancient olive trees in Tuscany doing nothing just nothing. The simple life puts things in perspective, helps us see the opportunities and provides the inspiration for better days. It is the way you look at life. Yesterday I chatted with an elderly lady as I was heading out for some Christmas shopping on the jammed streets of London. We were both staring at an overhanging tree of the most delicate, pink, cherry blossom. Below the tree was a bed of daffodils in full bloom. Not so remarkable, except for the fact that in a few days it will be January. It is so warm here in the UK that nature seems to think it is spring. “Global warming” I loudly exclaimed. “That’s right dear ” she said “ I’m going to pick a load of those free daffs and save me some pennies!” Such proof of the ‘glass is half empty…’ There is always a sunny side or silver lining and it usually is simple. A memory came to me as clear as the glass towers of central London towering above me. This image of long ago brought back feelings of sadness and fear. I saw myself as a small five year-old girl crouched in a small, dank cupboard under the stairs of my school. It was only my second day at Rochdale Convent, a junior school run by nuns. Later on in that first year I would come to realize that some of them were kind, but many were unhappy and bitter and it took very little to enrage them. A chatty little girl was all it took to light the wick of their fury. It guaranteed an explosion of words and forthcoming punishments. Sister Renata, or Sister Squashed Tomato as I soon gleefully nicknamed her from her resemblance to this fruit. She seemed to have magical antenna that would constantly home in on me whether I was sitting at my battered wooded desk enlightening some lad next to me with another of my adventures or perched on a wall helplessly giggling with my gang of nobbly -kneed girlfriends. She had the instinct of an excited hound as she clipped me around the head and laid out the punishment of the day. At this moment, on only my second day of my early school years, I found myself in the broom cupboard under the gigantic Victorian staircase of this converted Victorian manor house. Once the tears dried up and my snotty face rubbed off on my purple school cardigan I remember distinctly taking in my surroundings. In reality it was a musty cupboard filled with dank mops and buckets and brooms. My thoughts were not about bitterness or revenge of this hateful nun, but on how romantic this ‘ den ’ lit by one hanging dusty light bulb could be. I remember thinking what a thrilling bedroom I could make out of it. It was so small I wouldn’t have to share it with any of my annoying sisters ... it would be all mine. I would paint it lavender and slide a mattress on the floor under the slanted ceiling. I would borrow my granny’s glass chandelier that was so sparkly it could be in a princess’s ballroom. I would ask my daddy to install a shelf where I would keep special things that no one else, especially my sisters, could touch. Even imprisoned in a cupboard under the stairs a little girl’s imagination can soar. Thinking back, perhaps this punishment was my introduction to the world of design? There is always a sunny side or silver lining and it usually is simple.

 

   

 

I have simplified my life in living in Tuscany even though it’s just as hectic but in different ways. It is those quiet times that are priceless because when you embark on simple moments your mind opens up to endless ideas and solutions to our problems. These pictures are captions from this summer that are simplicity in its purest form : - a group of boys playing cards at a beach restaurant on the Italian coast while their parents enjoy a long lunch. Picking plums with my nieces early in the morning while everyone else sleeps in. Making pasta at one of our cooking classes at my Tuscan Getaway (the simple action of rolling pasta opens your mind like nothing else) and caught in a traffic jam on my Tuscan road by a shepherd and his sheep – the simple life really is about not just staying alive but finding something to live for.

 



Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and many simple and happy moments in 2016.

The ENTREPRENEUR - THE PERILS & THE PEARLS

Debbie Travis - Friday, November 27, 2015

 

  

I have been speaking in auditoriums filled with budding entrepreneurs for years – nowadays they seem to call them ’Start Ups.’ Wikipedia says “an entrepreneur perceives a new business opportunity and often exhibits biases in her perception and subsequent decision to exploit the opportunity.” Not quite sure what this means, but what I do know is this. First and foremost, I have always been an entrepreneur. I have never had the inclination to work for anyone else, but myself. This means basically that you have the entire responsibility for the success or failure of your venture. Last night I gave this subject of entrepreneurship a great deal of thought. I was sitting at my long kitchen table sticking labels on 400 lavender body oil bottles that had just arrived from my farm in Italy. Someone forgot to put the labels on properly, so guess who is up at midnight doing the tedious job? me , the entrepreneur. Then this evening, guess who gave a talk about the wonders of Extra Virgin olive oil to a group of lawyers at a fabulous new olive oil shop (Olives en Folie) owned by a good friend, a favour for her new venture.. yup . . me the entrepreneur. And any day now that same entrepreneur will be helping send out 800 bottles of my organic olive oil that I picked by hand, drove to the olive press and organized the Fedex across the pond. This is all at the same time as I have been shooting my documentary Dolce Debbie, help design my new furniture line at Sears, develop a wonderful DT Pinot Grigio for the LCBO and run my production company. That is what entrepreneurs do basically everything.

 

Last week I spoke to an excited group of young ‘entrepreneurs’ in Alberta about my '10 Commandments for Success.’ I looked out over the sea of hundreds of eager businesswomen as they stared back hoping to catch at least a nibble of wisdom to help them fulfill their own dreams. I wondered if they really knew what they were getting themselves into. They often ask if it gets easier. . it doesn’t. A born entrepreneur doesn’t sit back when the business takes off, they are always onto the next idea.  


Starting a new venture is the most exciting stage. The ideas are thrown around, the enthusiasm, the passion. All these ingredients are necessary. They are the fuel to get that venture off the ground. Then the work begins. As I sat into the wee hours putting on those super sticky labels while stripping off the top layer of skin from the tip of each finger, the question of why am I doing this never really crosses my mind. A true entrepreneur puts in the endless hours because they love and believe in what they do. I believed 20 years ago that every mum at home wanted to stencil their living room or grab a sponge and splatter their walls with paint. I never listened to the naysayers – I just bulldozed forward. I did well out of those thousands of painted walls. The number one question asked at my Girls Getaway in Tuscany is ‘why’. Why am I doing this? Why do I fill my new, gorgeous, Tuscan villa with strangers? Well, it's quite simple. I love it. I love it more now than painting someone’s walls or making television shows now. I am like Madonna – I have reinvented myself. I firmly do believe that if you have a passion for what you do (which may change over the years) you will be successful. You may not make millions but you will wake each day invigorated with new ideas and plans. You will fall asleep exhausted yet exhilarated because your day has been filled doing what you adore. You will cry from your mistakes and scream at the constant challenges. You will feel painfully guilty about the times you missed with your kids, the lunches not taken with girlfriends. These are the ‘ perils’ but the ‘ pearls’ are numerous, solid and shiny. You will feel just as thrilled from the sale of a single item as you are from that big corporate deal. Your passion will rub off on your children and your friends and it will inspire them to follow their own dreams and that in itself is the gift of success.


AND YES FOR EVERYONE WAITING FOR THE OLIVE OIL AND LAVENDER OIL THEY’VE ORDERED – IT IS COMING – I JUST NEED TO FINISH THE LABELS!!


  

 

MY TUSCAN RENO IS FINISHED

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.

 

DREAM IT, DO IT, LIVE 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.