Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, June 01, 2018

As fifteen classic BMWs cars sauntered through a tiny medieval village there was a earth shattering roar. Alongside us the entire mesh fence in front of a school yard was filled with excited young children shouting and waving at us. Our bumper to bumper line of beautiful old cars stretched along the cobbled street. Some of the kids escaped the confounds of the school and ran along side us whooping with joy. Groups of men outside the town’s cafe turned from their card games and waved with respect. Mothers with strollers smiled at us. We’d had this reaction from the moment we left the glamour of Montecarlo and journeyed our way through northern Italy, final destination Villa D’Este on Lake Como.

Here we would join the Concours de Elegance, a beauty competition of the world’s most exotic classic cars since 1929. It is held in the gorgeous surroundings of this majestic hotel that entertains the worlds rich and powerful. The outfits of the exhibitors and the viewing public plus the over-the-top grandeur of this landmark hotel was mind boggling. But for this particular weekend it was the the elegant classic cars that held centre stage and like peacocks in heat they paraded their colourful feathers.
What is it about good design that we all appreciate and enjoy so much? Is it the hybrid between art and design with practicality thrown into the mix that has us smiling? Whether it is a perfectly formed table or in this case, a car created for pure pleasure and not just the practicality of getting from A to B, there is so much to admire. Good design, perfect lines, a colour that allows for a double take, all makes us beam without envy. There is always a story behind the creation of iconic designs. Many years ago I interviewed Alberto Alessi the Italian manufacturer of ageless, brilliantly designed household items and popular objects. He works with the world’s foremost designers and architects such as Philippe Starck, Alessandro Mendini and Frank Gehry to name but a few.

While I was in the middle of chatting to Mr. Alessi we were joined by his old friend Mr. Mendini. The pair were charming and funny. Mendini, designer of the Swatch Watch, and a lifetime of brilliance also invented the iconic wine bottle opener of which I have bought many for myself and for friends over the years (see picture).

It has a woman's head at the top of the neck. I asked him what was his inspiration for this memorable piece of workable art - it is also the longest lasting corkscrew I have ever owned - I do tend to wear them out through over-use! This was his design story. “This corkscrew is call-ed Anna (read in an Italian accent please) and she is a named after my a wife. Anna is a very tall and a very beautiful but like a most wives some a times you just want-a screw the neck. So, bella, this is how I came up with this idea for the perfect-a cork screw, my a wife”. Ok this is much funnier when I tell it in person!

When we embarked on the BMW classic car ride from the Southern France to Northern Italy I was fascinated by the enthusiasm and happiness these stunning cars gave to everyone who saw them. There was never any looks of jealously just an overall joy at witnessing something that was created many years ago with such great beauty. This was the best experience I have ever had and I'm eternally grateful to my better half for being part of the classic world of BMW. In fact I was so inspired that I will be creating a vintage car rally from my place in Tuscany next year.

Love Debbie


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.




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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.