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

 

PLUMP & JUICY

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 www.tuscangetaway.com 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’ TUSCAN OLIVE OIL, PICKED BY MY FAMILY, ENJOYED BY YOURS.

 
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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.