I am here.
The highway out of Florence gave way quickly to stunning Italian landscapes that were like scenes out of a movie; rolling deep green hills striped with rows of grape vines and olive trees, charming red-roofed stone houses scattered carelessly about like it was nothing. Careless with beauty, that is the strongest impression I will take home from Italy. We flipped until we found a radio station with Italian music, trundling along gape-mouthed as every other car on the road whipped by at stomach-turning speed.
Then gradually our route took us off the highway, through the small Italian town of Guardea, our nearest neighbour and onto winding little cliffside roads, and it was all I could do to stay on the road instead of gazing awestruck at the beauty of it all until we plummeted to our deaths. But I stayed strong, only taking careful little peeks out the passenger side window at the wonder outside.
So, when we climbed the tiny rocky path to the villa itself- a path we might have described as a largish goat track but which Italy considers a perfectly good secondary highway- and I got out of the van to greet our hosts and saw that I was high on a mountain with every beautiful thing in Italy spread out like a tapestry beneath me and almost started to cry. Beauty hits me hard, folks, and I could see that the Italian couple we were renting the villa from had no idea what to make of my doubtless extremely attractive “don’t cry you can’t seem weird or they won’t give you the keys” face but hopefully they just shrugged it off as some weird foreigner thing and we went inside.
The villa was incredible. A huge living and dining area perfect for a cool dozen women to spread out in, an adorable kitchen with a lovely care basket of wine and pasta, and then a twisty maze of bedrooms all beautifully decorated and quirkily detailed (they loved donkey art). The building was old stone and the renovations had somehow kept the character while bringing it seamlessly up to a luxurious modern standard of comfort. And the pool- my god, the pool. It had a waterfall. I am not even kidding.
But it was the grounds that really undid me. Three stone staircases, one to the top part of the hill, one to the breakfast terrace, the last to the foot of the lovely wooden bridge from the hill to the house’s second story. Gardens and olive trees and incredible landscaping, roses in bloom and lavender along the path, a pomegranate tree heavy with fruit by the front walk. A swingset. Everything was so perfect it felt unreal. And then, exploring, I found the wild places in the back with tumbling stones and overhanging trees, rustling leaves and wild pears, and I knew I had stumbled across heaven, all unknowing.
I stood that afternoon on the wooden bridge outside my bedroom, watching the golden light slant across the terracotta tiles of the roof and out over the valley below, memorising this moment- the warmth of the sun on my cheeks, the whispering sound of the trees and the woods, the cool air filling my lungs, the smell of green growing things and timber and old stone, the rough wood beneath my bare feet and the wind teasing my hair. I filled my eyes and my heart with Italy, so that no matter where I go or who I become, a piece of this day will always be with me.