Our daily bread took on a much more immediate meaning during a recent stay at Villa La Massa in the Tuscan countryside to the east of Florence. Peter & Daniele, who run this gorgeous B & B deep in a Tuscan valley in the Casentino, are delightfully warm hosts who spare no effort to make their guests feel, for a time, part of the rich ritual of the country rythm which is their life. And so, on our first morning, we found ourselves in Peter’s 4WD on our way to the ancient water mill in a local village to pick up a sack of flour for more of the scrumptious homemade bread we had devoured for breakfast. We watched the big stones grinding on as they had for centuries, powered by the rush of water directly beneath us, all viewed through a fine haze of new flour. After a chat to the baker, who, with his brother, continues this family business with contracts as far off as Tesco in the UK, we collected our sack and headed into the local bar for the morning coffee ritual. No tourists ever stray here—the beaten tack is far away.
La Massa sits high on the side of the valley, flooded by sunshine for most of the day. We took the SITA coach from Florence, enjoying the spectacular scenery of the villages and mountains of the valley which follows the River Arno to its source. We passed through ancient villages and towns such as Pontassieve with its Roman bridge, and on upwards through stunning forests into the snow-covered mountains and the high pass at Consuma. This was once one of the poorest regions in Tuscany, and the traditions are still strong. At a bend in the road we alighted at a local stop signed Vertelli & made our way on foot up the lane which wends its way to the house through olive groves and across a stone bridge across a tumbling river, and on upward into the light and welcome of La Massa.
On this early spring evening the fire was already lit and the lamps were burning and the sense of homecoming was overwhelming. Peter & Daniele have thought of everything. I’m a hard marker, but over the course of our three-day visit I could not find a single thing which could be bettered. This is hospitality at its most utterly gracious, offered by hosts who really are pleased to have you.
We spent a day exploring the surrounding villages—visiting the perfectly preserved town of Poppi with its medieval castle and collonaded streets reached from below by an Etruscan footpath. Perched high on its eyrie the town sits surveying the surrounding countryside just as it has done for over eight hundred years, still silent and brooding like the castle-keep it once was. Sounds floated up from the valley below—dogs barking, church bells tolling, wisps of smoke from the plains where the prunings from the harvested olive trees are being burned.
Peter drove us to the market town of Strada in Casentino where he took us to meet his friends who run the alimentary—deli to us. We had a delightful chat about the Slow Food Movement, to which they belong, and which is now, after its beginnings in Torino, a world-wide sodality. The array of regional cheeses was enough to make me despair, and so of course we tasted them all and bought far too much, and staggered home laden with enough for forty people for forty days, but determined to eat it all the same.
At night in the valley the stars glitter as I have only ever seen them before in Australia. By day we followed the ridge-line high, high up behind the house to the very top from where you can see forever.
La Massa offers every possible comfort & joy of modernity—super comfortable beds; lavish bathrooms; fully equipped kitchens; central heating; a wood-burning stove ( with chopped & ready-stacked wood) and elegant, welcoming, comfy d├ęcor. This is the best of modern Italian design, married to casual rustic charm and thoughtful generous hospitality.
The ‘breakfast’ part of the Bed &Breakfast is no less generous—a luscious selection of goodies which included berry jam made by Daniele’s mother and of course Peter’s homemade bread, which we almost felt as if we had had a hand in making, as we had at least supervised the milling of the flour!
There is also Wi-fi internet and a gym, for those who could be bothered with the outside world or self-discipline, but I ignored both of those and even the solar-heated pool set amongst geraniums and lavender with a view across the valley. This is a place to be still and feel life eddying around you. This is Peter & Danny’s home, and the B&B is an extension of their home & their life, which we were fortunate enough to share for a short time. Lucky us!!