By JessicaNew Years Eve is so often overrated, that for the past few years my husband and I have decided to keep it casual. Last year we spent the evening watching fireworks on a balmy summer night in Sydney Australia. This year we had a delightful international dinner with a lovely diverse group of people in an old medieval house located near Sovicille in the Tuscan countryside.
Like many other parts of Europe, we were blessed with unseasonably warm weather this New Years. The evening was clear and starry, and after a delicious meal with local organic wines, we built a big bonfire outside, and let off fireworks. All of the neighbors from the other farmhouses came out to celebrate and pop bottles of champagne together, and a few stragglers ended up coming back inside after the fire died down to enjoy a few more glasses of wine, some games, and finally bed wherever we dropped in the early hours of the morning.
New Years day we all woke up a little sore from the festivities the night before. The children were all a bit grouchy after a late night, but the sun was shining and we couldn't resist the beautiful countryside for long. After a strong coffee, we all packed into two car, kids and dogs in tow, and headed to the nearby Villa Cetinale for a New Years day stroll.
I love the area around Sovicille. Its packed full of exciting medieval and renaissance buildings, old stone walls, mysterious forests, wild game and unique landscapes. To get to many of the old borgos (which are still well populated in most cases) requires up to 25 minutes of unpaved white roads (not for the sports cars out here). We have an old fiat punto, which seem to have built to drive along these bumpy roads.Villa Cetinale is no exception, but the white roads really only add to its old beauty. Stone walls on either side of the road are lined with moss, behind them is a thick slightly eery mediterranean forest - rich and green even in the middle of winter. The gardens around the Villa are mostly off limits unless you organize a tour in advance, this is due to tourists essentially eurotaking over the placeeuro in the past. Ranieri, our friend who grew up around these gardens, explained that even when the owners attempted to keep the gardens open by day (but closed at night) people would hide in the grounds until the guard had closed up, and destroy the beautiful gardens after nightfall drinking, camping, littering etc. Eventually someone was injured on the old 300 year steps - and the gardens were closed to the public once and for all. Such a shame... but you can still enjoy a nice walk around the grounds, into the courtyard etc, and the owners are happy as long as you show respect.
Villa Cetinale was built on the remains of an old Etruscan village. It was (and continues to be) appreciated as one of the most admired gardens in Italy.Interestingly The Palio of Siena was raced here seven times (when due to political reasons it could not be held in Siena itself). One of my favorite parts of the garden is the euroScala Santaeuro 300 old stone steps that end at a huge hermitage that was once inhabited by monks. There is a straight line that runs down from this hermitage through the forest and down past the villa to a magnificent big statue of Hercules.
The gardens really have to be seen to be believed, filled with flowers, interesting trees and wild woods - they are not only beautiful but also rich with history.For me, wandering along with Ranieri and his lovely extended family was as good as taking a guided tour - we heard all the local gossip about the current owners mixed with tales of old lords, bandits, Palio events and more.We finished the morning with a picnic on the stairs of a lovely little fresco. It was an excellent start to the New Year.