Forty years ago, long before Under the Tuscan Sun was a twinkle in Frances Mayes’ eye, my parents-in-law bought a 14th-century stone house on a woodsy Tuscan hillside just outside the city of Florence. The foundation of the house dates back to the Roman period and the jagged bits of stone wall found on the lower terrace, underlining a stretch of silver-hued olive trees, is Etruscan. To become owners of all this ancient history, they paid just $15,000—a steal even in 1972.
Now, each summer, my husband and I perch ourselves on the house’s upper terrace and gaze out at the valley below. Shimmering there in the heat is Florence.
It thrills us that beneath the haze lies a trove of Renaissance treasures: Michelangelo’s David… Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome… Botticelli’s Venus, standing tall and tranquil on her scalloped sea shell.
In just 20 minutes we can be down there, wandering Florence’s delicious tangle of cobblestone streets, perhaps slipping into a trattoria for some pumpkin-porcini ravioli, or maybe knocking back an espresso Italian-style, standing up in a bar, before visiting these masterpieces.
Sometimes we do exactly that. But truth be told, we usually stay on the hillside. There’s something about Italy that compels us to distill life to its barest essence: good food, fresh air, and pleasurable company.
As glorious as the Uffizi’s works of art are, it is equally glorious to spend the day tramping through the olive groves, eating sweet, sun-warmed figs straight from the tree, or reading under the shade of a grapevine-entwined pergola.
This is the true beauty of Tuscany—almost everything about it, from its golden landscape to its melodious language, begs you to slow down and enjoy the moment. If you’re rushing around, trying to cram in visits to its most beautiful towns—Siena, Lucca, Cortona—as if stuffing priceless treasures into a sack, you’re missing the point. Part of la dolce vita in Italy comes from la dolce far niente, “the sweetness of doing nothing.” The details of life are to be lingered over and savored, like a superb wine or meal.
As an American who grew up believing that productivity was next to godliness, sometimes I have a difficult time holding onto the sweetness of doing nothing. Thankfully, our Italian friends are quick to remind me. Last summer, while enjoying a glass of wine with our neighbor Jacopo, I remarked guiltily that I hadn’t gone further than the local supermarket for days. Jacopo laughed and swept his arm around the terrace, taking in the panoramic view of the valley, our kids splashing in the pool, the hot-pink sun sinking fast into a streak of wispy, purplish clouds. He asked, “Why would you?” Why, indeed.
We’re lucky, of course, that we can embrace the sweetness of doing nothing in Italy every year. And if you, too, want a permanent connection to this part of Tuscany, a few good-value properties still exist. I found a divine two-bedroom apartment in a stone farmhouse with a swimming pool, 180-square-meter (1,937-square-foot) private garden, and panoramic views of the countryside near San Gimignano. It is going for $353,000.
In the former Medici town of Fiesole, I found a 70-square-meter (753-square-foot), two-bedroom apartment with a gorgeous, unobstructed view of the Florentine hills for $377,000.
If this is an investment you can afford to make—trust me—the rewards will resonate for generations to come.
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