Can't see the wood for the trees, An Italian Adventure.

I just had to find a way to make it happen. An invitation via Facebook for Cornish Artists to stay in Umbria and paint for a week was too good an opportunity to overlook, so I contacted fellow cornish Artist Rachael Mia Allen and Lucy Toop in Italy and suddenly it was all arranged. After a flight delayed by fog and two train journeys from Pisa to Florence and then on to Arezzo,

First impressions were of rolling hills, cypress and poplars so green and lushly wooded, wildflowers and every shade of green although our views from the train were marred by the low cloud and heavy downpours.

Marcus swished into the train station, greeted us and we set off up through the hills of Umbria. Wind blew the blossom down the roads like snow and rain turned to hail. Slightly treacherous driving was a baptism of fire to Italian roads, but we got there. To give us a flavour of the real Italy, we stopped off at Monterchi, a small hilltop town where the road spiralled around to the top and the floors of the taverna and wine cave followed the contours of the hill.

Marcus and Lucy live at Rimondato, a little hamlet called Prato, in a farmhouse with their daughter lola high in the hills of Umbria in the company of wild boar, porcupines, scorpions and snakes. Lovingly restored it was rustic and as modern as it could be without making it obvious.

It was a fabulous week of lovely company, plenty of laughs, amazing food, hours spent arting around, extremes of weather, waking up to amazing views, relaxation, discovery of this part of the world and friendships made for life. Rachael and I hit it off straight away and by the end of the week considered ourselves real soul sisters.

Torrential rain on the friday night meant we couldn’t get out to the market on the Saturday as the ford became a fast flowing river, so we learnt to make pasta properly and made bread in between painting and taking photos. We did manage to get out for a few hours in the evening after a bumpy hang on for dear life journey down the track and over the ford in the panda 4 x 4. What amazing vehicles they are and a complete necessity in this terrain. On a saturday night, Citta di Castello was full of Italians taking their evening stroll, having a drink in the many bars and filling up their wine flagons at the local cave. We had to have a luxury icecream of course.

On the Sunday morning we did get out to a local market for supplies and visited Citterna a beautiful walled town with panoramic views over the valleys on one side and the hills of Umbria on the other, after which Lucy took on a roadtrip over the ridges of the hills with a WOW view around every corner.

Craig (rachaels husband) cooked fantastic meals for us over the week as well as keeping us entertained with his humour. Adaptable to any situation he got on really well with Marcus and they took off sorting out the beehives and other jobs as well as taking off on the house bike and meeting nuns with mobiles talking lots of holy crap and being in danger of completing 360’s in the hammock. Too many nice meals to mention, but the risotto was incredible.

The monday was really warm. Vincenzo and Filleppe arrived to hunt wild mushrooms and in the evening we made and ate so many pizzas I can’t believe it, but when they are made in an oven the size of a small house and shovelled in and out on what looked like a cornish shovel, it was hard to resist

Every morning was a different landscape with the sun rising over the distant hills, turning greys into mauves into blues. Rachael woke me on the last morning at 5.30 and we watched the warm orange lights of the village give way to the warm orange glow of the sunrise as it slid along and down the valley, through the mists, warming the air, highlighting the contours of the hills.

On the art front, I have to say I struggled. It really was a case of not being able to “See the wood for the Trees”!. When I got home I was quite disappointed with the more creative side of painting, but quite pleased with the sketches and work I did more loosely and quickly when working with the bamboo pen and ink. Maybe I was expecting too much and there definately was a lot to take in. I also missed the openness of a seascape and the coast.

Goodbyes and promises of meet ups were made. Lucy and Marcus were so generous in their ways and have a beautiful home and we left with beeswax polish, candles and a bamboo pen, a half finished canvas, as well as lots of lovely memories and photos and half kilo of proper parmiggiano.

A quick walk down through historic Arezzo with a sloping square and lovely shops, where I did treat myself to an italian handmade leather bag which turned out to be an absolute bargain. An hours train to Florence, we left the luggage at the station and had a quick lunch and whistle stop tour of Florence, David, the Affici, Doumo and Ponte Vecchio before a late train to Pisa and home.


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