Italian interlude, Summer 2023

I left Dorset for London, for Italy… here is a view snapped from my early train that morning.  And the sunset, the following evening, in Tuscany….



I was returning to Valentina’s, to a house I’ve loved for so many years now, with that magical, unchanging view, so many beautiful evenings, so many fresh clear mornings….
On my first day, the mandatory visit (Val goes every morning) to Gaiole in Chianti, popping into the butcher,  Veg being dropped at the supermarket…. Calling into the bakery on the edge of town.  Then days of nothing.  Lying in the sun, swimming, and this year, writing not reading (I have to finish my book!).  More astonishing sunsets.  Crescent moon.  The following evening, supper with friends, high up in the hills, with astonishing views.  The next morning a walk to Brolio, to the cool little bar.
My favourite brick chapel.  The beautiful gates to the castle.  Amongst other activities I am taking the odd photograph of Valentina’s house for the book, on all our studio work, this being one of my favourite of all our ‘decoration’ projects, because truly, non-decoration is the word.  Golden evenings every day. It was the clearest unbroken week of sunshine that I can remember in a long time.  Another walk the next day around Brolio – this beautiful farmhouse, the towers of Siena in the far misty distance.  Sunshine and shadows.  Supper that evening in a great little restaurant, complete with life goals!  Golden evenings.  Blue mornings.  More photography of this simple, beautiful, ancient house.  On our final evening we drove down to Monti for supper in the local restaurant.  I jumped out just at the corner and walked the rest of the way. The light on the church of San Marcellino was more beautiful than I’ve ever known it. I love this particular curve of the ancient road, that single window on side elevation, the roadside shrine in the foreground. Perfection at any moment, but especially on this most incredible of evenings.  No longer a crescent moon.  The farm opposite, pink in the dying sun.  And first light the next morning. 


And then I took the train to Venice, to stay with our friends Skye and Anthony.   The remarkable entrance to the ancient palazzo where their flat is located:  So many details in Venice, as ever, the eye and mind cannot rest, it’s all so beautiful.  That evening, Anthony took us on a trip down the Grand Canal in his beautiful boat.  Captain and crew.  The golden hour.  Practising for the huge race this coming weekend….  Peggy Guggenheim’s – the best building, so magnificent in its incomplete state.  Out in to the Guidecca.  Beautiful San Giorgio.  Across to Harry’s Dolci for dinner by the stars.  Home by moonlight.  Anthony takes us safely home.
The beautiful, huge, plain expanse of the Rialto bridge.
On Sunday, a quiet morning of wandering.  Possibly one of my favourite buildings in Venice, the State Archive.  Ca d’Oro…. one of the most romantic of all the Palazzi.  The beautiful courtyard garden and ticket area – designed by I am not sure who? But perhaps you can tell me.  I loved this phone in the lobby, too good, too Venetian.
After lunch, a walk down the Cannaregio, deserted. Strange to think that San Marco would be thronged with hundreds of thousands of visitors at precisely the same time.  We went home for quick lie down and shower, because that afternoon Anthony and Skye had arranged a brillaint trip, out to Stra, to see the Villa Pisani. We peered over the fence of the Villa Widmann on the way…. And at the remaining fragments of the Villa Valmarana, opposite.  But the peace and quiet of the Brenta canal in the 18th or 19th century is no longer.  Cars hurtle by today.  The Villa Pisani is extraordinary – huge yet delicate, grand, austere, rich by turns. It is also crumbling. The sense of autumnal decay was palpable.  The stable block vista at the far end of the canal.  Brilliant, strange interiors.  The delicate, feminine dining room felt like a cover from the World of Interiors in the late 80s.  In the grounds.  The ancient, structural box planting has been completely demolished by the box caterpillar.  Devastating.   An autumnal air pervades the astonishing gardens.  The stables.  The coffee house.  Like so many of the buildings, decaying and closed off by red and white tape.  The succulent house.  The limonaia.  The remarkable vista of statues formerly on the skyline, but now stored in the great colonnaded courtyards.  Gates and openings in the great park wall – always leading back to vistas deep in the heart of the garden.  We loved our visit, but you can tell it had an air of melancholy.   It was a tired but happy group that returned to Venice that evening.

Supper, and a last walk home. 



The next morning, early, I was up and away.  Farewell Italy, for a little while – thank you Valentina, Skye and Anthony for this little trip.

But it’s no good to end on that melancholy note of the Brenta canal and the Villa Pisani.   Here’s Charlie, photo thanks to our friend Lizzy, with his astonishing victories at the Melplash Show!

A much better way to end things.  Charlie had had a brilliant Melplash – a date that is so firmly fixed in our diary, that only Val’s 50th birthday on PRECISELY the same day could possibly dislodge it for me.  Motto: you can’t be in two places at once.

And now I’m home, and August really does feel like it’s almost over, as summer shakes off her hot, dusty air and we dream of the first clear autumn morning, soon.  As a kind commentator once wrote on this blog, ‘Spring arrives in the evening. Autumn arrives in the morning’. We all know exactly what this meant.  And after the heat and humidity of Venice, what a treat that’s going to be.


Thank you for the beautiful pictures! They brought back so many memories of my times in Italy, Venice and surrounding countryside.

Judith Peterson

Magnificent photos of Tuscany and of Venice. Brings back wonderful memories for me. Can’t wait to see your new book. You certainly brightened my day with the photos. Congratulations to Charlie, he always seems to have great results from his shows he goes to. That is wonderful. Sad to see summer end, but this week in Canada is going to be 30 degrees, so fall is welcoming to me.

Darlene Chandler

Just revisiting your wonderful photos of Venice. For many I left the Winter in Cape Town for Venice.
How fortune you are to have friends with a boat. Resident friends are important to appreciate Venice to the full. I had Enrica Rocca with her delightful property on the Zattere and Peter and Keith with their attractive apartment. Awaiting the arrival in Cape Town of our mutual friends Patrick and Isabelle from Belgium this month.

Peter Sullivan

All of your posts are wonderful, this one I found especially delightful. I felt like I could almost touch Venice in your words and images.
And Charlie’s gardening prizes are truly a triumph. It takes vision, skill, and patience to achieve those results.
Thank you.

E E Deere

Wonderful photos. Wonderful places. And a glorious ending. Thanks!

Leana Pooley

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