There is a place, deep in the Tuscan countryside, that surreptitiously stole a little piece of my heart 12 years ago. It’s a piece I don’t mind having lost, because I am compelled time and time again to return to the scene of the “crime”, leaving behind a little bit more on each visit. It has been said that home is where the heart is. And I believe this to be true.
To wit, I am a 100% Greek-blooded, born-and-bred Australian, living in Dubai for the last several years. I am sad to say that I have never felt (or in the case of Australia, no longer feel) at home in any of these places. Don’t get me wrong – I love Australia and I will always have a home there (thanks Mum), and I’m sure that if I was to move back, the feeling of being at home would return. But I’ve increasingly started to feel like a tourist whenever I visit my own home town. And Greece? Forget about it – I’ve never belonged there. It’s nice to visit, but that’s about it. So, what about Dubai? Well, my heart simply doesn’t think very much of the place, so even after more than 5½ years it still doesn’t feel like home.
So why do I stay in this place that my heart holds in such contempt? One reason, and one reason only. It’s the travel. It’s the opportunity to explore this magnificent planet of ours and discover places in the world that feel like home, not because I live there or because it’s where my family are from, but because they resonate with me. Home becomes the place which embraces me as I am and the place I actually feel I belong.
In 2012 we travelled 100,032 kilometres in the air. In 2013 it was 106,097km. And 2014 is shaping up to be a 104,365km kind of year. You would think that with all those airmiles we would have travelled to some pretty amazing places. And you would be right. Absolutely spot on! I give you full permission to hate on me for a few moments. I mean, shit, I would. But, I would like to point out that amazing places don’t necessarily equate to places you could spend the rest of your life. Of all the incredible cities, towns, and one horse villages we’ve been to, only a couple have fulfilled that criteria for me. Of course, it is no secret that I am helplessly in the grip of a torrid, passionate love affair with Amsterdam. Enough said about Amsterdam. Today I am going to introduce you to my other happy place. A place that envelopes me with love whenever I visit.
Let me tell you about Adine. Adine is a tiny hamlet nestled in the rolling hills of Chianti, about 25km north of the beautiful city of Siena. Consisting of less than a dozen properties, it has been standing watch over picturesque vineyards and fertile olive groves since the 11th century. Next time you think about updating your iPhone to the latest model, have a think about how old that really is. These houses made from rough-hewn stone have been standing their ground since the Middle Ages. Literally.
I first stayed at Adine in 2002, with an ex-boyfriend and some friends in a villa apartment owned by the lovely Simonetta Palazio. I admit that I fell in love with Simonetta the moment I saw her. And I swear it wasn’t because she’d baked me the most incredible apple cake as a welcome gift (well, maybe it had a little bit to do with that). With a halo of white hair surrounding soft eyes and a gentle smile, she is easy to love. She is “simpatico”. After a week spent in Il Ghiro (one of the two villa apartments owned by Simonetta), we became firm friends. It’s been a friendship that has lasted great swathes of time and distance, to develop into something akin to family. Perhaps Simo is the reason I feel so at home when I am in Adine.
A little bit of history. Simonetta bought her villa in the hamlet of Adine 20 years ago. When she first moved in there was no heating, and she and her youngest daughter Manu would sleep in front of the fireplace wrapped in blankets, with woolen hats on their heads to keep warm. After separating from her husband (whom she’d been with for 38 years), Simonetta fell into depression and loneliness. She decided to rent out one of the rooms in her home for some company. Though the idea was spawned from necessity (some company, and a little extra money) she loved it. She enjoyed meeting people, and made friends with many of her guests (including me).
Simonetta, apart from being a loving and hospitable host is also a very talented cook. She took this skill and expanded her homestay experience to include cooking lessons. She was actually so good at it that for many years she was part of a group that travelled the world giving cooking classes (Max, from Red Hill Estate in Victoria, Australia is a fan and a friend). She has given that up now but still takes bookings for her two beautiful apartments and will also give cooking lessons if you ask her nicely. I have such fond memories of being invited to watch as she has whipped up some fresh pasta, or a red pepper marmalade or delicious dessert. And I’ve been luckier still to have feasted with her and her family on special occasions. Oh my god, the feasting. My mouth waters at the memories. Her specialties are focaccia, trenette al pesto and hazelnut ice-cream (my absolute favourite!!!).
So here’s the thing about staying at Adine. It is a beautiful place, but there are a few things it’s not. It’s not a 5 star hotel. It’s not an expansive, lavishly furnished villa with a swimming pool and daily cleaning service. There is no big screen TV, no air-conditioning, no room service and no gym. So if you’re looking for that kind of experience, perhaps Adine is not for you.
So what is it? It’s genuine, it’s rustic and it’s charming. It’s eating simple foods, the freshness and quality of which burst into song on the plate. It’s history and warm friendship and long walks in unspoiled nature. It’s a heart-expanding sun, made golden orb, settling in for the night over velvety hills. It’s a peace so deep, it actually takes a couple of days to get used to; to unplug. But when you do, the reward is profound. It’s looking outward toward the gorgeous countryside, and finding something special within yourself. It’s wine (we are in Chianti after all). It’s fireflies on a late-summer evening. It’s the cleanest air you’ve ever breathed (unless you’ve been to Antarctica). It is heaven on earth. And if you’d like to experience this little piece of paradise (before Simonetta sells up and moves to Rome to spend more time with her grandson) go to Adine now. Tell Simonetta I sent you. She will surely welcome you with open arms.
Note: In writing this ejo, I’ve been reminiscing about my previous visits to Adine and poring over old photos. It has ignited the need to “go home”, as it’s been over three years since I’ve seen my friend Simonetta and spent time in her house. Yesterday, I booked my ticket for a quick five day visit next month. That’s how powerful the pull of Adine is. If you don’t believe me, why don’t you go and see for yourself. For more photos, please click HERE!