We traveled a very long day to get to Italy.
From Spain, our connection back to Paris was delayed. We arrived in Florence to find our car rentals given away.
But that Italian sunset the color of cotton candy sure was a pleasure to see.
Having sorted everything out, we made the drive to our next destination in the mountains an hour drive from Florence.
In the dark we had no idea where we were going, nor what to expect. We fumbled our way and pulled into the massive drive.
Our home owner, Sabina along with her "property manager" were waiting at the door. It had been a long day for her, too, and we felt pretty bad that she had waited so long on our tardy entrance.
Still, full of smiles and welcome, she drew us into the kitchen where a spread of sliced salamis, Parmesan cheese, bowls of cherries, mini tomatoes, roasted nuts, and crusty bread awaited our tired arrival. We were instantly in love with Italian hospitality.
I wish I could always have bundles of fresh thyme ... or rosemary ... or lavender ... gracing my kitchen table. The villa was covered in fresh greens,
Sabina said her goodbyes and left us in the care of Francesco.
He showed us our available rooms but also indicated that the entire house and 500 acre estate would be ours throughout the duration of our stay.
We didn't really know what that meant.
But as he took us through room after room, after room .... after room ... the kids began to volley for whichever bedroom was closest to Newel and I. The bedrooms had living rooms. The living rooms had living rooms.
Big can get very big and very daunting, very fast.
In the morning light of day, we were better prepared to take in all of Rennacci Villa.
We were dressed for church and planning to make breakfast out of a few things we had from the night before.
When we finally found our way toward the kitchen, we discovered that Francesco had been there early and laid out a spread for our family in the garden.
Not just any spread, though. There were flowers picked from the fields and fruits from the estate orchards.
He served it all like a pro and we pumped him for information regarding our whereabouts.
The Airbnb had been pretty vague.
Rennacci Villa is one of many estates owned by the Corsini Royal Family. Sabina had inherited it from her grandmother, Lady Anna, a princess royal. Francesco's father had served for all those years as Lady Anna's chauffeur and had been gifted one of the many abandoned estate farms. Francesco and Sabina had grown up together as children and friends, living between the royal palace and this estate. Both a part of the family nursery, each holding very different stations in society.
Now their hope was to revive a dying property to some sort of use.
We were their second guests.
Somehow we had stumbled into a real life Downton Abbey and all it's magic, complete with Francesco who was wanting to care for our every need.
Francesco asked to attend church with us. We warned him about the long three hours. Still, he was eager and we were glad to have him along. He certainly had a lot of questions throughout the week and we did our best to answer them.
The heat of the afternoon and long journey from the day before begged for a good nap. We crashed.
When we opened our eyes, Francesco and his girlfriend, Julie had been working away to put together dinner for our family.
The Italian afternoon held a certain sort of magic.
Francesco and Julie would not allow us to help. They even seemed a bit distressed when we tried to lend a hand so we engaged in a game of pickle.
Maybe the most romantic game of pickle ever. That is ... if a game of pickle can ever be considered "romantic".
It was just a velvety moment watching my people enjoy each other.
That sun lit everything just perfectly.
Francesco came out of the house bearing hors d'oeuvres.
He invited us to sit and be served. We filled our plates. Little did we know that he and Julie had prepared multiple courses.
Better yet, they would be at our disposal all week treating us like royalty.
And that's where our love affair with Italy began.