Our arrival at Trove

Arriving almost two hours late isn’t the best way to make a first good impression, but the train from Rome was delayed, which caused us to miss our connection in a small town called Chiusi.  At least we were able to phone our hosts to let them know of our delay, thanks to the generosity and friendliness of a fellow traveller.  Luca, a dentist from Naples, was on his way to meet a friend in Siena from where they were going to begin a three day pilgrimage route on their bikes.  They were planning to stay in a convent along the way.  I couldn’t help but notice that I seem to keep bumping into pilgrims these days.

When we finally pulled into Sinalunga, Ugo was waiting for us and welcomed us warmly.  We piled our stuff into his car, and we got our first introduction to this small town (population around 12,000) as Ugo did a few errands before heading out to the farm which is called Trove, just 10 km south.

View from the farm

The countryside in this area which is about 50 km south of Siena is breathtakingly beautiful marked by lush rolling hills dotted with geometrical vineyards and olive groves, old stone farm houses with laneways lined with tall slender dark green cypress trees, and fields awash with wild poppies and streaked with yellow canola.  This is the same luscious landscape used for movie sets like “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “The English Patient”.  In fact, the monastery where some of the English Patient was filmed is a stone’s throw away and a place we plan to visit sometime later this month. The farm is nestled between two medieval hill towns – Castelmuzio and Petroia both of which are within easy walking distance from the farm.

As we approached the farm, Ugo explained how they were in the middle of some renovations that they decided to do rather spontaneously and as a result, things were a little upside down.  Although we assured him that we have lived through renovations and would be fine, I couldn’t deny the sinking feeling that settled in my gut.  What had I gotten us into?

After meeting Barbara, Ugo’s wife, we were shown to our “quarters” and given a tour around the house and the property.  The farm dates back to the 14th century although the house has “only” been around for a couple of centuries.  It is an authentic, unrenovated stone farm house that has seen very few changes over the years.  Barbara, who is from Australia, and Ugo who is Italian born and who grew up in Lucca which is just north of Florence, bought the farm in the early 70’s but only started living here full time 14 years ago.  Before that, they lived in Australia where they raised their son and worked in the film industry.  About 20 years my senior, this hardworking couple would give people half their age a run for their money.

Entrance to our “suite”.

Necessary improvements have been made to the place over time – like fixing the roof and replacing some of the windows – but they did not make any significant changes until now.  They have electricity but no indoor plumbing (more about that in a minute).  As part of the renovation project, a new kitchen was installed with running hot and cold water. The first indoor plumbing! The floor in the main living area was reinforced and retiled – a major undertaking that was necessary to prevent the whole floor from collapsing.  A new bathroom is also part of the renovation project but it won’t be ready for a while, at least not while we’re visiting.

As is typical of these old farm houses, the main living space is on the second floor.  The house has four bedrooms, living/dining room, a kitchen and a sunroom/storage room; while the farm was operational, as many as five families would have lived here.  Today, it is home to Barbara and Ugo, their dog Merry Moon and their two cats.  And of course they open their home to a steady stream of helpers like us.

Storage area next to our room. One of our first jobs was to get this area cleaned up and organized.

The ground floor would have housed the animals.  You can still see the manger that would hold the animal feed, the sloped floor that allowed the animal waste to slide down into a trough.  Today, Ugo’s workshop, a storage room and the helper’s “suite” is located in this space.  That’s right, we are living in a stable.  Aside from the whitewashed walls, it looks pretty much the same as it would have looked back when it was housing animals.



Our “suite” is one  large room with a small window at one end, a doorway to the storage area along one wall and a door leading to the patio outside on the wall opposite the window.  The floors are tiled in terracotta.  The bed (two twins put together so lots of space) is at the far end of the room along with a dresser, two night tables and two lamps. The other half of the room has a couch, a kitchen table, some cabinets that serve as kitchen storage, a fridge, a cooking stove and a wood burning stove.  The space is very well equipped with all your necessities – bed linens, towels, dishes, pots, etc.  The room has a rustic charm.  We didn’t mind having this little “apartment” to ourselves and we later learned that we would do all our own cooking too which has suited us very well.

Video:  Welcome to our humble abode for the month of May.

Outdoor kitchen sink

We couldn’t help but wonder where the bathroom was.  Ugo showed us their toilet system which was a little room next to the storage area that offered two options – you could sit on a toilet seat that was on a bucket, or you could squat over a bucket that was in the ground.  An old fashioned wash basin was in the corner with a clean towel and soap. A bucket of wood shavings sat next to each bucket.  After doing one’s business, you were to throw a scoop or two of the wood shavings into the bucket to neutralize any odor.  Surprisingly, it works as there is no odor whatsoever.  The wood shavings, by the way, come from a harpsichord maker in Castelmuzio.  On our first day at Trove, Ugo showed Chris how to dump the poop bucket into a larger poop bucket which would become Chris’ job during Ugo’s absence. At the risk of sounding sexist, I wholeheartedly agreed that this was definitely a man’s job.

Outdoor shower area

Now we were wondering where do we shower.  Hadn’t we noticed? It was the two buckets stacked in our room along the wall.  Oh, well, we’d have to give that some thought as to how that worked.  The next day, after working in the vineyard under the hot sun, we had no choice but to figure out our bathing system.  This is how it works.  We boil a pot of water on the stove.  We have a tap outside our room, next to a sink.  The tap (cold water only) is connected to town water and is the clearest, most delicious water I have ever tasted from a tap.  But the sink drains into a bucket.  Didn’t I mention this was rustic?  So, we fill a pot from the tap, bring it to a boil on the gas stove, dump it into the larger bucket and then add two more buckets of cold water.  We then stand in the largest bucket and using a plastic pitcher, we pour warm water over our bodies.  We give ourselves a good scrub and then rinse off with more warm water.  Surprisingly, it only takes the three pots of water (one hot, two cold) for both of us to get cleaned up.  Where do we do this?  Well, Barbara suggested we could do it inside, in front of the wood stove since it was still a little chilly when we arrived.  We opted for the outdoors, in the warm sunshine.

Kitchen sink

As I mentioned, after our first day, Barbara proposed that we do our own cooking as Ugo was leaving for a tour (more about that later) and she was swamped with work and seemed quite overwhelmed by the upset the renovation had caused.  She gave us some provisions from her reserves to get us through the first few days.  We have then gotten into the routine of doing a weekly grocery run in Sinalunga where I select our food for the week, and she pays for it.  That is the deal after all – free room and board in exchange for four hours of work a day, six days a week.  She is very generous and urges me to not be shy about getting sufficient provisions. We pay for our own treats and snacks. This past week, we went to the local market held in Sinalunga every Tuesday to get our fruits and vegetables and the local porcini cheese which is absolutely delicious.

We have slipped into a familiar routine where Chris makes the coffee each morning using a mocha pot, then I make breakfast (something hearty since our work is quite physical) and we take turns doing the clean up although it seems Chris does it more often than I do.  I’ve been doing all the cooking which I’ve enjoyed.  It has been a bit of a challenge to cook in such a small space – there is no counter, just the table on which to work.  But we keep our meals simple and it has been working out well.

We have been at the farm for two weeks already and we have been quite comfortable. At first, the nights were cold and we were grateful for the warmth of the wood stove. And we’ve given our new down sleeping bags a good test run before using them on the Camino next month. (Thanks again to Sonja for picking them up from MEC and bringing them with her!) During the second week we had more summer like temperatures and we were grateful for the coolness that comes from the metre thick stone walls.  I would compare our living conditions to camping as you spend a lot of time outdoors, but with some of the comforts of home thrown in like a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in.

I love getting up in the morning and stepping outside onto our patio, feeling the crispness of the morning air, drinking in the beauty and serenity of our surroundings. It’s not a bad way to start each day!

Category: Europe, Italy
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One Response
  1. Connie and Yves says:

    Hi Guys!
    I’m really enjoying reading all about Italy and the museums and all the pictures of the paintings are beautiful! Tuscany is beautiful also. I laughed so hard at the picture of Chris in “the shower”. It really is quite primitive there. You really have your work cut out for you. There seems to be quite alot to do. What will the owners do once your gone? Everything is going great here. Camping season has started here and we are loving going there on the weekends. The kids are doing well and only 5 more weeks of school! Boy does time ever fly by. I’m keeping dad and Bobbie up on your travels and they find it so facinating. Well, I’ll keep following your blog and looking forward to new posts. Bye for now. Love you guys!