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2022-03-08 00:00:00 Avenue Magazine Inside Amber Guinness’ Magical Tuscan Retreat

Inside Amber Guinness’ Magical Tuscan Retreat

Italian seasoning
Photo by Robyn Lea

There is a common misconception that Tuscany is hot year-round. Friends often ask in February: “Have you opened the pool yet?” “No,” I shiver, poking the kitchen fire, dressed in fingerless gloves and a woolly hat.

From Arniano, you can drive 90 minutes and be skiing. Tuscan winters are dry and frosty — and while they can be bitingly cold, they are usually short and certainly don’t feel as interminable as those in Britain. It is because the seasons are so pronounced here that the arrival of spring is utterly joyous. It sneaks up on you. One day in March we will be making the usual trip to the wood store with the wheelbarrow to keep the fires going, looking at the garden’s bare branches, beautiful in their way — the next day, the sun will suddenly make a bold appearance. A tentative lunch outside will then be attempted, held under the pleached lime tree that my dad trained to fan out over the kitchen courtyard. The lime provides shade all summer, but at this time of year it is still leafless, allowing the sun to warm our faces.

EARLY HARVEST Amber Guinness shells spring broad beans
Photo by Saghar Setareh

By degrees, the light changes. You start to notice the hum of bees and the tense buds on every bush, waiting to burst into life. The wisteria at the end of the house explodes into a wispy violet trail; my father’s favorite peonies come out in all their blousy, hot-pink glory, to last precisely one week; and the creeping Rosa ‘Cooperi’ climbing the south wall blooms with such an abundance of pale white flowers that we have to scale a ladder to cut it back, so that the light can get in through the high windows. Suddenly, you find yourself leaving the doors open to let in the spring air and listening out for the call of the nightingales. Walks don’t require such serious wrapping up, and towards the end of March you might spot the first wild asparagus. This is a very exciting moment. Having seen the first dark-green shoot, usually thrusting up at the base of an olive tree, your eye is then constantly scanning the ground every time you go out. What would have been a pounding hike a few weeks ago is now a slow meander, as your eyes dart about, searching for these tender green prizes, to be plucked and taken home to toss in a pan with great knobs of butter.

HOW SWEET IT IS Arniano is a feast indoors and out, where Guinness entertains in a series of garden rooms
Photo by Robyn Lea
Photo by Robyn Lea

At Arniano, spring also means the opening up of the house for the arrival of a constant flow of people. We start thinking about the annual family gathering at Easter, when the house is packed with aunts, cousins, and friends of my mother and sister from London — as well as old friends who live locally. Meals are long and filled with laughter, usually leading to a siesta, and then a walk. Soon after the Easter weekend, we welcome our first painters, in preparation for which I start visiting the local food markets and speaking to the vendors about what produce is having a good year. “How is the pea crop? Has there been enough rain for broad beans? How long until the artichokes come to an end? Is the cavolo nero over? Do you have any of the last of the Sicilian oranges?” I start to think specifically about dishes that I know some of our returning painters like, and plan the menus accordingly.

BEAUTIFUL BOUNTY Preparations for an artichoke, parmesan, and rocket salad
Photo by Saghar Setareh
Photo by Saghar Setareh

The color of spring is green. Looking out from Arniano, everywhere is a riot of brilliant greens, so exciting to capture on canvas. Outside, it is still cool enough to enjoy walking in the hills — or to stand in the garden at an easel with no discomfort or danger of overheating, just the pleasant tingle and smell of the sun on your skin. It is a season of change, of course, and good weather is never guaranteed. We might have summer and winter all in one day. But whether inside or out, this time of year is bountiful.

Excerpted from A House Party in Tuscany, by Amber Guinness. © Thames & Hudson Australia, 2022. Text © Amber Guinness 2022. Reprinted by permission of Thames & Hudson, Inc., www.thamesandhudsonusa.com

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