The eagles have no eyes, but you feel like they’re looking at you as you approach Fattoria di Cavaglioni. Behind them, after a stretch of unworked ground and intricate footpaths, the square Villa rises proudly. Its green shutters are faded against cream walls, its heavy oak front door is shut, and you’re not sure whether this is the bed and breakfast you had in mind.
But the ironwork eagles keep watch atop their intricate gate, and under their sharp gazes you get the sense that this is not the entrance you’re looking for. Instead, you edge toward the right, where a decorative wall with the Villa’s name pronounced in bold letters gives you some encouragement.
If you follow your instinct down the dusty road next to this wall, eventually you will find the side entrance – another heavy door that looks like it has been opening and closing for centuries. There is no one around. There is no cook singing in the villa to your left. The expected whinny of a horse from the stables to your right never comes. The chickens down the road peck silently as they disappear around the corner. Only your muffled footsteps and the wheels of your luggage rattling against the dirt – and the sighing of the wind through cypress trees – accompany your approach.
There’s a knocker on the old door. It is round and rusted, and heavy to the touch. The sound against the oak booms into the silence, but it is a while before anything stirs. You hear a soft clucking before the door swings open – a woman is wiping her hands on printed apron. She smells of flour and baking, and it is only when she looks at her new guests that a broad smile breaks over her grandmotherly face.
“Bonjourno!” she exclaims, and you feel like you are home.
I was young when I first saw A Room With a View, but the idea that this is the prerequisite for a first trip to Italy stuck with me. Rooms with views are, however, a tad more difficult to find nowadays – especially if you’re travelling Italy on a backpacker’s budget and staying in hostels most of the way.
Fattoria di Cavaglioni, a Tuscan Villa in the small village of San Rocco a Pilli, was something a dream come true. My sister and I, travelling on my self-wrought itinerary through Italy in the summer of 2012, were exhausted at this point of the journey. Fresh (in a manner of speaking) from raucous Naples, we arrived in serene Tuscany almost kissing the ground. Despite the long bus ride, the inevitable panic and confusion that comes with travelling and the soul-deadening heat, we had arrived at a place that immediately excited my imagination (the manner of our arrival was a bit more hobbled, awkward and twitchy than narrated above).
I couldn’t ask for better. For someone who is excitable at the mere prospect of old buildings, interesting doors and antique furniture, this Villa made me crane my neck (at times violently) at every turn. It had long, dark corridors that connected empty rooms filled with light. The furniture was antique – plushy futons, easels set up at windows, old-fashioned light-switches. The paint was cracked and peeling, but you could follow the intricate pattern of faded pink roses against the pale green of the ceiling. The doors were large and thick, and their keyholes played match to intricately crafted keys – the type that, when you hold them, you can feel the weight of the room you are about to unlock, and guess at the lives and loves that it had held.
And the shutters – the green shutters were the best things about this place.
The shutters, and the view. Behind the Villa, which is still a working farm (albeit a quiet one in the middle of summer), one can see the trademark rolling hills of Tuscany just beyond the ornate garden and hedged in paths. During the afternoon the hills are dappled, but in the early hours of the morning, when you open those shutters to take the first fresh breath of the day, the hills roll in quiet, faded verdant under the periwinkle haze of the Tuscan sky.
After recovering from our time in Naples, we roamed the grounds at 5 AM so that my sister could capture the light. When the sun was almost up, I found a lawn chair by the pool and just sat there, wishing that the day would not progress. It was one of the best moments of the journey, and considering that we had just been through Rome and Pompeii and that Florence awaited, that is saying something.
When I think about this place, when I miss it, I remember the cool morning air and the day spent reading in absolute solitude – one of my most treasured luxuries. I also remember envying the Swedish woman who sat at the window and ate her breakfast like the moment would never change. She was travelling alone, and during our stay we could spot her in some secluded corner – on the small balcony off the kitchen, in the corner of the dining room, at the end of a hall – reading and thinking. She ate slowly, barely looking at her plate, as though she was enraptured with the view out of the window and savouring every moment.
I would like to go back there someday, alone like the woman. Perhaps I will sit at the window where she sat and contemplate the mysteries of life. Something makes me think that, if I could just see what she saw, I might be able to come up with some answers.