As I sit in a room I have designated as my office, with a view to the 10th century fortress on the hill opposite, and with the sounds of a tractor, an earth mover, a cement mixer and the chatter of Italian workmen piercing the normally almost deafening silence, I am palpably glad I was not here 25 years ago when an unloved, deserted wreck underwent nothing short of a metamorphosis to become the magnificent Wild Boars or I Cinghiali.

It’s not that they don’t do a good job – in fact they do a great job – but they talk incessantly – often on their ‘cellulares’ – but it always sounds like they are arguing with each other. I wonder if it seems the same to them when a bunch of English-speaking people chatter away. I’ve never asked and I must.

To have been here for 26 years now seems unbelievable. It also seems like yesterday although it’s more than half a century and, for most, certainly me, a time of extraordinary change and movement, not all of it what I had in my life’s plan. Probably a place not to dwell for long, but I will linger for a moment and recall the first month we had here as owners. It was one of the most wonderful periods of my life with all the elements I need: adventure, excitement, creativity, love, good food and good wine and was the working honeymoon before our marriage 3 weeks later.

The villa was a total wreck when we first saw it: dozens of huge gaping holes in the roof, beautiful, huge chestnut beams painted baby blue and completely water-stained, mildew, woodworm, an elementary sort of electricity system with a few wires dangling down walls and light switches patched up with black tape, no piped water, no kitchen, no bathroom, no heating and a sort of hole in the ground lavatory on a tiny balcony which was very sort of green looking and definitely not to be used again.

The lady with the keys arrived and opened doors for us to see inside; each room was locked and for some inexplicable reason we never got to see all of it until the second second visit a couple of weeks later. The rooms were filled with old iron bedsteads and cupboards and junk and a few holes we had to tread gently around. There were stables in which a neighbour kept and bred pheasants and tiny apricot angora bunnies for the table. And there was a barn overflowing with old hay, sickles and scythes, homemade rakes, a huge old weighing machine, hard wooden saddles packed with straw, and a vast pile of beautiful chestnut timber, much of which had been removed by the time we took possession.

It was a renovator’s paradise if you were ‘pazzo’… the Italian word for mad! We were and I probably still am. Thankfully. And, as I undergo what may well be the final bit of major work here, now on my own, I recall the contractors we used for the big restoration.

There was Giovanni, the builder – commonly called Giovanni Barber – because of his big bushy beard. He drove around his building sites and was normally seen ‘supervising’ with a glass of vino in his hand – at most times of any day! There was Franco the electrician – dark haired, silent and efficient and you just assumed he was always a bit of a loner. Another Franco with a big gut and a fag permanently attached to his mouth was our falegname or carpenter. He was larger than life with a lovely laugh and a happy disposition. I recall with horror the night he faxed us with three designs for the 18 new doors we needed. All were beautiful and the cost was out of this world exorbitant. But what choice did we have? Choose and suck it up! Sadly Franco died some years back, not surprisingly of lung cancer. He had worded up the priest to open his funeral with his apology to a local man who, as a partigiani, had shot and killed Franco’s father in the war. A hush settled in as the pews were scoured and eyes settled on the man, who must have been squirming in his seat. And there was Fiorenzo, the plumber, with a shop to rival any branch of Reece in Australia. I always said Fiorenzo could put his shoes under my bed any time, and even my husband smiled, knowing he was the best looking and most charming professional in the field. He still is and he still attends to the plumbing needs of the villa. (Memo to self: He’ll be here later in the day for my pool. Must trick myself up and put the lippy on!)

All these guys had sent in contracts for their work. Giovanni’s was 20 pages long and all in Italian that I had to translate. That’s when I learned so much conversationally useless language like sandblasting and mildew and woodworm. But in the end all the contracts were also useless and after the job was finished 2 years later and another beautiful month here, with our 8 month old Hugo, and my wonderful step-daughters Bec and Sarah (who will probably never forgive me for serving dinner so late every night!) and we were on countdown to leave, they all came to visit. Every day, as if by design, one would turn up out of the blue. Smile on face, buon giornos all over the place; in one hand some bits of paper and in the other a bottle of wine, and salami he made in his spare time and delicious Tuscan bread made, without salt, by his mother or his wife.

Our Italian was still hopeless but it was amazing just how far we could go with a smile and a glass of vino and some good food, and of course, as they were leaving they would present us with ‘the real bill’ which in every case bore absolutely no resemblance to the contract I had signed. So we smiled, thanked them again for the job they had done and said we’d shoot the funds over as soon as we returned to Australia.

And they had indeed done an incredible job kind of supervised by an architect we’d appointed as project manager although none of these guys to this day have ever spoken one word of English and our instructions to them came from me by fax, on awful shiny paper that quickly faded, and in very poor Italian. But they knew what we wanted and they were consummate professionals who knew what they had to do. It was superb and now 26 years later is even more magnificent with some additions like walk in showers and a big hole in the ground below me that is quickly taking shape into a grand piscina.

Over that time there has been a steady stream of guests, mainly Aussies, but now lots of Brits too, who have taken over as padrone of the casa for a time and invited their own guests to savour food from the local markets and cheap delicious wine from the bottega downtown, to cook whole suckling pigs in the huge wood fired oven, thought by my neighbour to be the largest in the region, to play bocce in the village competition and to celebrate weddings and anniversaries and every birthday from 30 – 90 with members of their families under the Tuscan sun.

We had always been intrigued by the possibility of turning the incredible space of the barn into something and, after the memory of the house restoration had faded into the nearby blue hills we invited Giovanni back to discuss it.

Despite protestations from him and some of the other gang there that morning we decided to stay with the present structure of the barn: square around a central wooden pillar with a mezzanine floor. The walls, rough cast and grey were 25 foot + high, above which was a stained wooden roof topped with the semi circular Tuscan tiles.

We chose a partial mezzanine so half the downstairs, the living areas, would be full height, and so you could see the fort on the next hill from your bed upon waking. The bathroom was to be the only enclosed space, in the far corner downstairs and the rest was open plan kitchen, dining and living. Our decision to have a 300 pound (or was it kilo?) piece of the local marble atop a flimsy stainless steel frame as the kitchen bench was frowned upon by all, but they loved the suggestion that all the wiring should be in nice copper tubes attached to the outside of the walls so that the integrity of the rough cast was not altered.

A simple plan drawn up and Giovanni and his team was anticipated on the Monday morning. When no one was sighted by Tuesday afternoon we were a bit concerned so on Wednesday morning we set out around the villages to find Giovanni’s red van and he with a glass of mid-morning vino in hand at one of his building sites. Perche we asked? Why are you not at ours?? Well it seems there was a problem with the local Comune: new anti-earthquake rules were in place and they did not view our mezzanine as kosher. What, I asked Giovanni, needs to happen to have you start tomorrow? Simple really: payment of five million lire to Valerio at the Comune. Brown paper bag, no questions asked and no receipt issued. At 8am the next morning the team started work and the barn, now my favourite living space on the planet, began to take shape.

Only later, when it was all finished and the daily procession with bills and goodies started, was there a unanimous declaration that our design, radical and unique as it was in the traditional hills of northern Tuscany, was indeed a great success.

And so to the builders down on my lower level: it being almost mezzogiorno they will soon disappear for lunch. No bring a sandwich here, or, as I recall the early Italian migrants on building sites in Melbourne happy to exchange salami and a bit of bread with an Aussie colleague’s Vegemite sandwich, it’s off to a restaurant for a 2 or 3 course one-and-a-half-hour lunch each day. With vino, naturally. Incredible – pronounce that in – cred – i – be – lay – and you will hit the Italian on the head. Has more forza than the English pronunciation!

But they tell me all is well, that they are on the last bit (which means vast amounts of spondooley are about to change hands – some of course in brown paper bags to avoid the dreaded ICI (eechee) – and that it can be filled on Sunday. I haven’t dared ask how much the water will cost for a 12 x 4 metre pool, but that will turn up in the fullness of time and I guess I must be ever grateful that for the first decade we had free water straight out of the mountainside.

Until then, I’ll be swimming, perhaps cracking open the jeroboam of Moët when Hugo and Eve are here next week, to celebrate that my Tuscan dream, conceived when I was but 22 and on my first time in Italy, hatched many years later, enjoyed for 26 years, is now all mine and that my choice to SKI or spend the kid’s inheritance to build a pool will not only enhance the place for people who choose to holiday here, but cements my plan to be here for many outstanding years to come. And since the kid will inherit it all one day, I guess it’s been a pretty good decision all round.

So, until next time…with heart