Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A Tuscan Villa Built on a Dream

This is a transcript of the podcast appearing on our www.essenceofitaly.net Podcast page.

Have you ever dreamed of building your own villa in Tuscany? Not only for yourself to live in, but a place where tourists would vacation from all over the world? What if your days were spent surrounded by olive trees and vineyards, making new friends, learning new languages, enjoying wonderful food and wine?

What if you didn't have a trust fund to make this dream come true, but you had to build it with your own two hands, as the money slowly came in, while you had a full time job?

That was the situation confronting my guest, Gabriele Corti. Gabriele was born and raised in the Tuscan town of Poggibonsi, not far from Castellina. He worked 6 days a week in his family's shoe store. His father, Franco, purchased the Le Buche property, which was little more than open fields and crumbling structures, with a very different idea of how that land would be used.

Gabriele, your family owned this property for many years. How did that come about?

Gabriele: My father, 20 years ago, bought about 30 hectares of land with old houses, stalls and some fields. He bought it to make a little wine, a little olive oil, to grow a garden with tomatoes and othe vegetables. In 1995-96, I built the main house for me to live in. I started construction in 1955-96 and it was finished in 1999. I moved here from Poggibonsi in July of '99.

Carolyn: When Gabriele says he built the main house, he doesn't mean that he called a contractor. It means he built it with his own two hands, while working full time in the shoe store.

During that time, Gabriele saw other villas in Tuscany that catered to tourists, and he was intrigued by the idea. At the same time, his father came to him with the idea of building 1 or 2 apartments on the property for tourists.

Gabriele, what did you think of your father's idea?

Gabriele: I thought it was a good idea, but I told him that if we left things as they were, the idea wouldn't work. Because there would be nothing for a client to do once they got here, except travel to nearby towns; it's just a house in a pretty setting. In the following years beginning in 2000, my father and I build 2 apartments with the intention of renting them to foreign tourists as well as Italians who wanted to come here for vacation.

The apartments came out very beautiful, very pleasing. But there was still a large are that remained unfinished. We didn't have the pool, we didn't have the gardens yet. We had to think things through and provide things for people to do while they were here in the apartments. We had to come up with a plan.

Carolyn: One of the most appealing things about Le Buche is that all of the construction was done by Gabriele and his father, not by hired hands. The vast majority of the building materials came from Le Buche land.

Gabriele: The construction was done personally. First, at the beginning of it all, I designed it all in my mind, how it would come out. But, it was a little impractical. And slowly, slowly, stone after stone, stone after stone, Le Buche became a reality.

From when we started this construction, I always followed the construction personally. All the while, I learned things large and small that would be useful to me in the future to make something myself. The process was very interesting.

Carolyn: Gabriele created comfortable spaces in the traditional Tuscan style, using authentic materials from the property itself. He used stones from the land to build the apartments, line the driveway and create the patio, walkways and outdoor ovens and grills. Gabriele handcrafted much of the wooden furniture, also from Le Buche trees.

Gabriele: Very satisfying. From an idea that was only in my mind, into reality. Using stones from here, buying a little cement, a little iron and that was enough. So much work.

Carolyn: You'll notice the architectural details throughout the apartments; archways trimmed in hand-polished wood or brick, hand-laid tile floors and interior walls of exposed stone. The wooden beams that cross the ceilings and appear throughout the architecture are all from Le Buche trees.

Gabriele: But, when it was over, I was paid in my satisfaction for the result. It is so much more beautiful than it would have been if I had paid someone else to construct it for me. When you can do it for yourself, it's better.

We worked hard until the end of 2000, into 2001. The pool was built in 2001. Its first season was May 1, 2002. The pool is open from May 1 to October 1, weather permitting. The pool also has a small children's area, and the deep end in 2.5 meters, with a small diving board. We started renting in April of 2002 and started this new venture.

Carolyn: Guests come to Le Buche from all over the world.

Gabriele: The guests are from all over the world, Germany, France, Holland, Switzerland, America, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Finland, Norway, England, Spain, Portugal and also Italian tourists. About 95% are tourists from outside of Italy.

Carolyn: Although Le Buche is becoming established as a successful vacation spot, Gabriele still does plenty of dreaming for its future. Gabriele, would you say that Le Buch is finished now?

Gabriele: No, Le Buche will never be finished! Every year I do something new. This year I cleared an area and made a court t play bacci ball. Next year, I will design a garden for Le Stalle. Maybe I'll make a small stone walkway. Every year I do something. Every year I make something.

Carolyn: Some of Gabriele's dreams for Le Buche center around wine and olive oil.

Gabriele: You could say that the wine-making tradition was passed down to me from my father. He is from San Donato and in the fields around there he made a small vineyard. It is a passion that is very strong in our blood. I made a new vineyard three years ago. This is the first year of my production. The amount is small, but I hope it's very good.

We have the most beautiful region of Italy to make our olive oil. Oil is very important because most tourists that come here look for tranquility and good food, and oil is fundamental to good food. They also look for culture. In Tuscany, the culture of olive oil is a grand tradition.

In the future, I would like to make a small argricultural business where I can sell the products of the vineyards, wine and olive oil. It's something that's important to me. It's a lot of work and it takes some money to accomplish. I would also need more equipment, but it's something that I would do gladly, for the love of it. It's something fundamental. In the future, we'll see if this dream is realized; who knows?

Carolyn: To learn more, visit the Le Buche website. You can find the link on our Links page.

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