Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Travel Tuesday: Under Tuscan Skies

Christina Hollis explains why for her --Tuscany is a Temptation.

I fell in love with Italy and the Italian people the first time I went there. Until then my books had been set mainly in the English countryside, with occasional jaunts across the channel to northern France. The sun and wide blue skies of Tuscany come as quite a shock to the system of people born and raised under grey English clouds. For a while we squint in the unfamiliar light, but it doesn’t take long to get into the holiday mood. Wiggling bare brown toes on sun-warmed flagstones around a beautiful pool can make anyone forget the winter blues in an instant! The place and people are so warm and welcoming I can’t resist setting romances there. My latest, The Count of Castelfino, is no exception. The great thing about writing is that you can take a place you love and make it absolutely perfect. If I don’t fancy thunderstorms, killing frosts, brambles or mosquitoes, they don’t exist in my little corner of paradise. I write them out. The sun shines all day, the birds sing and the car-free countryside spreads far and wide like a perfect picnic blanket.

Meg Imsey is determined to start her new job in the gardens at the Villa Castelfino, although the new count disapproves. Assuming he’ll keep well away, Meg goes off to the walled garden and loses herself in her work until Count Gianni lets himself into her sanctuary…

‘I never dreamed anyone would disturb me in here. The door was locked. I have the only key. How did you get in?’ she blustered, embarrassment mixed up with growing anger.
One hand in his pocket, Gianni strolled over to the old medlar tree where Meg had hung her hat and shirt. Plucking them from the branches like particularly desirable fruit, he made his way over to her. He took his time. It was painfully obvious to Meg that he was making her wait for her clothes. She wasn’t in the mood to be toyed with. As soon as he got close enough she snatched her things from his hands and pulled them on. He watched with something close to amusement. Then he drew a second key from his pocket with a flourish.
‘As I said –I live here. I have a copy of every key in the place.’
Barefoot but otherwise decent, Meg rallied.
‘That doesn’t explain why you felt the need to come in here.’
‘It wasn’t a need. It was a want. I wanted to see you, Megan.’
There was a haunting look in his dark eyes. It was so delicious she could hardly meet his gaze. Nervous that he might be able to read all sorts of things from her own expression, she looked down at the coarse wiry grass at her feet. All sorts of hope were beginning to stir deep within her…

Copyright Harlequin Mills and Boon Limited, 2009

I don’t use real people in my books, but that scene is based around a spectacular medlar tree in a real Tuscan garden. It is planted directly below a terrace, which gives spectacular views of the snowy white flowers and later the strange, wide-mouthed fruit. The brownish medlars look something like giant rose hips. They are picked while still as hard as conkers and stored on flat trays until soft and wrinkled. The overripe pulp has an odd, winy smell. When boiled up with lemon juice and sugar, then strained it makes a glorious amber jelly to serve with cold meats and salamis. It’s an acquired taste, somewhere between wine and cider but without the alcohol. I’ve found a recipe for Medlar fudge, too, but that has so many other delicious ingredients (cream, brown sugar, maple syrup etc) that I suspect they mask any medlar flavour. A pile of pancakes, some home made vanilla ice-cream and a drizzle of medlar fudge sauce sounds like a perfect pudding for those autumn nights when summer days in Tuscany seem a long, long way away.

What is the most exotic thing you’ve ever tasted? There’s a signed copy of The Count of Castelfino for the most original contribution!

When Christina Hollis isn’t writing, or thinking about writing, she divides her time between enjoying the fresh air and doing far too much home baking. Catch up with her on
http://christinahollis.com and on Twitter as christinabooks


  1. Hi Kimberley, I too love Tuscany. The endless blue skies and rolling plains and the gorgeous medieval towns and villages - so very different from Australia!
    I love your little suitcase, did you get it fromt he Maricopa site?

  2. Hi, CC - how is summer shaping up for you this year? The suitcase really has travelled. It is a Pink Heart Society Special, so this is its chance to pick up a 'Tantalizing Tuscany' label before being handed on, like the baton in a long distance race!

  3. Hi Christina, I'm glad to see someone loves fair Italia as much as I! I holiday'd there as a child, and my lasting memories of the place we stayed were looking out over the acres of olive groves to the sweeping hills beyond. As to the most exotic thing I've ever tasted? Well, that would either be calamari in an American airport lounge, or buffalo mozzarella salad in the aforementioned Italy! I really loved "The Tuscan Tycoon's Pregnant Housekeeper", so I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the Count of Castelfino! Best wishes, Saerin

  4. Hi, Saerin, thanks for dropping in. I've never tried calamari but buffalo mozzarella? mmmm...that melty cheese is always good but the buffalo version is definitely the tops!

  5. Ooh, the most exotic thing I've evr tasted must be fresh coconut, chopped open by machete in the jungles of Panama just seconds earlier by a man in uniform! An anti-drug Coastguard patrol in second-hand uniforms, maybe, but it still counts!

  6. Hi, Alison - the jungles of Panama sounds like the perfect place to set a romance - tropical fruit AND men uniform? Wow!

  7. The most exotic thing I've ever tested was jellyfish in a Japanese restaurant in Sydney, some years ago. I think it was cooked, but it was unpleasantly cold & chewy so maybe not! Don't think I'll be trying it again. I like your books, by the way!


  8. Hey, thanks Anonymous - that gave me a lovely lift!
    PS:jelly fish is supposed to be an aphrodisiac - is it true?

  9. Hi, in a restaurant in Glasgow called Kubla Khan I tasted octopus, kangaroo and crocodile - the result? I think I'll stick to chicken!!
    As for Italy, I'm a big fan, just booked a cruise on the MSc Fantasia which leaves from Genoa next summer. One of the stops is for Pompeii and I'm really looking forward to that.
    I live in ope that while in Italy I'll see delectable George Clooney - he's supposed to have a house there - a girl can dream!!

  10. Hi Susan
    You're right - chicken is always a good bet, although snake may possibly be an excellent substitute ;) I tried it once, and couldn't taste the difference. Maybe the restaurant was pulling a fast one - at least they didn't try serving me with a leg or wing!

  11. Christina,
    Tuscany is so beautiful! Can't believe it's been fifteen years since I've been there, sigh.
    Sounds like a wonderful read too!!

  12. Hi, Mira Lyn - I hope you manage to get back there soon. The light and the atmosphere are both so special,aren't they, and as for the food and the people...!

  13. Christina,

    No wonder you're inspired by Tuscany! It would be a wonderful place for a writers' retreat, I'm sure.

    As for exotic food - perhaps Dragon Fruit - a large almost egg shaped fruit that's crimson on the outside and when ripe, hot pink inside with tiny little black flecks. Or maybe rose petal jam - how many rose petals to make a jar?


  14. Hi Annie, rose petal jam must be delicious. Pink jam would be perfect for a summer tea, with scones, strawberries and cream!

  15. Christina, what a lovely way to brighten up my Tuesday, thank you. I'm starving now, with all this talk of Italian food.....

  16. the most exotic for me was the fresh water Salmon steak and the Crab legs we had at a restaurant in Victoria, B.C., Canada down by the waterfront.

  17. I guess the most exotic thing I ever ate was a chocolate covered ant. I can't even tell you what it tasted like because I swallowed it whole. Tuscany sounds beautiful. I love to visit there in books.

    seriousreader at live dot com

  18. Sarah's right - all this talk of food increases the appetite. Thank you, everyone, for dropping by. It's always great to hear from you!