Fifteen years ago Michael and I followed a 3km mule track into the Chianti Mountains through a tangled oak forest and past an alley of four hundred year old mulberry trees to arrive at the door of a thousand year old casa colonica. La Petraia’s expanse lay before us, abandoned as a working farm for over 40 years. Ten hectares of meadows cradled seven of chestnut forest planted some 700 years ago and another fifty of oak teaming with game. Olive and fruit trees dotted terraces supported by ancient crumbling dry-stone walls. They were overgrown with brush so impenetrable it would take us months to discover them and several years more to restore. An Etruscan archeological site inhabited the property’s highest point. To the east a Roman road wound its way along the mountain ridge and to the south there was a view of Siena unchanged for hundreds of years. Something words cannot describe touched both of us that day. Perhaps it was the same energy the Etruscans felt thousands of years ago when they chose Petraia. We were seduced.
A few months later we took the plunge. We’ve had the enormous privilege of being her caretakers ever since. Petraia in her abandonment had managed to sit out the green revolution. Her soil was rich and full of hope, already as natural and organic as it could ever be. Our idea was to restore her to the productive mixed farm she’d been for longer than anyone could remember. We did just that.
It was far from easy. It was definitely worth it.
Today, after fifteen years, I am proud to say we’ve given her the gift of a major revitalization and an introduction to the twenty-first century. I know, if you follow this blog or have read my books, you know how much she’s given us in return. Petraia has been the project of a lifetime.
Just a little over a year ago Michael and I announced here we had made the very difficult decision to put Petraia on the market. The time had come to begin to think about our future and about hers too. At that time, we expected it would take several years to find the next custodians, our plan was simply to carry on. It would be business as usual at Petraia. But, as fate would have it, things happened much faster than we ever anticipated. Last week, on a crisp clear autumn morning, Michael and I walked once more up to the foot of the olive grove we had planted, the resting place of our dogs Olive and Hockley, then got in the car and drove out Petraia’s gates for the last time.
A few weeks previous we had the chance to celebrate Petraia with the large community of very special friends, neighbors, collaborators and staff who have co-ventured with us these past years. They too have given much of themselves to Petraia.
Michael spoke that day.
“When Susan and I were on our way up the old road to see La Petraia for the first time almost 15 years ago, the agent bringing us stopped half way up. The road was bad. To many it must have seemed impassable. He asked if we would like to turn around. No we said, we’re Canadians. We know about rough roads. Keep going.
The rest is history.
The story has been told often. But a truth lies behind it. As Canadians we know roads like this because we know wilderness. Canadians are privileged with wilderness. But for Susan and me, as Canadians to be the custodians of a property that was inhabited by the Etruscans 2700 years ago, to inhabit a house that was built beginning 1000 years ago, was another kind of privilege.
Like the Canadians with their wilderness, the inhabitants of Tuscany are gifted with a certain type of history, one that has left its beautiful footprint in the landscape and its memory in the buildings and the essential relationship between the two. Experiencing this all of these years is the greatest memory Susan and I will ever hold…”
Petraia has been passed around for centuries. We’ve dedicated more than a quarter of our lives to her restoration. Now it is someone else’s turn. It is just time for us now. We have a couple of other adventures in mind. But we know we will never find such a magical place to live in, or to work in, again. Ever.
We’d like a chance now to thank all of you for the role you’ve played. You’ve read my blog and my books that were inspired by Petraia. You were our guests, our best friends and our family. You helped us realize our dream. You made our efforts worthwhile. Thank you so much.
And finally to you Petraia,
We’ve been just a short blip in your impressive history but you have been a lifetime in ours. It has been a huge honor and privilege to have been with you these years. We’re leaving a huge part of our hearts here with you but we’re taking with us an eternity of memories you’ve given us.
Driving out her gates for the last time Michael turned to me and said, It’s just crazy you can buy something like this.
It’s true. We never did own Petraia, we just took care of her for awhile.
Please stay tuned to my blog for updates at its new home, susanmckennagrant.com. For news about La Petraia visit www.lapetraia.com.
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