Those who know me, know that I’m a family gal. And, no, family does not have to be blood. The people who are close to me are my family. Like Marouska and Stefano, for instance. They live near Porto Santo Stefano, the most charming fishing village in all of Italy and where every year, the toughest guys in town face off in a rowing competition. You have to take a long winding road through the Tuscans hills to get to the peninsula where Marouska and Stefano live. Their stunning, old house is surrounded by an orchard. There are orange trees, lemon trees, palm trees and – if I’ve counted correctly – 149 olives trees. Wildflowers grow along the house. And since there’s always something in bloom, it seems like spring never ends at Marouska and Stefano’s.
Olle and I started coming here when I was 16. I’ve lost count of how many ice creams, pizzas and loaves of focaccia they’ve served us over the years. But what I do know is that Marouska always greets me in the same melodious way: Ciao bella! As if I’m the princess from the 14th-century fortified tower next to the house.
That tower, the Torre di Lividonia, is very much real. And that princess really did exist. In the rooms of the tower, you can still see the decorative ceiling paintings she had made. And her wooden four-poster bed is still there, impeccably made with fresh bed linens. The floral tiles from Sassuolo are still polished every day and her shell collection can still be admired in the glass display case. It’s rumoured that the princess used to bring her secret lover here. I’ll admit, I can vividly imagine the scenario. He probably snuck in at night when the lights were dimmed, so that no one could see him. And, of course, he must have also greeted her with “Ciao bella”.
An extra juicy detail is that the princess is said to have abandoned her tower from one day to the next. No one knows where she is. But apparently, Marouska and Stefano expect her to return at any moment because they’ve kept everything exactly as she left it. The hunting trophies, the wine cellar, the modern vases, the cutlery drawer with red tableware in different designs, the swimming pool…. They take care of everything as if it were their own. A beach towel can still be seen lying on a stray beach chair. Sometimes, I secretly suspect that Marouska is the princess…
Whenever possible, I go into town together with Marouska. She usually buys fresh pasta in a little shop I think has been there since the Middle Ages. We go on Tuesdays when they have fresh truffle pasta. The shop appears to be drenched in white light. But that’s actually just a huge dust cloud of flour.
Their pasta is so delicious that it makes an everyday meal feel like a celebration. So, we always set the long stone table outside with a gorgeous table cloth and the chicest of porcelain and then invite as many people as possible to eat with us. My girlfriends are more than happy to pop in. Olle, too. And he always brings a guest. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a summer evening. After eating, everyone lingers for a while to enjoy the sunset. And we make a competition out of who hears the nightingale first.
The last time we were there, we tried to swim around the entire peninsula. Marouska joined us. We got pretty far, but not completely around. It’s quite a long distance. Stefano came to our rescue and picked us up in his wooden rowboat. As he helped Marouska on board, he wrapped her in the thickest towel I’ve ever seen. “Ciao bella,” he quietly whispered in her ear. But I heard him anyway. So, wouldn’t you agree that Marouska might very well be the princess?
You’ll never hear me complaining about a summer as fabulous as in Porto Santo Stefano. My new collection takes you there in an instant. Enjoy life to the fullest!