Umbria: they call it the ‘green heart of Italy’ because everywhere you look the classic Italian rolling hills are covered in lush forests of oak, chestnut and poplar – to my mind, even more beautiful than the fields of sunflowers and serried ranks of cypress characteristic of our neighbouring Tuscany.
In 2002, Jude and I bought a ruined farmhouse set in seven acres (2.5 hectares) of woodland, and we’ve been here ever since. Somehow we never got around to restoring the ruin, although we did successfully obtain planning permission in 2006 to build a 225 square metre house, just to prove that we could. We live very comfortably in a yurt, kept warm in winter by a wood-burning stove. Over the last ten years we’ve invested our energies into taming the surrounding jungle and creating a wild garden, as well as constructing a few low-impact wooden structures including a cosy log cabin, a small workshop, and a treehouse for our guests.
Our electricity comes from solar panels and a wind generator, our water from a bore-well (also powered by solar), our hot showers from a simple home-made solar system, and we grow all our own organic vegetables, so we’re pretty self-sufficient.
And so to the view: from our 600m high hillside perch, we look out over Reschio Castle and its surrounding estate, which has long been established as a luxurious playground for the super-rich. Of the dozen or so houses we survey, not one cost its owners less than €10 million. Although we’ve spent only a tiny fraction of that sum, we consider ourselves far better off than our millionaire neighbours, especially when they are languishing in the autumn morning mist and we are bathed in glorious sunshine.
Above all, what we have here is supreme privacy – something many would regard as a priceless commodity in the bustling modern world. We originally bought the property from the Italian church, which still owns the whole of the rest of the land around us, meaning, crucially, that we have no immediate neighbours. The one-kilometre-long forest track does not lead anywhere else, and there are no other properties in the vicinity – ruined or otherwise – meaning that, given the strict planning laws, our continued seclusion is guaranteed. Apart from the very occasional fungi hunter searching for porcini, the only other people we see around our haven of tranquility are the friends we invite to share and enjoy our glorious and peaceful environment.