Strawberry Tree Syrup by Natalie Zervou

Discovering the Arbutus Unedo plant (or strawberry tree as it is affectionately known) growing abundantly at Villa Lena was a revelation!

This small tree belongs  to the Ericaceae family, native to the Mediterranean region. The species name, ‘unedo’, is said to mean “I only eat one” in Latin as they are said to leave a slightly bitter aftertaste. I did not find this to be the case, though the texture for me was somewhat challenging (think flouring apple!) however,  when transformed into shrubs, syrups and jams this fruit really is utterly delightful. The flavour is layered, complex and sweet and when married with thymus mint, also bountiful at the villa, the heavenly aroma and sticky sweet taste kept us going back for more. In folk medicine, the plant has been used for antiseptic, astringent, intoxicant, rheumatism, and tonic purposes.                                          I enjoyed the shub best, the acidity of the vinegar gave a tangy twist and had that addictive quality that contrasting flavours often possess (think salty and sweet).

For the children at the Villa, the Arbutus unedo plants were magic (imagine a whole strawberry tree!!!!).                                                                                                              

For one of the workshops we made edible ‘magic potions’ using the plant and other herbs as our base; they certainly enjoyed the holistic, sensory experience of experimenting with edible delights.

The below syrup recipe adds complexity to cocktails and salads.
Or if you are like me, devour it on a teaspoon as it is, or add it to porridge.
Quantity wise you will need a 1:1:1 ratio of fruit, sugar, and vinegar.

  1. Clean fruit well
  2. Add equal parts of sugar and water to a saucepan, and heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Add Arbutus Unedo fruit and simmer until the fruit’s juice blends well into the syrup.
  4. Add the thymos mint or any other herb you wish- this will infuse fairly quickly and the perfume aroma is wonderfully intense
  5. Let the mixture cool. Strain out the solids using a cheesecloth.
  6. Add vinegar to the syrup and let it cool.
  7. Bottle it all up in sterilized bottles or jars, and store in the fridge for 2-4 days before using.            


                                                                                                 The sugar and vinegar work to preserve the shrub and just like jam, they keep for ages!


Reflecting on her Residency | Flora Wellesley Wesley

In my first few days at Villa Lena I was surprised to find myself feeling waves of emotion  come over me, which I put down to both the beauty of the place and the exceptional circumstances in which I was there.

My responses were romantic and tragic, silly and dark.
I developed a multifarious practice over the course of the month that was both playful and meditative. It involved tree climbing, mucking around in the pool, drawing without looking, taking photographs, walking, running and dancing.

Photo by Holland Drury

I relaxed into the luxury of having my own studio. I cleaned it first. Clean a room thoroughly and you get to know it rather well. I took up space, I spread out.

I calmed down enough to read.

I enjoyed carrying my camera with me and shooting at whim.

I planned some images, references to Gillian Wearing and Francesca Woodman and A Room With A View in mind.

I was whimsical. “I am my own continuity”, I assured myself. Do first, ask questions later. I brought far too many art materials. I drew. I made paper sculptures. I wrapped myself like a chrysalis

Sometimes I asked questions first. (Who’s heard of Deborah Hay ?)

I was well fed, we all were! So good, going about my thing on an incredible diet.

The most remarkable weather was the stormy weather. There were several electric storms with fork and sheet lightning that rumbled all through the night. I found myself describing the villa and the grounds as feeling like a film set. Different times of day and weather seemed to issue different invitations. Suggestible as I am, the whole place was working on me as much as I was working on it. It was bountifully evocative physically, narratively and atmospherically.


I paid attention to the natural light and noticed and admired the sun going down. It’s an event when you have a big horizon.

I’ve been exploring the subject of light and mood and seasonal volatility: how environment affects us, literal ways of integrating oneself into a place and, conversely, acting out spectacular contrast. A lot of my enquires have been about presence (and volume) – experiments in making noise visually, aurally, physically, or ‘holding my breath’ and blending in.

Shooting – hiding – hanging out – basking – waiting – daydreaming – dozing – writing– scribbling – assembling – uncovering – framing – warbling – chatting – napping – reading – swimming – stretching.

Dancing privately
Dancing in plain sight
Dancing with my eyes closed
Dancing effortlessly
Dancing effort-fully
Dancing into the night
Dancing with the others
Dancing in the rain
Dancing in the pool
Dancing as land art
Dancing as a sculptural practice
Dancing as a spiritual practice
Dancing as a moody practice

Photo by Evy Jokhova

TEXAS MEETS TUSCANY | Cocktail hour at San Michele

Curator Laura Copelin and filmmaker David Fenster presented their individual and collaborative land based art practices followed by a cocktail hour featuring West Texas and Tuscan flavours.

We looked at some of David’s film work, and also learnt about Laura’s current and recent projects at Ballroom gallery in Marfa, Texas. Laura and David are working on a collaborative film project, in which they focus on members of their community and elements of their lives in Marfa, Texas. We were also fortunate to get to see some of this on Friday.

Located in the heart of the Trans-Pecos desert of West Texas, roughly 200 miles southeast of El Paso, getting to Marfa is not easy. You have to fly to El Paso and from there it’s roughly a three-hour drive. But if you do happen to make it, David and Laura have convinced us that the city is definitely worth the effort, for culture, art, geology and the small community of intriguing people that dwell there.

Following the screening and discussion, we moved to San Michele bar, where Laura and David served us a delicious twist of Texan and Tuscan flavours. A platter of Pecorino cheese with fresh herbs and edible flowers from our garden was served with a mesquite-honey reduction made from local honey mixed with mesquite powder that Laura brought from Marfa.

Mesquite powder is made from the seedpods of the mesquite tree. It tastes like an aromatic blend of cinnamon, chocolate, and coffee. For thousands of years, mesquite flour was a staple food of Native Americans from Texas to California, because mesquite trees thrive in arid climates where other crops wither. Mesquite pods were one of the most significant foods of the desert Apache, Pima, Cahuilla, Maricopa, Yuma, Mohave, and Hopi tribes. Like many other desert plants, the mesquite tree super concentrates nutrients in its seeds to compensate for the harsh environment.

To drink, two delicious cocktails were on offer.

Tequila-Damiana dream elixir

1 part damiana infusion with acacia honey and orange

1 part white vermouth

1 part tequila blanco

Shake infusion and liquor with ice and serve.

Dressed with tangerine wedge, dandelion petals and garden peppers.

Damiana is a small shrub with aromatic leaves found on dry, sunny, rocky hillsides in south Texas. The leaves have been used as an aphrodisiac and to boost sexual potency by the native peoples of Mexico, including the Mayan Indians and is used for both male and female sexual stimulation, increased energy, asthma, depression, impotence and menstrual problems.

Leaving the wonderful benefits aside, this was a deliciously smooth cocktail, the perfect cocktail for unwinding at the end of the week.

Hibiscus prosecco

Simple syrup of jamaica powder (dried hibiscus), honey, tangerine rind, water

Pour into the bottom of a flute

Top with prosecco

Finish with pomegranate seeds.

Hibiscus, which has a tart cranberry-like flavour, served with fresh pomegranate seeds from our garden which worked wonderfully with our prosecco for a fruity aperitif.

Thank you Laura and David, for a wonderful evening!

I like ruins | Xavier Llarch Font

‘The most enigmatic aspect of the time of ruination is the manner in which it points towards the future rather that the past, or rather uses the ruined resources of the past to imagine, or reimagine, the future.’

Brian Dillon, A short history of Decay, 2011.

Just 10 minutes walk from Villa Lena there is Toiano Nuovo ,‘New Toiano’, an apparent abandoned village on the top of a sand hill, accessed by a medieval bridge. Toiano started its decay back in the 1960s when the majority of its inhabitants moved to nearby towns in search of work and a better life. Since then, its population has gradually decreased up to today with just two people currently living in Toiano, Rosita and her husband.

The Tuscan countryside have many abandoned and semi-abandoned villages like Toiano. By now most of these villages have been partially privatised and transformed into holiday resorts, like the nearby village of Castelfalfi and Tonda. In contrast, Toiano has been left in a state of decay. The hill in which Toiano is located is rapidly eroding and, in recent years, many of the houses have collapsed due to the lack of maintenance. This, together with the fact that Toiano still doesn’t have running water, have turned away many regeneration schemes and potential investors.
This project is an investigation of Toiano’s past and present to build a picture of what Toiano is now so we can predict what it could become in the future.

Sweet dreams are made of cheese | Butternutten AG

17 August 2017

Villa Lena, Tuscany

Stimulated by a common passion for food and cooking, Butternutten’s Luki + Oli hosted a four-course cheese dinner at Villa Lena.

Every course featured ceramics made in Butternutten workshop by hotel guests, staff people and artists in residence at Villa Lena; the ceramics are inspired by human body parts.

The individual and unusual tableware invited the guests to interact as well as to enter in dialogue with each other. The “cheese dreams” dinner is a way of questioning what eating can be more than food intake and how our being can be shaped.

At a time when food in general is becoming a minor matter due to busy days, Butternutten is concerned with the necessity and requirements of dishes, glasses and cutlery, equally with edible content, and further with the subject of hospitality.

The cheese menu included baked ricotta and blue cheese with fresh herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, rucola and nuts as starter, fresh hand-cut pappardelle, burnt radicchio e gorgonzola as primo and torta di formaggio with cacio e pepe crisp for dessert. The last course was a piece of Roquefort served in an envelope together with a sheet of paper. According to a new study by the British Cheese Board, different cheeses can give you different types of dreams. That’s why the guests were invited to write down their cheese dreams to their sheets, which were collected by Luki + Oli the next day.

The dinner was prepared in close collaboration with Villa Lena’s kitchen chefs; a publication including some of the dreams will be released soon.

Interview of a truffle hunter

villa-lena, tuscany, italy, fresh, garden, vegetable-garden, kitchen-garden, organic, vegetable, vegetables, cooking, workshop, workshops, truffle, truffle-hunt, truffle-experience, truffles, truffle-dog


Q: Is there any secret rule guide that handles relationship between hunters? Like a code since it is almost considered as a “war”?

A: There are regional rules setting out timetables and areas where hunters are allowed to go. In fact, the season starts on September 10th and the daytime is from sunrise to sunset. These rules are not always respected; many go by night to anticipate the next-day hunt, even though this is absolutely prohibited. In addition to the rules there is a personal respect that keeps the relationship between the hunters who works in the same area: where is someone’s area the others should not go, each has its “own” zone. Additionally, in some lands, like Villa Lena, which is private, gathering is only permitted to authorized people. Unfortunately some hunters can act as barbarians reacting badly against dogs or personal properties, like the cars of their competitors.

Q: Make us jealous and tell us what was the biggest amount you reached in one day?  Which were the factors, beside luck, that made this result possible?

A: The best gathering I had was of 5 kg in two hours. A good knowledge of the ground and of the truffles’ growing phases as well as a proper training of the dogs are the key elements for a successful hunt.


villa-lena, tuscany, italy, fresh, garden, vegetable-garden, kitchen-garden, organic, vegetable, vegetables, cooking, workshop, workshops, truffle, truffle-hunt, truffle-experience, truffles, dog, dogs, truffle-dog,


Q: Which is the best time of the day to look for them and which are the best spots?

A: The season starts in September and then goes on until December, however November and the beginning of December are the best months for the white truffles and from January to March for the black ones. The truffle needs some specific factors to grow, these are usually found near the trees’ roots where the soil is humid and adaptable to the truffles needs.

Q: How do you think the truffle hunting will develop in the future? Would there be a way to grow them anyhow?

A: A way that is already applied is the “Improved truffle” method – it consists in adding to the soil the favourable elements so that it increases the semiotic soil for the truffle. It will depend on the evolution of the climate. Temperatures made the ground very unsuitable for truffles at the moment. If you then think that it is a mushrooms existing only in Italy and in some other countries of the Balkan Peninsula, it is clear that it will make it something more and more rare.

Q: If you have just one piece of truffle left in which way would you love to eat it?

A: Just one portion? If so in neither ways…a truffle has to be eaten only if shared.

Q: Ok so lets say for two people, but only one way to cook\use it?

A: On top of a fried egg.

Q: How did you learn the process of being a truffle hunter?

A: From my grandfather, it is usually a knowledge, which is handed over inside a very close family or specific circle.


villa-lena, tuscany, italy, fresh, garden, vegetable-garden, kitchen-garden, organic, vegetable, vegetables, cooking, workshop, workshops, truffle, truffle-hunt, truffle-experience, truffles, truffle-dog


Q: Which reasons drive someone to become a truffle hunter? Money, love for challenges? Love for dogs and nature?

A: I could say all of them, which is actually true. But if I should think of the main one I would say; money.


Come and visit us in Autumn, the local truffle hunters will roam the woods around Villa Lena for the precious, highly prized white truffles. Join them on their forage and learn more about the distinct flora and fauna the historic grounds offer. After a successful hunt, truffles are best enjoyed freshly shaved over home made pasta!

Happy truffle season!

villa-lena, tuscany, italy, fresh, garden, vegetable-garden, kitchen-garden, organic, vegetable, vegetables, cooking, workshop, workshops, truffle, truffle-hunt, truffle-experience, truffles, dog, dogs, truffle-dog,



A Tartufai knows where to look for truffles in the dense and wild forests of Tuscany, but only the keen nose of a canine companion will sniff out the exact location. Hence, the truffle hunt has always been a team sport, consisting of a human and animal collaboration.

The highly trained truffle dogs took over from the female truffle pigs in recent years. The pigs simply enjoyed their findings so much, they refused to retrieve them…



villa lena, searching, hunt, truffle, trees, woods, tuscany

As mentioned above truffle is par
t of the fungus family, growing with the roots of certain trees. What sets them apart from other mushrooms is not that they grow underground, but that they have a symbiotic relationship with trees. They attach to the roots of trees and issue long tendrils that gather nutrition for the plant. The carbohydrates that are returned from the host tree eventually form the “fruit” – the truffles. The white truffle can reach 12 cm diameter and a weight of 500 gr.

villa lena, plants, mushroom, roots, trees, truffles,

Sophie Monet Jewelry in Siri Thorson flower settings

LA-based jeweler Sophie Monet partnered up with her co-artist in residence florist Siri Thorson to create a dreamy editorial of special edition jewelry, presented within a flowery setting.

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Gold plated earrings made of wood and found terra cotta with sun flowers and fennel blossoms

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Gold plated earrings made of found terra cotta and beach stones with a medley of wild grapes

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Gold plated earrings made of wood and rose quartz with unripe pomegranates

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Gold plated earrings made of wood with crape myrtle petals

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Gold plated earrings made of beach stones with Villa Lena peaches and wild oats
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Gold plated earrings made of found terra cotta and pebble stones with fossils from Tuscan soil

Special edition jewelry and Art direction by Sophie Monet

Styling and photography by Siri Thorson