The Hills of Tuscany: A New Life in an Old Land

The Hills of Tuscany: A New Life in an Old Land

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by Ferenc Mate

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“Titanic in potential appeal . . . the Mátés do something rare; they go native.”—Washington Post
This hilarious, international bestseller is a true-life adventure of a New York City couple moving to Tuscany.
Ferenc Máté’s enthusiastic prose is infectious. He brings to life the real Tuscany: the contadini


“Titanic in potential appeal . . . the Mátés do something rare; they go native.”—Washington Post
This hilarious, international bestseller is a true-life adventure of a New York City couple moving to Tuscany.
Ferenc Máté’s enthusiastic prose is infectious. He brings to life the real Tuscany: the contadini neighbors, country life—the harvest, grape, and olive picking, wine making, mushroom hunting, woodcutting—the holidays, and of course the never-ending, mouthwatering meals.

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Read an Excerpt

We stepped from the cool shadows of the archway into the warmth of the autumn sun. It was early afternoon, the narrow, flagstone streets were deserted, the shops closed; Tuscany was eating. Arm in arm in the autumn light, calmed by the warmth and the pitcher of red wine we had with lunch, we ambled in contented silence up the hill toward the piazza where the mosaic facade of the cathedral blazed like a million tiny stars.

We had been shivering while researching a book in the rain of Sweden, the cold of Finland, and the damp of Brittany, and in more than a month this was the first time we were warm. We stared at the mosaics. Then, glitter-blinded and wine-weakened, we went around to the small church garden, sat on a low stone wall, and like dreamers through the centuries before us, gazed out over the countryside below.

A sea of hills rolled to the horizon, covered by odd-shaped, lovingly kept vineyards and olive groves, orchards and fields: a freshly plowed field here, a bit of corn there, some hay, some woods, some pasture, all odd sizes, all open and unfenced. The plots were defined by the curve of a stream, or the crook of a hill, or the fold of a hollow, with boundaries of poplars or a ditch or nothing. Old stone houses were huddled on knolls surrounded by their cypresses, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens. On a ridge, in a wood, a monastery stood with a square steeple, and beyond it a tiny hamlet on a hilltop. Everything was small-to the measure of man. And over it all reigned the gentle Tuscan light, and silence, and a calm.

Candace was far away, her gaze fixed near the horizon, auburn hair glowing in the sinking sun. The air thickened with light. We sat.

After a while I suggested moving on.

Candace gazed. "You know," she finally said, "I'm getting tired of moving on. We've been 'moving on' for fifteen years. The houseboat, the sailboat, the mountain cabin, that garage in Laguna Beach, the attic in Paris, the cubbyhole in New York, the whatsit in the Bahamas. What was that thing with eight sides anyway?"

A tolling of bells from the monastery trembled in the air, sonorous and slow, drifting like a veil of melancholy over the silent hills.

"They're burying someone," Candace softly said, and looked as if it were someone she had known. When the bells were still and their echo had died away, the world remained respectfully silent. The sun sank behind strips of clouds and the air glittered with light. After a while, just below the town, rose the brittle sound of kindling being cut. Then a woman's voice, one accustomed to shouting, "Mario! Non troppo grosso! Per la Madonna!"

I laughed. "What did she say?" I asked Candace.

"She said she was sick and tired of moving on, and if she had to move on one more time, she was moving on on her own and leaving you behind like camel dung in the desert."

Mario chopped for a while, unhurriedly, rhythmically. The kindling must have been "non troppo grosso, "for no one gave him hell. Mario was toeing the line.

"I want to settle down," Candace said. "A tiny house, some trees, a vegetable garden."

"Sounds nice," I said. "Where?"

"Anywhere." She had said that louder and it echoed from the church walls. An old man with a narrow brimmed hat who had wandered into the churchyard turned and looked at us as if he had been following the conversation. I looked out at the hills, the warmth, the gentleness. "How about here?" I said, spreading a hand toward the valley below.


"Lots of room for vegetables. We could get an old farm-house and fix it up. Have a bit of land, some woods, a few rows of grapes, a wine cellar. Make our own wine. Old wood casks oozing that perfume, pigeons swooping overhead. A rooster on the dunghill. Olives. Can you imagine pressing our own olive oil, pouring it on a hunk of fire-toasted bread with a ton of garlic rubbed over it?"

"You're nuts," she laughed.

"Fine, a bit of garlic."

"I mean about settling here."

"Why not? The country is beautiful; the food the best; the people are wonderful, art even better. Concerts in churches and castles. I'll write, you paint. Even the weather is perfect. What more is there? We could have a little farm right there." And I pointed just over Mario's head at a small farmhouse near whose crumbling walls a handful of white somethings were grazing in the shade.

"A farm. You don't know a thing about a farm."

"I can learn."

"But you don't speak a word of Italian!"

"I'll take a course.

She smiled. "You don't even know where you are."

"I'll ask somebody."

She stared at me in silence. So did the old man, his face aglow with anticipation. Candace's eyes softened. "You're a nice guy," she said, like an attendant calming a mental patient. "But you and reality just don't mix," and she shook her head. The old man seemed satisfied with that. He adjusted his hat and left. The pulleys of the bells in the tower above us rumbled, the pins creaked, and with a great "whoosh" the enormous old bell swung out of the tower, then a wider swing, swoooshhh, then a deafening "Diiiinggg" then another "Donnggg," booming and thundering until both the air and earth shook. A short priest with large hands shuffled into the church, followed by some older women in ones and twos.

Candace got up. She seemed deep in thought. "You know," she said, "there are few things more scary than moving to a foreign country.

"Name one," I said.

What People are saying about this

Gioia Timpanelli
A lighthearted memoir... Mate includes evocative descriptions of the beautiful countryside, in addition to a wealth of mouthwatering menus featuring Tuscan food and wine.
— (Gioia Timpanelli, author of Sometimes the Soul)
Jay Parini
This memoir is an Italophile's dream... After reading The Hills of Tuscany, I feel the glow of those burnt-umber fields, the taste of the wine, the food. Ferenc Mate is a wonderfully concrete writer, with images on every page that linger and inform my thoughts.
— (Jay Parini, author of Robert Frost: A Life)

Meet the Author

Ferenc Máté is the author of 15 books translated into 12 languages, including New York Times Notable Book A Vineyard in Tuscany and the Dugger/Nello historical sea adventure fiction series. He lives in a 13-century friary with his family tending vines and olives in Tuscany. Visit

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The Hills of Tuscany: A New Life in an Old Land 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ferenc has a talent for mixing a good dose of humor into whatever he writes. This book is a pure warm, fuzzy, and at times funny read. It peeks into the lives of the country folks of Tuscany and their land, and what it's like to start a new life there. IMHO, it completely blows "Under the Tuscan Sun" away.
JoMacall More than 1 year ago
If you have already read "A Year in Provence" and others in the series by Peter Mayle or the Frances Mayes books on Tuscany, you will be disappointed by this narrative of similar content. Ferenc Mate is a good writer, but the story seemed to drag on and on and I found myself skipping whole paragraphs to get on to the next event. I also bought "A Vineyard In Tuscany" at the same time and hope it will be a better read. One aspect of "The Hills of Tuscany" I did like was that he translated the Italian quotes into English, something that similar books frequently fail to do.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago