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Tuscany for Beginners

Tuscany for Beginners

by Imogen Edwards-Jones

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Oh, the dream of escaping to Italy–and the nightmare of reality. . . .

Belinda Smith has found her very own Tuscan valley in the sun, having abandoned a dreary cheating husband and an even drearier English town. Running Casa Mia, her own too, too divine bed and breakfast, everything is coming up sunflowers and olive groves for La


Oh, the dream of escaping to Italy–and the nightmare of reality. . . .

Belinda Smith has found her very own Tuscan valley in the sun, having abandoned a dreary cheating husband and an even drearier English town. Running Casa Mia, her own too, too divine bed and breakfast, everything is coming up sunflowers and olive groves for La Contessa of the Valley. Life couldn’t be more perfecto!

Until, that is, the arrival of Lauren–a beautiful, feisty Wall Street ball-breaker who has the gall to announce her plans to open a new B&B. A place just like Belinda’s–only much more glamorous. Even worse, Lauren, whose charmingly calculated smile Belinda recognizes as quite like her own, threatens Belinda’s existence as the epicenter of all things ex-patriot in the valley.

Have Belinda’s fabulous days of ruling supreme in this corner of the world come to an end? Will the carnivorous Lauren consume Belinda’s dreams al fresco? Will Lauren’s gorgeous son Kyle steal Belinda’s lovely, overworked daughter away from home and hearth (who will do the cleaning, for God’s sake?). War has come to lovely Tuscany–let the fur and focaccia fly!

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Absolutely hysterical. I could not put it down.”
–Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City
Kirkus Reviews
A U.S. debut by British author Edwards-Jones skewers a provincial ex-pat community toughing it out amid the sensuous wilds of Tuscany. For five years, 40-something Belinda Smith has owned and operated a fairly high-end B&B in the rarefied Tuscan valley of Val di Santa Caterina, near the town of Poggibonsi. A snobbish, petty divorcee from the "dull dormitory town" of Tilling, England, which she fled upon discovering her husband in bed with a neighbor, Belinda prides herself on her thoroughly affected Italian way of life. She spies on her ex-pat neighbors from her terrace perch, mangles Italian phrases, abuses the help as well as her small, neat daughter, Mary, 20, who has been fired from her London job and is spending the summer helping Mum for the busy tourist season. Belinda, in truth, is a misanthrope, can't stand children or smokers anywhere near her place, weeds out the riff-raff by the nature of their Internet queries, steams labels off jam jars to deceive her guests, and spends most of her day drinking gallons of wine at the local watering-hole with fellow sodden ex-pats such as Manchester ladies' underwear manufacturer Derek, his wife Barbara and alcohol-fueled novelist Howard Oxford, who has suffered writer's block since his bestseller in the '80s. She also offers entries from her chirpy diary and corny recipes from "Casa Mia." When the neighboring Casa Padronale is purchased by an American, no less, Belinda instantly switches into battle action to subvert any attempt at a rival B&B. Owner Lauren, it turns out, made her money in hostile takeovers on Wall Street, and she chews up Belinda like a stick of gum-all while her handsome Yalie son, Kyle, courts the modest and dutiful Mary.Edwards-Jones has fashioned a near-bloody satirical stab at the sentimental Under the Tuscan Sun set, both American and English-with a result quite winning. A fresh, fearless voice takes no prisoners.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.23(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.73(d)

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This is the beginning of my fifth season in questo bellissimo valley—Val di Santa Caterina, Toscana—and although I have been here for quite a while, it is only now that I’m feeling quite pronto to write a diary and share my thoughts, and my ideas, and the little life lessons that I have gleaned from my very own corner of Paradiso.

And what a corner of Paradiso it is! Val di Santa Caterina is one of those terribly beautiful unspoiled valleys in Toscana where the locals still farm, the land is still worked, and the Italians continue to live a simple peasant existence like they have done for hundreds of years. It is just too, too divine!

We are also lucky enough to have a small, yet vibrant, expat community in the area, which—thankfully—consists mainly of us English, although there are a few Australians, some Belgians (who keep very much to themselves) and the odd German (whom everyone tries to avoid at all costs!). But the social life is mainly made up of us Brits, who are nearly all writers and painters or just artists in general.

My little spot, Casa Mia, is a very large, converted gentleman’s country villa and has to be one of the most fortunato finds of one’s lifetime! Perched on top of the hill, handily near the road, it has been sensitively restored by an English developer, who has been living near Florence for seven years and very much knew what he was doing. With new terraces and a new sun-soaked terra-cotta roof, Casa Mia has vistas galore and none of the drawbacks of any of those very old properties. Also, because I used a developer, I was lucky enough to avoid all that well-known Italian inefficiency when it comes to doing up a house. I mean, why put oneself through the terrible hell of carpenters not arriving, plumbers overcharging, and all that, when you can get a place, move in more or less immediately, and set about putting in those little touches that make a villa a home?

And so, for the past few years I have enjoyed welcoming guests into my lovely casa. It gives me great joy to share my little corner of Paradiso with visitors from all over the world. I enjoy being generous with my views, my villa, my little bit of heaven on earth where the birds sing and the sunflowers grow.

As I said, this is my fifth season, and I must confess that I feel ever so much at home here. It is lovely, really, how much the people have taken me to their hearts. I am very much part of the comunità. Some would say an essential part of it! At the risk of blowing my own trumpet (which would be very unattractive), I can safely say that nothing really happens here without me or my highly motivational involvement! Quite what everyone did before I arrived, I shall never know!

Only last night at supper at Giovanna’s (our local ristorante), Derek took my hand and announced to the table that from now on everyone should call me “La Contessa of the Valley.” It was terribly sweet of him, but after the way I ran last year’s panto, I did rather reluctantly have to agree. In fact, the more we discussed my achievements in the valley, the more we all agreed that it was such a terribly good name. So “La Contessa di Val di Santa Caterina” it is, then! What a mouthful! I wonder if it will ever catch on?

But there are more pressing matters at hand. My daughter is arriving this afternoon. There is much to do. Casa Mia is in need of a good spring cleaning before my summer visitors arrive. I am so used to all of this now—being a hostess is more or less second nature to me. Making the beds, scrubbing the floors, clearing the terraces, and tidying the drive are all taken care of by my local help—which, of course, frees me to make things look authentically Italian, placing a bowl of lemons here, a bunch of wild flowers gleaned from the roadside there. Perfecto! Quite frankly, I’m so settled here I find it quite hard to think of my life before I left the U.K. behind, and made the heavenly move to Toscana. Home of olives, sunflowers, and tobacco. Plus, let’s not forget, buonissimo cooking!

Bruschette di Casa Mia

I like to call these my little slices of toasted sunshine. I picked up this little gem of an idea from Victor, who runs the divine café at the railway station, and who charmed me with his perfect En- glish and splendid coffee when I first arrived here all those years ago.

Take four hearty slices of fabulously rustico Italian bread— handmade by your local baker. For those of you unfortunate enough not to live in Italy, and who do not have a local baker anymore due to Tesco and Sainsbury taking over everywhere, Marks & Spencer bread will do. But do try and source your pane from somewhere a little bit special as—take it from me—you really will notice the difference.

Lightly toast the slices. Then rub with fresh garlic (from your own garden would, of course, be preferable). Drizzle on the extra- virgin olive oil. Cover in tube of tomato paste. Grill until ready.

Serve on a sun-blushed terrace in a simpatico atmosphere.

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