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Health & Fitness Healthy Living


Life Lessons from a Tuscan Villa

by (author) Debbie Travis

with Jacky Brown

photographs by Stacey Van Berkel

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Nov 2021
Healthy Living, Motivational & Inspirational, Inspiration & Personal Growth
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2021
    List Price

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Looking for the keys to a vibrant, joyful, vital life? Lifestyle pioneer Debbie Travis has found them in the Tuscan hills. And in her lively, inspiring way, she shares how to bring all that healthful magic home in Joy, a glorious book infused with the warmth and colour of life at the Villa Reniella, the thirteenth-century farmhouse retreat to which she welcomes guests from around the world.

For more than ten years, Debbie Travis has watched the guests who come to her Tuscan retreats transform over the course of a single week of talking, walking, and eating together, until even the most driven and stressed-out feel so much better about themselves. When it's time to leave, they tell her it's the simple priorities of Tuscan life—the way the village locals, from young to old, take time for each other every day—that hit them in their hearts, and they pepper her with questions about how to retain what they've experienced when they get home.
     In Joy, Debbie offers the answers she gives them to all of us, capturing the essentials of the Tuscan lifestyle in a series of ten engaging and practical lessons—on everything from how to get a good night's sleep, to how to find community and rediscover purpose, to how to eat and drink like an Italian—designed to make our lives sweeter and healthier. Delightfully down-to-earth, Debbie draws on her own life experience, the example of her Tuscan neighbours, whose fabled longevity springs from the wisdom she captures in her lessons, and the expertise of her long-time friend and colleague, nutritional therapist Jacky Brown. Whether you wish to hit the reset button, start a new endeavour, regain your confidence, turn a page in your relationship, make changes to your worklife or your community, or simply reboot your vitality, these lessons will help guide you to a life filled with joy.

About the authors

Contributor Notes

DEBBIE TRAVIS is an international television icon, a bestselling author, a newspaper columnist, a sought-after public speaker and the centre of a small business empire. Her shows, Debbie Travis' Painted House, Debbie Travis' Facelift, From The Ground Up and All For One and, most recently the six-part documentary, La Dolce Debbie, have been seen in Canada, the United States and 80 other countries. She has authored ten previous books (eight on decorating); Oprah has called her "the master of paint and plaster." Having stepped back from TV producing, Travis renovated an ancient property in Tuscany into a luxury boutique hotel. Here she hosts unique retreats where guests can experience the Tuscan lifestyle. Debbie shares her journey with her husband, Hans, and two sons, Josh and Max.

JACKY BROWN is a graduate of the London College of Naturopathic Medicine, a qualified Nutritional Therapist, Dip CNM, registered with BANT (British Association of Nutritional Therapists), CNHC and the ANP. Jacky lives with her family in London, England.

STACEY VAN BERKEL is a passionate creator of beautiful images who has travelled all over the world in search of them. Her work has been featured in numerous international magazines and ad campaigns. She lives in North Carolina.

Excerpt: Joy: Life Lessons from a Tuscan Villa (by (author) Debbie Travis; with Jacky Brown; photographs by Stacey Van Berkel)


What is it about Italians and the pure joy they have in everyday life? La dolce vita, the sweet life: they have turned “just being” into an art.

I have spent a lifetime crisscrossing the Atlantic Ocean. I grew up in the unpretentious confines of Northern England, but my itchy feet had me leaving home at sixteen for the hustle and bustle of London. After I met my Canadian husband, Hans, I moved across the ocean to Montreal, where I raised my children and then embarked on my television career in Canada and the United States. And now, here I am, back on the other side of the ocean, deep into my next chapter, living and running retreats in Tuscany, in the heart of Italy.

I always rooted myself deeply in the culture of each place I’ve called home, and I have been lucky to experience the diversity and delights of living in different countries and learning from the inhabitants of each. Nowhere is utopia, nowhere is perfect, but I have to say that when I moved to Italy, for the first time I found the path to more vitality and better balance. Even when we, as individuals, are totally committed to a healthy, joy-filled life, we’re often derailed by the demands of just getting through the day. When we fall into unhealthy habits, we blame all the mess and stress the world throws at us, but we also undermine ourselves with our addiction to the toxic pace, the endless devices and the other pressures of contemporary life.

As I was writing this book, the world was hit with the novel coronavirus pandemic. The first bewildering weeks had me and almost everyone else glued to the news as it blared out updates of doom and waves of confusing and contradictory information. In shock, we did as we were told, and all of us except for essential workers stayed home to avoid contracting the virus. With nowhere to go, life was like an endless Sunday. Both worried and bored, unable to concentrate on the usual things, we dug deep into unused nesting talents. Most of us had to cook all of our meals, and some of us embraced it and discovered that we liked baking, too; once we could focus a little, we didn’t just disappear into binge-watching TV—we read more, talked more, played games and reconnected with friends by phone and online. If you weren’t an essential worker, if you weren’t suffering financial strain, if you weren’t ill, or bereaved and struggling, the excess time was a kind of gift, sprung from the chaos.

Italy was among the first countries to be hard hit. My heart sank as I wondered whether the Italian lifestyle I so treasured—with its communal closeness and multi-generational family ties—was to blame for the country’s initial high rate of infection and heavy death toll. Of course it wasn’t, we all realized as soon as other places came under siege and also closed their doors to neighbours, friends and family. In fact, Italian traditions and our own home countries’ old ways became valuable lifelines as the pandemic tested us. Some of us met our neighbours for the first time as we began to look out for one another. I know that during lockdown I was deeply grateful for all I’ve learned about living from my Tuscan neighbours, and also reassured that the lessons I offer in this book will be just as crucial to creating a joy-filled life after the pandemic as they were to the life we knew before it.

Many of us have taken advantage of the unaccustomed time on our hands to analyze the way we live, to think about what matters most to us, to question how we work and what our jobs offer us, to feel our distress over what our communities value, as opposed to what they say they value or should value. We were stricken in this long crisis by the world’s lack of kindness and widespread prejudice towards others as much as we were uplifted by the sacrifices of first responders, doctors, nurses and other essential workers, and devoted neighbours and volunteers. Care homes were the last place you wanted your relatives to be in the midst of the pandemic; not only has the concept of aging gracefully vanished in many places, but many countries seemed unable to provide basic care for the most vulnerable among us. The endless thirst for ever-changing technology and more new stuff has left us unmoored and spinning.

Beyond the gift of time, the other good news is that this crisis has been a giant wake-up call, showing us the cracks in the way we’ve been living. And I think it may be a huge opportunity to reset and change the most unhealthy and unkind aspects of a way of life we’d been taking as “just the way things are.” It has added urgency to our need to follow our dreams and move on to new horizons—which may turn out to look a lot like the ones our parents and grandparents knew, a lifestyle similar to daily life in Tuscany.

Over my years of listening to the numerous guests who visit our Tuscan retreats, I have become fully aware of their intense craving to regain their well-being, rediscover joy, increase their vitality and appreciate the simple pleasures of a balanced life. A resilient sense of purpose and meaning is so crucial if we are to live an optimal life. To unselfishly connect with a larger world beyond ourselves is good for our health and our environment. This unselfish way of living is not new. It was how past generations conducted themselves before everything became such a rush. 

Movies almost always depict the Italian way of life as romantic. Much of the country is stunningly beautiful, yes—especially where I live—but it is far from perfect. Italy has high unemployment and an antiquated bureaucracy that can make doing the simplest chore laborious, but, as the novelist E. M. Forster wrote, “the people are more marvellous than the land.” How true. Italy is a nation with a history of hardship and suffering, yet its people are among the healthiest and most joyful I have ever known. The Italians not only have one of the longest life expectancies in the world, but they are often blessed with an active old age. There is so much to learn from them.

My guests here at the villa each get a taste of wandering, without a care in the world, through a grove of olive trees bathed in Tuscan sunlight; of watching the passing scene from a café in the piazza without anything pressing to do; of sitting and staring out at the view over the valley, experiencing la dolce far niente: the sweetness of doing nothing. They tell me it’s the simplicity of the Tuscan life that hits them in their hearts, and when it’s time to leave, they always pepper me with questions about how to retain what they’ve experienced when they get home.

The Tuscan lifestyle is actually not that difficult to create, wherever you are, if you can reconfigure your priorities. In JOY, I have attempted to capture the facets of la dolce vita that can make every day wonderful, healthy and vital, and translate them into lessons for you to adopt to make your own life sweeter. I am not a doctor or psychiatrist or nutritionist (though you will soon meet Jacky Brown, who is an expert on healthy eating), nor do I have a magic wand to wave, but I have been lucky enough to learn from some inspiring locals. Whether you wish to hit the reset button, start a new endeavour, regain your confidence, turn a page in your relationship, make changes to your work or your community, or just reboot your vitality, I’ve designed each lesson in this book to help guide you to a life filled with joy.

Whoever we are, wherever we live and however old we are, it is never too late to stop and rediscover the art of living. But to do so successfully, we need to be healthy, we need to have friends, and we need a community we can rely on. We need to truly care about the issues and movements around us, educate ourselves, and find the strength and wisdom to do our part to bring about change. We require a good night’s sleep and a highly nutritious diet. To spark joy in our lives again, most of us also need a sense of purpose.

With a vital body and a curious mind, we can tackle new projects undaunted and live a life brimming with energy and connection to others. We can create a lifestyle that will sustain future generations.

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