It’s family that matters most at Villa Stabbia, a beautiful eco-farm between Florence and Pisa in the Italian region of Tuscany.
Photography LISBETT WEDENDEHL Text MARLENE TOLDBOD JAKOBSEN/ The Horse Rider’s Journal No.10
It wasn’t exactly in the cards that Danish born Tine Pedersen would end up living and working on a grand Italian estate in Tuscany, running her own agritourism venture together with her husband. But for the past 11 years that is exactly what she has been doing. It’s not as if Tine didn’t have plenty of other options.
In 2002, just before she and her husband took over the Villa Stabbia farm, she could barely keep track of her belongings. “At that point, I had suitcases and clothes in four different countries,” she remembers. “It was impossible to keep up with.” Both Tine and her husband, Mario, worked in the gas and oil industry, he as a geologist and Tine as a geophysicist, before changing their lifestyle completely.
Villa Stabbia belongs to Mario’s family, and has done so for many years. The official documents regarding the villa date back to the 17th century, but several things indicate that it is at least a couple of hundred years older than that. Three family crests hang on the villa facade. The first two belong to the Medici and Barli families; old established Italian dynasties with ancestors traceable all the way back to the 15th century. It was from the Barli family, a distant relative, that Mario’s great-grandfather bought the property – hence the third crest, belonging to the Marchi Bartolozzi family, who still owns the villa. Besides Tine, Mario and their son Lau, both Mario’s parents and Tine’s mother and brother live on the Villa Stabbia property.
When Tine and Mario first took over the daily operation of Villa Stabbia, only three houses were rented out for tourists, and the olive oil and wine they produced was mainly for household use. “This place was going to be our livelihood,” says Tine, “so we made some changes. We stopped producing the wine, as our stock was simply not big enough. Instead we increased our focus on the olive farming, and today we produce an award winning oil. We also did some renovation and added three more houses to be rented out. And last but not least, we bought our beloved horses.”
Having lived in London, Paris, Milan, Stavanger and Nigeria, a permanent address finally allowed Tine to fulfil a long-time dream: Having her own horse. ‘As a child I apparently talked a lot. But whenever I was put on a horse, I’d quiet down completely. I still remember the colour and smell of the first horse I sat on. It was truly the start of a great passion.”
Tine and Mario started out with two horses, a western one for Mario and a dressage one for Tine. But then Mario regretted not having a dressage horse, so they got one more. And as Tine explains: “Once you have three, you might as well have six.” Also, the couple saw a gap in the local market: No one was offering horseback riding or guided trips around the area. So slowly they began to expand their business. They are both educated as guides, and Tine is also a certified trainers. Today, Villa Stabbia houses 11 horses, nine of them owned by the couple. Tine has helped quite a few visitors into the saddle for the first time. For her it is the ultimate way of balancing her work, life and passion.
On a daily basis, Mario runs the farming matters, meaning the olive-oil production and taking care of the 15-hectare ground that surrounds the estate, while Tine is in charge of the horses and the houses. Except, she points out, “Whenever French or Spanish guests want to rent or ride. Then Mario takes over, as he is fluent in both languages!”
They run the place with love and careful consideration for the environment. Villa Stabbia is certified organic and the electricity in all the houses is generated by solar panels on the roof of the car park. They even clean their own sewers, making sure as Tine says: ‘That the only thing that comes from our ground is clean water.’
It’s a big change from working for a multinational company, but it’s the best way for the family now, she explains. “Before our jobs were about making profit for other people. Now we make our own decisions based on what we think is the right thing to do and what improves our quality of life.’
This kind of commitment is not easy. It means lots of hard work, most of which Tine and Mario do themselves, with a little help from an elderly Italian man and a couple of cleaning ladies. Holidays and days off are not usually part of the Villa Stabbia schedule.
“Last year we took a week’s vacation in Paris. On our third day there, we got a call from the Italian police saying that some horses were loose in the local village. After a while we found out that luckily they weren’t ours. The next day, one of the girls who helped to look after the horses while we were gone called on the verge of tears, saying that one of our mares was showing signs of colic. So you can see why we don’t do far-away holidays – our nerves can’t take it!” •