Ahead of me the green extends as far as the horizon. I have arrived at the Tenuta di Ferento.
I can see a lot of different crops: wheat, maize, sugar beet, and what will become a wonderful field of sunflowers in summer.
The view is mostly of an immense expanse of 14,000 trees covering almost half of this land, and which constitute its greatest resource: olive trees.
Country people are hard at work, it's harvest time, and everybody is busy: eating olives and olives for oil production are being picked.
There are also some guests at Villa Rossi Danielli, who have come to see the harvest, and perhaps lend a hand, a chance to spend some time a little differently.
The owners, Luigi and Maria Renata, tell me that the estate has belonged to the family since 1700. They want to tell me its history, and start to explain, but little Ruggero is tired of this talk, and wants to show me something.
Walking around the estate, after visiting the Pian del Sale and Fornicchio, the surprise he has been wanting to give me arrives: the magnificent Teatro di Ferento, discovered in the early 20th century by Luigi's great grandfather, who uncovered some of the structure. The theatre was completely revealed by King Gustav of Sweden in the 1960s and 70s.
Luigi tells me that at the Rocca Albornoz national museum, in Viterbo, there is the complete reconstruction of the theatre, with the very beautiful statues of the nine muses and photographs of the excavations.
The majesty of the Roman ruins, which are very well preserved, can be experienced in full during the summer theatre performances held outdoors. It is wonderful to sit down and watch a performance at a Roman theatre immersed in a timeless country setting!
Suddenly, as if awaking from a dream, I realise that nature and history have gone hand in hand in these places since time immemorial, and in a really unique way.
I arrive at Villa Rossi Danielli and enter another world, one governed by cordiality, history, attention to detail and a magical atmosphere.
I go through a gate just wide enough to allow a car to pass through. Almost like a custodian keeping watch over his treasure.
I find myself before a picture frame: a myriad of different greens. I pass the cypresses, oaks and olive trees, gradually melting into this timeless picture.
I travel along the avenue to the villa, and am met by the owners themselves: Luigi and Maria Renata. They are elegant, polite and above all friendly. It is like seeing old friends again. They take me to the old family home, next to the small church, telling me about their own history and the attachment they feel to this old residence and to the locality: Merlano, the old "palace of the blackbirds".
I enter the Room of Casts and realise I am entering history. Numismatologists would be in ecstasy here.
Luigi tells me that "the house was completed in 1797" ― as the Latin inscription on the main wall says, "but had been lived in for a long time before that, and had already hosted illustrious names and influential ecclesiastics in spiritual retreat, such as the cardinal Duke of York".
I recognise the Etruscan art on some of the vases on display, all that remains of the vast Rossi Danielli collection, then photographs of King Gustav of Sweden with members of his family, old books, paintings, statues, lamps. The rarefied atmosphere and richness of the small family treasures on view leave me breathless.
My room is on the first floor. I am greeted by a painted wooden ceiling, velvet curtains, the linen of the embroidered bedcovers. I decide to relax in the Jacuzzi, in a large bathroom adorned with old dressing tables, mirrors and statues.
The charm continues when, going down to the ground floor, Luigi and Maria Renata take me to the tables set for the aperitif, among the boxwood hedges framing the entrance. I am greeted by a feast of flavours, laid with impeccable taste and illuminated by candlelight.
I could never have imagined being the protagonist of a fairy tale, but here everything is possible.
The scents of sage, rosemary, basil and lavender reach my nose at the entrance to the Farmhouse, the historical residence of those who used to work at Villa Rossi Danielli.
This small hotel de charme has been completely restored, but it is great to see that its rural origins have been respected in communal areas and that the furnishings refer to the original use of the house.
Materials used are natural and prized: terracotta floors, the handles and lampshades made from wrought iron, table tops from marble.
In the winter one can entertain friends in the large lounge heated by the fireplace, in the summer the favourite meeting place is the garden.
The farmhouse, a faithful companion to the villa, has its own green area, with pine trees, lime trees, a small lemon grove and a large lawn.
And it is here, tomorrow morning, that Maria Renata will serve breakfast in the garden.
Once again the magic of this place fills me with pleasure and fresh energy.
I would love to get one or two recipes in the charming kitchen where I have come to cool down after a walk around the garden.
Here the rustic origins of the hotel are combined with all "mod cons". There is certainly no shortage of technology: the refrigerator is ready to give me a drink without me having to open the door. Another surprise is the kitchen sink equipped with a garbage disposal unit.
"This reduces the volume of organic waste" Maria Renata explains, while she offers me an irresistible slice of home-made cake and a coffee. The farmhouse architecture is very old, with small height differences from room to room making the layout very interesting. The rooms are decorated with flowers from the garden and follow sober, elegant lines. The made-to-measure linen bedspreads and embroidered towels add a certain je ne sais quoi to the furnishings. I have chosen the room with the extravagant bathroom, dominated by brown and purple stripes. I don't often get the chance to have a shower next to marble walls and daring colours!
The gravel makes a crunching sound under your feet and marks the way from the gate to the main family residence, Villa Rossi Danielli.
I follow the path that flanks the house, and with every step comes a different perfume. Lavender, lime, rosemary, wisteria, jasmine. I fill my lungs and my eyes with ancient roses, bamboo, hydrangeas, lemon trees, oak trees. With childlike pleasure I discover that the age-old boxwood hedges host within a small gallery of birds, perhaps blackbirds, the ancient inhabitants of this estate.
The gardeners are hard at work, and leave nothing to chance. They tidy the hedges, prune, trim, look after every single flower, unaware that bees are waiting for the right moment to steal their nectar.
I stop to look at the small wooden benches, ready to host future conversations, when two playful dogs approach, then accompany me along the path leading to the swimming pool. Red sunshades shelter loungers and there, next to the blue pool, one gains a fine view of the valley below. All around is a sea of olive trees. Here, time stands still.