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Vol. 29 - An Italian Engagement

Happy Sunday, everybody! To my UK readers, I hope you have all been faring well in this unusual heatwave. To the rest of my readers, I hope you have refrained from taking the piss out of the UK on Twitter for our reaction to said heatwave. It has been just over a week since we returned from our two-week road trip, and the questions and congratulations have been coming in equal measure. As promised, I will be covering the Italian portion of our trip (if you missed the South of France segment, you can read that in last week’s newsletter) as well as the itinerary in full for those of you looking to take a similar trip. If you would like some visual aid, you can also watch my Youtube vlogs from the trips here and my TikTok here. We also received our next batch of Rhubarb Society keyrings, which are available to buy here, so hopefully, if you missed out on our last drop, you’ll have a chance to get one now! Anyway, let’s begin…


From Eze to Cinqueterre

and an Italian proposal

So, I last left you in Eze at the glorious La Chevre D’or, where we enjoyed one last breakfast on the terrace before we set off once again. The drive to Villa La Madonna was only three and a half hours long, and the journey was a beautiful mix of coastal and mountain views. Crossing country borders by car is entirely anti-climatic and oddly unpoliced, so crossing from France into Italy was a piece of cake. Villa La Madonna is a rustic, boutique hotel in the Italian countryside that reminded me of Soho Farmhouse before it was overcrowded and annoying. It sits on a vineyard, which means the views from every angle are gorgeously green as far as the eye can see. It’s part of the Small Luxury Hotels group, so that gives you an idea of the standard. We checked into our room and then immediately sat outside for a light lunch in the sunshine. The food at this hotel was so good that for the three nights we stayed there, we didn’t bother to eat anywhere else. Everybody who worked there was warm and attentive, making the experience 10x better. They even humoured our spotty Italian as we attempted to put our eight weeks of Italian classes to use. One of the women who often did the morning service would bring a small plate of turkey out to feed to Rhubarb at breakfast. Anyway, the first day and a half was spent lazily eating, drinking and reading outside, either by the restaurant or by the pool. I made the most of their wellness services by booking myself in for a lymphatic massage which I would highly recommend. For such a small boutique hotel, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of treatments and activities they had on offer. La Merenda was my favourite time of day; where around 5 pm, the hotel would make a series of light bites (largely bread, meats, and pizzettes) for us to graze on as we drank cocktails and waited for Dinner service. One evening we decided to stay in their cosy sitting area and play card games whilst listening to music as Rhubarb sat impatiently, waiting for someone to bring her a drink or a stray piece of parma ham.

On our second morning, we enjoyed another glorious al fresco breakfast, complete with makeshift bellini’s (a haphazard combo of their homemade breakfast juice and one of the bottles of breakfast fizz they had available) and pancakes with fresh berries. Rhubarb even had some boiled eggs alongside her hand-fed turkey. We had a picnic arranged for lunch, so we decided to spend the morning by the pool, where I read American Babe for the umpteenth time. When I go on holiday, I like to read light and fluffy books, and the White Girl Problems trilogy is perfect for that. Anyway, as I’ve already mentioned, Villa La Madonna is surrounded by vineyards, and, as we came to learn, roses are planted at the end of each row to test the quality of the soil and its nutrients. While we were topping up our tans, Rhubarb got something stuck in her paw (it looked like a very small rose thorn), which we swiftly removed and sterilised. Luckily, it wasn’t too deep, and she wasn’t bleeding, but of course, she still felt very sorry for herself, limping and sighing and kicking the air at every opportunity. Henry’s neurosis seemingly took over as he told me he had been imagining a range of worst-case scenarios regarding Rhubarb’s paw and how difficult it would be to find a good Italian vet out in the sticks. Still, the reason for his overthinking became more apparent in the hours that followed.

At 12 pm, equipped with Villa La Madonna branded rucksacks stuffed with fresh sandwiches, salads, sweet treats and drinks (and Rhubarb with her own LuluLemon rucksack), we walked out into one of the vineyards to find a picnic rug with glasses already laid for us. Another wonderful thing about the hotel is that it overlooks The Bormida Valley, and, despite being nestled in the vineyard, this happened to be our view for the picnic. As we sat down to eat, Henry told me to get Rhubarb’s stuff out of her backpack, and that’s where the box with the engagement ring was. I now understood Henry’s panic regarding Rhubarb’s earlier incident as she happened to be the (world’s fluffiest) ring-bearer, and his whole plan centred on her ability to walk with her rucksack. Anyway, one proposal speech and the world’s most beautiful ring later, and that was it. We were engaged. We popped a celebratory bottle of fizz and let the cork go flying, which was swiftly followed by a record-breaking recovery from Rhubarb, who was finally limp-free and had managed to sniff out said cork. I’m not even being facetious when I say that Rhubarb has expensive taste because she genuinely loves chewing on champagne corks. The first year Henry and I were together, I took him to Milan and Lake Como as a surprise for his birthday. In the years following, we found ourselves back in Italy multiple times. To celebrate more birthdays, to visit friends living there, holidays as a couple, holidays with our closest friends…in five and a half years, Italy had become a second home and a cornerstone of our relationship, filled with many wonderful memories; which is why, as many of you know, earlier this year we began taking Italian lessons. I couldn’t think of anything better than an Italian engagement in a vineyard with Rhubarb to honour our relationship.

After sharing news of our engagement, I had a lot of questions about the ring; where it was from, what it was made of, whether I designed it, and if I designed it, did it mean that I knew this was happening and, if I did know, did that ruin the surprise etc. etc. etc. If you follow me on Tiktok, you would have probably already seen the video of Henry explaining what the ring was made of, but this isn’t TikTok, so I’m going to talk you through the behind the scenes that hopefully answers some of the above. The thing about engagement rings is that if you have no clue what it is you like, how on earth can you expect your other half to know? I’d never thought about what my ideal ring would look like, but obviously, I had seen tons, and I knew the styles that I preferred. However, when I went to actually try some on, this changed quite drastically. The styles and cuts that I thought were for me actually just didn’t suit me. I know that sounds silly, because how on earth can a sparkly piece of jewellery not suit someone, but it’ll make sense to those who have been through this process. Of course, Henry and I had spoken about marriage for a while, and neither of us was in any rush to get married, so when we went to try a load of rings on late last year/early this year, it was without expectation. If anything, it made the whole experience better because it felt like more of a collaboration. We both had spoken about how a coloured stone at the centre would be ideal and more suited to me as well as a few other aspects of the ring. I knew I wanted my ring to have more of an art deco feel and style than anything particularly modern, and I was struggling to find something that fit the bill. We had to agree on the main stone, and after toying with ideas of rubies and sapphires, we landed on an emerald. Of course, a lot of people had advised against emeralds because they are a softer stone; however, by this point, we had decided to have the ring made from scratch with a jeweller in Hatton Gardens who had been recommended to us by someone else who had had an emerald ring made with him. Apparently, this man had been making emerald rings for 40+ years with no issues, so we. knew we were in safe hands. It was here that we also learned about the different styles and types of Emeralds and how far the spectrum goes. This was also the first time I was introduced to the elusive Muzo Emerald, which I knew I just had to have (much to Henry and Henry’s wallet’s dismay haha). Muzo emeralds are rare because they have such a beautiful clarity, depth and colour to them, and they happen to come from a tiny pool of mines.

Our jeweller sourced an old mine Colombian Muzo for us (which also comes with its own separate certificate), and we designed the rest around that. I initially wanted a single halo (I had tried a double halo emerald ring at Garrard, but it was so garish it looked like costume jewellery) with a half-diamond band. Still, the double-diamond look also looked ridiculous, so we thought a plain band would be best. At this point, it was early January and the last time I would see anything to do with the ring in person. However, the ring still needed something extra to finalise the vintage look, so I asked for some diamond shoulders to be added, and Henry took it from there. Did any of this take away from the surprise? Honestly, not one bit. You have to consider the sort of person you are, and I am someone with very particular taste and style, so I was thrilled to be included in the process whilst still having the surprise of seeing it for the first time at the right moment. In terms of the engagement itself, I also wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. For me, much like the ring, the knowing didn’t take away from the moment, and I’m not somebody who loves the element of surprise, nor big public displays of anything (I would keel over if I were ever proposed to in a public setting) so this process made sense in respect to mine and Henry’s relationship. Of course, every relationship is different, and some of you may love the idea of a surprise engagement, so the key takeaway from any perspective ‘engagees’ should be to make sure you communicate this to your partner. Speaking of surprises, this is probably a great moment to move on to the next part of our trip.


Fiat 500s in Florence

After an unforgettable few days in Villa La Madonna (a place I know we will be returning to soon), we were on the road again. This time, we were headed to Florence, largely because Henry and I were dying to go back to our favourite restaurant in the world, La Trattoria Sostanza, but more on that later. On the way, we stopped at the glorious Forte Dei Marmi, a very chic seaside town in Tuscany that’s like Bond Street on the beach, for lunch. If you’ve ever been to Beverly Hills and walked around Rodeo Drive, FDM has a similar feel but on a smaller scale (and in my opinion, it’s far chicer because it doesn’t try so hard). Polished streets, designer stores, Michelin-starred restaurants, and trendy beach clubs are the building blocks of this town. We stopped for lunch at Osteria del Mare (fantastic seafood, as one would expect) before pottering around the shops. I bought some more linen t-shirts from Petit Bateau before making an unexpected purchase at Missoni (which you can see in this TikTok video). Thank god for tax refunds. A few hours later, we were in Florence, checking into the 25 hours hotel. The interior is inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the rooms are split by either Paradise or Inferno (aka, Heaven or Hell). Of course, we were staying in the hell rooms, a hilarious take on Dante’s Inferno, with our room decorated in shades of red and black and ‘Welcome to Hell’ scribbled menacingly across the doors to our loo and shower. We had less than an hour to unpack, shower, and change before our evening reservation at the Angel Rooftop Bar. This is where the real surprise was. Henry had flown four of our friends out to Florence to celebrate our engagement. I later learned that this trip had been planned since January and that my friends are also exceptionally good at hiding things from me. They had taken turns organising things for the 6 of us (plus Rhubarb) to do over the weekend they were with us, the first being the 500 Touring Club.

After a night of heavy celebrations involving several bars, I don’t remember the name of; we were up early and on our way to a location 20 minutes outside of central Florence. We were about to all hop into vintage Fiat 500s and drive in convoy around the Tuscan countryside, past various vineyards, with stops en route to hear about the local area. After an hour or two of driving, the tour ended at a 15th Century Villa, where we had a wine tasting and a light lunch. Our planned activity for day two was a pasta-making class at Pastamania in the heart of Florence. Yes, Rhubarb joined us for this, too, because everywhere in Italy seems to be absurdly dog friendly. I’ve done a few pasta-making classes in my time, but this one was spectacular. We really learned about the science behind pasta making and how to make the most delicious fresh pasta. We even used some strange tools and instruments that I’d never seen in my life but had a lot of fun using. The class was intimate, and there were 8 (and a half) of us in total. At the end of the class, we sat down and ate and drank family style. It was early evening by the time we left, and we strolled back through the streets of Florence, pausing to listen to a street performer with a beautiful operatic voice before wandering into a nearby wine bar for a nightcap.

The next morning, our friends left us, and the three of us spent our final few hours in Florence before we started our long drive home via Switzerland and then France. Of course, our ‘last supper’ had to be at Trattoria Sostanza, a tiny, unassuming restaurant where you share tables with strangers and the staff only do one lunch sitting a day. Our table, shared with a friendly couple from the US, was right in front of the tiny kitchen, where we watched them work intensely. We ordered the lemon butter chicken, the Florentine steak, the olive oil with green beans and two cups of chicken broth; all washed down with the house wine. For dessert, we shared their famous meringue cake with wild strawberries and raspberries. The food is some of the most delicious food we’ve ever had, and the prices are exceptionally good. When we inevitably go back, I’d like to go with a huge group of people so that we can order as many things as possible to sample. Please put this on your bucket list if you plan to go to Florence. Try and book as far in advance as possible. They used to only take cash (I’m not sure if this has changed), but make sure you have some, just in case. With very full and satisfied bellies, we hopped in the car and began the drive to Lake Lucerne. To break up the drive to Switzerland, we spent one night in Milan. We arrived fairly late and wanted somewhere quick and easy to grab a drink and a bite, and we stumbled upon the rooftop of The Rinascente (a designer shopping centre), which had the best views of The Duomo. The next morning, we were on the road again early, with a pitstop in Bellagio for lunch (our preferred area in Lake Como). You can’t go wrong with a few hours of strolling aimlessly around here.


Switzerland, Champagne Region, and Beyond

So this section will be very brief, mainly because the last few days were overnight stops to get us back to Calais, and we didn’t spend enough time in any one region for me to give decent recommendations. However, there are a few notes I would like to share. The first was that the drive from Switzerland to France was one of the best and most beautiful drives we had done in our two weeks. We drove the Gotthard Pass, which was an unbelievable hour of driving up and down mountain passes, reaching altitudes where the temperature steadily dropped from 30 to 10 degrees in the space of a few minutes. At this point in our trip, we were playing it by ear and booking our hotels the night before and for our final one in Champagne, we booked The Loisium, which was stunning. We somehow ended up with a corner room which I would recommend you ask for should you book there because we had incredible views over the vineyards from both the bedroom and the sitting room. It also has an amazing spa and is just extremely chic all over. Unfortunately, we weren’t there long enough to do any of the tours (all of the significant champagne houses are there, and the Ruinart one was calling our name), but it’s something to look forward to for next time. It also goes without saying that everything we did and everywhere we stayed was dog friendly, so there’s really everything from your basic rooms to luxury hotels that you can stay in with your pooch should you want to do something similar. When booking, we used a combination of Relais and Chateaux, Expedia,, and Small Luxury Hotels.


The Full Itinerary

If you are a visual person or just a driver in general, you’ll probably appreciate this next section which I have to credit to Henry entirely. SO many people asked for this, and lucky for you, Henry already had this very interactive Google Map with our whole two-week driving route mapped…annoyingly, you are limited to the number of stops you can add, but this still gives you a very good idea of the route. If the link doesn’t work, I will also add screenshots below, as well as a list of the trip, starting from Calais.

  1. Hotel La Chartreuse - Gosnay, France (one night)

  2. Lunch in Lyon, France

  3. Hapimag - Antibes, France (3 nights)

  4. Lunch in Saint Paul De Vence, France

  5. La Chevre d’Or - Eze, France (one night)

  6. Villa La Madonna - Piemonte, Italy (3 nights)

  7. Lunch in Forte Dei Marmi, Italy

  8. 25 Hours Hotel - Florence, Italy (3 nights)

  9. The Street Milano Duomo - Milan, Italy (one night)

  10. Lunch in Bellagio

  11. SeeHotel Pilates - Lake Lucerne, Switzerland (one night)

  12. The Loisium, Champagne - France (one night)

And that’s all from the twenty-eighth issue of The Rhubarb Society! If there’s anything you’re keen for me to discuss, or if you have a podcast topic you’d like me to talk about, please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below, via email or in my DMs. If there’s anyone you think would be an excellent fit for The Rhubarb Society, please do extend the invitation below.



Tamsin and Rhubarb



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