Chef Amber Guinness, shares with us her story and tips on her under-the-tuscan-sun retreat
Amber, how did the Arniano Painting School come along?
The Arniano Painting School came into being in 2014, when my dear friend, the painter William Roper-Curzon and I had the idea to host painting retreats at Arniano. My family’s home in Tuscany. Arniano is a very special place. A podere on it’s own hill overlooking Montalcino, Pienza and Monte Amiata. My parents bought and restored the house the year I was born in 1989 and I grew up there with my parents and sister Claudia, going to school in the local scuola elementare e media until I was 13, before going to school in the UK. My mother, Camilla, is an interior designer (she was the designer in charge of the refurbishment of nearby Villa Cetinale in 2010), and my father, Jasper, was a landscape gardener so they had the tools to make the interiors and exteriors magical. My father passed away in 2011, and it felt like our family home died with him. I wanted to find a way to breathe life back into this beautiful place my mother, sister and I loved so much, and to share the beauty that my parents created with others. That was when William and I had the idea to host week-long painting holidays, where I would cook, and William would teach painting.
What inspired you?
The main inspiration for the course were the views from Arniano. As William often describes, “there are two types of view at Arniano, there are the huge 360 degree panoramic vistas, and also the more intimate spaces within the garden designed by Jasper. Both are spectacular.”
The other inspiration was my parents, and their ability to host and make any house party fun and glamorous, this was the atmosphere we wanted to recreate on our courses. It is wonderful that we have been able to do this, and the courses are full of fun, laughter and lead to great friendships as well as some beautiful paintings.
What are the keys to achieving a successful and productive retreat?
Delicious food, cooked with the best seasonal ingredients, which are very easy to come by in Tuscany.
A well stocked bar, and fabulous wine – we love to serve our guests wines from nearby Fonterutoli.
Peace and tranquility, at Arniano there is none of the noise of modern life to disturb our painters, giving them the space to be creative and to use their imagination whatever their level of experience.
What is your go to dish? The dish you love to create for your guests?
I love creating abundant, generous lunches for our guests. A feast for the eyes where they are able to take a bit of everything and enjoy all the gorgeous colours offered by the best Italian produce. So more than cooking one thing, I love to curate feasts! In late spring this might be a torta salata with ricotta and asparagus, accompanied by fusilli with generous helpings of home-made pesto, a large platter of yellow and red datterini tomatoes centred with delicious and creamy balls of burrata, a fresh and peppery insalata di rucola and plate of sliced finocchiona & carciofi sott’olio. All served with a delicious crisp glass of vermentino from Tenuta Belguardo in the Maremma.
Do you have dates for your next workshops or new projects on the horizon?
We host our courses at Arniano four times a year, twice in the spring and twice in the autumn (the summer is far too hot!).
We have two courses coming up at Arniano in October, the first is sold out, but there are a few spaces on the second week which is Tuesday 20th to Monday 26th of October.
We will release our spring dates in early November, but these are usually in late April, or early May when the garden is at it’s prettiest and the surrounding hills at their greenest.
We are also very excited to have started hosting courses at William’s family estate – Pylewell Park, in Hampshire in England. The house is a beautiful Georgian manor with ten bedrooms, and park rolling down directly onto the sea. The house overlooks the Solent and the Isle of Wight, which means that our returning painters have a new sea-view to capture on the canvas as well as the magical hills of Tuscany. We have just finished our first course at Pylewell which was a great success, and so wonderful to see some familiar faces of guests who have been to Arniano, and also new ones. We are planning to host these courses twice a year, once in the spring and once in the autumn. It’s exciting as we love the juxtaposition of a very grand English seaside spot with the cosy, but glamorous Italian farm-house