“Every Italian olive farmer will tell you they have the best olive oil, but actually, we have,” says Alana Mazza.
Alana and her husband, Joe, have just produced 900 litres of their very own “olio” from their very own eight acres of olive groves, surrounding their very own Italian farmhouse in the heart of Lazio.
Called Casale San Pietro, they have transformed it into a luxury bed and breakfast, and are preparing to welcome their first guests.
It’s been a huge year so far for Alana, 56, and Joe, 60. They have sold their Huddersfield home and left their careers – Joe had his own hairdressing business, while Alana was retail director of Hobbs, looking after 135 stores in the UK, Ireland and the US.
A high flyer from the start, Alana began her fashion retail career working for Etam, and became the manager of Mothercare in Huddersfield when she was 21. “I remember the retail director saying to me, ‘If I were to give you this job, you would be the youngest ever manager’. And I said, ‘it’s not about age, it’s about ability, and I can do this job’.” The friends she made there are still close friends today.
She moved to Principles but took a break from retail when her first husband wanted to sail the high seas on a charter yacht. The voyage began in Turkey and ended, for Alana, in St Lucia. “I was missing my job, my family … England. I knew that if I left the boat, I would be leaving the husband as well,” she says. Alana flew back to London where Principles picked her up, and she resumed her career, her 10-year marriage now sadly over.
Meanwhile, back in Huddersfield, hairdresser and father-of-two, Joe, was also getting divorced. Born in Sicily, he had moved to England aged 10, and opened his own barber’s shop at 15, followed by a hair salon in Huddersfield. Alana was a client, as was her sister, who played matchmaker by suggesting he give her a call.
“He started coming to London, so a relationship started and I thought, Joe’s for me,” says Alana. By now, Alana was 32 and Joe 36. She says: “It’s funny, when you come to a second marriage, you’re a grown-up. Joe said, ‘I’ve got two children and they are my Achilles’ Heel. If you take me on, you take on my kids’, and I said ‘yes, but equally, I want children’. Joe said, ‘I’ve always wanted four’.”
Alana moved back to Huddersfield, they married and had their daughter, Sarina, in 1992 and son, Giorgio, in 1996. Joe’s business grew to three salons and Alana became retail director of Principles, which meant living in London part of the week. “Joe was outstanding because he was home with them at a reasonable hour,” she says.
In 2009, she was headhunted to become retail director for Hobbs, another massive job. “I loved working for Hobbs,” she says. “I always said I would like to retire from retail at 50, but Hobbs gave me a new lease of life. Then, when I got to 55, I thought, ‘do I really want to do this for the next 10 years?’”
It was at their holiday apartment in Lazio in 2014 when Alana and Joe decided that the 5am starts and endless commutes had to end. They discovered a favourite restaurant, Casale San Pietro, about 45 minutes’ drive from Rome, was for sale. They bought it. Joe handed over his hairdressing business, Rubens in Mirfield, to his daughter Daniela, Alana left Hobbs, and so began their new life in Italy.
The Casale had already been beautifully renovated by the previous owners, so now Joe and Alana have been busy “taking it to the next level”. Alana says, “I had a really clear vision of what I wanted it to be, that traditional Italian farmhouse feel with all mod cons.”
They have 10 happy hens and, of course, their olive groves. Olives will be very much part of the Casale experience and Alana and Joe are planning a harvest party, for guests to taste the first press and join in, if they like. Joe, who has family in Rome, will be giving tours of the city, as well as offering a taxi service.
It has been a major project but, with their combined years of experience in the service industry, one that they have approached with relish and flair. Alana says they could not have achieved so much in such a short time without the help of local people, and they have taken on five members of staff to help with catering and running the bed and breakfast side.
Attention to detail, luxury and comfort have underpinned the renovation of Casale San Pietro, which has four double rooms and two suites, all with a private terrace, Italian marble bathrooms, air conditioning and a mixture of antique and contemporary furniture. A beautiful new 12-metre swimming pool has just been installed and, as well as the olive harvest party, they also plan Pizza Fridays.
The whole family is behind the move. Alana’s mother has paid for a Yorkshire rose bird bath for the garden. Sarina, a student, and Giorgio, who works in retail in London, have visited already and are planning plenty more trips, as are Alana’s mum and sister. Alana will be back in Huddersfield every three months to catch up with family and friends – although many are already planning visits to the Casale.
Alana says: “Our friends have said, ‘we’re so excited for you, but it makes us wonder, what’s our next chapter?’
“I feel very fortunate that, in this place, we’ve found our new chapter. I think there are going to be moments when we think, ‘oh god, what have we done?’, but I don’t think there are going to be many of them. I think we’re going to enjoy it.”
LAND OF CULTURE AND OLIVE GROVES
Casale San Pietro is situated in the heart of Lazio, close to some of Italy’s most beautiful historic towns and visitor attractions.
Nearby Anagni is also known as the ‘Città dei Papi’ (Town of the Popes) and is full of history, while Fiuggi is a leafy spa town where Italians holiday, take the waters and dance in the gardens. Acuto is up the mountain from Casale San Pietro, and a great base for scenic mountain walks. Tivoli boasts the famous Villa d’Este with its fountain gardens. Valmontone has ‘Magic Land’, a Disney-like theme park.
In November, Joe and Alana (pictured) will host three-night olive harvest breaks when guests can watch or help with the harvest, visit the Frantoio to see the pressing process and taste the olive oil as it comes off the final press. There will be picnic lunches, a pizza evening including a lesson in pizza making, and dinner using local ingredients. It will cost from 210 euros per room per night, based on two people sharing.
Find out more about the renovation and Casale San Pietro on www.casalespietro.com.