Scroll to topSCROLL TO TOP
NEWSLETTER ISSUE 116 / February 2020

Dear Friend,

The Watermill gardens the Two Popes

We have been taking a little bit of a rest in January (up to a point: Lois is in the final throes of her musicological PhD and Bill is working away on Mill marketing and planning for the coming season).

We managed to take a relaxing six days in Switzerland in January with our friends Laurence and Brigitte Marks. Laurence is a judge for the BAFTA film awards, so our task was to sit with him and watch two or three new films every day. Bliss! We particularly enjoyed The Two Popes, JoJo Rabbit and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. Laurence nominated Jonathan Pryce for Best Actor and Anthony Hopkins for Best Supporting Actor. We agreed.

Burns Night

We also celebrated Burns Night on 25 January, at a ceilidh with friends in a posh Florence apartment overlooking the Arno. There was dancing, singing and reciting, eating haggis, neeps and tatties, and, of course, drinking a wee dram (or two) of a fine single-malt Scotch whisky.

PV Panels at the watermill in Italy
Providing more than enough
electricity for our needs

That is not to say that we neglected our Watermill duties, but we left much of the day-to-day management to Karsten Müller, our excellent factotum. He has been ensuring that the building work on the frantoio roof is kept on schedule, and also supervising the installation of air-conditioning units in all our bedrooms, suites and in our public rooms. All will be powered by our hidden array of photovoltaic cells, using the sun to generate electricity. The system seems to be working well and we are now more than self-sufficient. (See the story 'Cool and Green' below.)

Bookings continue to come in apace and some 220 people have now reserved their places on our creative courses this year. As our total capacity is 250/260 or so, you can see we are well on the way to another bumper year. As we always say at this time of year, if you’d like to enjoy a creative course here, now is the time to book. There are notes on availability of courses below. Incidentally, if you see a course that you like but it is currently fully booked, don’t despair. There are often cancellations, so let us know and we will put you on a waiting list and tell you immediately a place becomes available.

In this newsletter there are stories on:

  • Recipe of the month: fennel baked with cream and Parmesan cheese
  • The memories linger on…
  • Cool and Green
  • Bill gets ready to write his blog
  • Wine kissed by sea and sun
  • Linger, observe, paint!
  • The first glimpse of Renée’s hat
  • Don’t listen to your mother!
  • Permesso? Avanti!, Accomodativi! and other welcoming noises

Happy reading....

The pictures above and below this introductory section are top left: The Watermill courtyard; Top right: Painters in the walled garden. Bottom Left: Our rose pergola in June; Bottom Right: Down by the riverside.

Watermill garden in Tuscany

Come to the watermill in Tuscany with your partner or friend
The most romantic cinema pairing ever?
Marcello Mastroianni and
Sofia Loren

Bring a partner: there's plenty for them to do

They don’t have to participate in the course, but they will be able to enjoy the wonderful hospitality of the mill and, whenever they want, to come out with you to our beautiful locations.

We also offer a range of Alternative activities for partners on all our courses, as well as a generous £GBP 250 discount if they share a room with you.

Recipe of the month: fennel baked in cream and white wine

Fennel baked in cream

This month’s Watermill recipe is a tasty dish that we serve to our guests as part of our famous Watermill Sunday buffet lunch. We usually entrust its preparation to our Girl Fridays, and in next-to-no-time they can make it almost as well as Lois. We certainly hear many appreciative noises. The recipe below makes enough for eight people.


  • 4 bulbs of fennel
  • 250ml cooking cream
  • 250ml white wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • 100g brown bread breadcrumbs
  • 50g grated parmesan


Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Discard any discoloured outer leaves of the fennel, then cut in half longitudinally. Cut out the hard heart, then cut each half in half again. Arrange in a flat, oven-proof dish and pour over a well seasoned mix of the cream and wine. Cover the dish with a lid or foil and place in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes. Remove the lid/foil and scatter over the breadcrumbs and parmesan and return to the over without the lid/foil for another 10 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

The memories linger on...

Paintings by Robert Christopher

Many of our Watermill painting guests continue to enjoy the Watermill long after their week with us! They do so by painting pictures of the mill and its surroundings, based on photographs or sketches they made during their stay.

One such is Robert Christopher, who has been with us for a couple of painting courses, and he has just sent us a few more of his charming watercolours. Above left is a lovely study of the loggia at the ancient convent where we spend a relaxing day during our painting weeks. And on the right, is the proud belltower in the nearby mediaeval walled town of Fivizzano, where we go to paint on market, every Tuesday.

Painting by Chris Franklin

Another guest who likes to keep his memories alive by painting them is Chris Franklin, who sent this vibrant watercolour of a street in Lucca, the quintessential Italian walled city that is one of the venues for our Wednesday excursion.

So you see, you get far more than a week of pleasure on a Watermill painting course come and join us and you’ll also find that your memories linger on...

Cool and Green

The Watermill is renowned for its inspiring creative courses, its beautiful setting, its delicious food, and its warm and welcoming hospitality. But we are also working hard to make it Cool and Green!

The Watermill in Tuscany's Solar Setup

As we said above, we are now busily putting in air-conditioning units in all our bedrooms and public rooms (the dining room, the sitting room, the studio) and they should be in place well before the beginning of our season, in the middle of April. They will all be powered by our array of photovoltaic cells, installed last summer, which are already making more than enough power to ensure that we are self-sufficient in electricity.

You'll have to work hard to see our photovoltaic panels which are on the south-facing roofs of the 19th-century mill and on the studio, looking out towards the river. You can hardly see them in the picture of the south façade, on the left above. The picture on the right shows the panels in place on the 19th-century mill.

We have already generated more than 8000 kilowatt-hours of electricity in the seven months from the middle of June 2019 to the middle of January 2020. We’ve done the sums and we reckon we should be able to generate nearly 14,000 kWh in the whole year. This should be considerably more than our consumption, even with all those new air-conditioning units.

So, you will be Cool and Green!

Bill prepares to write his blog

Blogging at the watermill

No, it is not actually Bill preparing to write his daily blog, but rather a wonderful painting by the Dutch master Gerrit Dou, of a scholar sharpening his quill before getting back to work. We are showing it to you because it is just one of the masterpieces of art we regularly reproduce on our Facebook page.

They are posted on Facebook by Uniguide, a producer of audio guides and tours, who not only give us a classic painting almost every day, but also feed us with titbits of historical background. I didn’t know anything about Dou, for instance, but Uniguide tells me that this 17th-century Dutch painter was even more highly acclaimed in his time than his teacher Rembrandt.

These are just some of the creative offerings we make in our daily posts on the Watermill Facebook page, which include painting, writing and knitting tips, as well as news of the activities of our tutors and guests, and the availability of our courses.

Why not check out the Watermill Facebook page, by clicking here. and if you’d care to Like our page while you’re there, you will find is a great way of keeping in touch with all our activities.

Watermill in Tuscany's Painting NewsPAINTING NEWS

Wine Kissed by the Sun & Sea

Painting by Maggie Renner Hellmann

In the middle of January, we asked our Blog and Facebook friends to think of a title for the lovely oil painting above, made by Watermill tutor Maggie Renner Hellmann. We had a great response: some 50 people sent us their ideas, for which many thanks. Maggie says: “I’m so glad people enjoyed playing with ideas for my title!”

It was difficult for her to choose which words she thought captured her picture best, but in the end the winner was Wine Kissed by the Sun & Sea, which, you must admit, is a very evocative title for this evocative painting.

It was a fun exercise and we must try it again sometime. But rather than just sitting at home and thinking of titles, why don’t you join Maggie in glorious Tuscany this September, when the grapes will be ripening on the vines and the Tuscan sun will be bathing everything in glorious light?

She’s Tutor of the Month in this newsletter, so there’s more about Maggie, and details of her courses below.

Linger, observe, paint!

Paintings by Mary Padgett

Our new painting tutor, pastellist Mary Padgett, is a passionate advocate of painting en plein air. Mary says that it’s the ideal way to truly experience the ethos of a place: “Instead of passing through, the painter stops to observe. This observation isn’t just visual: stopping to create a painting gives the artists the opportunity to hear and smell and feel a place.”

Mary Padgett

Some years ago, Mary lived in Florence and we are showing you a few of the pastels she made there. Florence, of course, is the cradle of the Renaissance, and just walking the streets is a living lesson in the history of art and architecture.

Mary painted the famous sites, of course, like the Cathedral, but she became most intrigued by the combination of architecture and vegetation surrounding the city: “Blue-green olive trees, emerald pines, and rich dark cypresses are so well-positioned that their overall design appears deliberate. I see juxtapositions of shape, value and colour, and contrasting textures and patterns. My aim is to translate that diversity with pastel in order to communicate the vitality and energy I see before me.”

Painting by Mary Padgett

Mary will also find plenty of vitality and energy in the unspoiled Tuscan countryside of Lunigiana surrounding the Watermill. She is coming to tutor a week-long course in pastels*, from Saturday 26 September to Saturday 3 October 2020. *While pastels are her passion (and she will work in soft pastels during her week-long course at the Watermill), Mary is also happy to teach in other portable media, too, such as oils and acrylics, in which she is also a skilled practitioner. You can find out more about Mary and her course by clicking here.

Painter of the month: Maggie Renner Hellmann, a courageous colo(u)rist

Come to the watermill in Tuscany with your partner or friend
Maggie's picture of a sunflower,
blooming in the Tuscan sun

Maggie Renner Hellmann is a contemporary California painter who paints with love, passion and energy. Her work is characterized by a unique blend of loose, energetic brushwork and strong compositions of exuberant color. Maggie says: “I love the joy of color and the poetry of brushwork.” *Maggie is American, so we are spelling color her way!

Maggie is also an enthusiastic tutor who has been teaching for more than 15 years – and loves it! Maggie will be leading two ‘Courageous Color Workshops’ at the Watermill this Autumn (Fall) and we would be delighted if you were to join us on either, or both of them.

Maggie Renner Hellmann

The week-long courses, in oils, acrylics, pastels and drawing and sketching mediums, will run from 12 September to 19 September 2020 and from 19 September to 26 September 2020. You can find out more by clicking here.

Maggie will encourage the beginner and challenge the more advanced painter. She says: “In these plein air Courageous Color Workshops, we will paint in various spectacular Tuscan locations. Our emphasis will be on learning and practicing the core elements of successful paintings.”

Come to the watermill in Tuscany with your partner or friend
How’s this for courageous colo(u)r?
Maggie calls this picture
Riverside Magic

As well as leaving as a much better painter than when you came, you will also have great fun with like-minded people and enjoy the unique ambience of the Watermill.

As one of our guests on last year’s painting course with Maggie said: “I just want to express my thanks and appreciation for such a wonderful experience staying at your beautiful Watermill! I loved my room and the meals were fabulous. Maggie and Lou [Maggie’s husband] were a delight and as the novice painter in the group, I always felt supported and encouraged by both of them, as well as the rest of the group. I left with many warm and wonderful memories. The Watermill is a very special place that will always be a part of me now.”

Our sympathetic, caring, inspiring 2020 painting tutors

We have exciting new tutors, as well as old friends, for our 2020 painting courses. Choose a tutor, a medium or a date that suits you best – but hurry, places are filling fast.

Carl March

Carl March
18 - 25 April 2020 - oneor two places remaining
Drawing and watercolours en plein air
To learn more about Carl and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.

Grahame Booth

Grahame Booth
25 April - 2 May 2020 - fully booked, waiting list open
To learn more about Grahame and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.

Brienne M Brown

Brienne M Brown - fully booked, waiting list open
16 - 23 May 2020
To learn more about Brienne and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.

Sandra Strohschein

Sandra Strohschein
30 May - 6 June 2020 - fully booked, waiting list open
6 - 13 June 2020 - fully booked, waiting list open
To learn more about Sandra and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.

Randy Hale

Randy Hale
13 - 20 June 2020 - fully booked, waiting list open
To learn more about Randy and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.

Vicki Norman

Vicki Norman
20 - 27 June 2020 - two or three places remaining
Oils and watercolours (and other mediums)
To learn more about Vicki and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.

Mark Warner

Mark Warner
11 - 18 July 2020 - four or five places remaining
Colourful Acrylics, Drawing, Pen & Wash
To learn more about Mark and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.

Mike Willdridge

Mike Willdridge
29 August – 5 September 2020 - four or five places remaining
Watercolour and drawing (also gouache and acrylics)
To learn more about Mike and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.

Rebecca de Mendonça

Rebecca de Mendonça
5 - 12 September 2020 - two or three places remaining
Pastels and Mixed media
To learn more about Rebecca and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.

Maggie Renner Hellmann

Maggie Renner Hellmann
12 - 19 September 2020 - still plenty of places
19 - 26 September 2020 - four or five places remaining
Courageous Color Workshop’ in oils, acrylics, watercolours and pastels
To learn more about Maggie and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.

Mary Padgett

Mary Padgett
26 September - 3 October 2020 - four or five places remaining
Pastels (and other portable media) en plein air
To learn more about Mary and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.

Milind Mulick

Milind Mulick
3 - 10 October 2020 - one or two places remaining
Colourful watercolours
To learn more about Milind and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.

Tim Wilmot

Tim Wilmot
10 – 17 October 2020 - four or five places remaining
To learn more about Tim and his course at the mill, please visit his 2020 Profile Page.

Come and join us and enjoy the magic at the mill!

Why not bring your non-painting partner as well?

There’s a generous £250 discount for him/her if they share a room with you - and there’s plenty for them to do. Have a look at our Partner’s Activities Page for suggestions.

Watermill in Italy's Knitting NewsKNITTING NEWS

Renée’s beautiful brioche hat – and a recipe for perfection

Broioche Hats

These are pictures of Renée Callahan's lovely brioche hat, one of the exclusively designed projects for her knitting holiday at the Watermill this August. Renée’s now busy on other projects to captivate her students on her Knitting and La Bella Vita Italiana week. There are more details of her week below.

When you have produced the beautiful hat, you will want to make sure it’s even more perfect by ‘blocking’ it, in order to make the knitting look as even and tidy as possible. Here’s Renée’s recipe for success:

Hat Blocking

What you need: one freshly knitted hat, one tumbler and one soup bowl.

The method:

Give your hat a gentle wash in lukewarm water with a little bit of wool soap or a tiny bit of shampoo. Squeeze the excess water out of the hat and roll it up in a towel. Press the rolled towel with your hands, or you can even walk on it to get more water out of the hat. Place the damp hat over the soup bowl and allow it to dry completely.

*Top tip*: “If you are in a hurry, place the freshly finished hat over the upside-down bowl dry and steam it with an iron, being careful not to touch the iron to the knitting. It dries in seconds!”

Renee Callahan

We are delighted to welcome Renée Callahan to the Watermill knitting tutors team. She is a prolific knitwear designer, from London in England, who loves to combine texture and colour to create handknit-knit patterns that are not only enjoyable to knit but also remain wearable for years to come. Renée has always loved textiles and the technical challenge of knitting: she finds a real joy in producing something both useful and beautiful. She will be with us for another of our famous Knitting and la Bella Vita weeks, from Saturday 15 August to Saturday 22 August 2020.

We have three other Knitting and la Bella Vita weeks next year, two with Louisa Harding and our first-ever knitting retreat. Louisa’s first week in May is fully booked, so we have opened up a second week for her, at the end of June/beginning of July.

Louisa Harding

Louisa Harding
23 - 30 May 2020 - fully booked, waiting list open
27 June - 4 July 2020 - five or six places remaining
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about Louisa and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.

Knitting retreat

Knitting Retreat
4 - 11 July 2020 - two places remaining
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about this retreat, please visit our 2020 Retreat Overview Page.

Renée Callahan

Renée Callahan
15 - 22 August 2020 - five or six places remaining
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about Renée and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.

Knitting group at the watermill in Italy

Don't forget your partner!

And don’t forget that your friend or partner doesn’t need to participate in the creative course, whether it’s painting, language or writing.

We offer them a range of Alternative activities for partners on all our 2020 courses, as well as a generous £GBP 250 discount if they share a room with you.

Creative writing News at the watermill in ItalyCREATIVE WRITING NEWS

Want to improve your writing skills? Don’t listen to your mum! (But listen to Jo)

Writing at the watermill in Tuscany Randy Ingermanson

We stumbled recently over a good piece of writing advice from an American author Randy Ingermanson. He wrote: “You should never pay any attention to what your mother says about your writing, or what anyone who loves you says about your writing, because all those people are liars.” Sorry Mum!

He adds: “You should pay attention only to people who know what good writing is, and who also know how to critique bad writing. Many who know good writing don’t have any idea how to critique bad writing and will not be able to help you.

"Also be aware that many people who know how to critique bad writing would not recognise good writing if it stabbed them in the eye. This is tragic, but deal with it. You are looking for somebody who has both of these skills and those people are rare.”

We think that’s rather well put by Randy and, of course, it immediately made us think of Jo Parfitt, the tutor of our Writing your life stories courses at the Watermill. Jo not only knows how to critique bad writing (gently, with humour and insight) but also how to recognise good writing (with warmth and encouragement). If you come on her creative writing course at the Watermill you will have a whole week’s immersion, concentrating on your writing, enjoying Jo’s teaching and the stimulating, encouraging company of like-minded people.

Compilation of conversations on Jo's course at the watermill in Italy
A collage of conversation on Jo's last course,
compiled by Sue Reed

Oh! And one more piece of advice from Randy: “Have fun!” You’ll certainly do that Jo’s course. She will be with us in Tuscany again this spring (details and a link below), bringing her expertise, empathy and insights to stimulate and inspire your writing. She will help you produce your best work, to find your true writer's 'voice' and to write authentically. Jo says: “You will be empowered to write in a compelling way, bringing your experiences to life."

As one of our previous guests said: “It is a very special and beautiful place, and everything was organised so perfectly. Jo is a great tutor and we all had an amazing time.” Another said: “It was a great week: beautiful setting, perfect weather, delicious food and some super outings, who could ask for anything more -- and I did quite a bit of writing!”

Laughfter at the Watermill in Italy

On the left are some members of Jo Parfitt’s writing group earlier this year sharing snippets from their lives. One of the group, Sue Reed, tells us: “The vine verandah at the Watermill has been the perfect place to gather to write and share our stories. Last night we all shared a funny story, and the laughter rang out. My life feels so much richer for having met and shared stories with these wonderful people.”

Of course, there’s not only laughter, but tears, too, as members of the group share emotional experiences from their lives, but in the secure and sympathetic surroundings of the Watermill, this sharing can become life-enhancing. As Jo says: "The course at the watermill will provide a safe haven in which to unlock your creativity, write from your heart and hone your writing craft”. And there’s more laughter than tears, and warm camaraderie.

Jo Parfitt

Jo Parfitt is an author, journalist, teacher, blogger, conference speaker and poet. She has published 32 books herself, has helped more than 100 authors into print and more than 1,000 people to begin writing. Jo's a compassionate, inspiring, and encouraging teacher: her motto is 'sharing what I know to help others to grow'.

The workshop will include several methods and genres and is perfect for anyone wanting to write about their own lives for an effective journal, memoir or blog. If you would enjoy an injection of inspiration in a safe and supportive environment, this course is for you. It is appropriate for students of any level.

Jo Parfitt’s Write Your Life Stories course will run from Saturday 9 May to Saturday 16 May 2020. You can learn more by clicking here. We already have 11 people booked into Jo’s course, so we only have room for one more person. Now is your chance to grab the opportunity of becoming the writer you always wanted to be.

Laurence and Maurice

And don’t forget our other creative writing course next year: Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, described by the British Comedy Society as ‘living legends,’ are the inspiring tutors for our Scriptwriting course at the Watermill this spring and if you aspire to scriptwriting success in television, radio and stage, you will find their week far from pointless (they recently starred in the television quiz show, Pointless!). They will be with us from Saturday 2 May to Saturday 9 May 2020. The course is currently fully booked, but there may be cancellations and if you are keen to come, please let us know and we’ll put you on a waiting list.

Our enriching 2020 writing courses

Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran

Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran
2 – 9 May 2020 - fully booked, waiting list open
To learn more about Laurence and Maurice and their course at the mill, please visit their 2020 Profile Page.

Jo Parfitt

Jo Parfitt
2 – 9 May 2020 - one place remaining
Write the stories of your life
To learn more about Jo and her course at the mill, please visit her 2020 Profile Page.



Permesso? Avanti!, Accomodativi! And other welcoming noises


When entering your house or your office, even if you have opened the door to them, polite Italians will ask permesso? before crossing your threshold. I guess you could translate this as ‘May I?’ or ‘Can I?’ and it is a way of seeking formal permission to enter somewhere.

I don’t think we are this formal in Britain or America, or in much of the rest of the world either. According to Jessica Phelan, who’s been talking about the translation of permesso in the online newspaper, “it sounds a lot like ‘permission’ or ‘permit’, and that is exactly what you’re asking for when you use it.”

She says: “Imagine being invited to a new Italian friend's apartment for lunch for the first time. You enter the building, walk upstairs, and find the apartment door left ajar for you. What would be the polite thing to do? Knock, or just walk straight in? Italians would most likely hover in the doorway for a moment while calling out ‘permesso!’”

Jessica says that some of her Italian friends now say this jokingly, knowing full well that they have permission, and adds that she’s been told that the phrase is not used widely anymore “because Italians are becoming ruder.” Well, that’s certainly not our experience both in Florence, where we live much of the time, and in rural Lunigiana, where the Watermill is located. When we open the door to our Italian friends and welcome them with an open wave of our arms, they still say a polite permesso.

What is the correct response to this, since politeness is the bedrock of social intercourse? You might just say Avanti, come in, and when they are in, it’s pleasant to say accomodati (singular) or accomodatevi (plural): make yourself comfortable. Or even faccia come se fosse a casa sua, make yourself at home.

Francesca in the watermill garden

There’s no need to say permesso when you come on our unique Italian language course at the Watermill. You will not only learn about the vocabulary and the grammar, but also how to use Italian in everyday life. In fact, you will be learning Italian from the Italians! And we will certainly welcome you as if you are in your own home.

We have teamed up again with the Florence language school Langues Services and our old friend Francesca la Sala to bring you a unique course which is both fun and illuminating. We already have eight people booked into this course, so we have room for four more people. Avanti!

Francesca la SalaLangues Services and Francesca la Sala
22 - 29 August 2020 - three or four places remaining
Learning Italian with the Italians
To learn more about Francesca and her
2020 course at the mill, please click here.

The watermill in Italy's newsletter specialsNEWSLETTER SPECIALS

Everything's included in your watermill painting holiday, creative writing holiday, knitting week or Italian Language course

Don’t forget that everything is included in the cost of a painting holiday, writing, knitting, or language holiday: tuition, accommodation (including all linen and towels), pre-dinner aperitifs, all meals and local transportation (including transfers to Pisa airport; an excursion by train to visit the ancient walled city of Lucca or the stunning seaside villages of the Cinque Terre).

All you have to do is to get to Pisa airport and we do the rest.

Whether you're travelling alone or with a partner you can be sure of a warm welcome, and that you'll be well looked after. We have built our reputation on the comfort of the mill and the care we provide.

Become a Friend of The Watermill at Posara

Visit our Friends Website (Link below). Just follow the instructions to Register as a Friend and then Log In to enjoy special privileges. If you become a ‘Friend’ (it will cost you nothing) you’ll enjoy many exclusive benefits, including dozens of practical and inspiring tips from our international painting and creative writing tutors and recipes from the watermill’s mouth-watering menus. And there will be exclusive offers for Friends to make our courses and holidays even more attractive.

Thank you for reading the watermill in Italy's newsletterTHANK YOU

We very much look forward to welcoming you to the mill and, for those of you who have already tasted the many delights at The Watermill at Posara, we look forward to welcoming you back.

Your hosts at the watermill, Italy

With very best wishes a tutti

Your hosts at the watermill in Tuscany

Lois and Bill Breckon