When Ausilia Di Natale and Fabio Lentini stumbled upon an abandoned oil mill in rural Sicily in 2012, they were immediately captivated. It was early evening, and the sun was going down on the ancient structure. "It appeared magical and seductive," Ausilia remembers of the couple's first sighting of Casa Farfaglia.
Intrigued, they approached it to have a closer look. "There was an unreal silence, peace and tranquility," she says. "The surrounding countryside was infused with scents of wild mint, sage and thyme. It had large swaths of green and centuries-old olive trees. It was for us a country refuge, full of quiet energy that makes us forget the chaos of the city."
The city they had just left was their hometown of Palermo, where they work as a teacher and a tax consultant. They were so enchanted by this country refuge that they soon made it their own, discovering other hidden treasures along the way.
Inside the stable that was attached to the mill, they found a stone manger, or feeding trough for the cows who had once resided there. It ran through the structure longitudinally, dominating the space. Instead of removing it, Ausilia and Fabio decided to retain the manger, turning into a connecting element that runs through all three rooms.
As Ausilia explains, "It changes its function and becomes a table in the living room (created by the old roof tiles), the shower and the basin in the bathroom, and the wardrobe in the bedroom."
This creative, multifunctional feature is a courteous nod to the building's heritage, and it's not the only story to be found in the old stone walls. Above a door in the main house, the couple found a message from a previous occupant that read: "con il pianto in gola, addio, 27.08.1955".
It turns out that celebrated Sicilian author Pina Magro had spent her summers here as a young girl. "The last year of her holiday there," says Ausilia, "her sister wrote this mark in a lintel. It means 'with a lump in the throat, goodbye 27.08.1955'.
"Some years ago, when her sister died," she adds, "Magro decided to write a book to evoke the memories and ancient sensations she experienced at Casa Farfaglia with her family, plunging the reader into a magical but real past."
The book was named La Casa Ricamata (or The Embroidered House), inspired by the putlog holes in the walls that Magro noticed when she saw the house for the first time. Those structural holes, intended for beams, reminded her of the perforations in lace – hence the name of her book, which recalls days spent at the house, serenaded by crickets, lit by fireflies, and perfumed by wild mint.
We are delighted that the 66-year-old message remains to watch over the converted mill, and that Magro has returned to visit her old haunt since it was restored. The stable with its adapted manger is now a guesthouse where new stories wait to be written, and you'll even find a copy of La Casa Ricamata for inspiration.
To experience the past-meets-present beauty of Casa Farfaglia, start your adventure here.
Photographs courtesy of Ausilia Di Natale and Fabio Lentini.