Founder of a FURNITURE EXPORT COMPANY, KATE MACKLIN enjoys weekends in the countryside near PARMA, in northern Italy …
We live in a beautiful place in the hills above Salsomaggiore, a small village of some 15,000 people where everybody knows everybody else, and though bigger than my hometown of Monaghan, considered small here in Italy. It’s over an hour from Milan and 40 minutes from Parma. We have been here for over 25 years, having bought and restored a dilapidated old farmhouse, and converted the byre and hayloft into a living area with plenty of space for parties. We also have a big attic where we can sleep all our children’s friends when they come to stay. It’s the home we always wanted.
I came to Italy initially to work for Bord Bia in Milan to promote Irish beef. Myself and my husband, Dermot Eviston, who also worked for Bord Bia in London, didn’t plan to stay, but we did and one thing led to another. It’s a great place to live and we stayed because we
were happy here.
We have two sorts of weekends. My two youngest children and I are on the Italian national showjumping circuit and we are away three weekends out of four during the season. Because of my business (furniture export company Italian Solutions) I am often away in Asia – in China, Hong Kong or Singapore – so I usually try to get the night flight on Friday night to arrive in Italy on Saturday morning for the weekend competition with my two boys, Jeremy, 17, and Oliver 14. I go hunting the odd weekend in winter with the children and we ride a lot at home to exercise the horses.
Otherwise, weekends start with a trip to the wonderful market in the village on Friday to buy fruit, vegetables, Parma ham and Parmesan cheese – all produced locally. Italians focus on what is in season which makes their cooking so delicious. My husband is a great cook and we love to have lots of people around for lunch and dinner on Saturday. If we do eat out, our favourite places are Podere san Faustino in Fidenza and Trattoria del Sole near Tabiano.
In winter, our local friends come for supper or lunch at the kitchen table, while in summer we have large gatherings in the garden where we have a wood-burning oven. My favourite Saturday night, however, is when all of my children are home together, all seven of us (the older three have left home for university in Dublin) and we sit around the table for one of Dermot’s great dinners. We talk for hours. We have no television and phones are banned from the table, so mealtimes are sacred. The conversation could start in English, move to Italian and then into the local dialect and back again!
Something we love to do on Sunday morning is to go to Tosi’s pasticceria in Salsomaggiore for breakfast, the best Italian pastry shop in the world with wonderful croissants and brioche; it’s a meeting place for the “Salsesi”, a place to catch up on the news. For fashion shopping, we have an outlet in Fidenza which has become very popular. Lots of tourists go there for Armani, Cavalli, Versace, Marni and Loro Piana – there are restaurants and cafés around it.
I tend to prefer to take a mountain bike and cycle around the bridle paths – hundreds of paths going through fields, forests and vineyards, passing medieval castles without ever crossing a road. We stop at Vigoleno, a beautiful medieval village across the valley from the house. The countryside is really beautiful – similar to Tuscany – a piece of paradise that has not yet been discovered by outsiders in the same way as other parts of Italy.
Another weekend favourite is going to a modern art gallery in nearby Reggio Emilia. There is a wonderful private collection housed in the restored MaxMara factory. We go to openings there with friends on a Saturday night and have dinner afterwards. On summer Saturday nights we might go to an outdoor Verdi opera. Giuseppe Verdi was born down the road and many of the children at the local school are called Verdi. Irish friends and families come and stay with us so every night can be a dinner party. The village is famous for its wonderful spa and I occasionally take visiting friends for an outing – and then we ruin it all by going for an ice cream (the best ever) at the Gelateria 900! So I am usually busy at the weekend and certainly not a sofa person. Our office is in a large cottage in the garden and some aspects of work are always at the back of my mind. It takes the horses to help me forget work.
Some weekends I visit my mother in Monaghan, where I love to take a hike up the Bragan mountains and I am always in Dublin for the Horse Show in August. I love Milan during Design Week and my trips to Hong Kong and London, but for me the best of all is arriving back to the peace and tranquillity of the lovely Italian countryside at weekends. It’s why we came here in the first place and why we are still here.
In conversation with Deirdre McQuillan.
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