By Bonnie Reuben
In 1989 Bill Breckon, a London-based writer, radio and TV anchor, was looking for an apartment in Florence for his old age (many decades-away) where he could enjoy the delights of his favorite city. While motoring in Lunigiana, the northernmost province of Tuscany, he happened to notice The Watermill at Posara spotlighted in a real estate agent's window, and on a whim, went to inspect the property. He fell in love with the magic of the place (not the least of which was the sun-dappled walks along the mill stream) and immediately purchased the run-down mill. He then embarked on the journey to slowly restore it.
Bill’s early career was as a successful writer/ broadcaster specializing in medical topics, current and consumer affairs; with outlets spanning newspapers and magazines, radio, television and books. Most notably, he was the Medical and Science Correspondent for the Daily Mail and an editor of medical trade publications, a presenter of award-winning UK television programming and numerous documentaries for BBC and other networks.
While keeping up his broadcasting career in London, Bill carved out the time to create self-contained apartments at The Watermill, which he rented out at the beginning of the 1990s. But, as he told a friend in the television industry, “I don’t seem to be able to attract as many people in May and September.” The friend replied, “Why don’t you try painting courses? I have an artist friend....” So Bill ran a painting course in May and September with this artist friend, and the classes quickly filled. The next year, he ran two sessions in each of these months. Then, in the following years, more and more artists from all over the world filled the curriculum. Painting holidays became so popular that they soon evolved to become the centrepiece of The Watermill's activities.
In 1993, Bill Breckon met Lois Adam, also from the UK, who came to The Watermill for one such painting course. Lois worked with consultancy firms specializing in corporate identity, contract publishing and communications. The couple fell in love and soon married, continuing to live in London and subsequently became the parents of two lovely daughters, Lydia (born in 1996) and Lara (born in 1998). Bill and Lois continued to work in London but wanted their children to spend the early years of their lives in the countryside. They sought a country house in England, but could find nothing they really liked. Then one day in 1999, as Bill was preparing to go to work in New York for a week or so, he saw an article in The Times (UK) about a castle in the North of Scotland for sale. “That’s our new house,” he said, half-jokingly to Lois. “Why don’t you go and see it while I’m away?” Lois did and loved the small, but perfectly formed, Castle of Park in Aberdeenshire, which dated from the 16th Century. Bill went to see it upon his return, and loved it, too, so they purchased it and in 2000 the family moved north. “I knew we wanted a house in the country,” said Bill, “but I didn’t realize it would be another country!”
Bill had earlier founded Media Alliance, a strategic international communications consultancy, in which Lois became a partner. They had clients all over Europe, but thanks to the Internet, were able to run the company from one of the castle towers. They renovated and restored the Castle of Park and offer painting courses there, too, as well as Scottish Getaway Weekends and romantic castle weddings. They also added creative writing courses to the Castle offerings. Meanwhile The Watermill at Posara thrived, operated day-to-day by a local manager. Creative writing courses have been added to the Watermill courses. The Breckon family visited The Watermill whenever possible.
As Bill reached official retirement age, he and Lois decided to take life a little easier and to pursue some of their other interest. In 2007, prompted by an offer for the castle they couldn’t refuse, they moved to the old head gardener’s cottage situated at a friend’s nearby Scottish estate, where they enjoy walking in the glen with their Labradors. Bill tried his hand at scriptwriting and Lois revived her musical interests, obtaining a university Diploma in Music.
As the children reached secondary school level, the family believed that now was the time to start living again in a city. They looked long and hard at places all over the world before focusing on France and Italy. Since they already owned The Watermill at Posara in Tuscany, they zeroed in on Florence, the stunning Italian city that was the birthplace of the Renaissance – and also has an International School. In 2010 everyone (Labradors and all) moved to Florence.
Lois and Bill then took over the running The Watermill (a couple of hours’ drive away from Florence). The inn’s primary season is comprised of two parts: May, June and early July, and then late August, September and October. During these months, Bill and Lois live out a rotation, taking turns hosting the mill courses and looking after their children in Florence (three days on and three days off). In the height of summer, the whole family lives at The Watermill and in late autumn, winter and early spring, they live in Florence. Lara is entering her final year, working towards her International Baccalaureate at the International School of Florence, while Lydia is now reading English and Drama at the University of Exeter in England.
While actively running The Watermill business, Lois concentrates on her musical studies, working towards a PhD in religious music in Renaissance Florence with the University of London…this in addition to her MA in Zoology from the University of Oxford and MBA from London Business School. Bill has just published his first detective story, A Matter of Perspective, set in Renaissance Florence, in which the hero is the miller's son at Posara! He is now at work on the sequel.
His story is inspired by The Watermill, the couple’s family home. Extensive restoration, renovations and redesign are in keeping with their mission to act as guardians of the historic property, keen to preserve and enhance it for future generations. Three nights a week, Lois prepares wonderful Italian fusion fare for guests. On the other three nights, more traditional Italian food, with fresh produce from the gardens, is prepared by local grandmother Mirella, who has worked for the family for many years. Visitors from 70 different countries have stayed here savouring the true Italian lifestyle of Lunigiana, an unspoiled corner of Tuscany.
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