OUTSIDE the bedroom door on the flagstone terrace, there was a fig tree with fruit bursting to ripe perfection. Every morning, under the blue Tuscan skies of late summer, we would breathe the crisp air, brew coffee and cut up figs for breakfast. Then we would lay out maps, open guide books and plot the course of another perfect day. We were staying on the ground floor of a three centuries old farmhouse in a 1,300-square-foot apartment that used to be the cow barn - right in the heart of Tuscany. It cost US$500 a week and we had hired a small Fiat for US$1,000 for two weeks. We had bought a Discovery tour package to Rome which we extended to three weeks at no extra cost. It soon fell into a pattern. Over the figs and coffee, we would pick a destination. There were multitudes of choice; an easy drive away was Montepulcian, in another direction was Montalcino, or Cortona. We were about equi-distant from the two great cities of Sienna and Florence. You name it - wine, history, food, culture, cathedrals, castles - whatever we wanted was an easy drive away; watch those Italian motorists! We would leave early; on the road by about 9 am. Coffee and a small village church, or a cathedral or a famous winery or a museum. There was one thing about which we were strongly disciplined; at noon we stopped for a light Italian beer. Then came the important decision of the day - lunch. Oh, Piensa! Some mad pope decided to build a gracious metropolis atop this granite outcrop, but the project was never finished. There is a vast cathedral and a street of houses at the end of which is a tiny outdoor courtyard housing The Restaurant of the Moon. Oh, an entire roast suckling pig and a bottle of light local red. Oh, pasta with truffles. Oh, the simple perfection of fresh-picked berries for dessert. Lunches were long affairs. Then we would drive slowly on country roads back towards the farm, stopping at small stores to buy cheese and fruit and vegetables and sausage. The farmhouse had everything, from cutlery and crockery to a big stove and a well- stocked refrigerator. And the landlord, an expatriate Englishman, gave us bottles of his homemade wine and olive oil. Every night, we would sit on the terrace watching the sun go down, sipping a wine and slowly snacking our way through the evening chorus of songbirds, looking across the valley at the battlements of a Tuscan- fortified hill village. A deep sleep, then awake at dawn for another day of the same. Throughout the year, Tuscan farms, houses and apartments are available. The price goes up at the height of summer when England and Germany descend. I contacted David and Dilys Cordingley, Brits who run a small rental agency in Tuscany (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 39 0575 619 244). They have small one-bedroom apartments from $2,200 a week to an entire villa with pool outside the walls of the gorgeous (and very social) hill-top town of Cortona. A farmhouse goes for about $12,000 a week. All properties are fully equipped; you arrive and start enjoying life with all kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms ready for daily use. This is a perfect way to see Italy with children. Groceries are cheap and you can enjoy cooking those wonderful Italian vegetables. Another rental agent, Gillian Dearnley (e-mail email@example.com ), offers high-summer one-bedroom farmhouse apartments with pool from $4,200 a week. Three-bedroom apartments with a pool start from $6,000. Planning a party; she has huge villas that can sleep up to 22. Car hire in Italy is expensive, but an agent renting you a flat should be able to find you a small car from about $2,400 a week. FACT FILE: Cathay Pacific flies to Rome four days a week. Economy return costs $7,600 and for $8,990 (at double rates) the Discovery package offers three nights at a Rome hotel.