Gigina lives in a castle on the shores of Loch Ness, surrounded by an estate with sixty miles of roads, giant American sequoias and a small hydroelectric dam, which provides enough electricity for her stately home and more. Inside, it is even more astounding. Strange to say, Gigina thought she would never live anywhere other than Rome.
Stretched out on the sofa with her giant Great Dane, Gigina goes through all the steps that led her to marry Lord Alexander Baillie or, simply, Alex. Stories of kidnap, of love and of nomadism.
Her grandfather was Italian, but he abducted his future wife from a convent and absconded to the US, where he waited for things to settle. After some years they returned to Italy, along with a son, Gigina’s father, who later left again to become a surgeon in the US. While studying there, he met a young, Scottish model, already engaged to an Italian. That is, until she met Gigina’s father, who stole her away, brought her to Italy with him and married her. Thus Gigina was born, grew up and worked for years in Italy, falling in love with the splendid confusion of Rome. The same confusion would have surrounded her for the rest of her life, had she not met Alexander Baillie, son of Lord Baillie, at a mutual friend’s house in England. And even falling in love with and in marrying him she did not expect to end up chatelaine of an ancient estate in the Scottish Highlands. Alex’s elder brother should have inherited, but shortly after his wedding day, he had second thoughts and run away to Australia with the nanny, opening the door of Dochfour to Gigina, Alex and their family, where they now live.
It is not always easy: Gigina had to turn a museum-like house into something habitable. When they first arrived, the only fridge in the house was a cupboard with an old engine on top. The lavatory seat is still wooden, and similar to a throne with armrests and high seat-back. The baths are made of copper. Yet, it is impossible not to be fascinated.
The building itself is bizarre: half of it is like an old Scottish mansion, grey and austere, the other half exactly like a villa on Lake Como. One of Alexander’s ancestors had been blinded by the beauty of Italy during his Grand Tour, and felt driven to replicate it in Scotland. All of it on the foundations of a castle dating back to the year 1000, razed to the ground when the Baillie family decided to take the wrong side during the last Scottish rebellion against the English. Lazily waving her hand, Gigina points to the park beyond the windows, where the cannons used on that occasion still aim towards Loch Ness.
The interior is breath-taking: long corridors filled with jewels, gilded mirrors and old memories leading towards a grand, silent, staircase, carpeted in the Baillie tartan.
Portraits of ancestors observe the visitor with a serious contempt, including that of Mary Hamilton-Nisbet, Countess of Elgin and wife of the Count who brought the Parthenon Marbles to the British Museum. Not by chance, they are called the Elgin Marbles. On the tables there are old books and ancient albums, filled with letters. Casually, Gigina finds two from Lord Byron in one of these.
Gigina lives this life with simplicity. Her office is the old smoking room, full of timeworn colonial uniforms of the Baillie family and, until a few years ago, walls blackened with cigar smoke. In the middle, the carpet is covered by the children’s toys, a few books, photos taken during their last family holiday. There she organises events, visits and shooting parties for actors, celebrities and even the royal families of Qatar and Kuwait.
This is not where she most loves to work though.
— Photo: Gigina and her Great Dane in the park of Dochfour Estate