I have a fear of flying. I am one of those passengers who has a mild panic attack at every little bump. If you’ve ever sat on a turbulent flight and had your hand grabbed by your neighbor at the mildest of turbulence, it was probably me. Having this fear and loving to travel… well, they don’t quite go hand-in-hand, but I muster up my strength each time, say a little prayer before take-off and keep my eyes glued to the flight tracker, counting down the hours, minutes and seconds until landing.
This past October, I headed to Italy to tour our collection in Tuscany. Though I have family in Europe, I’d actually never visited before. Needless to say, days prior to my departure, the butterflies in my stomach grew to giant proportions at the thought of the 9-hour flight. Nothing four movies and a couple plastic cups of wine can’t cure, right? Luckily, we landed safely and earlier than scheduled at that!
Once on the ground, I was so excited! I was in Italy! The country had been on my bucket list and it was surreal for me to actually be there. I am a bit of a geek and appreciate the smallest things in life so just physically being there was amazing. Imagine, I was happy-go-lucky with a huge smile on my face as I approached Customs and delightfully said “hello” to the Customs worker. He looked at me, expressionless, stamped my passport and tossed it down on the counter for me to retrieve. It wasn’t much of a welcome but I was too excited to care. I wished him a good day and was on my way! After a few minutes, I found my colleague, Allegra, and we headed off to take the train into the heart of Rome. This would be our first of several stops. The weather was unseasonably warm for that time of year so we had to be a little creative with all of the fall clothes we’d packed.
I hadn’t realized how difficult traveling into the future would be. I was advised prior to leaving to fight my desire to sleep and to make it to nighttime. It was a tough challenge and though I displayed some narcoleptic behavior, the beauty that surrounded me was my fuel. There was so much to see! I adored the cobblestone streets, narrow corridors and how car and pedestrian shared the roadway. Our first accommodation was directly adjacent to the Pantheon. Everything in Rome literally took my breath away. I soaked it all in because I knew that it was our only “free” day and it would be all business for the next seven days, and business it was.
The following day, our journey brought us to Perugia. Oh, how I love Perugia! There, we attended the last leg of the Euro Chocolate Festival. Our accommodation was within walking distance of the festival so we dropped our bags off and headed out to enjoy chocolate in its many forms. There were well over 120,000 people in attendance that weekend and I understood why. Hundreds of chocolate-scented tents lined the streets that I would have eaten had it been possible, musicians parted crowds as they filled the air with sweet sounds, magicians wowed everyone with their antics…. it was a great scene!
The next night, we dined in Perugia with one of our partners and it was probably my favorite meal, start to finish, of the entire trip! I had a delicious appetizer that consisted only of cheese (we have a love-love relationship, cheese and I) and I was introduced to cacio e pepe for the first time. It changed my life. Seriously. How could something so simple be so delightful, so tantilizing? I have since made cacio e pepe several times at home, only I replace pecorino with fresh romano and parmesan. I am not a fan of sheep’s cheese. I rounded off my meal with a deconstructed tiramisu. That night in Perugia was one of my favorites – good food, good wine and great company!
Allegra and I were nomads, putting well over 2000 kms on our little Punto, or Pointe, as we affectionately called it. In a short time frame, we viewed over 40 villas in Umbria and Tuscany. Note: The Punto is NOT recommended for villas in the countryside.
After leaving Perugia, we headed out to view villas in Umbertide (between Umbria and Tuscany), just a 40-minute drive away. You can take the train; however, since you will need a car to get around once you arrive, it is best to rent one. We viewed 10 villas on this day and my favorites were, in no particular order, Fiorebianco, La Sommita (made up of five villas that can be rented separately or together; great for weddings!) and Casa Lazzari. Give me a call to find out why! One thing I should mention, if this trip taught me anything at all, is that the photos you may view online are not ideal representations of the villas. I was surprised by how beautiful many of them were because seeing the online photos simply do them no justice. They are spectacular!
As we continued our tours, we cruised on many-a-winding road up and down the mountains through Lucca, Chianti, Montaione, Colle Val D’Elsa, Florence and Siena (my favorites would have to be Florence, Chianti (Volpaia area) and Siena, though the other areas are nice as well), visiting properties along the way. I like the convenience of having restaurants within walking distance from the villas in Volpaia. We ate at a charming, family-owned restaurant there, Bar-Ucci. Delicious!
Allegra and I took a 25-minute shuttle from our accommodation into Florence’s center one night and the moment I found myself standing before the duomo, I was flabbergasted. It was the most beautiful structure I’d ever seen. I may have cried. We dined at a Baldovino and after dinner, walked off our glorious meals while taking in all of the sights.
The evening we spent in Lucca was nice as well as preparations were being made for Comic Con, which was taking place the very next day. I wish we could have seen it!
Piazza del Campo in Siena was packed with people the evening we were there. I adore how everyone just sits around in the piazzas, talking and enjoying each others’ company. Around 9 p.m., everyone was seated for dinner at one of the many restaurants in the piazza. It was feeding time, family time. We dined at Osteria Le Logge. Since the menu didn’t have anything that caught my attention, I ate a giant bowl of mashed potatoes that night. Hey, the potatoes were good! I topped it off with my favorite dessert, stracciatella and coffee-flavored gelato.
Our tours continued in the days that followed. I think what I love most about the villas in Tuscany is that they are so historic, so classic. Many maintain their authenticity and even the newer, more modern villas held on to some sort of timelessness, whether the owners decided to keep the original stone walls/bricks or original flooring; it gave the villas so much charm and character. A few of the properties we visited had storybooks that detailed the home’s transformation from beginning to end. Here is the before and after of Ilaria, for example:
I also adore how life is so simple; beautiful fields colored with grape vines or lined with olive trees; the scent of lavender filled the air. The villas are set on lush grounds and enjoy endless views, just perfect for family getaways. In no particular order, the properties that stood out for me during the remainder of the trip were Fontanella, I Colli, Toscana, Ilaria, Isabella, Etrusca, Tamara and Mangiacane, all for different reasons. Give me a call to find out why!
Our final evening, we stayed at Mangiacane and had an unforgettable experience. A property tour, cocktail hour with the manager, a dinner that made my tastebuds breakdance…. I cannot say enough. This villa is a MUST! Everything is smartly designed, the rooms are impeccable, grounds lush and well-maintained, great views, and that food….!! I truly cannot say enough about Mangiacane. If you are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Mangiacane is IT. Point blank.
Overall, my time spent in Italy was fantastic! The fact that Allegra speaks Italian and her prior knowledge of Italy came in quite handy so I am so happy to have traveled with her. I am considered something of a vegetarian in Italy as well so if you only eat chicken, turkey and fish like me, you may run into some road blocks. However, again, I keep it simple and don’t eat much out of the norm. Afterwhile, my palate could not endure much more pasta, pizza or caprese sandwiches so I dined on potatoes or simply did not eat on days that I could not find a good gelato as a meal replacement. 🙂
Italy is the absolute perfect place to enjoy a wonderful vacation with family or with friends, laying around enormous pools, preparing hearty meals together, letting go of all of the distractions of everyday life. Seeing families sit and dine together for hours, talk and laugh, drink wine and have good eats; witnessing the picking of olives, the wild boar hunters about in their flaming orange vests and watching fathers play football (soccer) in the piazzas with their children at odd hours of the night… it warms the heart. That’s what life is all about.
Until next time, ciao!
View our Italy collection here!