“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

My Season in Tuscany

For years I dreamed about visiting Tuscany.  Books like Under the Tuscan Sun and A Small Place in Italy, intrigued me and made me want to see the beauty of the land and meet the kind and gracious people who lived there.

I decided, in the year of my 60th birthday, that I would take my family to Tuscany and rent a villa to experience the charming ambiance of the small town of Monterchi!  We could meet the local inhabitants in the square, have coffee with them and chat, and learn something about their locale lives.  We would have dinner with them and drink wonderful wine with them all the while talking and laughing gaily. Like in the movies.  What a wonderful dream!

 

Of course, as so often happens when our dreams run up against reality, it didn’t happen quite that way. The main barrier was the fact that, aside from a few words we had committed to memory like ciao, arrivederci, per favore, grazie, birra, vino bianco, vino rosso, bagno (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, beer, white wine, red wine, bathroom), we didn’t speak or understand a bit of Italian!  And, unaccountably, in this small town in a foreign land, very few natives spoke English, or at least not much more than our Italian. So communication was mostly smiling, nodding, laughing, gesturing, and most of the time, we got our point across. Well, except when Mike and Alisa were looking for butter at the market and all they could find were little packets so they bought about 25 of them, only to find out when they got home that they had bought 25 little packets of yeast!  What the heck do you do with 25 little packets of yeast?  We made lots of pizza!

 

We were a big group on my bucket list trip to Tuscany. In addition to my daughter Ali

sa and her husband Mike Fuller, and their grown-up daughters Kaley and Torrey, Arnold, my funny, sweet boyfriend was with us.  After the first week and a half, the Fuller family returned home, but about a week later, two of my best friends, Jeanie and Ruth, joined us for the last ten days of the trip.

 

Considering that we ranged in age from 19 to 74, I was amazed that everyone got along great and enjoyed everything.  We began our Italian adventure with a few days in Rome, where we stayed at the Hotel Abruzzi, in the Piazza della Rotunda, a wonderful part of the city to stay in.  I could look out my window and see the ancient and beautiful Pantheon!  Amazing!  We used the services of a great tour guide in Rome—Andrea with Tiber Limo–and saw all the typical sights—the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Forum, the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, and the original city wall.  Andrea was an excellent tour guide and I highly recommend him.  If you want his contact information, let me know.

 

We spent part of each day and evening walking through the city, stopping in cafes for wine and, eventually, for delicious dinners (accompanied by more wine, naturally).  We quickly learned to drink the house wine, as it was excellent, unlike most house wine here in the United States.  One of our favorite pastimes was sitting on the steps of the fountain at the Pantheon, enjoying some wine, and people-watching.  Such a wonderful time!

When it was time to leave Rome, we rented two cars and drove to Tuscany, through beautiful scenery, waiting to see what awaited us around each bend.  Sometimes it was a hillside crowned by the beautiful Italian Cypress trees (my favorite), which can survive for more than 2,000 years.  Because it did not lose its leaves like other deciduous trees in winter, it was considered supernatural in the eyes of the early Etruscan people who brought the tree to Tuscany and they would plant the trees around their sacred burial grounds, believing the supernatural powers and strong, fragrant essential oils of the trees could ward off the demons and even death itself, thus ensuring a safe passage into the afterlife. (I imagine it improved the odor, too.)  Other times, we would come upon an olive grove, a vineyard, or a charming small town.  But always, it was interesting and picturesque and filled my heart with wonder and appreciation.

 

Our villa near Monterchi, Col di Forche (in English “The Forks”), sits on top of a mountain on twenty acres of beautifully wooded land.  The pictures of it on the property management website were gorgeous!  The description did mention a winding, dirt road that led to the villa, but nothing prepared us for the drive we would experience, following the man who tends the villa, in the semi-dusk.  It was a twisting, rutted track that seemed to go straight up as it wound around the heavily forested slopes.  It was very bumpy, with enough hairpin turns that after a few minutes I began to wonder what I had gotten us into!  It was about a ten-minute ride from the main road (and the villa manager had a bit of a lead foot!) and was rather scary the first time.  After a couple of trips, though, we got used to it. (I think Mike even enjoyed it.)

 

The villa itself was beautiful!  It had four good sized bedrooms, each with an en suite bathroom (great for us Americans).  The first floor had a large kitchen with plenty of counter space and two small refrigerators (college dorm size) and a freezer just large enough for four ice cube trays.  The Italians tend to go to market pretty much every day and almost never freeze meats.  In the kitchen was a table for four and a fantastic fireplace—which we were not allowed to use. <sigh> There  was also a TV—the only tTV in the entire house.  But we weren’t there to watch tv, although Alisa watched the news occasionally and Mike inexplicably watched Russian and Polish MTV most every night.

There was a large dining room with a table seating eight and another great dining area for eight outside, though it was too chilly to take advantage of it.  There were two additional bedrooms on the first floor and a half bath in the furnace room. The furnace room was a perfect place to dry clothes on those less-than-sunny days.  Most Europeans don’t have clothes dryers, but dry their laundry on clotheslines outside.  Love that smell!

 

The upstairs also boasted a large living room with a really nice fireplace (which we also were not allowed to use), a piano room, and two more bedrooms I felt sure when I saw it that we would be comfortable there.

The walls were stone and concrete-and-stone, probably built in the 19th century. The original owners lived in it until the 1950s and apparently between the 1950s and the 1990s, it fell into severe disrepair.  In 1999, the current owners bought it and restored it to its original glory.  I’m sure they sunk a ton of money into it.

 

The villa’s most important feature was its location—about an hour or less by car to all the cities I wanted to see except Orvieto, two hours away, and Florence, which was a two-hour train ride from Monterchi. All in all, it would prove to be a great base for our Tuscan adventures. I really think it may always rank as the best trip of my life.