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Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Italy Trip 2010 - Day 4 Sunday in Tuscany and lost in Umbria
Italy Trip 2010 - Day 4 Sunday in Tuscany
Sleeping in the Umbrian countryside is fantastic. Too bad I don’t let my travelers get much of it! It’s Sunday morning and today we have another fun filled day in Umbria and Tuscany.
After getting everyone moving – which is always a challenge especially with 14 travelers – we fixed some espresso in our little Italian coffee makers, enjoyed the sunrise from our terrace and we were off to the Villa di Piazzano for our Sunday brunch.
Villa di Piazzano is an amazing place and one I stumbled upon while snooping around Tuscany. My first visit was in 2001 when the Wimpole family purchased the property and begun their amazing restoration and transformation of this property. I have made it a point to visit this splendid place every trip and the work they have done is truly remarkable. The Hotel Villa di Piazzano is a manor house of the 1400s located in the countryside just outside the town of Cortona, a town on the border between Tuscany and Umbria made famous by the American writer Frances Mayes with her book and later the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun. The drive into the property is alone worth the trip and sets the bar high for what is to come.
After we parked the cars we strolled the grounds and then were greeted by the proprietor, Mr. Damian Wimpole, and his lovely daughter, Alessandra. It has been a real pleasure to know these people over the last ten years and they have always warmly welcomed us, my guests, and subsequent referrals. Many of my clients and friends have stayed there, including myself one time, and it is definitely a memorable experience.
We slowly made our way into the dining room where they had prepared a wonderful brunch of meats, fruits, cheeses, breads, etc. All simple but beautifully staged and choreographed just like everything in Italy. As with anything here we spend as much time enjoying and photographing the food as we do eating it! We dined outside on the terrace and enjoyed a relaxing champagne brunch.
Following brunch Mr. Wimpole gave us a tour of the hotel including the newest acquisition across the drive that features contemporary decorated quarters set in the customary Tuscan style façade. Amazing and very chic’. Loved it. The finale consisted of their tour of their stunning wine cellar that I can only dream someday of having a dinner with my buddies some late fall evening with Brunello’s followed by cigars and Lemoncello. This will happen someday!
With the tour of Villa di Paizzano concluded it was off to Arezzo for the antique fair and Renaissance festival. Arezzo is a beautiful hilltown rising from the floodplain of the River Arno. Founded by the Etruscans this is a very old city and was a prominent medieval center which has maintained this character and feel to a tee. A quick stop at the ATM, which by the way are everywhere, and as we turned around here comes trumpets, drums, horses and jousters – the complete medieval parade with representation from every neighborhood proudly displaying their flags, and attire. Amazing and magical. The church bells ringing and those Italian faces – wow! The parade lasted a good hour whereby we were on a quest for antiques and a cold bierra or a gelato.
With Arezzo conquered it was off to Cortona – the home of Under the Tuscan Sun! I love this little hilltown and there is always excitement and drama on every corner. Sundays are always a busy evening in this town and this trip proved no different. Parking is the first adventure and this trip we had a little of everything. I found my usual spot at the bottom of the hill and made my way up the hill following the beautiful couple who looked like they just flew in from Monte Carlo. I happily followed them to the top of the escalator and I found my first group parked illegally at the drop off point at the main entry to the town blocking all of the tour buses. I quickly told them that we needed to move their car and jumped in and drove them down to the lot I parked in. Back up the escalator following Monte Carlo couple number two only to arrive at the same top of the hill to a huge traffic jam. Apparently, someone decided to also park illegally and ended up blocking the tour bus and then all of the cars behind including one of our cars. Now the drama of this Italian hilltown was in full swing. Every grandmother, baby, police women, dog, and cat were all there throwing their hands in the air and yelling at each other in a symphony out of a Fellini movie. Beautiful – I love the excitement and drama! The tow truck arrived, towed the car, and once again we were all moving. Boy am I glad we moved our car number 2 as I can only imagine what the experience of trying to find your car that had been towed would be like….!
So we finally had everyone in the main piazza and everyone unwound and started pouring the vino. Let’s just say a few really enjoyed the vino and probably a few other beverages along the way…. The rest of us strolled the narrow, magical streets and piazzas and caught the Tuscan sunset on this picturesque town and the valley and quilt of farms and villas below. Beautiful.
A few others made their way to Il Falconierie, (http://www.ilfalconiere.it) a wonderful hotel consisting of a restored villa, farmhouse, and chapel along with a restaurant featuring cooking classes and wine tastings. This is a beautiful place featuring world class cuisine, service and scenery.
We all rendezvoused for dinner in the Trattoria Toscana and enjoyed a nice simple dinner at half the cost of what we had been spending in Florence. Of course when 14 people take over one of these small and quaint trattorias its quite the affair. After dinner it was back to the parking lot but not until it was discovered my car keys were missing…..more drama! Well in the search through the streets of Cortona for the keys – which by the way were left in car two in the mad dash to park the cars. With the key drama solved we noticed that one of our group had left without us. Brave ones to drive off on night number one with the cars…..hmmmm.
We made it all home, which is about a 30 mile drive from Cortona, or so we thought….. My phone had died and I thought we had all made it home and I would just charge the phone in the morning. My daughter, Tiffany, thought it might be smart to charge the phone now in case anyone needed to get a hold of me. Well sure enough, as soon as the phone charged the texts started coming in. My Iphone sounded like a slot machine that had hit the jackpot. The group who left early were lost somewhere in Umbria. Of course this was the car with three women and the gentleman who had indulged a bit too much and was out in the back seat…
I quickly called them and talk about a happy group to hear my voice. I was already home and did not want to drive down the winding dirt road in search of them, God knows where, at 1am in the morning in Umbria. I had them start reading signs and describing what they were seeing and within minutes I knew where they were and proceeded to guide them home one farmhouse, pig sty, tree, and wall at a time all the way home. MC and my Iphone was better than any GPS!
So concluded day 4 and our first full day in Umbria! Off to Deruta and Assisi tomorrow and who knows what adventures lie ahead.