Ahhhhhh - the most stressful day of my trip. Putting 15 novice drivers behind the wheel who do not have a clue as to where they are going and all need to stay together in a convoy down the Autostrada! It has always been an adventure, but fortunately for me, always a successful one! The reward is ending up at the Country Houses in Umbria and finally truly relaxing.
So right away everyone is separated. Then I come to find they have moved the pick up location from the airport to in town. Ten years ago - in town - meant really in town. If any of you have ever been to Florence you know that driving "in town" is a big no no even for the most seasoned driver not to mention trying this with 15 novice drivers. So when I heard this my stress level went through the roof! The driver assured me it was not the "In town" location I remembered and that I would be happy with where they were taking me as it was "close" to the airport….????
So off we went - now we were all in adventure mode! As we drove I could tell we were in fact getting very close to the airport which eased my trepidation. I like the Florence airport because you virtually make one turn and you are on the Autostrada heading south towards Rome and our destination. Well our new location was just a few blocks away and underground in a nice air conditioned garage as opposed to the old airport location in full sun - so much better.
Ok then I prepared everyone with the fact that it would take a good two hours to get our 8 rental cars. I always receive a few raised eyebrows but after two hours of getting us all checked in everyone was shaking their head in awe of how well I predicted that. You see in Italy NOTHING moves fast! As quickly as you can come to terms with that and accept that you are much better. If you expect the efficiency of America you will be disappointed your entire trip. When in Italy chill out and just roll with it and enjoy watching their dramatic banter. Every action is filled with Italian drama!
So after two hours we had all of our cars lined up in our convoy order with Isabel driving the lead car and me navigating. We were OFF!
Oh but not too far….. we probably went about 4 blocks when the car behind us was flashing us in seemed like utter panic. So at the next stop light I jumped out of my car and ran back to see what the problem was. My rookie driver was shaking in horror ad quickly described the problem….the car would not shift out of first gear. My choice now was to try and get everyone off to the side and wait as I would drive the car back to the garage or see if I could figure out what was wrong in
the middle of a busy thoroughfare with cars honking and gesturing at us to get moving! Meanwhile my other 6 cars were behind us wondering what was going on??? Quickly, I asked the driver to get out, run up to my car and jump in on the passenger side with Isabel and I would try and drive her car and see what was going on.
Luckily, the stick was just in the wrong location and so I was able to get things going! At the next light I flashed Isabel and we did one more Tuscan Fire Drill and shifted back into our respective cars and we were off! Always and adventure…..
A quick two hour drive down the Autostrada and some of the most beautiful countryside and before we knew it we were in Umbria. From the A1 south we take a left to Perugia and then the exit for Tuoro where we went up and over the hill and then drop down to Lusciano-Niccone Valley and our Umbrian Paradise. We stopped in the small market in Lusciano-Niccone and made that shopkeepers week.
With provisions in tow we made our way throughout the valley and then up a dusty and very steep road to our Country Houses. I love the arrival - from a luxury hotel in the busy city of Florence to these charming stone Country houses with stunning views of the valley below embraced by the hills of Tuscany and Umbria…..it doesn't get much better than this.
With everyone settled and unpacked its up to the main house Casa LaPietra for a home made meal by our host Elizabeth Wholey who runs the operation. She prepared us a wonderful meal featuring truffled hardboiled eggs, peppers stuffed with local sausage, baked figs stuffed with gorgonzola cheese and wrapped in bacon. This was followed by homemade lasagna and a salad dressed with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and honey - the best. This capped off with pana cotta and fresh local berries…..heaven.
Ok - we made it to Umbria. From dining at the Villa San Michele the night before to dining in an old Country Farmhouse Kitchen - that is the contrast I love to paint for my travelers. Both so different, yet both so magical and amazing. Welcome to Italy!