Thursday, July 28, 2011

Castello Di Tornano - A Sunday Afternoon Between Heaven and Earth

First let me say - I apologize for my tardiness in posting. I set a very loose goal of a post per week when I started this blog. And I know that my legions of fans are disappointed in my lack of motivation to write lately. Hopefully, I will rectify this tendency to be a complete slacker, but I am not making any promises. Keeping up with my new exercise program (16 weeks and counting), the constant monitoring of the end of the world as we know it and the new season of Breaking Bad, I have just been really busy!!! Now, on to Castello Di Tornano.

Tuscany - There are few places on earth that cannot be adequately described in words or even photographs. Wales, Big Sur, Whidbey Island and of course Panama City Beach, Florida (just kidding). Some places are more than scenery or food or even people. They have a vibe that must be experienced first hand. Tuscany is like no other place you will ever visit. Yes it has rolling hills, vineyards, ancient fortresses and the best food in all of Europe. It also has more small, unique B&B's and hotels than any region of Italy. And fortunately, for us Nomads, it has
managed to avoid the commercialization and wanton development so prevalent in other tourist laden areas of Europe. This is amazing, given the recent media coverage of this romantic part of Central Italy. Come on, admit it, you know you would love to buy a house in Tuscany just like  Diane Lane did in "Under The Tuscan Sun" and enjoy the uniqueness and eccentricities of one of the truly great cultures of the world.

For me, visiting Italy and particularly Tuscany, was a life changing experience. In fact, I think I could say it was profound on multiple levels. Going to Italy was our first trip abroad and it didn't occur until I was almost fifty. Fifty!! That's a subject for another day and another post. For my wife and myself, this was going to be a big deal. We started planning our trip a year before we left. We read every Rick Steves book. We bought every relevant publication we could find. Our laptop favorites became a localized version of the Library of Congress Card Catalog for Italy. And we listened to our Italian language CD and practiced our new found love for the Italian culture daily. And even though no one thought we were local, I do think they appreciated our willingness to understand their language, which is, after all, the door to any culture.

A word here about the Ugly American Syndrome. If you refuse to learn their language, if you demand an American style hotel and if you act as though their world revolves around yours, you will be branded with that most uncomplimentary title and you will be just another American tourist. Just don't do it!!! Rick Steves gives great advice when he tells us to live like a local. Don't misunderstand. Europeans, particularly Italians, love Americans. It's a behavioral attitude thing. If you make every attempt to follow Mr. Steves' advice, you will not just be a traveler in a strange land. You will absorb everything that makes that culture unique and wonderful. In Italy, we became one with everything we encountered. It's like Beethoven's Fifth Symphony or McCartney's Yesterday - It is more than just the music, the sounds, the food or even the people. It becomes part of your mind, body and soul.

So what does all of this have to do with my assertion that visiting Italy was an epiphany? If you truly try to "fit in" and relish every unique, quirky and "un-American" aspect of a country, you will take something important from your visit that will always stay with you. Italy and its people have a passion for their culture, their food and their way of life that is unmatched anywhere in the world. Any culture that has given us real pizza and opera must be appreciated at every level. Any Nomad worth his/her salt is desirous to get as close to and absorb as much of the reality of Italy as possible.  To be a true Nomad you must go where tourists do not go and experience the people, local customs and unique culture of a country. Italy has it all - great food, great wine, world class museums, architectural antiquities, great small hotels and wonderful people. But the hidden corners of Tuscany provide a richness and joy of life that must be experienced firsthand to be appreciated.

After spending the night in an elegant B&B located in the ancient hill town of Montepulciano that has been in the same family for seven hundred years, we drove with great anticipation to our central Tuscany destination, Castello di Tornano, a small boutique hotel designed within the original walls of a medieval castle tower originally built in the tenth century. We arrived about three in the afternoon ,very hungry, as we could not locate a place to eat in the hills of Tuscany on a Sunday afternoon.  This turned out to be very advantageous for us.  The hotel manager, Massimo, met us upon arrival, and whisked us three flights up to our room to ensure that it was acceptable to us. With a bed right out of an Italianate palace, a bathroom fit for a duke or duchess and views of the Tuscany countryside through three foot thick stone walls, I assured Massimo that the room would indeed do. Without so much as a moment's hesitation, Massimo dispatched his young assistant to fetch our luggage and quickly transport it to our room. So far pretty good, right? Well, it gets better.

I asked Massimo if we might get some snacks or something to eat, as we had not eaten since that morning. After being  ushered to a small table on the terrace overlooking the hills of Tuscany, Massimo and his assistant sprang into action. After being seated, a small umbrella was unfurled over our heads and plates of food began to appear, along with a bottle of their own estate wine. Bruschetta, prosciutto, risotto, cheeses,vegetables and Italian bread was laid before us as though we were the only people in their little kingdom. On this lazy spring Sunday afternoon, with the woman that I fell in love with even before I met her, this fabulous impromptu Italian meal was eaten with intense delight, overlooking one of the most romantic places on earth. We were suspended between heaven and earth. Actors on the set of the perfect drama.

Since Castello di Tornano is well off the beaten path, all of our meals were included as part of our stay.  And just like the Sunday afternoon feast, the other meals did not disappoint. Everything was local, simply prepared and served with a smile. As we prepared to leave for the next leg of our Tuscan holiday, we knew that we had been immersed in the very essence of all that is Italian. Heading south to Umbria, there simply was no doubt that we had experienced  a special place of elegance and beauty that any Nomad would be proud to call home, even if only for a short while.

Travel Quote of the Week
Europeans, like some Americans, drive on the right side of the road, except in England where they drive on both sides of the road; Italy, where they drive on the sidewalk; and France, where, if necessary, they will follow you right into the hotel lobby. - Dave Barry

This Week's Video Artist
You cannot even think about Italy without the the sound and the passion of great singing. This week's video artist is the greatest operatic tenor of his generation - Luciano Pavarotti. And as a bonus - you get a duet performance with fellow Italian Andrea Bocelli and - You won't believe it - the hardest working man in show business, the incomparable Father of Funk, Jame Brown.

La Dolce Vita Divertiti


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