The goal of all recreational travel is to escape the ordinary. Adventure, relaxation, novel experiences, or exploration can all be ways of leaving the humdrum behind. But on our recently concluded trip to Italy the goal was romance—achieving the ideal of La Dolce Vita in a place that arguably invented the modern notion of the “sweet life”.
The idea sounds deceptively simple. Rent a sun-drenched, well-appointed Italian villa in the countryside, large enough to accommodate several guests. Secure the best wines and food ingredients Italy has to offer. Then, invite friends and newly discovered local acquaintances to share lengthy wine dinners, while making occasional forays to surrounding villages to sample the local culture.
The writer Erica Jong once asked “What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that can be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be human, which other places, other countries, lost long ago.”
Two weeks of being human—quanto simplice!
The idea may be simple; the execution was anything but. Large, well-appointed, enchanting Italian villas for rent in the countryside are hard to find. Identifying affordable, top-notch Brunello, Barolo, Amarone, Super Tuscans, and Taurasi requires lots of careful culling, Coordinating a living space for several people with independent agendas gives you a headache. Cooking for a crowd every night is a lot of work.
Alas, with pasta, pane, and vino all things are possible.
Neither the idea nor its execution was my doing. Our friends Joey and Adam at The Sommelier Company did the scouting, culling, and planning—flawlessly and with incomparable good taste. All I had to do was eat, drink, and help with the cooking.
The property, situated in the Umbrian hills near Perugia was gorgeous, the wines extraordinary, the food and company alluring. I made occasional visits to the market, local wineries and restaurants with one day per week devoted to more extensive sight seeing. Unlike our usual wine and food-fueled rambles through Europe that cram as much geography into as little time as possible, this trip was an idyll.
I posted about our arrival and a truffle hunt here.
Highlights of the rest of our stay included a tasting of very high end balsamic vinegars including the Leonardi 20 yr. which sells for well over $100 for a few ounces. It was lovely but, as with wine, if you are not fully immersed in an artisanal product (I am only a casual consumer of Balsamico) the nuances will be lost.
The property featured a traditional stone pizza oven, a worthy venue for my son’s delicious 36-hour pizza dough fermentation. The dinners were largely successful, enlivened on several occasions by guests who worked at a local winery. The wines of course were always the star—among my favorites were a 2010 Quercecchio Brunello, a beautiful 2006 La Villa Barolo, a well preserved 1998 Cadia Barolo, and a 2008 Vaio Amarone Amarone from Serego Alighiere.
For pure simple delight, the early morning hikes through the forests and vineyards were invigorating—I heard the demonic screech of a wild boar but thankfully never directly encountered one.
Day trips to Montalcino, Montefalco, Lake Trasimeno, Cortona, and the market at Umbertide were interesting, although the visit to Montalcino was like a walk through a thicket of thorns. I’ll cover those in a later post.