Nothing quite defines a culture as its approach to children. Some years ago Cost Centre #1, then an infant, developed a dangerously high fever while we were vacationing in Rome. The hotel doctor prescribed antibiotics but it was late in the evening and all the pharmacies were closed. Taking a chance that the owners lived above the local pharmacy, I rang their door bell. It was around 9 PM. A woman opened the door, holding a glass of red wine, and immediately shook her head and said “closed”. I stuck the prescription in front of her. She glanced at it cursorily while shutting the door on me. Then realising the prescription was for an infant, she stopped, her face softening. “Ah bambino!” she exclaimed, returning a few minutes later with the medication. Taking payment was too much of a hassle – she asked me to come back the next day.
This anecdote encapsulates my experience of Italy and Italians – warm, generous, chaotic, rules observed only when convenient – and always, a glass of wine.
The Italian approach to life was much in evidence as I celebrated the nuptials of friends at their villa in Chianti recently. Two jolly women cooked up a traditional Italian feast in the kitchen, while we drank wine made with grapes from the garden. Somewhere between the pasta course and the meat dish we were invited outside where another friend married the couple. Apparently anyone can marry you in Italy as long as an official wearing a tricolour sash is present in the room. The ceremony took around twenty minutes, with many breaks for translations, wine, and laughter. It was warm, personal and absolutely delightful.
I compared this ceremony to traditional Anglo Saxon weddings and particularly to overdone Asian ceremonies which can last days and cost a second mortgage. What a welcome contrast! Italians seem to instinctively know how to have fun, to celebrate, to live.
The problem is that everyone wants a piece of the Italian lifestyle; most small towns in Italy cannot handle the influx of tourists descending on them in the summer. Now is the perfect time to visit – the tourists have left, the weather is still warm, and it’s truffle season!
There are loads of small fortress towns to visit – most with obscure parking regulations (I picked up €600 of parking fines on a recent trip). They are perfect places for enjoying the Italian sunshine and people watching.
I have spent time in the must-visit towns of Pisa (dirty and disappointing, except for the tower) and Florence (beautiful but always crowded). On this trip, Siena was a revelation. It is packed with breathtaking architecture seemingly around every corner. Catch the Palio horse race in the Piazza del Campo town square if you get a chance – a crazy spectacle of horses being raced at full pelt on uneven ground inside a town square packed with spectators.
Many vineyards stay open through November for wine tastings. Il Molino Di Grace is one of the more interesting places to sample wine from the local Sangiovese grapes. Their 2012 Chiant Classico is a revelation – grippy tannins blend with the traditional cherry notes of the grape to create a very savoury wine. I had to buy a case to be shipped back to London before Brexit!
Although they opened in July with just seven rooms the Tenuta CorteDomino hotel is already a firm favourite. Run by a a former industrialist, his wife and his daughter, Tenuta CorteDomino is a carefully renovated property, formerly the home of a well know movie star. The wines they serve are all from their own vineyards. Their restaurant with its creative take on locally sourced ingredients gives the local Michelin starred restaurant a close run for the money.
View this post on Instagram
It sounded like a very loud frog. Poking around in my host’s barn I came across this barrel of fermenting Sangiovese. The noise was the sound of escaping gasses going through a water regulator as the wine made its journey towards becoming a delicious liqueur. I’ll definitely be returning to taste it! . . #liqueurs #italianwine #italianwines #italianlifestyle #chianti #sangiovese
Italy’s politics are just about as messed up as the rest of the world’s. Perhaps it’s time to forget the politicians and celebrate the sheer joy of visiting with people who appreciate the true meaning of life, love and happiness. Viva Italiano!