Virtuoso Life - May/June 2018 - 107
"And be careful in those roundabouts," adds my mother. "Don't
think you're an Italian driver!"
"Music, anyone?" I ask, letting Pavarotti win them over for the
final push. At the end of a gravel road lined by soldierlike cypress
trees, we come to our eighteenth-century farmhouse, which, thank
goodness, has something for everyone. There's an inviting pool and
a Ping-Pong table, quiet lounging areas where the older adults can
read and play cards, and a big country kitchen to pretend we're remaking Under the Tuscan Sun.
My sister-in-law immediately claims a hammock strung between
olive trees, as the nonne happily inspect the 200-year-old outdoor
pizza oven. My wife and I are unpacking in an out-of-the-way room
downstairs when we hear Grandpa Bob laughing with my son and his
16-year-old cousin. They've broken out the board games.
La vita is feeling pretty dolce already.
"Be careful in
those roundabouts," adds my
think you're an
SPENDING TIME IN A REMOTE LOCALE WITH KINFOLK
who normally only gather around the Thanksgiving table has the
potential to create indelible memories. But you want to make sure
they're the positive kind. Grandkids and grandparents operate at different speeds, and family members in the middle can find themselves
sandwiched between "Are we there yet?" and "Could it get any louder
"Divide and conquer is often the best strategy on a big family trip"
is how O'Shaughnessy puts it. "Some people like to go, go, go, and
others prefer to linger. Build in room for independent needs and
wants, and then gather for an activity or a meal."
We take that approach from the outset. The cousins want to play
barista with the old-school stovetop espresso makers in the kitchen,
so they hang back with my father-in-law while the rest of us head
into town for staples: very good olive oil, exceptional cheeses, local
salumi, breadsticks, lemons, rosé.
We've arranged through our advisor for a local chef to lead
a pasta-making class that first evening. And though Valeria
doesn't speak much English and Wi-Fi isn't cooperating with
Google, we do just fine following her lead with gestures and
smiles. Crack one egg with another. Massage the yolks into
semolina wheat, then add water. Roll it, cut it, and presto!
Scrumptious-looking tagliatelle. With the sun setting and
candles flickering, we set an outdoor table for one of the
most magical family dinners we've ever had.
The next morning, bright-eyed for adventure, our
Fiat fleet sets a course for Montalcino, a perfect
little hill town fortified by perimeter walls with a
Hogwarts-like castle at its high point. At least that's
how we sell it to the teenagers. The adults know it's
one of the world's great wine destinations, for its
rare and puckery brunello di Montalcino. While the
boys cast Latin spells in cobblestoned passageways,
we stock up on excellent bottles for eight euros a pop
before driving west 25 minutes to Pienza. Another
fairy-tale hamlet and a UNESCO World Heritage site,
Pienza is immediately dubbed "the stinky cheese town"
by dint of the pecorino aroma wafting out of seemingly every storefront. It's a heavenly spot under cloudless summer skies, and no,
Grandpa, I was not aware that the cathedral's exterior pockmarks
date to a mortar bombardment in 1944. Let us discuss this further
at the gelateria, shall we? (In Italy, it's never too early for gelato.)
If you haven't noticed, life in these parts hinges almost entirely on
what to consume next, and lunch at Osteria La Porta, a tiny family
restaurant in yet another vertiginous village, is a delectable showstopper. On a terrace overlooking umber hills, we enjoy our first real
birthday celebration for the nonne, with, among much else, antipasti,
melt-in-your-mouth ricotta dumplings, a stew
of beef cheeks, and tiramisu topped with
two candles. Not to jinx it, but turning 80
looks pretty fantastic in Tuscany.
THE ADVANTAGE OF A VILLA
holiday, as opposed to a hotel stay, is
that you really get a sense of your
destination's rhythms - and personalities. You can spend an
entire day (OK, probably a
lifetime) discovering the
quirks and charms of a
single Tuscan piazza. In
Paganico, we meet a thirdgeneration barber named
Giulio della Corta, whose
family has cut hair in this
location for 75 years. He impresses the boys with photos
of his 3,000-mile Harley ride
across America a few years
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