Ahhhhh- we made it to the country houses in Umbria. Here is where I finally relax and unwind. After the stress of getting 14 people from Phoenix, via Philadelphia, via Frankfurt to Florence and then the hustle and bustle of Florence, followed by convincing six of my guests to rent cars in Italy and hop right on the Autostrada - well I think you get the picture and why now I am finally relaxing.
To retrace day three....our transition day. We started the morning, blogging once again from the rooftop of the Brunellschi Hotel where I was joined by one of my travelers who was kind enough to bring a tray of coffee. So we enjoyed the sunrise overlooking the Duomo and slowly woke up and started the day. I love this hotel in that the staff are always so friendly and accommodating and the hotel is perfectly, centrally located so you are in the heart of all the sites of Florence.
We headed down to breakfast and put our strategy together for the day. This started with a quick trip to the San Lorenzo Market which for me is always a treat. The square is filled with street vendors selling everything from t-shirts to beautiful leather jackets. After maneuvering our way through the vendors you finally find the indoor market which is amazing. A maze of meat markets, fish markets, flower stands, bread and pastry shops, its the equivalent of Pike's Market in Seattle - only better. We enjoyed the market, made our way back through the street vendors and back to the hotel to check out.
After checking out, the shuttles were there to meet us and take us to the airport where we were to rendezvous with one of our late arrivals who was unable to fly over with the rest of the group. We proceeded to get our rental cars and head out to the country. Of course nothing is ever very efficient in Italy, so after waiting several minutes for them to find my car and then clean my car we all got ourselves in order and proceeded onto the Autostrada - 7 cars, all nice Mercedes so we looked like quiet the entourage. Getting the rental cars from the Florence Airport has proven to be the easiest way to get out of the city and immediately into the country. Some trips past this task has been a real adventure but all went like clockwork this time - again thanks to my assistant, Evelyn!
We drove about 45 minutes south to Montevarchi where the top secret Prada Outlet called Space is located. This is always a tricky place to find in that street names are difficult to see or find that is if they truly even exist. Google has a long way to go when locating places in Italy, and the GPS loves to tell you to flip a U-turn....... So when all else fails flag down a local, pay him 5 euros to escort us there and another 5 euros when we arrive. Worked like a charm! This place is very discreet and almost top secret. Grab a number outside the warehouse, wait your turn and then you duck in and boom you are in Prada. The girls scattered in every direction and fortunately, whoever came up with this place was smart enough to include a bar / restaurant right next to it so all the guys headed there. We gave the girls 90 minutes which quickly became 2 hours but eventually they all pulled themselves away and walked out with their discounted purchases with big smiles on their faces.
We left Space and instead of jumping right back on the Autostrada we winded our way across the countryside and eventually made our way back on to the Autostrada. After about an hour we exited at Tuoro and made our way up the hill and the beautiful views of Lake Trasimeno. After a winding climb up its an equally long and winding climb down into the lovely Niccone River Valley that divides Tuscany from Umbria. Tuscany is on the west side of the valley and Umbria is on the east. The valley is dotted with old castles, villas, tobacco, corn and sunflower fields - picturesque is an understatement. Once we arrived at the valley floor we stopped in Mercatale for some provisions - mostly wine and water - and a quick call to our house caretaker for updated directions in and we were on our way.
The road through the valley is nice, and paved but we eventually make our turn to the dusty, gravel road through the scrub oaks and up a very steep hill. The dirt road is a good mile maybe two and my guests are wondering where in the hell am I taking them....These country houses are remote but the isolation and view are most definitely worth it. Up, up, up (you hear that a lot here in Italy) and finally after coming around a tight curve their are the houses - La Pietra and La Quierca. Beautiful, simple, charming old farmhouses. We park and everyone gets out of their cars and just sighs.... you can feel the relief that we have arrived and you see the amazement and anticipation in everyone's faces that this is really going to be something different, and that it is.
We walk past the gate, and through the herb garden whereupon our host Elizabeth Wholey, her husband, and staff are there to greet us and give us a tour of the house. A simple yet extremely beautiful light dinner is awaiting us and we all settle in for our stay here in Umbria. After dinner, we open a few more bottles of vino, make a fire in the fireplace and run down to the pool for a quick candle lit dip under the Umbrian sky and then back up to the house for stories and maybe another glass of wine.....
Life is good in Umbria!