The Heart of Italy - My Family Travels

In hindsight, Rome probably would have killed us.

Our week in Tuscany was to be strictly rural, as mandated by my outdoorsy mother. Although she had waxed poetic about the narrow country roads described in her ladies’ book club favorite “Under the Tuscan Sun”, she was a lot less enthusiastic about them when my dad was going 50 mph in a tiny stick-shift rental car. For our first ten minutes in the Italian boonies, me and my sister were thrown about the tiny backseat as the car lurched in and out of gear.

Honorable Mention 2009 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

Montegualandro Castle, our home for the next week, was one of those places that you fall in love with instantaneously. We parked in a fragrant grove of pine and lavender before the castle gate. In the other direction, the hillside of olive groves dropped down to a patchwork of fields and Lake Trasimeno shimmering in the distance.

Signora Marti, the old Italian proprietress, had baked fresh bread and left it in our apartment. For my sister and I, the first order of business was exploring. There was a Great Hall where a Hogwarts-style staircase climbed the walls in a series of lofty arches. The library was full of old books and had a gigantic fresco map of Tuscany painted on the wall, labelled in Latin. Ouside, a ladder led to the battlements atop the 30-foot stone walls.

Piazza Navona it wasn’t, but our life was the castle courtyard, and I had no regrets. Every night we would have a dinner of cheese and bread on the grass and play with the fat, lazy castle cat, Ugolino. There were glitches in castle life, though. On our first morning my sister and I were awakened by a tremendous, ongoing, rattling crash, like someone had dropped something huge down the stairs. We both sat bolt upright. Then with a click, the rattling stopped and our door opened. “Oh, you pull,” our mom said breezily, and she waltzed into the room to collect our laundry as if nothing had happened.

It’s a good thing we had the castle, because otherwise Tuscany could have gotten boring. After a while the hill towns all blurred into one another. Cetona was the prettiest. San Quirico d’Orcia was the quietest. Cortona was the most touristy. Where was Pienza again?

In bustling Montepulciano, a sign outside a shop advertised a dungeon with “Instruments of Pleasure and Torture.” Unable to resist, we coughed up the entrance fee and entered. The Instruments of Pleasure turned out to be none other than wine barrels: we were in a wine cellar! At the end of the route, a small display of torture devices were displayed on a table as an afterthought.

The nearest town was Tuoro-sul-Trasimeno. It was the sort of shabby resort town that people only come to from an hour away, tops. While we had pizza at the one café, a storm rolled in from the lake, and suddenly the place filled with an exodus of sunbathers from the adjacent beach. Families with sandy kids mingled with punky teenage guys sporting cigarettes and tight shirts. Not one was American.

I think the moment we truly got savvy was when my mom exchanged her floppy gray REI hat for a straw one she bought in Montalcino.  By the end of the trip my dad could handle the narrow roads, and my verb tenses were rolling along nicely. We had gone Italian. Sure, we didn’t buy any high fashion or see any great works of art. But sometime during our week in Tuscany, our family truly absorbed Italy.


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1 Reply to “The Heart of Italy”

  • JillianRyan

    I am an editor with Family Travel Forum. One of the SATW judges wanted to share this comment with you: From Michael Verdon, Editor, Boating World Magazine:
    Hi Ben, very nice job on the story with a great opening line. I like the way you put your family into the scenery as well as painted the description of Montegualandro Castle and Signora Marti. Very well done. I could’ve spent more time in some of the villages you visited, though I guess you had space restrictions. But you should keep writing as you advance to college. You have a talent for describing details.

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