Monday, July 7, 2008

Discovering Italy

In June of 1999, I was invited to review a Bed and Breakfast at Villa San Pietro in Montichiari, Italy, in the Lombardy Region of Northern Italy. Fueled by memories of exotic family travels I was anxious to create the same kind of romantic memories with my husband, Ron. We marveled at our good fortune and eagerly agreed.

From Frankfurt, Germany we made our way south towards Switzerland. With a heightened sense of excitement, we were eager for adventure. We giggled every time we saw another sign pointing the way to Italy.

One sign, in particular, stood out! Gotthard Pass With my rusty German, I offered my interpretation to Ron. “I think if we turn here-we will totally pass around the Swiss Alps!"

And so began our slow, arduous climb over the Swiss Alps. The narrow pass was jammed with holiday travelers and tour buses. Traffic slowed to a crawl, dangling us over ravines covered in snow.

Climbing over 6900 feet at a snail’s pace I witnessed every glorious waterfall and chiseled snow-covered rock. White-knuckled I snapped photo after photo, thinking I was capturing a once in a life-time event! Wrong! I never could remember what that sign meant! After several trips and several errors in memory, we agreed that we would only look for signs with pictures of tunnels!

We arrived in Lugano,Italy, more Swiss than Italian! But I needed a glass of wine and it was technically Italy! Remember now, we were “newbies” back then! I had to wait until 7pm. In Italy, restaurants don’t serve dinner until 7 pm. I was tempted to sit at our outdoor café-sipping wine until 7 pm. I had plenty to do. I was already imagining a T-shirt that read. . .”I survived the Swiss Alps!”

Situated on Lake Lugano, which is actually in the southern tip of Switzerland, Lugano is a charming gateway to Italy. We checked into a modern American-style hotel for the night. After settling in, we walked the neighborhood, strolling into a local market, enjoying the sights and smells.

Our journey to Montichiari continued the next morning after a robust morning coffee at the local McDonalds. There are some unexpected conveniences through out Europe that make everything comfortable and familiar. We continued across the Autostrade headed southeast until we came to the roundabout marking our destination. We arrived in the ancient village of Montichiari-only to realize I had left my contact information at the hotel.

Sure that I could find the information on the web I inquired about a cyber-café (?!) We were directed to The Hotel Elephant. The young hotel clerk took it upon himself to deliver us safely to the café. He flew out of the hotel, jumped on his Vespa, and straight out of a foreign film we chased after our young guide, flying through the ancient walled streets of Montichiari, arriving winded at the cyber-café. After rounds of coffee and beer for the entire café, Ron and I finally bid our new friends a fond farewell and made our way to the massive entry gate to Villa San Pietro Bed and Breakfast.

Our host, Anna Ducroz, greeted us warmly at the entry to the inn. Anna and Jacques Ducroz operated an American-style Bed and Breakfast and hoped that a glowing review would encourage other Americans to visit their village.

Villa San Pietro is Anna’s 400-year old family estate, divided into several large apartments, housing several generations of Anna’s family.

We entered the compound through a lovely courtyard garden fragrant from delicate pink roses, making our way along worn brick paths laid out in a beautiful basket weave pattern. Anna escorted us through the gardens and past a wicker-filled loggia with typical Italian arches and stately travertine columns.

We were invited to drop off our luggage and rejoin them for a brief tour of the apartment reserved for the guests of the Bed and Breakfast. There were four or five guestrooms as well as some common areas and small shared kitchen. A brief tour of the apartment revealed remarkable18th century frescoes being lovingly restored. As restorations have continued over the years frescoes were uncovered from the 16th century, detailing life in the village 500 years ago.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent in the shade of the loggia. The Ducroz family was hospitable and gracious and eager to share their lives in their beautiful Italian village.
Later in the evening Anna’s mother treated us to a wonderful regional dinner of stewed chicken, followed by tiny glasses of homemade Limoncello, a delicious family recipe.

Jacques Ducroz, a former captain in the French Foreign Legion, was a charming, attentive host and shared exciting tales of life in the legion. It was an enchanted evening with a gracious Italian family.

After a lovely evening with Anna’s family, we made our way back to our large tiled guestroom with a beautiful antique bed. We marveled at our private bath with walk-in tiled shower, stocked with fluffy towels and plenty of Anna’s wonderful toiletries and shampoos. We enjoyed a good night’s sleep, followed by a lazy breakfast served outside our apartment, in the sunny courtyard.
As our visit to Villa San Pietro drew to an end, Anna directed us to the village antiques fair, taking place in the town center. We enjoyed the slow pace of the weekend and found a few baubles to remind of us of our first visit.

It was a perfect first experience. long enough to get the lay of the land and to understand that there would be many return visits to Italy! Please visit Anna and Jacques website for more on The Villa San Pietro Bed and Breakfast at http://www.abedandbreakfastinitaly.com/
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