Tag Archive | Castello Vicchiomaggio

We got lucky (or how we came to stay in a castle this summer)

When John and I took our trip to Switzerland this summer to see our girl Marie-Noelle (his daughter, my bonus), we got lucky in many more ways than one. I found fairly last-minute fights that were doable, and we flew both ways uneventfully – which is unusual for us, or at least me, air-travelwise.

The transcontinental jets were small enough that we had two seats alone – window and aisle, which was great.

Marie-Noelle fell into extra time off, so our road trip through the south of France and into Tuscany (which we’d counted on being a last-minute booking success, as it was) got extended by a couple of days. And Marie-Noelle had another surprise for us – she’d already booked one night at a “farm/vineyard” in Greve in Chianti, near Florence. It looked fabulous online and had a real castle on the grounds, so we decided to see if they could accommodate us for two nights since we had extra time.

Marie-Noelle called, and though Castello Vicchiomaggio didn’t have a room for three available for two consecutive nights at that late a date, the gentile signora offered to upgrade us to a junior suite for the same rate. We jumped at the offer.

The Monday our adventure started, John and I picked up our rental car, a cute little Nissan Micra, a brand-new hybrid that got 67 mpg – and we got a free upgrade to a GPS, plus an mp3/iPhone/iPad jack. Music blaring, we collected Marie-Noelle and headed out.

After our first two nights in France (Avignon and Aix-en-Provence), we headed to Italy. It was a long, white-knuckle drive for my white-haired white knight, and we were all a bit punchy by the time we arrived at the farm. We were also a bit awe-struck as we drove up the winding road to the top of the hill.

Could that possibly be it, we were thinking as we came up the winding highway?

A castle! It really was a castle! And we’d be staying on the grounds. Cool.

Check in was easy, and a tall beautiful signorina – she could have been a Disney princess – asked us to follow her to our room. She unlocked a huge door and told us to follow her up these stairs.

Stairs to the Giotti room.

Oh my gosh, we were all whispering. How cool is this? She told us we’d be in the Giotti room and grandly opened the door. We stepped into an enormous living room with oversize (and some antique) furniture and stood there like idiots, just waiting and staring at the grandeur.

Finally she asked us, “You like your rooms?”

Our mouths fell open and we stammered, yes, yes, we like them very much. She gave us a quick tour of the two large bedrooms and bathrooms and the spacious, fully stocked kitchen.

The Tuscan kitchen

Our “junior suite,”  the Giotti room, was an entire wing of the castle, not rooms in the bed and breakfast behind it as we expected. We were floored. We had our own floor.

Princess Marie-Noelle enjoys her room.

Every ancient Tuscan castle needs an eternity pool.


We got lucky. Real lucky.

The History of Castello Vicchiomaggio

My White Knight in plaid armor, also known as The Dude.


Back in the saddle again

Though we’re still sporting our Tuscan tans (a shade unlike any other that you get just from walking around) more than a week after leaving those delightful, delicious hills, John and I are pretty much back in the saddle again.

We’re glad to be home – we missed the dogs (like crazy), the grandkids (who continue to grow, dammit, whether we’re here or not), the rest of the fam and friends – but getting back on schedule has been a little tough.

And after living on highly affordable brie, gruyere and wines for two weeks, we’ve had a bit of American sticker shock in that department. Many things in Europe are pricier than at home, but they beat us all to heck on cheese and wine. And absinthe and sambuca – a bottle of each made the trip back in John’s suitcase.

Also, even if the U.S. had castles dating back to 857 A.D., we couldn’t possibly afford to stay in one as we did on a hill outside Greve in Chianti. Crazy.

This isn’t the travelogue that will inevitably come – sorry, but I’ll have to share at least some of it – just some reflections/observations/coincidences I’ve had on my mind.

Back in February or March, we picked up a nice bottle of Tuscan wine – it was on sale and lovely, so we bought it and for some reason saved it. After we got home, I decided to open it, since we were in chianti withdrawal. It’s Dogajolo Toscano from Carpineto Vineyards. 

In Greve in Chianti.

We didn’t even know we were going to Italy, much less Greve, until Marie-Noelle told us she’d booked us a stay at a cool ancient vineyard. She’d booked a junior suite in the Canonica, but we were upgraded to the Giotti suite, a wing of the castle. (More on that in another post.)

Just the kitchen in our wing of Castello Vicchiomaggio was bigger than some hotel rooms. We hardly left the grounds.

We’d bemoaned not being able to bring any of the local wine back with us. Imagine our surprise at finding a bottle in our wine rack!

Before we left I’d almost finished reading Julia Child’s My Life in France, so driving through the south of France to places she’d mentioned was divine for me. So is her book, though for a non-meat-eater, parts of it are extremely gruesome. (Pressed duck in particular. Double yuck.)

Julia was heavily into meat, as is traditional French food, so Marie-Noelle and I were thrilled to find Cassolettes Provencale,  tres Julia Child but vegetarian, at our fancy outdoor restaurant at Aix-en-Provence. I haven’t been able to locate a recipe yet but think I can recreate it from memory.

Or a close enough facsimile. Julia says cooking should be fun, so I think she’d approve.

Lolly/Laura and Marie-Noelle at elegant La Fontaine in Aix-en-Provence.

While catching up on magazine reading on our trip, I saw a review of Bob Spitz’s Dearie, a massive  biography of Julia Child, which I ordered online and dove straight into last night after finishing Julia’s version. 

It’s hard to put down. Since I like to read on the treadmill, I’ll be putting in some miles.

Which brings me to my last point/observation. I returned from our two-week trip weighing exactly what I weighed when we left (my trusty Wii Fit tells me so). But two weeks with no organized exercise makes the same weight look different at almost 57.

Time will tell on us – there’s no escape. But temporary changes are easy to reverse if you jump right back in the saddle. Friday and Monday were my little weights workouts and today I tried a new DVD from Amy Dixon, Give Me 10 Core Cuts

(Think of Dixon as a miniature Christina Hendricks – Joanie on Madmen – if you don’t know who she is.)

I highly recommend the DVD – I did three of the six 10-minute workouts and they’re all fun, safe and effective. Dixon provides a modifier, but with bum shoulders that have to be saved for toting grandbabies, I had to modify the modifier at times.

But that’s OK. It’s all part of the process.

Life is good, dearie.