The first time we rented a villa was on a vacation we took with another couple to Positano, on Italy’s beautiful Amalfi Coast. The view from this 2-bedroom / 2-bathroom apartment was just as spectacular as advertised. Breathtaking, really. Very, very romantic. Everything was perfect … except for the tiny detail that the second bedroom could be accessed only by going through the first bedroom. We had rented a beautiful two bedroom apartment with an incredible view and zero privacy.
We want the surprises awaiting guests at Rocca di Benano to be good surprises — like how inviting, restorative, and relaxing an Italian villa vacation can be.
From the moment prospective guests contact us, I describe the villa and the area as accurately as I can and offer to provide all the personalized help they need to make their stay at Rocca di Benano a trip of a lifetime. I know how important this trip is to them, and I love to pass along tips that can make the difference between it being a project and a vacation: time-tested advice on flight itineraries, transportation to Benano, how and where to rent cars, international drivers licenses, and the various forms of trip insurance to consider; user-friendly information on getting to the villa (taking into account that said users might be jet-lagged) and everything they’ll find when they get there; and tips on all the “don’t-miss” attractions, vistas, tours, museums, trattorias, gelaterias, shopping opportunities, and cultural experiences guests would want to know about — whether they be found at Benano’s doorstep, in one of the lovely hill towns that dot Umbria, Tuscany, and Lazio, or on guests’ day trips to larger cities like Rome, Florence, and Assisi.
In helping our guests prepare for their villa vacation, I’m mindful of the experience we had renting another Italian villa in a rural part of Puglia. It wasn’t until we had driven around for what seemed like hours that we realized that the directions and hand-drawn map to the villa were wholly insufficient. We were relieved to reach the English-speaking villa manager on her cell, but she was at a soccer match and couldn’t get away to help us. She advised us to stop and ask for directions. Soon a group of men had spilled out of a bar and were leaning over our car’s hood studying the incomprehensible map, also to no avail. Finally, one of them hopped on his ape and led us for several miles in a totally different direction, to a place he thought the villa might be.
It was quite an adventure just to find the villa we had rented. The memory of the helpful Italian barflies is great to recall, but the episode made for an unnecessarily stressful afternoon. We are determined not to subject our guests at Rocca di Benano to any such drama.
I give our guests good directions to our villa and how they’ll get the key, but I don’t stop there. We realize it takes a lot more than directions and a key to achieve our goal of making sure our guests enjoy the best that our corner of Italy has to offer. I want them to unlock more than just a beautiful villa. I want them to unlock their trip of a lifetime.
Until the open office revolution reared its ugly head, I never gave much thought to workspaces. Though unremarkable, my offices were always just fine.
And then Corporate America became besotted with the promised miracles of open offices. Without walls separating people, creativity would flow. Collaboration would flourish and we would be more productive. We kind of expected whiter teeth and smarter kids, too.
I’m happy to see more articles talking about the downsides of cubicle farms. I think very fondly of my years at work, but not of the years my team and I spent in the basement (try though they might, they could never get us to call it the lower level) in our “veal pens.”
And now my I work at my kitchen counter. Or a comfortable armchair. Or, when I’m in Italy as I am this week, here.
It’s yet another thing I love and appreciate about retirement.
Part I: Wherein The Passport Gods Giveth
When I suggested that we go to Italy early next month, Mom jumped at the idea. Then she groaned in misery. Her passport had expired and we would be leaving in just over 3 weeks. She didn’t think there would be time to get a new passport.
Of course, there was plenty of time. The U.S. State Department’s Passport Office operates a very efficient system. It’s easy to download an application from the website, and the passport office offers a couple of levels of expediting the new passport. While Mom walked to drugstore in Bothell to get the required photo taken, I sat at my computer in Cincinnati, filled out her application, and emailed it to her. She got back, wrote the check (it cost an additional $60 for the expedited service), signed the application, and packaged it up with her expired passport. The little package was in the mail the next morning.
Her new passport arrived about 2 weeks later.
Part II: Wherein the Passport Gods Taketh Away
Ever hear of the Schengen requirements? If you’re traveling to the Schengen area, which includes Italy, you need to know about them. This is from the State Department’s website:
Entry into any of the 26 European countries in the Schengen area … requires that your passport be valid for at least three months beyond your intended date of departure. If your passport does not meet the Schengen requirements, you may be refused boarding by the airline at your point of origin or while transferring planes. You could also be denied entry when you arrive in the Schengen area.
This is serious stuff. The passport gods can taketh away your vacation.
The State Department website continues:
For this reason, we recommend that your passport have at least six months’ validity remaining whenever you travel abroad.
Six months’ validity! This doesn’t fall into the “common knowledge” category.
Keep the passport gods on your side. Renew early and often.
Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.
– William James
When I asked my mother if she wanted to go to Italy on very short notice, I knew she would say yes. One doesn’t issue half-hearted invitations a woman who has lived more than 80 years unafraid of life. If she’s afraid of anything, it’s that her life will end before she’s had enough excitement. She doesn’t want to miss anything.
Her habit of finding excitement in unlikely places mortified me as a teenager. As if anonymity would shield me from the slings and arrows of adolescence, I wanted nothing more than to be unremarkable. I yearned for a normal life that would be spectacularly unworthy of note. And there I was, plagued by a remarkable mother who was not afraid of life. It was my curse.
If I could tell my teenaged self anything, it would be this: calm down. You can’t imagine how fast the years are about to spin away. Long before you’re ready for it, you’re going to find yourself middle-aged and hoping you inherited some of her spunk.
And so it is that Mom, who still doesn’t act her age, and the middle-aged me trying to live life as fearlessly as she, are going to Benano next month. I’ll keep you posted.
I felt my heart race in frustration as I slumped onto the green park bench. On one of the last days of our vacation, we had very little time to get down to Orvieto for lunch. While American restaurateurs feed their customers throughout the day, our favorite restaurants, those in Italy that cater to Italians, observe traditional mealtimes. The trattoria we wanted to go to would close after lunch and stay closed until 8:00, so we were hustling.
Juggling keys, glasses, and phones, we had hurried down our steps, dashed past the side of the church and under the archway, around the corner and strode across the tiny piazza. We raced through the stone gate and stopped in our tracks. We saw what was going on in the parking lot and groaned.
It was shopping day in Benano. As he does each Friday, Paulo had parked his white panel truck just outside the walls of the village. He was there to sell general merchandise to the ladies who don’t drive to town to get their provisions. Our car was behind the truck, blocked by the suddenly-not-so charming mobile mini-mart. We weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Instead of dashing off to the city, I retreated to the metal bench. A misaligned slat on the seat poked me in the rump and provoked even more annoyance.
Squirming for a comfortable position, I watched a man drive up to an empty parking spot. He went to the back of his car while his wife emerged from the side of the village and directed him as he wrestled a roll of chicken wire from the trunk.
I settled on the bench, which sat under one of the handful of trees that line the parking area. The gentle breeze rustled the leaves overhead.
My limited Italian made it easy for me not to eavesdrop or get wrapped up in our neighbors’ conversations, and for once, I was grateful. Their melodious voices, the clatter of dishes from a nearby open window, and the distant chug of a tractor harmonized into soothing background music.
Sempre via (“you’re always going away”), Giovanna tsk-tsked as she joined me on the bench. From her kitchen window, she had noticed how busy we had been all week. Or was she encouraging me to be content where I was?
Paulo bustled through the small crowd asking if anyone could break a big bill for him. When he wasn’t seeking change from bystanders, Paolo stood inside his truck and fetched whatever his customers wanted—laundry detergent, coffee, paper goods, bags of pasta—from the shelves that lined his market’s tiny aisle.
Un attimo (“just a second”), Paulo called out to us. Change procured and his last transaction completed, he slid the side panel door closed and slowly walked his elderly customer home, carrying her purchases in several tightly packed white plastic bags. In a bit more than un attimo, he bounded back down the hill to the truck. With a “grazie” to us for our patience, he closed his back doors with a loud creak and roared away to the next village.
We didn’t go to Orvieto that day. Instead, we picked through what we had in the kitchen: foccacia on the verge of being stale, the last of the sharp Pecorino cheese, and wilting salad. Of the tens of thousands of meals I’ve had in my lifetime, that one, flavored as it was with the contentment of staying put and the friendship and love we had seen in the parking lot, was one of my favorites.
For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends,
We offer thanks. Amen.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Many thanks to Brendon for contributing this post. I love the “will it result in good memories?” standard. Read to the end to see what I mean.
There’s a little restaurant in Canino, which is a village outside of Tarquinia, which is a town outside of Rome. The restaurant is Archibusacci. Surrounded by olive trees, Archibusacci also produces olive oils. There’s a dried hog in the center of the main dining room, and the staff can slice off prosciutto that is as fresh as it possibly can be. Joined by friends new and old, we sat down at round table under a window that allowed a setting sun to shine on our table. The waiter brought us a cart full of antipasti, traditional starters for an Italian meal. Tired, a little out of sorts, and unable to communicate, I was the happiest guy in the world.
That was exactly a year ago, and I’m still reflecting on the memories from a wonderful first trip to Italy. The food, the wine, the sights, the history, the company—all were perfect. All of it centered around Rocca di Benano, the most splendid little villa, just outside of Orvieto. Rocca di Benano was our home base for a week in Umbria, which allowed us to explore big and small Italy all with ease and convenience.
The small towns of Italy are not to be missed. In one day, we enjoyed espresso and gardens in Radicofani, a spectacular lunch of truffles and egg in Montechiello, art and history in Pienza, and Banfi wine in Montalcino. We drove by countless Italian towns, wishing we could stop at all of them, or at least marking them down so we could visit on the next trip. We returned to Orvieto in the evening, drove down a dark road, and pulled up to Risto-Pizzeria de Zia Graziella, where, as the only diners, we had the full attention of the lovely Zia Graziella. Her full attention led to no less than six pizzas, a slew of appetizers, a digestif, a dessert, and even a private tour of her kitchen. It was the most full I had ever been. Zia Graziella reminded me of my grandmother, especially as she was watching closely to make sure we enjoyed her cooking. It was the most memorable meal of the trip, and that’s something.
The next day, my wife and I woke up early, and for the opposite experience, took a train to the big city of Florence. We were there in just under two hours (that gave me the chance to watch the penultimate episode of “Breaking Bad,” downloaded via wifi at the villa the night before), and when we hopped off the train, we went straight to the Mercato Centrale. We browsed and grazed and marveled at the varieties of mushrooms, dried meats, and produce. During a full day, we climbed the Duomo, walked across the Ponte Vecchio, and ate an amazing meal at 4 Leoni. We walked through gardens, stopped for espressos and gelato, and took selfies galore. The train brought us back to Orvieto that evening, and we were in our bed for a restful sleep.
Small towns, big cities, Benano was perfect.
What’s funny is that we almost didn’t go. My wife and I received an invite to travel with our friends Paul and Karen, the owners, but we already had a holiday trip scheduled to Paris in December for another friend’s wedding. Two trips to Europe in four months seemed a bit much. But after work one day, I was visiting with someone whose opinion on travel (and a lot of other things) is to be respected. His question to me at the time was whether the trip would result in good memories. I said it probably would, and he said then it would be foolish not to go. He even went so far as to say if we had a bad experience, he would pay for my trip. It was the safest of bets. Life is about making memories, he said that day, and he was right.
One year later, we’re longing to go back. We miss the food, we miss the relaxed way of life (va bene!) and we miss the adventures. One year later, the memories are still bringing us joy. So this week, we’ll open a bottle of wine from the region, raise a glass to Benano, and hope that our return trip is sooner rather than later.
I get to talk to lots of travelers who are planning their Italian vacations. With this summer’s guests getting into full trip-planning mode, it’s time to compile my Four Top Tips for planning a perfect vacation.
Tip 1: Start With Any Must-Do’s
I keep track of things to see or do near Rocca di Benano that might qualify for this “must do” list, and I happily add it whenever a guest says, “I’m not leaving Italy without …” . My most recently added item was “finding the little town where the TV show ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ shot several episodes on location.” Our guest found it last year and wrote about it in this blog post.
Rule #2: Mean to Meander
Hit the open road with only a rough idea of what you’ll do that day, know that you’ll probably get a little lost, and trust that you’ll come back with memories of a day you couldn’t have planned. Choose an opportunistic destination, grab a guidebook and a map (or, if you must, a GPS — but they’re not nearly as engrossing) and go see what your day holds for you. From Rocca di Benano, we like to wander:
- In the direction of Siena. We could do this trip for days on end without seeing even a fraction of the storybook hill towns, thermal spas, wine meccas, historic churches, and gorgeous vistas on the road to Siena. Lots of people don’t make it as far as Siena – that’s why I call this “in the direction of …”
- In the direction of Perugia and Assisi. We’ve had guests never make it past Deruta, but they remember that day every time they serve a meal on the gorgeous ceramic dinnerware they bought from one of the artisans in Deruta.
- In the direction of Montefalco and Bevagna. This trip lends itself to a drive by Spoleto on one way and Todi on the way back.
- In the direction of Montefiascone and Viterbo. These are big towns/small cities that many tourists miss, and there are several Renaissance gardens in the area that are also well worth a visit.
- In the direction of Tuscania, Tarquinia and Vulci. A great guide (see Rule #3) could help you learn a lot about the Etruscan civilization while you’re in the neighborhood.
- A drive around Lake Bolsena. There are any number of inviting stops on a circumnavigation of Europe’s largest volcanic lake.
Rule #3: Engage Great Guides
I feel strongly about this one. Great tour guides have enhanced our trips so much over the years that now it seems a little silly not to take that extra step to assure that we get the most out of whatever we go all that way to see. I don’t doubt that I could achieve a similarly high level of understanding with an excellent guide book, careful attention to detail, and a real commitment to understanding everything the guide book has to offer. But when I’m on vacation and the site is important, I would rather have a knowledgeable and skilled guide and storyteller at my side.
Do your best to get a great guide. Italy is pretty careful about regulating guides in its tourist areas, but we’ve still managed to stumble over a few bombs. I keep track of great guides and will happily put you in touch with a great one or two. Here’s an example of some of the tours Emanuela Visciola has developed for our guests.
Think about it: you went to a lot of trouble and expense to stand in front of whatever you’re standing in front of. The more you understand about what you’re seeing, the better you will appreciate it and the more memorable it will be. So hiring a great guide is a smart investment in the memories you’re creating.
Rule #4: Be Willing to Get Off the Beaten Path
Many of our guests tell us that their most special memories of their visit to Central Italy is of “discovering” small, out-of-the way towns and their people. I love the way “Not Just another ‘Dolce Vita” expressed this in her “Things to Consider When Planning a Trip to Italy” post: “Don’t go somewhere just because you’ve heard the name.” Because there are valid reasons that tourists beat those well-trod paths to famous sites, you’ll miss a lot if you stay off the beaten path entirely.
So I encourage our guests to carve out some time for exploring out-of-the-way places. For example, I send people to the “tufa towns” of Southern Tuscany: Sorano, Sovana, and Pitigliano. There, they’ll find few crowds, little glitz and flash, an old town historically known as “the little Jerusalem,” inviting shops, and an unspoiled 12th Century church. More important, they’ll find a much more authentic Italian experience than what they will see in other, justifiably celebrated and very heavily touristed Tuscan towns.
This post is another wonderful guest’s answer to the ever-popular “what would a week at Rocca di Benano be like?” question. I like his answer, particularly the “discovery” of Anguillara Sabazia on the shores of Lake Bracciano. And don’t miss the last shot, when he and his family had to leave Benano.
Thanks very much, Mike. We’re looking forward to having you back to Rocca di Benano!
It has taken a while but I’m finally writing about our perfect week this past August in Benano. Since our son and daughter-in-law live in Florida it was longest all five of us had been able to spend together over the past few years. It was a wonderful trip and I’d like to share a few highlights.
To make the most of this trip we hired Francis for the entire week. That could not have worked out any better. Driver and interpreter, tour guide, photographer, historian and storyteller. He even helped with grocery shopping.
We visited many of the same cities and sites that other Benano guests have experienced. However, we would like to highlight a couple of places we visited that others might be interested in reading about. We arrived in Rome on Saturday morning. Since official check-in isn’t until 4pm, we used the time traveling between Rome and Benano to visit the city (or is it a village?) of Anguillara Sabazia. It’s just bit north of Rome and sits on the shore of Lake Bracciano. If anyone is a fan of the television show Everybody Loves Raymond you would recognize it as the site where they shot their two-part episode in Italy.
Our family is a fan of that show and we can remember seeing that episode for the first time and thinking how nice it would be if someday we could visit a place like that. Well, that someday came. Of course, the town was spruced up a bit for the filming but it’s still as picturesque as it is in the show.
Another site we visited was the Florence American Cemetery. It’s just off the A1 Autostrada south of the city of Florence. This is one of two American World War II cemeteries in Italy. This is the resting place for soldiers killed in the later stages of fighting in Italy, after the Allied liberation of Rome. The other cemetery is near Anzio.
We left Benano early for the drive north, spent some time at the cemetery and then, rather than go into Florence, made our way back toward Benano and spent the rest of the day in Siena. The campo in Siena just happened to be set up for their famous horse race, the Palio, which was going to run the next day. Since we did not see Florence itself we have one more reason to someday return to Benano. Actually it was such a wonderful week all around I don’t think we need any one single reason to come back.
We were on the go every day. We visited Orvieto twice, Civita di Bagnorigio, Assisi, the sagra in Torre Alfina (along with return visits for dinner and gelato), Pienza, Montepulciano, Siena and a full day in Rome capped with an evening dinner on the beach in Fiumicino. We still found time to enjoy Benano, too, with a couple of evenings grilling on the terrace and a special Creole dinner on our last night there.
We had a wonderful time in Italy and at Rocca di Benano. It was the trip of a lifetime. At least until we’re able to go back!
Now that TIME magazine has named Pope Francis its person of the year, it’s official: I’m not the only one with a little crush on Il Papa. So it’s time to tell the story of the night I fell for him.
I happened to be in Benano with my good friend Aileen when the Papal Conclave began. Aileen, good Jewish girl that she is, was enraptured by the papal election. Having studied the process fervently, she determined that we should watch the first vote from the comfort of Rocca di Benano and go to Rome the following day.
I loved watching the papal election from Benano because I had watched the U.S. election returns from that same position just four months earlier. There were differences, of course — take, for example, that instead of results being conveyed from local Boards of Elections to a TV studio with fancy touch-screen graphics, smoke signals from the chimney atop the Sistene Chapel — and the helpful Chimney Cam — transmitted the news.
And so it was that we went to Rome on the second day of the Conclave. As luck would have it, our friend and favorite photographer Gianni Fantauzzi went, too. You’ll understand if I let his photographs do most of the talking. We realized later that we were pretty close to each other in the Square that night, and he is graciously allowing me to use his photos of what we saw.
We took an early train to Rome and walked the couple of miles from the apartment of our dear and very hospitable friends John and Karin to St. Peter’s Square. It was a cold morning, and the precipitation varied between a drizzle and a light rain. The sky was grey. And it was cold. We arrived just after a brilliant display of black smoke (signaling that the cardinals had failed again to elect a pope), so the Square was empty except for the journalists still finishing up their reporting.
We had time to kill, so we started by wandering the Square and getting a sense of Vatican City during a Conclave. There were trinkets to be had, and I wasn’t alone in snapping up a few Pope Benedict tchotchkes.
Late in the wet, cold afternoon, we returned to St. Peter’s Square to begin our wait. With thousands of our new best friends, we settled in as the drizzly evening descended.
At least the people-watching was unbeatable.
One of the miracles of the evening was that John and Karin found us in the crowd when they arrived after their workday.
Throughout the evening, the crowd’s hum seemed ebullient, prayerful, excited, and respectful — all at the same time. Suddenly, the volume of the hum increased, and within seconds, that hum crescendoed into a full-throated roar. This was IT! The election results were being announced.
Amid the commotion, I found the chimney in the distance. It was, indeed, spewing smoke … of an indeterminate color. It finally became clearly white smoke — billows and billows of bright white smoke. At the same time, the huge bells on the left side of St. Peter’s rolled back and forth and rang out joyously. Maybe the bells aren’t inherently joyous, but the crowd certainly was.
There were lots of “Vive la Papa!!” cries, which struck me as kind of strange because no one knew exactly what we were celebrating — just that the Cardinals had elected someone as pope.
Then began another very long wait interrupted briefly by a marching band (does the Pope get his own theme song?) and Swiss Guards parading across the piazza in formation.
When the upper floor of St. Peter’s exploded in bright light, the crowd went wild. We cheered excitedly whenever a curtain on the door to the balcony as much as fluttered, so when the doors opened wide and the cardinal came out to announce the Habemus Papam (we have a Pope), the crowd went berserk.
But that was nothing compared to the exultation that erupted when the new Pope stepped onto the white-light balcony. We cheered throughout his brief address — for his humble presence, for his request for our prayers for his work, and finally for his warm goodnight and “good dinner.” I didn’t get it all, but I caught the gist of it (my Italian is good for gists, but not details.) I loved that he spoke in slow and beautifully clear Italian. The crowd was hanging onto his every word, too — and certainly for reasons more profound than his lovely diction.
We wanted to stop on our way back to the apartment at a favorite restaurant. Oddly, it was the only one we saw with a line coming out the door. Aha!! The name of the restaurant is “da Francesco.” Folks were lining up raise a fork of pasta in honor of Papa Francesco long before yesterday’s announcement by TIME.
Our friend and travelmate Brendon remembers a day at Rocca di Benano:
We’ve been back from Benano for about a month now, and I’m still thinking every day about this wonderful, first trip to Italy. I’ve given up my afternoon coffee and replaced it with a shot of espresso, though I’ve been unable to find spremuta, the delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice that’s everywhere in Italy. I’m still trying to relax, and instead of running from meeting to meeting, I’m trying to talk to people with a more Italian-style, less rushed attitude. We found farro at the grocery store, and though it’s scarcer, there are a few good gelato options back home. Bottom line, I’m not there, but the week has stayed with me in very tangible ways.
But when I think about a day in Italy that I remember the most, it was Sunday, our second day. It was the day of l’incidente.
The day started out with a rough sketch of a plan, which is all you really need in Benano. Get in the car and go explore all the amazing towns nearby.
That day, we started in Castel Viscardo, where we met the two lovely grocers Serena and Marta. We browsed their “superstore,” which is about the size of a Jackson Hewett tax preparation shop in the U.S. The food is stacked high and they stopped to talk to everyone who dropped in. And not just the “buongiorno” that is the appropriate way to greet people. They stopped to talk, ask about their families, ask what they were looking for—it was incredible. It was like shopping in your neighbor’s pantry. A truly wonderful experience.
From there, we returned to Benano to drop off our food, and then went on to Castel Giorgio, nearby to Benano. Something was afoot. There was an unusual amount of activity outside the café, and we soon discovered there was about to be a Madonna processional. Pastry and espresso secured, we settled in to watch the townspeople walk through the street to celebrate as the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) was walked through town. A lovely celebration. We made our way back to the car, intending to go to Civita di Bagnoregio.
And then, the teenager. As Paul was about to turn into a driveway, an eighteen-year-old kid in his mother’s Citroen rear-ended our car. We turned perpendicular, and he went off the road. Everyone was fine (except for Karen’s glasses, which could have used an airbag.) We were in front of this gorgeous house, and within seconds, all of the residents of the house had poured out to check on us—with chairs, ice, water, and offers to use the restroom. An unnecessary ambulance, which had been attending to the Madonna festival, raced over. The carabinieri showed up to investigate (though we suspect they spent most of their time talking about where they would get espresso that afternoon). And the kid’s mother showed up—turned out she owned a lovely restaurant in the town–and encouraged us to take her son back to America with us.
Just to be on the safe side, we called Alex, who lives in Torre Alfina with his lovely wife Olga. They take care of Benano and the guests and are terrific resources for Benano visitors. Alex was at the scene of l’incidente in an instant, offering us help communicating with the police and advice on how to sheepishly call our rental car agent. He was a tremendous help—especially when he muscled our bumper off of the car so that it wouldn’t drag on the road.
Because we were pressing on. We weren’t going to let un piccolo incidente ruin our day. So we drove off to the ruined city of Civita di Bagnoregio. We opted for a higher octane espresso, this time adding in some sambuca, so that we had what’s called a café corretto. That righted our ships.
After lunch and another walk around the dead city, we headed to Alex and Olga’s house for a mid-Sunday snack. And this is why our Sunday will be cemented in my memory for a long time. We sat in their lovely kitchen, around their dining table (not huge—probably typically for four, but we sat close, with six) as Olga brought out cheese with incredible homemade marmalade (pepper and pear was amazing), a cake, and of course, wine. And then the limoncello, fennel and “cherry” liqueurs. Alex and Olga are amazing. As our conversation shifted back and forth from Italian to English to Italian, I found myself thinking about how special it was to be seated in the kitchen of this family. They were about my age, living in rural Italy, thousands of miles away. Yet we were connecting about family and food and life.
Growing up with an Italian family, Sunday afternoons were all about crowding around a table and sharing food and laughs. To do that, this time in Italy, was beyond special.
One more word about Alex and Olga. There are people who do their job and there are people who care. Clearly, Alex and Olga are the latter—they are passionate about the guests who visit Benano. You are welcomed as part of the loosely defined family that exists in Umbria. It’s so comforting to have that safety net on a trip like this, and Benano visitors are blessed with two of the most wonderful people to lean on.
We returned home, relaxed, and then had a simple dinner, prepared with the food we purchased that morning (though it seemed like weeks before), laughed plenty about our adventures, and played some games.
Benano is like that. I thought about how we would have reacted if we had a car accident in the U.S. We’d have probably busted up our entire day, choosing instead to call friends, posting pictures to Facebook, and then dealing with the bureaucracy of insurance, etc. Benano is different. Was it the café corretto? Was it the BVM? Was it Alex’s quick help? The expectation of Olga’s cake and limoncello? Probably all of that and a little more. It was just an Italian experience, one where you just let the day take you where it wants to go. And it was amazing.