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WV Travel Team: Italy a destination for all generations

PUNTA ALA, Italy– My wife and I had already visited the country where my family originated just a few generations back. Now we faced the challenge of a trip that would have to offer something for everyone: It was time to travel with the entire family, including a wide range of ages and interests.

I hoped our sons and daughter-in-law — along with grandkids Ellis, 16; Palmer, 13; and Barrett, 11 — would find Italy as magical as we did. How could they not? It’s an ancient land where — over the last 1,000 years — culture, art and history have converged to create civilization, and where visitors can walk, observe and taste this living, breathing encyclopedia of life.

However, I was forewarned by You Know Who that on this trip I would need to devote more time to walking and observing, and less time on the tasting components of Italian culture. And while I reluctantly conceded the point to my spouse, I also knew that my kids and grandkids had, thankfully, inherited my fondness for food and drink.

They know, as I do, that food gives us strength and that thirst is a terrible thing. So off we went.

Part of our strategy was to divide and conquer: While all three branches of the family arrived in Rome on the same day, each branch headed out in different directions. Son Bryan and his family would spend three days touring and exploring Rome while son Aaron went south to Naples and the Amalfi coast.

For our private getaway, Debbie and I decided to spend a couple of leisurely days at the beach. We had been looking for a coastal resort favored by Italians, and one that was within easy driving distance of Tuscany. It was our plan to meet there later and spend five days all together exploring the region and visiting the towns, castles, churches, vines and art in that storied part of Italy.

The Gallia Palace, a Relais & Chateaux resort hotel, was perfectly situated 2½ hours north of Rome near the seaside port town of Punta Ala, along the Mediterranean coast in a region of Tuscany called Maremma.

This same area is home to vineyards that produce crisp white wines such as vermentino, and superb red wines called “super Tuscans.” These blended wines — made from grapes like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and sangiovese — can rival the great reds of the world, such as those produced in Bordeaux and Napa.

The Gallia is a small but very pretty property on a hillside in a spectacular natural setting. From our balcony, we could look across the grounds to a stand of stately stone pine trees that resemble umbrellas. And beyond the stone pines, just a kilometer away, was the sparkling blue Mediterranean with the Gallia’s private beach.

But the highlight of the resort for me is the superb restaurant back at the hotel. Some of the dishes are like art on a plate, almost too pretty to eat, and the wine list features selections from all the major Italian regions. In fact, one of the most delightful wines of our entire trip (and there were many) was the 2014 Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino, made just an hour from the Gallia resort.

While we were enjoying our beach getaway, Bryan and family spent their days touring the antiquities of Rome and Aaron visited and explored the stony beaches and steep hills of the Amalfi Coast.

Then it was time for all of us to meet in Tuscany.

My daughter-in-law, Ericka, used VRBO to locate a large country home near the small village of Sovicille (so-va-CHIL-ah), which served as our base. La Dimora di Teresa (residence of Teresa) features four bedrooms and four baths along with a fully equipped kitchen and a large great room with cable TV and internet. It is also completely air-conditioned, which is not common everywhere in Italy, especially in large homes.

The outdoor spaces include a long covered porch, a swimming pool, an outdoor fireplace and even a pizza oven. Naturally, on our first night together, we took full advantage of this particular amenity and arranged to have a local chef make custom pizzas for us in the outdoor, wood-fired oven. Our hungry group ate, and ordered, and ate some more. What a treat!

Each of our days in Tuscany was spent exploring a different town, historical site or museum.

In Florence we were led on a private tour of the Uffizi and the Academia museums, viewing priceless Renaissance artworks such as Michelangelo’s “David,” along with the paintings of Michelangelo, Botticelli and Da Vinci among others. We also visited the old walled city of Siena, marveled at the towers of San Gimignano and watched artisans carve alabaster into bowls, grapes and vases in the hilltop town Volterra.

And even the most modest restaurants served us amazingly fresh and delicious meals. We dined at two small eateries within five minutes of La Dimora di Teresa that were exceptional.

La Compagnia featured exquisite, mouth-watering pasta choices, including the best ever cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) and carbonara dishes I’ve ever eaten.

The traditional bistecca alla Fiorentina (or beef steak of Florence) served at Il Grillo Morro, the other local establishment, is a giant, 4-inch-thick, bone-in rib eye that will melt in your mouth.

We ended our five-day tour of Tuscany with a visit to Il Borro, a relatively new winery owned by the Ferragamo family, more widely known for their famous namesake fashion and clothing company. Our entire family toured the cellars, tasted the wines and had a very special lunch at Il Borro. You just knew I had to get a little more wine time in, right?

When we departed our lovely Tuscan digs, Aaron headed to the airport and back to the U.S., while Bryan and family traveled just up the road to Lucca to attend an Elton John concert under the stars. They spent two more days exploring the canals of Venice before making their way to the airport and the long flight home.

We took the fast train to Rome and checked into the Palazzo Cinquecento Hotel in the center of the city. From this exceptional hotel, we were able to conveniently visit the most important Roman landmarks, as well as savor those last delicious bites of Cucina Italia before heading back to the mountains of home.

John Brown writes the popular Vines & Vittles blog at blogs.wvgazettemail.com/wineboy/. He conducts research during his travels across the country and sometimes around the world.

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