Away in a stable just outside of Florence

Florence on a rainy day from Piazza Michelangelo.
Florence on a rainy day from Piazza Michelangelo.

You can spend hours searching  online for rental properties in Italy. More and more appear every year. Every once in a while something interesting pops up. Several years ago when planning a trip to Umbria and Tuscany with my wife and sister and brother-in-law, I came across a listing for a rental just outside of Florence.(http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p71745)The place, Residenza Strozzi,  was part of a picturesque aristocratic villa (Villa Strozzi-Ricardi) that shouted bygone class and elegance. The price was surprisingly reasonable.

Residenza Strozzi
Residenza Strozzi
Villa Strozzi ariel view
Villa Strozzi-Ricardi

Making a reservation online proved easy; finding the place in a driving rainstorm was not quite so simple. With the advent of GPS driving guides in Europe getting around by car without getting lost has become much easier. That being said, there are always a few bugs in the system. Our auto trip in the rain from our quarters in Umbria was uneventful. We set our Tom Tom to the given address of Villa Strozzi- Ricardi and arrived in a dead end street in a pouring rain to the confident announcement “you have reached your destination.” It was raining hard with no villa in sight. I was elected the scouting party to extricate us out of this spot, Luckily I found an Italian speaking German guy in a bar around the corner who knew how to get there. Sensing how his directions were confusing me, he offered to guide us by following him in his car. After several twists and turns, bypassing the main gate, we turned a couple of corners and sided up to the front inner gate.

Entry way and reflecting pool to Villa Strozzi-Ricardi
Entry way and reflecting pool to Villa Strozzi-Ricardi

The lodging located on the southeast edge of Florence  is  part of Villa Strozzi- Ricardi. We literally stayed in a restored stable. Our bedroom area was a former stall. No self respecting Italian, tourist or otherwise, would be caught dead in such quarters.  Any ghosts haunting here would have been, most likely, equine. We didn’t encounter any.

The "Scuderia"/stable from above
The “Scuderia”/stable from above
Bedroom area in stable stall
Bedroom area in stable stall

The place was advertised as having two bedrooms. The second bedroom was an open upper mezzanine that afforded little privacy. It is an ideal space for a young family, but not so handy for two couples with  a loud snorer in the group. I was more than a little embarrassed at not having discovered the lodging’s shortcomings.

Mezzanine bedroom area
Mezzanine bedroom area

The gods were with us. Upon showing us the place, our host Guido Casalone, seeing our predicament said there had been a cancelation of the Chapel apartment and he would offer it to us at a reasonable discount. My sister immediately relegated my brother-in-law, the snorer, to the chapel and we all breathed a sigh of relief knowing we were in for a quiet night.

The Chapel - sitting area
The Chapel – sitting area
The Chapel - decorative wall (probably where the altar once was)
The Chapel – decorative wall (probably where the altar once was)

 

Courtyard and entry to the "Scuderia" - stable
Courtyard and entry to the “Scuderia” – stable

 

Garden looking out from the "Scuderia"
Garden looking out from the “Scuderia”

Not only were the villa and grounds beautiful, the location was fantastic. We stayed where it seemed a world away from the hustle and bustle of Florence in a tranquil and bucolic setting,  yet a short walk to the bus stop and a 15 minute bus ride to the center of town. We had a secure place for our rental car behind two separate security gates and we were able to make day trips to the Chianti wine region, Sienna and San Gimginano. With Guido’s guidance, we found  some really nice neighborhood eateries within walking distance, including a locally popular pizzeria that was packed with neighborhood people, some with their dogs. Waiting and drinking amber beer in that atmosphere made the pizza taste even better when it finally arrived.

Viva Villa Strozzi-Ricardi!

Abruzzo – Off the beaten path

Abruzzo is probably one of the least known or explored regions of Italy. Yet, it’s only a couple of hours from Rome. We are fortunate to have family there or perhaps we might not have stopped there last summer.

Coastal Village south of Pescara
Coastal Village south of Pescara

One sunny June afternoon guided by Marta, our grand niece, we explored the costal area south of Pescara. Bouncing from site to site we immersed ourselves in an area rich in history and natural beauty.

Americans hear much about our role in taking Italy from the Germans during World War II, but we are generally ignorant of the role our allies played in that effort.  The first place Marta showed us was the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery. It was completely unexpected  experience and a spot I’m sure I would have bypassed if we hadn’t had a local guide.

Entry to Moro River Canadian War Cemetary
Entry to Moro River Canadian War Cemetary

Inside the entryway is a short history of the cemetery and the campaign to retake the eastern side of the Italian boot.  Our Canadian, English, Australians and other allies captured this side of the Italian peninsula.

Graves at Moro River Canadian War Cemetary
Graves at Moro River Canadian War Cemetary

 

Cross in the middle of the cemetary
Cross in the middle of the cemetery

This is a sad place and a poignant reminder of the terrible costs of war. We viewed a particularly touching  photo of a young Canadian and his fiancé attached to his grave marker.

Marta drove us along the coast on winding roads, stopping at several places overlooking the sea. We spotted several “trabocchi” in route. Trabocchi are wooden fishing platforms built our over the sea. Most of them are not in use, but restored to preserve the historic character of the area. We visited  a working  “Trabucco” (it’s along the same coast to the south) a couple of years ago in Puglia, but that’s another story.

Trabocco - fishing platfrom
Trabocco – fishing platfrom

 

Trabocco from above
Trabocco from above

For our last stop we visited the Abbey of San Giovanni in Vernere. This hilltop structure,  built in 1165 overlooks the Adriatic coast and has a park that is a great spot for a summer picnic. We encountered a couple of other Americans there and, like us, they were connected to family.

San Giovanni in Venere
Abbey of San Giovanni in Verere
VenereIngresso
Main entry of the abbey

The cloister pleased us the most as it was full of flowers and green plants. The interior of the abbey, although spacious, was rather plain.  Best of all there we had the place to ourselves and only a few other visitors.

Cloister of abbey
Cloister of abbey
Roses in the cloister
Roses in the cloister
Looking south along the coast from the abbey
Looking south along the coast from the abbey

 

We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly wandering from one site to another, always not far from the sea. We departed for an evening with family at Marta’s place.  The pizza was excellent.