Traveling, to be honest, is a peculiar thing to do. We leave the comforts of home to stay in strange surroundings, subject ourselves to less than agreeable schedules and routines, dine on unfamiliar foods in out-of-the-way places, deal with jet lag/airlines/airports, incomprehensible languages and happily pay a considerable premium for the opportunity.
So why, in the name of good common sense, do we do it?
A thousand different people might respond to that question with a thousand different answers, or it might all boil down into a mere handful of answers such as “I like seeing new places, meeting interesting people, doing exciting things.” I suspect, however, that most of us haven’t asked that question of ourselves lately and could even be surprised at what we might give as an answer.
I’ve recently surprised myself by discovering my answer before even asking the question. In that happy moment, I smiled, gave myself a mental pat on the back, and suddenly realized how simple the answer really was… why I liked traveling.
I’d fallen in love again.
No, not the way I fell in love twenty-five years ago with Kathy. This time it was with a place. A place I’ve seen several times before and knew that I liked. A place that appealed to me in many ways, and a place that– like a beautiful work of art or music– can move your spirit and emotions to a higher level.
That place is Chianti!
Chianti is a lush paradise within the Italian region of Tuscany. I’ve been to Chianti many times. I felt I knew the character of the land, the people, the rolling green hills, the endless expanses of vines and olive trees, the fragrant yellow ginestra, the villas and castles, the winding white roads. But this time was different. Chianti had become that wonderful piece of art that demands your attention as if for the first time and makes you smile and feel better about the world and about yourself. I believe our two Chianti Experience groups shared much of this same feeling.
Spending time with our Chianti friends makes all the aforementioned trials seem small and an agreeable price to pay for such pleasure. At Vallone di Cecione, the travelers in our Chianti Experience groups enjoy the warm hospitality of Francesco Anichini and his mom, Anna and his father, Giuliano. Chianti is made even more wonderful just because they’re there.
At the Palazzo Squarcialupi, owner Monica and her kind and caring staff (Irene, Erika, Antonella) make staying in Chianti a special treat and their hotel becomes a real home for each group’s week. Next door, at the hotel’s restaurant, Mauro and Angela always welcome us with a big smile.
Filippo, co-owner of the noted Ristoro di Lamole, is a man born with the gift of hospitality. A cold soggy fast-food hamburger would be elevated to haut cuisine by this gregarious host.
Then there are our wonderful guides. Our good friend of twelve years, Pino Teresi, introduces our groups to Cortona and Montepulciano. (And sometimes sings opera with me in the Teatro Signorelli in Cortona.)
Antonella and Monica bring history to life in Siena and Castellina.
Anna Rita and Raymond, owners of Casamonti in Castellina, are friends who combine a wonderful sense of humor with a sense of purpose in what they do in preserving a unique part of the region’s heritage.
Decidedly creating her own twist to the Chianti picture is Nora, the hard-working and passionate owner of the Chianti Cashmere goat farm. This year Nora appointed Kathy as “godmother” to a cute baby goat by the name of Jellybean.
The two sisters who live at Castello di Colognole are very special to us. Colognole, the oldest castle in Chianti, sits on a hilltop reached by a challenging gravel road and it totally surrounded by vines and olive trees. Although we’ve been friends only six years, it feels like I’ve known Rita and Rosita for most of my life. Kathy and I value each time we have the pleasure of being with them in their unique home.
And since Chianti is as much about food as it is about wine– a relationship that has developed to a high degree here over a centuries-long affair– I’ll conclude this homage to Chianti with a meal. Don’t I wish! But try to imagine it. The aromas of sage, butter, garlic stuffed into a pork roast, the more subtle whiff of fresh pasta, the mouthwatering taste of chocolate from an amazingly-flourless cake, all overlaid by the rich fruit aromas of Chianti Classico quickly disappearing from every glass. Thanks so much to our friends and cooking teachers Stefania, Giulietta and Anna… masters of the cucina!
More than anything else, Chianti and our friends in this amazing place have brought me to the realization that we are all pretty much alike. Our concerns and passions are much the same. We care about family, friends, our health, our work and our homes. We worry about tomorrow, the weather, and loss. I believe that if the whole world came to the conclusion that we have much more that unites us than divides us, life would be a better lot.
That’s a great reason to travel!
Thanks so much to all our friends in Chianti who helped us create such special Chianti Experience weeks for our groups! We’re looking forward to being back with you in 2018… and hopefully sooner!
Charley Wood and his wife Kathy lead European Experiences, week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe, including The Chianti Experience in Tuscany. In 2016 they're hosting groups in Tuscany, Provence, Alsace and the Cotswolds. They will offer The Chianti Experience again in 2018.
In addition to his work with European Experiences, Charley has written three books incluing A Villa in Tuscany, set in Chianti.
Kathy and Charley have been traveling in Europe for over 20 years and love sharing their special places in Europe with other travelers. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.