The Key

Posted by Gail Hecko of Gail’s Great Escapes

the-keyA missing key changed my life.

In 2001 we rented an apartment in the center of Cortona, Italy, for two weeks, our first true experience with slow travel. Prior to this, the only thing I knew about “slow travel” was long car trips, and I didn’t like them. My European travel consisted of trains, planes, and automobiles, and the faster the better. I wanted to see everything!

As you can read in the blogs before this one, fast travel might be the way to SEE everything, but it is not the way to feel the sense and spirit of a place, of the people, and even of the art and architecture. Slow travel is.

Back to the key. It was missing. The key holder person was not waiting at the door as I thought she would be, I could only say ciao and grazie in Italian, and I had no cell phone. Bad news for me. I would have to try and explain to someone, in Italian, and this made me nervous. I had the agency number in my hand and poked my head into the nearest art gallery, hoping to find a phone. When Elizabeth Cochrane opened her mouth, English words came out and I was so relieved!

Montisi by Elizabeth Cochrane

Montisi by Elizabeth Cochrane

She made the call, I slow-traveled for two weeks in the Tuscany countryside, and Liz and I became fast friends. She was a talented British artist making her living in Tuscany. Her Italian friends became mine, and I enjoyed asking her advice about where to go and what to do in the region. In the evenings we would discuss my day, and I would plan the next. It was a very relaxing way to vacation, and I really felt a connection to what I was experiencing. I wasn’t just an observer; I was discovering the rhythm of this medieval town and its environs. Slow travel.

I like to paint, too, and began dreaming of a vacation with my girlfriends in an ancient Italian villa. I thought Liz could give us art lessons; Pino Teresi, my newly-found tour guide, could drive us around; and my friend Patti could help me in the kitchen with the wining and the dining. An idea was formed and Liz helped me make it a reality in her little village of Montisi in the most beautiful part of Southern Tuscany.

Painting Class with Elizabeth

Painting Class with Elizabeth

Eight years later, I believe in the concept of Slow Travel more than ever. I have slowly learned the nooks and crannies of my village. The surrounding towns: Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pienza, Siena, Cortona, are all within an hour’s drive. I’ve shared the charm of a Tuscan hilltop village with dozens of people from all over the U.S., and it’s still as exciting to me now as the first slow trip.

Maybe because I’m getting older, I think more about taking the time to be a participant in my travels, to make my time have value and meaning. And, in my tours, to help others have this same experience. Traveling slowly helps one connect, and these feelings are the ones that will stay with you long after the trip is over. They will become your fondest memories.

I believe that slow travel is the key to a rich and rewarding experience in a foreign country.

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gail3Gail Hecko, the owner of Gail’s Great Escapes, shares her passion for Italy and Southern Tuscany through week-long tours. She lives half the year now in the medieval village of Montisi where she is always on the look-out for interesting experiences for her guests. The concept of her tours is to be on-site to provide information about the area without having every day planned as a group outing.

On Monday of each week, there is a group winery and cheese-tasting tour with Pino, and one evening a visit to a local restaurant together. Other days, the guests decide what they want to do – their interest, their pace. No stress, no schedule but the one they make for themselves. Art lessons, cooking classes, ballooning, great food and wine, and new friends, culminate in an “Under The Tuscan Stars” party each week.

There is a peaceful simple spirit in Montisi. It’s magical.

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