Time with my mother, on our own, in Italy. Although I am fully capable of back-packing, camping, getting lost in a city and eventually finding my way – perhaps in a parallel universe but capable nonetheless, I am also completely excited to indulge in total luxury and live on Planet Fabulous. My mother and I stayed in Castiglion del Bosco in Tuscany for the past three nights and I tell you, it was superb. The idea was to pack into three nights and two days all that we could and the end result was a sensory explosion. We had three cooking lessons with their chef choosing dishes that we could actually make at home. We stood over him like two eager and slightly clueless cronies watching his every stir of the pot, realizing in the process how many risottos I’ve mercilessly destroyed, and learned the art of simple Tuscan cooking. The secret is in NOT doing too much to the food, btw.
We went on a wine tour and tasting on our first day that set the tone for drinking copious amounts of Brunello for the next three days. Brunello di Montalcino a wise choice on any wine list. We drank it day and night because we frankly were eating day and night and wine just goes with everything. Maybe not breakfast, but it was tempting. The highlight of the stay was tickets to the Palio in Siena. This is an annual horse race from an ancient tradition dating back over a thousand years. Let’s just say, if you are ever in Siena on July 2nd or August 16th, this medieval festival is something you must see. The Piazza del Campo where the race is held is a square in the city’s centre surrounded by buildings from the 13th century. It is stormed by nearly 30,000 people pinned next to one another and choice window boxes from the buildings of the square equally filled with a further 33,000 onlookers. It’s also 80 degrees outside, so the heat of the event begins by the sweat on your brow. The 17 districts, or contrade, of Siena parade their stars and stripes and 10 have been chosen to race the event with jockeys riding dangerously bare back. You belong to the district you were born in, so the race divides family members and lovers alike.
We were late in requesting any ‘seats’ – couldn’t quite picture mom working the crowd in the square – and after some proper Italian fanagling, the hotel produced a last minute result with the offer from Countess Cesarina Pannochieschi d’Elci; essentially the Sienese Royal Palazzo. It was extremely pricey, this ‘favor’, so it required some debate over the pros and cons. We got through all the pros, and booked it! It was an insanely exciting and privileged evening and having the Countess and her family as our hosts, Prosecco in hand and standing at the window box where Prime Ministers and rock stars alike have rested their elbows, we were over the Siena moon.