Story and photos by Norma Davidoff
additional photos by Le Tori de Bagnara
FINALLY, I GET TO LIVE IN A CASTLE !
Lemon blossom fragrance, truffles’ earthy taste, chocolate’s intoxicating aroma. The hushed murmur of people at prayer, a cacophony of tweeting birds, the whoosh of clean country air, the simple silence of stillness. I experienced them all while living in a castle. Yes, a castle. Pieve San Quirico Castle at Le Torri de Bagnara in Umbria, to be exact. Umbria is the unspoiled province next to ever-popular Tuscany and the province of le Marche in Central Italy.
Set on 1300 acres, dotted with medieval stone castles, some crumbling, this vast estate was at our disposal. Amidst its ancient trees and flower-bordered lakes is a working farm raising Chianina cattle, olives, honey, and roe deer.
Being in this castle for a week provides a way to experience Italy while staying put in one place. Yes, pack only once but get around on day trips with the pleasure of returning to your “home away from home.” The family that owns the estate is descended from Napoleon Bonaparte’s brothers. Zenaide Guinta manages it graciously for her family.
And luxury? Yes, indeed. Elegant, traditional rooms in a seven-bedroom castle. Rooms are romantic, comfortable, and luxurious. What makes it especially enticing are generously proportioned Italian tiled bathrooms (nine of them) in white with Italian tiles in soft shades of rose and green. Add to that, a few living rooms flanked by stately guest rooms. And that is just the beginning of extra places to relax, read, have a drink, and socialize in this large and lovely place. Many rentals in Italy do not have air conditioning, but Le Torri is fully air-conditioned.
We enjoyed the outdoor terrace with plenty of seating and views out to the swimming pool. The lower level room boasts a long table and chairs --- dine, hold a conference, use the computer. Speaking of pool, there is a billiards room on the first floor near the airy dining room and the kitchen. And what a kitchen! Sleek stainless steel refrigerators, a big stove, and a dishwasher that does the job in just three minutes. That’s delicious in itself. What more could you ask for?
Perhaps someone to shop for food. That can be arranged for a small fee. And maybe someone to make and serve breakfast? That is actually included in the castle rental. Lunches and dinner are easily arranged with an excellent chef. Le Torri offers fine Italian cuisine, some from its own kitchen garden and fields. We were welcome to pluck herbs from the kitchen garden, the nights we opted to do our own cooking.
What else I love: Smart-looking bright red bikes in several sizes, to ride around the numerous bike/walking paths. Maps provided. The special lighting that comes on at sunset; the salt water swimming pool exclusively for us and those we might invite for a swim.
Enough lolling around! Rent a car, or let Le Torri arrange a Mercedes with driver. The town of Solfagnano is less than five minutes away. There you can play tennis and do food shopping. Another five minutes more and you reach a challenging golf course.
But stay on the road and hit the hill towns. Italy knows how to do monumental and warm and enveloping in its town squares. Every place has an old section with a distinctive square. What a joy to experience each one!
The lively city of Perugia, a lovely combination of urban and country, is just twenty minutes from Le Torri. Admire the views and check out cathedrals, museums and the Perugina chocolate factory, home of the famed Bacci chocolates. On the factory tour, you can sample every kind of candy the company makes free, of course.
Assisi, a half-hour away, is full of marble grandeur and Franciscan friars. One feels a special draw. Assisi may be the city of St. Francis, but the feeling of spirituality is for all faiths. The Temple of Minerva dates from First Century BC, and was converted to a church in 1212. It is the oldest building in Assisi.
Perhaps the most touching building of all is the Basilica of San Francesco. It is a simple white brick building, set against a vast green lawn with heart-stopping views of the valley below. Inside, despite the crowds, there is a special hush of reverence. Frescoes in soft colors cover the walls and ceilings. One can visit St. Francis’ remains in the under-church. People in Assisi are duly proud of their city; they constantly clean the streets and sidewalks, keeping it an immaculate, welcoming place.
Don’t miss Deruta if you like pottery. Deruta is the mother lode, having majolica pottery factories too numerous to count. Grazie and Fima are two high-end manufacturers that sell to the general public and to stores all over the world. Grazie is the oldest company in town, Fima, one of the newest. Grazie offers traditional patterns plus intriguing up- to- the- minute modern designs. Fima’s handwork is exquisite, too. Touring one factory will take a mere half hour and bring a smile to your face and maybe a set of espresso cups, a colorful service of china, or an imposing vase in a Renaissance pattern circa 1450.
And then there’s the town of Gubbio that stole my heart away. Like most of these towns, it takes a bit of climbing to see the sights, in this case, 1500 feet up. But an elevator takes you from one level to another right in town. Just outside of town is the Funivia, like a ski lift, on which you ride up the mountainside to the medieval part of the town.
Basilica St. Ubaldo includes a museum about the Corsa de Ceri. This fervent race, held every May 15, is part frenzy, part athletic event. Town teams have been competing since the 12th Century. The Consul Palace, Gubbio’s impressive city museum exhibits the Ceri, along with pottery, paintings, and more, all tied to the town’s history -- an expression of Gubbio’s well-deserved civic pride.
But at the end of the day, it is comforting to turn back to Le Torri. I chose to sip D.O.C. wine from the family’s vineyard. But you can opt for practicing down dog and “om” in the front yard with a yoga instructor who speaks English. Le Torri can also arrange for a massage, perhaps with honey from the farm, or cooking classes given in English. Zenaide Guinta will hook you up with tourist guides in Florence, Rome, and all of Umbria, best with advance notice. Hold a wedding or event in Le Torri’s 18th century church. Guests can even fly in; there is a landing strip. An experience as luxe as this – means castles, culture, creature comforts -- and great memories.
© September 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.