I am from Tuscany and I am sick and tired of Tuscany. The Tuscany of my childhood does not exist anymore. It has been overrun by hordes of new barbarians from the rest of Europe and the US who have snatched up farms and land to build mansions and mega villas in the “nouveau chic” area of the moment from Sting to Dutch Royalty, from Frances Mayes to Debi Mazar to the usual assorted Hollywood stars. The quaint quiet rolling hills have become the playground of the rich and shameless, with high walls, gates, paparazzi, security cameras and barbed wire.
So for our honeymoon instead of taking my husband "home" I decided to go to the beautiful unexplored area of "Ciociaria" situated one hour south of Rome and one hour north of Naples, in the Lazio region of Italy. We stayed at "Casa Gregorio," a 1797 structure in the heart of the historic center of Castro Dei Volsci. The three-story stone house belonged to the nobility of the town and after years of disrepairs it was completely renovated and restored in 2010 by gay entrepreneur Gregory Aulensi.
He has transformed this abandoned 12,000 square foot palazzo into a cultural oasis with a Bed & Breakfast, cooking school, Taverna and historic Frantoio where in the 16th century horses turned the old stone wheel to mash the region's olives and produce genuine olive oil. What was once abandoned has now come back to life with folklore theme nights which gather local people, guests, and visitors from near and far.
Even though Greg is openly gay, "Casa Gregorio" is not a gay guesthouse.
All guests are welcomed equally. We did not go there to have a "gay holiday" but to unplug from the rat race, to feel alive and go back in time.
We shared delicious breakfasts around the large dining room table overflowing with homemade breads, cakes, pastries, jams, fresh fruits, frittatas, fruit juices and cappuccinos, with other guests from Norway, England and Canada.
The five bedrooms show attention to details and they are all distinctively different in character. Each is decorated with wrought iron beds and antique furniture. You can relax on the terrace, listening to the sound of silence while overlooking green hills capped with ancient villages cascading down the sides as if they were hanging for dear life to the ever present churches on their very top. The only occasional sounds come from the nearby bell towers marking the passage of time. Or you can read and drink wine in the living room surrounded by a comprehensive collection of art and books.
If you really must have free Wi-Fi Internet is available.
At sun set we walked the narrow winding streets of the medieval village and were always greeted by friendly folks with a smile and a ciao. Even the cats were friendly. Our excursions into the country side amid the vineyards, silvery olive groves, and verdant trees took us to the ancient Abbey of Montecassino, to Terracina and its Temple of Zeus on the Mediterranean shores, where we ate fish practically off the boats of the local fishermen, to the gorgeous little town of Sperlunga whose houses, all painted white, overlook the sea from the side of a mountain.
We want to go back just to have another taste of the homemade gelato we discovered there. To top it all off, the four of us, we were traveling with our best men Trevor and Steve, had dinner at an "agriturismo" called Ruspante. The meal featured three courses of appetizers, each comprised Of an amazing variety of homemade cold cuts, grilled and fried vegetables, scores of cheeses including the ubiquitous mozzarella di bufala, mushrooms, black and green olives, freshly baked breads, bruschetta dripping in real olive oil garnished with tomatoes that had the flavor of tomatoes. Then three different rounds of homemade pastas followed by four types of grilled meats. All the foods we ate came directly from the farm itself, it was by far the best dinner we ever had and we never ordered a single dish. There was no menu
to choose from, the food started coming as soon as we sat down. The wines that helped us wash it all down had no fancy labels, no additives or chemicals and even though we ate and drank for almost three and half unhurried hours we never felt drunk or stuffed. Just happy and relaxed under a star dotted sky with the moon as its centerpiece.
Maybe you’ve already visited Italy once or twice, so you’ve done the major museums and seen the historic city centers before and you’re looking for something completely different. Maybe you just aren’t into cities overrun by thousands of tourists and you’d prefer to wake up to the sounds of a birdsong than traffic. This is it. You have found your paradise.
There is no other place that offers inexpensive rates in an ideal location at the country's sun-dappled green heart.
If you want to experience a romantic get away from the hustle and bustle and lower your stress level make "Casa Gregorio" home for a few days.
Greg and his staff could not have been more charming and helpful.
It truly felt as if we were staying at a friend's house.
Visit their web site at www.italyculinaryholiday.com for more information.
Ciao, arrivederci and Buon Appetito.