Bette Bowyer and Diana Pilsworth
are experienced travellers and older adventuresses -- women who
enjoy the research and planning process of their trips almost as
much as the actual journeys. We asked these members of our Journeywoman
Network to share with other readers details of the fabulous trip
to Italy they arranged for a group of their friends. Bette and Diana
We are a group
of nine Canadian women in the 55 to 69 age bracket who love to travel
abroad, but often must do so without partners. (Some of us haven't
got one and some have the kind that prefers home firesides or gardens.)
We plan our vacations around renting large villas, and make them
affordable by sharing the costs of accommodation and rental cars,
and by cooking for ourselves.
our internet research...
time, via the internet, we'd unearthed the grand villa of
Casa Straneo in Italy, which appeared wonderfully old and
romantic. What's more, its location in the village of Casal
Cermelli seemed to offer contact with small town, 'real' Italians.
Casal Cermelli, with a population of just 1,173, is tucked
away in the heart of the agricultural triangle framed by Turin,
Milan and Genoa. Through e-mail, we arranged the rental for
September with owners Ian and Mao of the U.K.
on our mini van driver...
we had leased two cars for our stay, it didn't seem wise to
drive the hour and a half journey to the villa immediately
after a long, overnight flight. Was there a minibus to get
us there, we wondered? Using the Net's infinite assets again,
we landed on the web site of Panicucci's Taxi Service, based
near Malpensa. Pleased with their reasonable rates and quick
response to e-mails, we booked a minivan, and co-owner, Sergio
Panicucci, cheerfully met us on arrival day.
How good it was to rely
on Sergio. We felt the terror of large trucks and small speeding
cars as they wove precariously in and out of traffic. However,
Sergio delivered us safely to the sleepy village of Casal
Cermelli where windows were shuttered and the few shops closed.
It was siesta time.
century villa was a dream...
at Casa Straneo, our driver pulled on the ancient bell hanging
beside the immense steel gate. The congenial couple who looked
after the villa, Dante and Carmela, beamed: 'Buon Giorno,'
and we drove into a welcoming oasis of formal gardens -- a
sun-filled courtyard lush with trees, a vine-covered arbour
and potted plants.
Built in the middle of
the 17th century and refurbished in the 19th, the Casa has
been handed down through generations of the Straneo family.
As Dante and Carmela peeled open shutters to reveal doors
to Juliet balconies and a multitude of windows, sunshine poured
in. And outside, attached to the villa, we discovered their
lovely, little chapel.
kindness of Italian strangers...
next few days sped by. An Italian e-mail friend, Laura, joined
us for some excursions, and it was a joy to meet her in person.
We had found her through HERmail,
a web site for women travellers, and asked if she was familiar
with the area around Alessandria. Laura replied that she lived
nearby and could help with information 'if we kept the English
simple,' and we began a nine-month overseas correspondence.
Sunday, we went to the 11 o'clock High Mass in the village's
ancient church. We were not Catholics and some of us were
agnostics, but we dressed in long skirts to be respectful
of the church and the villagers. We were welcomed. People
smiled. 'We're from Canada,' we told the priest outside in
the sun. 'Ah,' he replied, graciously. 'You're staying at