Girlfriends Rent a Villa in Italy
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 write...
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.
We did our internet
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.
We relied 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.
Our 17th 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.
The kindness of
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.
That first 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 Casa Straneo.'