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A Day in the Country

BY Lisa Lindblad

September 25, 2010

My day started 30 minutes from Perugia in Umbria, that less-known sister of Tuscany, the one that is a little more withdrawn, that carries her secrets quietly.  With no access to the sea, Umbria is a region of wooded hills and steeper valleys;  it is no wonder that she has produced so many mystics, saints and contemplatives.

Palazzo Terranova is a luxurious country house hotel that was once the 17th century home of a nobleman.  With the usual commanding views of heart-stopping landscapes, it has 7 rooms, each one a gem of color and style, and a 4-bedroom villa with its own private pool.  Valentina, Carolyn and Patrizia welcomed me with the warmth of old friends, and I settled in to La Traviata, one of my favorite rooms of this whole trip.

Between the beauty of my surroundings, the fragrance of tuberose and their private label, scented candle, the ministrations of the superb masseuse, Martina, a delicious dinner of white truffled fettucine, and the charm of the staff, this was a very difficult place to leave the next morning.

I had a long way to go, however, and with my charming colleagues, Antonella and Camilla, we slipped back over the Umbria/Tuscany border and wound our way northwards, stopping to look at various borgos and new hotels, comparing notes and setting our compass for the travel season ahead.  And the road winds…

Tuscan distances are deceiving.  As the crow flies, all villages seem close, all easily accessible from the central points of Florence or Siena.  That is not so.  A road of 6 kilometers can take 40 minutes to navigate, and so it is important to drive the routes in order to better plan daily outings.  It is also important to linger, for the treasures of the region are singular and many.  Each village, for example, has its own museum which might consist of four paintings hung in a living room.  The pride associated with the care and dedication the villagers take in protecting their patrimony is moving.

I have always loved Cistercian monasteries and Tuscany has two important ones, the most beautiful being the Abbey of San Galgano at which we stopped.

On the hill above the soaring Abbey of San Galgano is the rather pagan, circular chapel containing the tender fresco of the Madonna of Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

Ancient beauty is what seduces me in Italy.  Finding treasures like this madonna in a quiet valley is like finding a nugget of gold in a stream, a perfect pair of Angel’s Wings at the edge of the sea.  The pleasure is deeply personal, for often you stand alone in front of your discovery, as I did this day, savoring its loveliness.  I am speechless.

My journey ended in a taxi circling the city of Florence, making my way down through back streets to the city center below, always keeping the grand cupola of the Duomo in sight.  As the Arno came in to view, my taxi driver began to regale me with stories of the ’66 flood, showing me the high water mark on the old stone walls.  And then he catalogued the losses to this city of the Medicis – the frescoes and paintings, the statues and buildings of the great Masters who he was on intimate terms with – the pride of his heritage impassioning his voice, the knowledge of art history stunning his charge.  Can you imagine such a thing in New York?

And, finally, he came to a stop in front of the Four Seasons Florence, one of the newest additions to the FS portfolio.  Located a mere 10-minute walk from the Duomo, the rooms are contained in a frescoed Palace and a Convent at whose heart is an ancient 11-acre garden of great botanical note.

Four Seasons is the quintessential hotel: perfect service and perfect upkeep.  They also have some of the best beds in the industry and, as importantly, they know how to make it with the pleated sheet at the foot.  Not all Four Seasons properties, however, are created equal.  The greats, in my view, occupy extraordinary buildings that provide the interesting bones Four Seasons is so well-suited to dressing – Istanbul, Budapest, Paris, Florence.  But no matter where you find a Four Seasons you will find the best and kindest service in the world.

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John Derian Goes West