About Donna Sozio
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Before you begin reading, first pour yourself a glass of proseco and toast yourself. Why? Because you have chosen to leave the road most traveled (Rome, Florence, Venice) and venture into Umbria – the green heart of Italy – where you can experience la vera Italia.
You might know which Umbrian wineries to visit and what medieval hilltop towns to tour. But where should you stay?
Certainly Umbria’s hamlets and walled cities are full of hotels. But why not try something different? Like a private villa or an agritourismo, where you can make the most of Umbria’s vistas of never-ending rolling hills? After six visits to Umbria, I’ve tried both. Here are my top two picks.
Private Villa: Fondo la Teglie
A restored 17th century farmhouse, this 5-bedroom private villa is what Italian countryside dreams are made of.
The villa itself exudes a rustic country feel but it is fully equipped with all modern amenities. There’s a marvelous kitchen, outdoor grill, and wood-burning pizza oven to please the chef(s) of your group. The master bedroom made me feel like an Italian contessa with a canopy bed and gorgeous traditional Umbrian linens.
The master bathroom with its sweeping views of the Umbrian countryside made getting ready – even just for a walk through local vineyards – a luxurious affair.
One of the things I love about Fondo la Teglie is the dilemma where to have my morning coffee. Under a canopy of wisteria overlooking a hilltop town in the distance? Under the olive trees? Or by the pool, which introduced me to an entirely different view of the Umbrian landscape. I settled on enjoying my caffé under the olive trees. Then I had lunch by the pool. And enjoyed an evening apero under the wisteria watching the full moon rise. A perfect trifecta.
So, what’s the allure of an Italian villa?
There’s something utterly magical about having all this all to yourself. It’s just you, the olive trees, the lavender and rosemary, the hills, the views, the wine, the food, and your closest friends and family living it up La Dolce Vita-style.
The gardens, orchards, and olive groves surrounding Fondo Le Teglie are bursting with colors and scents. Even the trees buzz with life. And with so many gorgeous spaces for dining al fresco, or just taking in the views, a day spent on property is a vacation in itself. Pick tomatoes from the proprietor’s orto. Or plums from her orchard. Stroll the garden path with a glass of wine in hand. Cool off in the pool. Work on your tan. Dine under the stars. And you’ll never want to leave. I didn’t.
Whatever you need is just a phone call away. The proprietor can arrange almost anything. A Vespa tour. Wine tastings. Private chef and traditional Umbrian home cooking classes with the talented Senora Dina.Tickets to Umbria Jazz. Hot air balloon rides. Even transportation by helicopter.
Getting to Fondo le Teglie is easy enough. Simply fly into Rome or Florence. Then you can arrive either directly by car or take a train to Terni. From the Terni train station, private pick-up is available.
Somethings in life – like a private villa in Umbria – are just worth it. Fondo le Teglie isn’t a place to stay. It’s a life-changing experience. La Dolce Vita at its best shared with the ones you love.
I Gergoni: Agriturismo
So, what if ten of your closest friends can’t commit to an Italian villa in Umbria? Or you love mingling with other international guests and want a more communal Italian countryside experience? Then stay at I Gergoni Agriturismo. With six luxury apartments on property, accommodating from two to six guests – each with a gorgeous kitchen and spacious private patio – county living Umbrian-style is easy to get used to.
About 90-minutes equidistant from Rome and Florence by train, you can get away with not having a car and arrange with the proprietors to pick you up from the train station, just 10 minutes away. From I Gergoni, you can easily pop into Rome, Florence, or Orvieto and be back in time to enjoy wine on your balcony as the sun sets and fireflies flicker amongst the oaks.
Private and serene or communal, if you want it to be, I loved the farm feeling to my stay. Which is what an agriturismo is all about. And if you like animals this is the place to be.
I could collect eggs or truffles. And give scratches to Gretta, the proprietors’ adorable rescue dog. One afternoon their neighbor visited bearing gifts: delicious cherries fresh from his tree, which were shared amongst guests.
Some guests come to I Gergoni with ten books and the only place they go is the pool. Others are day-trippers, leaving early in the morning and back in time for a relaxing dinner. As for me, I enjoyed a bit of both. A day trip to Montepulciano was a delight. And while staying in on property, I dipped my feet in the pool and thought about how life in Umbria – whether staying in a private villa or at an agriturismo, indeed is a bowl of cherries.
*Photos courtesy of Fondo Le Teglie and I Gergoni.
*Note: I was the guest of Fondo Le Teglie and I Gergoni but all opinions are entirely my own.
Whilst in Umbria, Roccafiore is what the locals call da vedere….which means it’s a must see. An even greater compliment to Roccafiore is that you’ll find locals dining at the table next to you and ordering their wine from the cantina.
What often starts as just lunch at Roccafiore turns into hours under the Umbrian sun dining al fresco with sweeping views of Todi, a hilltop medieval town, visiting Roccafiore’s lavender gardens, organic wine tasting in their cantina, sunbathing by their luxurious pool or indulging in a day pass at the Wellness Center. Or just give in and stay the night in one of Roccafiore’s 13 luxurious rooms. Then you can wake up and do it all over again. Even picnic in the surrounding Grechetto vineyards.
My love affair with Roccafiore began with lunch last year. An exceptional white tablecloth fine dining affair at their Fiorfiore Restaurant, I was spoiled with unparalleled farm-to-table dishes on their seasonal menu like the Torretta: eggplant with bufala mozzarella, tomatoes and oregano, Chianino beef: with froth of parmesan cheese, salad and toasted almonds and homemade strangozzi pasta: with sausage, lemon and anchovies.
Accompanying our meal, we sipped on organic wines – Grechetto di Todi, Trebbiano Spoletino and Sangiovese – from their cantina. Talk about Zero Kilometer commitment. The cantina isn’t next door. It’s on property. Roccofiore also generates its own solar energy that saves up to 90.000 Kg of carbon emissions annually. I’ll drink to that. And, we did!
I also found the staff to be more than accommodating. Once on a windy June afternoon, they kindly set up a table outside, just for the two of us, on the terrace. We couldn’t pass up the stunning views of Todi, vineyards, hills, and gardens and didn’t mind chasing after a few cloth napkins to enjoy it. The waitstaff are well educated on food and wine pairings offered delicious suggestions that I would never have thought of. Even the biscotti with my espresso after our meal were homemade and truly exceptional.
So, get out your navigation device and make your way to Roccafiore. Pack your swimsuit and I wouldn’t make any other afternoon plans. Because there is a high probability that you will not want to leave.
For just 15-35 Euros – an incredible deal – treat yourself to a day pass at the spa complete with a Kneipp bath, Jacuzzi, equatorial showers and more.
When is the right time to go to Roccafiore?
After six visits to Umbria, I find the countryside stunning and magical in all seasons. The colors of the hills are constantly changing. Every time I visit Roccafiore, I sink deeper into simple delicious pleasures of Umbria. The views. The hills. The lavender gardens and vineyards. And then there’s the pool, the cuisine, the spa, and the wine. Roccofiore’s 38 Euro seasonal wine tasting menu brings it all together – a tour of the flavors of Umbria on your tongue. Just make sure you designate a driver. Tasting pours are more than generous.
As far as luxury, quality and value, I have yet to find a hotel, restaurant and spa in Italy that offers even close to what Roccafiore provides guests. Every time, it fully delivers on my dream of the Italian countryside experience. Which is why I go back again and again. For me Roccafiore is da vedere di nuovo. I pinch myself and ask “can life really be this good?” Yes, it can. At Roccofiore, it is.
Talk about farm-to-table, Lodi’s legendary Towne House restaurant was located on a historic farm where the restaurant was the original house to the Towne family. Keeping that homestead vibe, delicious wine country cuisine is served family-style. Elegant but without pretense, I found every detail thought of and carried out with warmth and excellent service. It’s the kind of place where you actually feel a connection to those who aren’t just your servers but feel more like long-time friends.
Located at the Wine & Roses Hotel, amongst vineyards, tall oaks, redwoods, and weeping willows, The Town House’s ingredients come from local farms, including their own garden. Fresh and crisp, everything had that extra crunch to it that made you feel like you were eating something truly homemade.
Romantic inside and out, it’s perfect for twilight dining under a fairy lit gazebo on a warm balmy night. And there are plenty of balmy nights in Lodi. And lucky me, on Tuesday’s in the Town House’s lounge I joined in for their piano sing-along. Their award-winning local Lodi wines are said to “sing out of the glass.” At the Towne House, I was invited to sing with my glass. Holding my wine glass like a microphone gave me a little extra courage to belt out some tunes with the rest of the fun loving and surprising talented locals.
Now that Lodi has emerged as a wine making region (not just grape growers) it’s worth circling on your wine road map. And with restaurants like the Towne House, you get all the perks of wine country – farm fresh ingredients and sumptuous recipes paired delicious old vine Zinfandel wine, but without any of the pretense of the more commercial wine country regions.
*I was a guest of Charles Communication and the Lodi Wine & Visitors Center
*Photo courtesy of the Wine & Roses Hotel
It’s not often that I could spend my entire stay on hotel property. Let alone enjoying an entire afternoon in my room and its environs. But such is at the MacArthur Place in Sonoma. Located walking distance from tasting rooms and minutes from stunning wineries, it’s a unique classic. A gem. Just 45 minutes from San Francisco, it’s worth not just staying at, but also staying in.
After check in, I followed a narrow garden path on the way to my room where I discovered one whimsical nook after another. Art and sculptures emerged, all with a sense of humor. Swings beckoned and sunny spots invited me to whittle away the afternoon reading a new book or record random musings in my journal.
MacArthur Place both impressed and inspired me. I felt my stay unlocked my creativity. Ideas flowed as I was both entertained and utterly spoiled. From feeling old-Hollywood glamorous in the outdoor cabana shower to the pure indulgence while sipping champagne in the morning on my veranda overlooking a garden full of oversized playful jacks. Like watching a good movie twice and enjoying it even more the second time, I’m counting the days until I can return.
And then there was the pool to soak up a few afternoon rays in luxury and day dream if only just a little while. On the way, I meandered through the Spa Gardens where they harvest fresh herbs for signature spa remedies. The pool is understated and elegant surrounded by a lush garden view in every direction. Even the jacuzzi was bordered by white roses and lavender.
But time slipped away and I realized that it was nearly happy hour held in the Library. Now, the Library at MacArthur Place is hardly quiet. It’s a fun and lively gathering place for guests where our entertaining hostess, Cynthia, generously poured delicious local wines. After a glass or two (but who is counting?) with a Chardonnay smile, I happily stumbled to my suite for a disco nap before dinner.
When it was time to sleep and party with my pillow, I took the “long” way back to my suite and sat in a swing contemplating the stars and my good luck. And not wanting the night to end, I took a bath enjoying yet another perk; complementary Grape Seed Bath Soaking Tea from the Spa.
The next morning I work up feeling utterly refreshed. I treated myself to a glass of champagne in my white fuzzy bathrobe on my suite’s front porch. Looking down, I saw yet another subtle art installation. A life-like dog sat to my left, who left paw prints in the “wet” cement under my feet. More whimsy to make me smile.
I could have relaxed on my front porch for another hour, but I didn’t want to miss breakfast. So I traded in my fuzzy bathrobe for real clothes and headed over to The Barn for its complimentary buffet for guests. Sitting in their garden room with nearly floor to ceiling shutters with lush green views, I fully enjoyed homemade muffins and a fresh breakfast that lived up to all that I had experienced before.
Looking at my watch, checkout was looming. I could have easily have stayed another day or ten reveling in the charm and whimsical elegance that is MacArthur Place.
Disclosure: I was the guest of MacArthur Place Inn & Spa and Photos courtesy of MacArthur Place Inn & Spa.
It’s not often that your hotel lobby also hosts a tasting room featuring the best local wines both grown and produced in the region. Well, hello daring! This is my kind of place. But you might expect that from a hotel called Wine & Roses. Casual wine country chic, my stay was much like the whites I tasted: elegant and well balanced with a smooth finish. If Robert M. Parker rated hotels, he might give Wine & Roses 91 points.
I stayed in the Spa Room with sky blue walls, a pebble stone floor, a cozy fireplace and an oversized bathtub that made me want to light candles and soak all night. One highlight of my stay was what I call “the bed of all beds”. I had such a brilliant night sleep that only the allure of tasting wine off the back of a truck in one of Lodi’s oldest Zinfandel vineyards got me out of bed. I heard later that their mattresses have such a cozy reputation that the Summit Hotel Group sells them. I’m definitely looking into that.
Once up and about, I strolled around the grounds. They were lush, elegant, and romantic with garden dining at the Towne House farm-to-table restaurant which offered, dare I say, a superb breakfast. The red delicious berries, white linen tablecloths, perfect espresso, and homemade spa granola were worth coming back for. Dinner at the restaurant was a feast of farm fresh vegetables and meats served family style. If you can carry a tune, have a drink before dinner in the bar for Tuesday night sing-a-longs.
The pool was separate from the hotel but worth a walk across the parking lot to relax in cushy oversized lounge chairs under - thankfully – a cabana that shaded my pale skin from the sun.
While it’s true that in Lodi there are no fancy castles or topiary garden sculptures, one of the aspects I enjoyed most was what Lodi was missing as well. There are no curtains between you, the wine growers, wine makers, and the award winning wines that sing out of the glass. Most often the lovely folks pouring also grew the grapes and made the wine they opened for you to enjoy. Perhaps, their hands were in the dirt just that morning. Which makes for what I found to be a real conversation around something I love – casually enjoying a beautiful glass of wine. I found this approachable “come as you are” mentality pervaded in the hotel from the spa to the tasting room and their Towne House restaurant.
Perhaps this relaxed atmosphere comes from Lodi’s Italian and German heritage where they take a more European approach to enjoying the pleasure of a beautiful glass of wine every day. Not just for special occasions. Or perhaps it’s just the Wine & Roses chic casual touch. It’s not often that I actually want to stay on the hotel grounds and enjoy my day relaxing, dining, sipping, and noshing.
*I was a guest of Charles Communication and the Lodi Wine & Visitors Center
*Photos courtesy of the Wine & Roses Hotel
It’s not an official or scientific test. Yet, generally, I can tell how good a spa is by the quality of their granola. When I go back for a second helping, I relax and trust that I’m in good hands. My granola litmus test at the Wine & Roses Spa was an accurate massage prediction. Both were amazing.
I arrived an hour early to soak in one of the spa’s two outdoor plunge pools. After a late deadline and an early flight, I needed it. Under gentle pines and elegant landscaping, I watched the leaves fall beside me as a jet gave my back a pre-massage. Then I headed to the outdoor sauna with a looking glass door. Usually, I’m not a fan of saunas or steam rooms. I always feel so boxed in. But being able to see the lush garden through the glass, I felt expansive and relaxed. Pampered. At least for a hot minute before the glass door steamed up and my gorgeous view disappeared into a white fragrant fog.
After my steam, I waited in the octagon relaxation room for my massage. Indeed, I indulged in a few more spoonfuls of delicious granola. I appreciated that the lounge chairs faced away from each with either a fire or garden view. It relaxed me and felt so private not having to look across the room at someone else.
My masseuse arrived. She was tiny but mighty. I was invited to a lay down on a massage table with soft linens where she began to work her magic. There was an amazing flow to her massage. A series of hot towels kept me warm and relaxed my muscles as she dug in deep and relieved my stress-related kinks. Afterwards, I felt like I was walking on rose petals. At first, I thought it was just me. Was this really one of the best massages I have had? But when one of my travel companions unprompted said the same, we both knew it was really, that good.
Still basking in my after-massage bliss, I slathered on a caramel body lotion that smelled so sweet it satisfied my sweet tooth. Then in ladies changing room, I traded in my cushy bathrobe for heels, skinny jeans, and a satin top and headed to dinner smelling like “spa”. Underneath my relaxed smile, I silently wished that every day be like this.
*I was a guest of Charles Communications and The Lodi Wine and Visitors Center
*Photos courtesy of Wine & Roses Hotel
There’s an ancient Carnival parade in the traditional Swiss valley of Lötschental called the Tschaggatta. On February 7th more than 100 monsters roamed the valley villages from Blatten to Ferden. Clad in frightening hand carved wooden masks, larger-than-life furs, cowbells, and carrying sticks; they march through the valley and unleash a winter’s worth of mischief.
As intriguing as they are, it’s wise to stay out of the monsters’ way. Or you risk being thrown into the snow. Had I known that I wouldn’t have worn a bright pink bobble ball ski hat. I ate snow. Twice. In times past, onlookers who came too close would be doused with ash. Which made me grateful for just a dusting of white powder.
Dare I return, you’ll find me dressed in black, standing in the shadows where the monsters cannot see me. But I can see them.
One story of the origins of the Tschaggatta is that the monsters scare off evil spirits that arise from the long dark isolated winters of the past. Another legend is that bands of thieves living high in the valley descended in frightening masks to steal from the villagers. Either way, the church banned the Tschaggatta in 1865. But the monsters persevered. Today, with or without the church’s blessing, beginning February 3rd, the monsters get free drinks at bars.
For the Tschaggatta, I stayed at the three-star Hotel Lötschberg in the traditional village of Kippel. The monsters march right through its old town and the hotel is walking distance to Lauchernalp’s Wiler ski lift. The Lötschental valley isn’t only famous for its monsters. Winter enthusiasts have long enjoyed the open bowls of Lauchernalp’s ski paradise. You can ski and drink in views of more than forty 13,000 ft. peaks including, the “King of the Lötschental” the majestic Bietschhorn.
The village of Kippel is home to the famous Dorfkeller restaurant. Yet, had it not been completely booked that night, I would have missed out on the fantastic Restaurant Waliserkeller. Transported back in time, the walls were covered in Tschaggatta masks, Valais wine flowed, and after a long day tree skiing; I felt no guilt ordering the deliciously filling Fondue des Hauses. But the best was yet to come. Apricot liquor homemade by the watitress’ uncle. Not to mention, Restaurant Waliserkeller served the best gluhwein I ever drank. But the infamous uncle’s lips were sealed about his secret ingredients. Which is just another reason to return.
If I were to write a brochure for Lötschental, the headline would read “Come for the Skiing. Stay for the Monsters.”
Both are worth a second and third visit. Just leave your pink bobble ski hat at home.
*I was the guest of Lötschental Tourismus. All opinions expressed are explicitly my own.
*Photos are courtesy of Lötschental Tourismus.
If you fancy sipping champagne on a frozen lake, purveying handsome men yielding mallets and riding horses while battling for victory, then come to the St. Moritz World Cup on Snow. You’ll love it. I did.
Every January more than 12,000 polo fans, socialites, and fashionistas rub elbows on frozen Lake St. Moritz. Whether in the stands or the champagne tent, you’re surrounded by the Engadin’s snowcapped mountains dappled with six 5-star hotels and a sapphire blue sky reflecting ice crystals. It’s an otherworldly thrill as the hooves of dark stallions stir up clouds of white snow; charging down the polo field for an attack on goal.
But Ice Polo isn’t just an event. It’s a spectacle.
Haute winter style is on full display. Furs, Moon Boots, and outlandish hats, were this year’s must-haves. Don’t forget the jewels. Whether they were inherited from a great aunt, a Valentine’s gift, or you waltzed into Tiffany’s and bought your own diamonds – wear your ice! It is Ice Polo after all.
Just as important as the Polo and fashion is the social agenda.
Relax and catch some rays on fur-lined seats while listening to the light rock band. Hobnob in the Veuve Clicquot champagne tent. And don’t forget to secure an invitation to the ball. This year’s black tie event was held at the Hotel Kepinski that was light up in blue and raised over CHF 40,000 for the charity BEYOND.
If you are interested in the game of Polo and it’s your first time, fear not. Before each match at 11 AM and 2 PM, a presenter explains in English the strategy, riding style, and plays that you’ll see on the field. And if you (or any of your mates) think they can ride better than the players – swing your mallet on the mechanical polo horse to give it a go.
Champagne, stallions, fashion, snow-capped peaks, and a black tie ball… yes, St. Moritz’s Ice Polo is glitzy and absolutely romantic. What I enjoyed most was the warmth and spirit of the crowd. Indeed, you need not be intimidated by “Glamouritz”. Dripping in diamonds (or not, like me) everyone had champagne smiles and enjoyed the romance of an elegant day .
A word to the wise: St. Moritz Ice Polo is a much-loved event. Book accommodation early. If you can’t find a room in St. Moritz, try the swank Hotel Misani in nearby Celerina.
*I was the guest of Tourism St. Moritz
*Photo credits belong to St. Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow