Friday, June 1, 2018

Under the Tuscan Sun ~ Bring on Bramasole!

BRAMASOLE ~ from 'Bramare' to yearn for and 'Sole' the Sun
BRAMASOLE ~ Frances Mayes’ home in Cortona, Under the Tuscan Sun

As our train carried us from Florence, Italy through the dreary, rain-soaked Tuscan countryside, the view through the dirty window had us yearning more for the sun than Bramasole . 

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Dirty windows, stormy skies - welcome to Tuscany!
We were en route to Cortona, the next stop on our week-long get-away from our home in the Greek Peloponnese.  As long time readers here know, I’ve often credited Mayes’ book with planting that seed of possibility about ‘living differently’ way back when it was published, more than two decades ago. 

Having now purchased a home and moved to Europe, we can even better relate to her tales of dealing with cultural quirks; those everyday frustrations and wonders of living in a world different from that we've known.

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Villa Marsili, Cortona - friends meet, location great, room charming, breakfast incredible
While Cortona has long been on the ‘bucket list’ we’d never made it there during earlier Tuscan travels.  This trip came about when a Pacific Northwest friend, Sharon, and I were discussing Mayes’ books via email and she reminded me that she would be in Cortona that following week as part of a a University of Washington (Seattle, WA) alumni tour group. They’d ‘do’ Tuscany from their Cortona base. 

What a perfect time and place to rendezvous, I thought. And how nice to have short and relatively inexpensive flights between Athens and Rome! Luck was with us, as we were able to book a room at  Villa Marsili where the UW group was staying. 

The hotel, besides having a perfect location (10-minute walk from the center of town and a walking distance to Bramasole), also offered a breakfast buffet included in the room rate that offered so many selections it required two display tables. In the evening complimentary Vin Santo and sweets were served. Everything about this four-star hotel exceeded our expectations.

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Cortona, this charming walled city was devoid of huge tourist groups in May

For that matter, Cortona exceeded our expectations.

This city, founded over 25 centuries ago and continuously occupied since then, was pleasantly devoid of the tourist hoards we'd encountered in Florence. It could have been the  temperamental weather that brought rain and wind storms with few sun breaks during our stay or the fact it was still early in the tourist season. We were told that in summer the place can be packed with people. But then it wouldn't take many to pack its streets and shops.

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Our footsteps echoed on the cobbled streets at night
There was also little evidence of Frances Mayes's influence, in this town of jumbled narrow cobbled roads (shared by autos and pedestrians), stairways, and piazzas.  We quickly decided she may have gotten us here the first time, but the town is what will be bringing us back.

Copies were scarce of her memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun, which remained for two years on the New York Times Best Seller list after it was published 22 years ago (how can it have been that long ago???). Two copies of her books were for sale in the bookstore. A DVD of the 2003 movie made from the book was available in another. In the wine store off the piazza a peeling poster on a back wall advertised a 2013 tasting and dinner with her. No one had heard of or seen her of late. 

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The town was a maze of narrow walkways leading to expansive piazzas

Bring on Bramasole!

“It’s kind of amazing the people will travel because of a book. I admire that.”
                   --Frances Mayes

We spent our first couple of days exploring the town on foot, a rental car wasn’t necessary nor wanted on the narrow winding streets.  As our time in Cortona was growing short, it was time to ask our hotel staff how to find Bramasole. . .after all, the place has been a part of my life for two decades and I wasn’t going to be this close and not see it - no matter how 'tourist' I might sound when asking for directions.

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The Strada Bianca - Cortona, Tuscany and under a Tuscan Sun!
Apparently I'm not the only one who's still interested in the place as the hotel staff quickly printed out a set of walking and driving directions to it that they keep on their computer. With directions in hand, The Scout and I set off on foot following the ‘strada bianca’ (white road) that I had envisioned so many times while reading the book. The route, a gradual uphill climb, leads past some beautiful Tuscan homes well worth the walk without Bramasole as a destination. We walked and walked and the road forked and continued to climb. A small directional sign was posted with an arrow to 'Bramasole'. 

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Bramasole neighboring homes - Cortona, Italy
“No one had lived there in thirty years and the grounds seemed like an enchanted garden, overgrown and tumbling with blackberries and vines.”

              -- Bramasole, as first described in Under the Tuscan Sun

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Then. . .there it was! Whoa!  Far exceeding -- in size and grandeur -- any of my conjured up images, the place is absolutely enormous. The grounds (at least from the road where I was standing) were immaculately groomed. 

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Bramasole - Cortona, Italy
How had she done it?  How had she found time to renovate the place – bring it from blackberry brambles to such beauty – AND still find time to write a best selling book about it??  Then to keep it looking spectacular and keep writing even MORE books?? I am finding renovation and upkeep of a much, much smaller home and grounds to be an all encompassing task.  How did she fit in all that research and writing and reading?  

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Close up of Bramasole entryway niche
BTW, She wasn’t in residence. I'd never have posed like that had I thought she might be looking out of one of those many windows. (I’d read her blog and knew she was on a US tour promoting her newest novel.)  I could gawk for as long as I wanted. No one else was around. The Scout wasn't as taken with this outing as I was, but he humored me and let me linger until my senses were satiated.

While soaking up the 'spirit of place' I vowed to get out that writing notebook of mine and make time to write about our Stone House on the Hill. I also made mental note to buy more clay pots and fill them with plants on our return. (I’ve bought the pots and filled them, but the notebook is still empty).

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Train station is shared by Cortona and Camuccia towns 
The next morning we boarded our train for Rome, where we’d spend our final day and night in Italy.  Next week, I’ll tell you about our time there; actually there are two stories about our time there - one real and one imagined. I can guarantee that one of the two will be filled  with “Diamonds, Danger and Desire”. . . no joke!  They say truth can be stranger than fiction, but in this case, fiction will be stranger than truth! Got you wondering what I am talking about? Well, see you next week and I'll clear all that up!

As always thanks for the time you’ve spent with us in Cortona. Safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

41 comments:

  1. It's huge! I always imagined a more modest and differently-situated house - like the lovely house in the film. Thanks!

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    1. I have never seen the movie and have seen photos of Bramasole before but somehow still didn't expect its size and commanding corner at the turn in the road. Nothing wrong with having a dream for 22 years -- it took 21 for us to move to Greece. The key is not to lose sight of the dream! Thanks for commenting Anna! Keep dreaming ~

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  2. P.S. She inspired me similarly: was it really 22 years ago? ... so that's how long my dream has remained a dream - how depressing :-((

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  3. I enjoyed tagging along on your journey. Bramasole is larger than in my minds eye.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it Karen. Thanks for commenting!

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  5. Oh, how I loved that book! I dreamed of doing the same thing, but of course, didn't, unlike you! 22 years ago......sure doesn't seem that long ago. The home is much larger than I envisioned. You've definitely got me curious about your next post!

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    1. It will be a laugh. . .that's for sure!! Thanks for the visit Amy!

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  6. Oh, it is much grander than I'd imagined but it certainly has an aura of both welcome and romance! Cortona looks beautiful too and, I know you'll agree Jackie, that one of the best things about living in Europe is how easy to get from here to there. Sounds like your reunion was a success in many ways!

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    1. We are so like kids in a candy store when researching destinations here and exclaiming over the price of airfare, that we are almost paralyzed with the choices available. What do we do next?? I knew you'd understand that --

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  7. What a fun adventure. Glad to see the Tuscan sun made an appearance after the dreary ride. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Maybe it is always somewhat hidden and that is what makes its appearance so incredibly beautiful. Whatever the case, the Tuscan Sun lived up to its reputation. . .when it finally peeked out!

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  8. Like everyone else - wow! It's big! Not the quaint spot I was imagining. But it -- and all of Cortona looks lovely. We've never gotten there, but have heard a lot about it from friends, so maybe someday!

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    1. It was big - amazingly big! She could run a hotel there if she gets tired of having a home in it. Cortona is definitely worth a visit even without Bramasole! Thanks for the comment Cindy!

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  9. I disagree with everyone! It looks just as huge as it did in the movie. I keep telling my husband l want to live under the Tuscan sky like in the movie, and he just laughs. If he ever moves back to Italy he says, it will be to Bologna. That' s okay with me. Glad your reunion was a success and that it inspired you to live the life you want.

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    1. Well I read up and there is another house they used in the movie for the refurbishing scenes but the exterior in the trailer I watched was definitely Bramasole! (And that movie is nothing at all like the book - I couldn't even watch all the trailer!) We do love Bologna and if you are looking for Tuscany at half the cost, head to our part of Greece we have the same olives, lemons, sky and Cypress trees for a fraction of the Tuscan price . . .and here you get the sea and real mountains as well!

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    2. We are staying in Athens for just 3 nights..we might not get to meet..how far away are you? More importantly, are you even back..miss jetsetter? :-)

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  10. Thanks for this little peek into the Bramasole and the Tuscan sun. We will read the intriguing sequel next week!

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  11. Thanks for this little peek into the Bramasole and the Tuscan sun. We will read the intriguing sequel next week!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Carol - you'll get a good laugh out of the Rome tale - for sure!

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  12. What a wonderful trip. I'm a huge fan of "Under the Tuscan Sun" and have read the book and seen the movie. The home is much grander than I too would have expected.

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    1. Despite rain and wind, it was a fabulous week in Italy. Thanks so much for stopping by - hope to see you back again!

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  13. Hello, what a wonderful tour. It was nice you were able to meet your friend too. Bramasole is beautiful. Enjoy your day and week ahead!

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  14. Hi Eileen, thanks for stopping by. Have a great week and I'll see you soon over at your blog! Jackie

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  15. What a fun post and trip. Bramasole looks very grand!

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    1. Bramasole was very grand looking. . .almost a Grand Dame of the Bianca strada! Thanks for stopping by Donna.

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  16. Thx for the great post about Cortona and area, Jackie. It is indeed the cultural quirks that makes travel so attractive to me.

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    1. So very true, Doreen. Without those quirks, it would be the same as always so why go, right?

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  17. One of my favourite travel books of all time, I really need to put a visit to Bramasole on my travel list just to relive the book. Bramasole is really a good looking property, very romantic.

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    1. I left my copy in the states, in our famous storage room, so have ordered a new one for Greece. I wish I'd have re-read it before going but will relive the trip through it whenever it gets here.

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  18. Found your blog via Through My Lens. Like you, we are vagabonds on a boat (we call ourselves sea gypsies), but getting ready to move abroad. Can't wait to read more of your posts!

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    1. Always love meeting fellow vagabonds. I'll head over to your blog soon! Thanks for commenting - hope to see you here again soon!

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  19. Oh my goodness, that IS GRAND! I never read the book, but have been in love with the movie for ages, although I would never have imagined it to be 22 years! Yikes!

    Jackie, thank you so much for this gorgeous, GRAND tour of Cortona and of course, Bramasole. I couldn't agree with you more, when you declare that Greece has SO much to offer, see, do and admire, at a fraction of the cost compared to Italy. So, it looks like it's going to take a talented scribe such as yourself to get us on the magical map of enchanting places to visit! Just be prepared for all the tourists outside YOUR door!

    You've definitely piqued my curiosity about Mayes' novel, even though I'm more of a movie person - love my chick flicks. Having said that, must get my daughter to order it for me asap!

    Poppy xo

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  20. Such a memorable trip and exceptional travel experience, Jackie and Joel. This is the first time I've heard of Cortona and I'm adding it to my bucket list as well as the book to my to read list!

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  21. I'm glad you finally got to see it. I'm also amazed at that photo. I had absolutely no idea it was so large, so grand. I hope she is not bothered too much by tourists coming to the house when she is in residence.

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  22. I loved Under the Tuscan Sun, but like you I'd imagined the house to be a rather more modest size. It must have taken a lot of work to renovate such a mansion!

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  23. Must have been such fun to take a pilgrimage to a place you only knew on the pages of a book! Thanks for sharing! Hope I get to visit Cortona, too.

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  24. Thanks for taking us along to Cortona and Bramasole.

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  25. Oh what a wonderful dream come true! We loved the book, my daughter, Mom and I! How enchanting to get to see Bramasole! Your photos are just wonderful. What a treat to get to be there!

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  26. This is more like the holiday I would have liked! I rather envy your closeness to be able to do trips like this to other parts of Europe. Happy travels.

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  27. ps - so I read here that you are going to start writing your book.... you have lots already written on your blog. :)

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So happy to see you took the time to comment. We read them all - and each is much appreciated. We hope you will be a regular here and comment often!

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