My dear friend Suzanne Stavinoha is today's guest. Her "Book Club in Tuscany" tour is a once in a lifetime dream! She's here to chat about her love of Tuscany and her next guided trip to the area.
By Suzanne Stavinoha:
Dateline Dallas, summer of 1996. Searching for a way to escape an exceedingly steamy day, my friend and I decided to duck into a movie theater. The film was Stealing Beauty, starring Jeremy Irons and Liv Tyler, and featured several people vacationing in a rented farmhouse in the Chianti Hills.
My first thought was “You can rent a farmhouse in Tuscany?!” And as I soon found out, yes you can.
That day was the beginning of what has been a 20-year adventure of taking small groups of friends, friends of friends and, eventually, complete strangers to Tuscany. We move into a farmhouse or villa and spend the week day-tripping around the region. It’s an affordable, fun vacation filled with food, wine and discovery.
Over the years, I started a little tradition. Before each trip, I would read a book set in Italy, then visit that city or setting while I was in Italy. It was a wonderful way to bring the characters and the story to life.
That’s the idea behind Book Club in Tuscany. Working with my Italian associate, Michela Ricciarelli, we provide our guests with a list of books to read before the trip, then spend the week going to visit the places where our favorite characters lived, worked, got into trouble or fell in love.
The next trip is May 27 to June 3, 2017, and the list of books includes a wide variety of romance, history, fiction and non-fiction. One of the featured titles is The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox. It’s a legal thriller that covers the mysterious, exotic and particularly savage murder of a British girl, Meredith Kercher, who was attending the Università per Stranieri, or “University for Foreigners” in Perugia, an historic town about 90 miles south of Florence.
Amanda Knox was also a student at the college that year. It was her first time living away from her Seattle home, her first time in a multi-cultural environment where she met students from all over the world. And sadly, her first time coming up against a drug-fueled party scene like the one that existed – and to a large degree still exists – in Perugia.
The book introduces us to Amanda as a young girl, using interviews with family and friends to paint the picture of a gentle soul who wrote poetry and avoided confrontation. As she got older, however, those around her felt she was becoming like a pot of boiling water with a too-tight lid.
These conflicting characterizations are on full display during the lengthy and, as readers will see, highly flawed trial that came to a controversial conclusion -- a 26-year jail sentence for the American student, Amanda Knox.
The Fatal Gift of Beauty is just one of the books we’ll be discussing during the trip. Others include Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, set in the breathtaking beauty of the Cinque Terre region, which we’ll be visiting, and Oil & Marble, a story based on the lively yet contemptuous relationship between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti. During our visit to Florence, we’ll see Michelangelo’s most famous masterpiece, the David, as well as the majestic dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the subject of another featured book, Brunelleschi’s Dome.
Along with discussing the books, we’ll be exploring other regions of Tuscany as well. A tour of the Antinori Vineyards will be followed by lunch at the highly acclaimed Osteria there. After a walk around the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we’ll tour an old olive mill that still produces a luscious extra virgin olive oil, and afterwards dine al fresco on foods and wines of the region.
Our “home” for the week is an 18th-century villa in the Maolina hills just north of Lucca. Filled with antique furnishings (but modern bathrooms), the villa also has outside gardens, an infinity-edge swimming pool that will be for our own private use, and a small family chapel with a stone altar and marble walls.
For more details about the trip, as well as an itinerary, pricing and the full list of featured books, visit www.BookClubinTuscany.com.