During a chat with Nora’s British editor at RWA, we discussed the upcoming Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy and wondered if Ashford Castle would see a bump in reservations from the series, the way Inn Boonsboro did on the heels of The Inn Boonsboro Trilogy. (In fact, Little Brown UK plans a contest around the release of Dark Witchin October and the prize will be a stay at Ashford Castle! Details to come.)
Antonia, Nora’s Little Brown UK editor, said she liked to call that boost in guests at the Inn — and potentially Ashford Castle — “Norism” while the readers who arrange travel based on Nora’s books are “Norists.” It seems to me that Norists probably have more fun than any other sort of travelers: they are visiting places they loved reading about, they usually travel with like minded friends or (at the very least) patient family members.
Now that we’ve finished with the Italy travelogues, as the summer draws to a close in the Northern Hemisphere while spring dawns in the Southern Hemisphere, I have to ask: Have you ever set a vacation around one of Nora’s books or series — for instance Ireland, Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Boonsboro? Or do you plan to?
Please share in the comments. If you have any, please send along any photos of such a trip to me at LMReeth@gmail.com and we can create an album.
We left the villa and Tuscany on a gorgeous morning. But first there were hugs and goodbyes–and a recipe from Antonella for her amazing tiramisu. Kat has promised to make it for our New Year’s Day open house. Yummmm!
Our ladies would be greeting new guests that afternoon–a party of thirteen–eight of them children!! I could make a kids electric cars list of brands and models by the time they were doing bringing in all the toys – as we loaded up our luggage
Kat didn’t sign the guestbook. Instead she did the most amazing pencil sketch of the view from the bedroom window–with the window as the frame.
Off we go for the airport with our printed directions and our GPS. Sunshine and blue skies and the gorgeous hills, farmland and gardens and pretty houses.
We only got a bit turned around once, in the town that boasts the little airport we’re using–narrow streets, many turns, more traffic than we’ve had the last week.
But there it is, the small regional airport.
We’re surprised when we pull up and get out. It appears to be closed.
One slight moment of panic, then Jason wanders off a ways, sees the plane out on the tarmac. It’s a bit of a distance, but I see a guy in an orange vest, see the white shirt of the pilot. We wave and call, but it’s too noisy. I, however, always travel with the skill I inherited from my mother. I put my thumb and index finger between my lips, and blow. My whistle is awesome.
The figures turn, return our wave. The orange-vested guy finally comes up to the fence, tells us he’ll open up in a minute.
And he does. We have to wait for a cop to clear our passports, so he calls one. He puts our luggage on a cart. I ask about the Vat return. It’s Saturday, he says, so we can just put the unsealed envelopes in the box. On Monday they’ll stamp, seal and mail.
Okay then. When I do, I notice the box is stuffed with envelopes. I’m sure they’ll get around to it eventually.
Onto the plane, headed by the same crew that brought us to Italy. Since we’re, literally, the only ones there, we take off without delay. The advantage of a tiny airport that’s basically closed on the weekends.
Long, uneventful flight, a quick stop in Bangor for Customs, then back up for the shorter leg home.
More hugs. We had such a good time traveling with Jason and Kat. Lots of fun, lots of relaxing, lots of walking, shopping, eating. A truly fabulous vacation all around.
Excited dogs greet us–Where have you been? Of course, it’s pretty much the same greeting if we’re gone ten minutes.
Managed to unpack one suitcase last night, then said tomorrow’s soon enough.
All done now, and fun to organize all the Christmas gifts, to put away all the pretty things.
I have sunflowers of my own out my kitchen window. Not the stupendous oceans of them I left behind in Tuscany, but they make me smile–and the view out my office window now is thick and green with summer. It’s nice to be home.
And now, here are links to some of the things mentioned in Nora’s travelogues.
A pretty perfect final day–hot, sunny and breezy. After my workout and a big, gorgeous peach, I do a little packing, a little organizing. Then BW, Kat and I go of to La Foce with its big beautiful villa and gardens, its olive groves, and its smallish–we’re told–olive oil business. It’s a nice drive, fairly close, with Kat competently behind the wheel.
We don’t even get lost!
At a big archway leading to a courtyard there’s a sign, in Italian and English. For olive oil tasting hit bell hard. LOL. There’s a big bell and a hammer/striker. BW does the honors, and it tolls very, very loudly.
We see people–kids. This part of the estate is also a kind of B&B with several apartments for guests. Looks like a lovely place to stay. A Brit couple manages it, and the woman answers the gong.
We wait briefly for her husband, and he takes us around, into a good-sized basement area and the olive pressing equipment. A couple big, shiny tankish things, a few big shiny vats. Since I tell him I do want to know, he explains how it’s all done, from harvesting on Old Soul’s day with tools that look like hands to the pressing machine that makes what he calls green pudding, then the filtering, separating the slurry from the oil. The slurry, after a year as it’s initially too strong–goes back into the soul as compost. Nothing’s wasted.
They get about one bottle from each tree, which explains why they have a thousand or so.
The oil never sees the light of day after going in the presser until the can or bottle is opened.
We sample the four different oils they make–and a fifth that’s a special blend of the four. Tiny little plastic cups, and you just toss the oil back like a shot of tequila. The first is strong and peppery. I like it! Each has a slightly different flavor, so we pick our favorites and buy some to take home.
I ask him how long he’s lived here, expecting him to say years. 13 months only. They came for three months, as temporary managers during a transition, loved it and talked the owner into keeping them on.
The grounds, the buildings, the view? I can understand why they wanted to stay on.
Back to our own villa. Kat and Jason are going on a last adventure–another castle we can see high on a hill. I boil up some rigatoni and toss it in some of Antonella’s wonderful red sauce. BW polishes off the last of the risotto. A pretty, quiet last lunch looking out over the hills.
Some reading, a little more packing, some walking to take in all the views again.
Antonella’s here, fixing dinner. We requested some of our favorites–a hard choice–for our ‘last supper’. I enjoy some conversation with her, have some wine, hang out with my gang. We take a fun, trick photo–a panarama. Jason at the camera, the rest of us posing on the west side of the lawn looking out. As he pans away, we run behind him, then plop down in the chairs BW’s arranged, and are in the photo again on the other side.
Our last sunset is beautiful, soft reds spreading.
Dinner is another marvel.
Asia comes, and as we’ve expressed interest, bring her two dogs–both hounds she’s rescued. The first she’s had about a year–a little thing, sweet as they come who was, she tells us, abandoned as too often hunting dogs are in the area. Very sick and starving when Asia found her. The bigger dog, so, so skinny, she found only last week. She takes her to the vet every day for treatment as she has kidney issues right now. Such a sweet face, and so gentle and calm. She’s already gained two kilos under Asia’s care.
I liked Asia right away, but like her even more for her open and generous heart.
We follow tradition and have a last drink with Asia and Antonella–we’ll miss them!
Off to bed just as the moon rises over the trees to the north east.
This morning, it’s finish packing, a final breakfast, then off to the airport for the long trip home.
We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect two-week holiday, from the bustle of art-washed Florence, to the absolute glory of the Tuscan countryside.
My gang returned from adventures in climbing. Many, many steep steps it’s reported to reach the castle in Sarteano. The castle will be a THOUSAND years old next year. A thousand. Years. Old. One of the Borgias sacked it because, after all, Borgias.
They had lunch in the same place we stopped on our drive in. I missed the pizza–and the old men playing cards, both of which I’d have enjoyed. But apparently I also missed the ripped and gorgeous Italian studs doing road work shirtless. BW was driving so no pictures–and Kat confessed she was mostly just ogling and drooling. LOL.
Writing will have to be my righteous reward. Also the reading in the shade of the big trees, and the unexpected little nap there.
And a lovely, lovely evening, with our traditional watching the sun set, then the big, fat moon rise. More and more time between these events as the week goes on, and the days grow shorter.
On a little walk before dinner I saw the biggest jackrabbit I’ve ever encountered. For a second I thought it must be a very small deer. But no, a very big wild hare!
This morning is beautiful. I just leaned out the window of my little ‘office’ to lovely temperatures, a slight breeze. The big sprinkler’s going down below shooting out mists of water with hardly a sound. The countryside is quiet and still.
I have to pick this morning’s workout and get ready for our last day.
Another spectacular sunset last night, and a breath-taking moon rising in the east. As pretty a night as anyone could ask for. And another lovely meal out on the patio.
Earlier I heard pheasants calling. It’s a sound I haven’t heard in years as the ones I used to see around home are gone. We heard some other bird while having dinner–a night bird, but nobody could identify the sound.
A good, strong yoga practice this morning. After I joined BW, and had a pink grapefruit for breakfast. Delish.
The others have gone off exploring–the castle in Sarteano, I believe is the goal. I opted to stay back and write. A nice chunk done here in the quiet.
Now I think I’ll forage in the fabulous kitchen for a little lunch, and eat outside, read a book. I think I’ll have a glass of wine with that!
Warmer today, and less breezy–a beautiful afternoon for eating, drinking and reading.
More on the glory of sunsets. We had more clouds so it’s all golds, and the patchwork of light on the fields and hills. Then the sun sneaks through the clouds to make that ball and punch of red. Reds and golds and purples everywhere. So beautiful.
It’s cool and breezy so we eat in the kitchen. It’s seafood night, and fun to be in there while the cooking’s going on.
And a couple games of Bananagrams after dinner, then Zzzzzzz.
Still coolish and very breezy in the morning so I do my workout indoors. My publisher hopes for a cover shot for The Collection here. Actual makeup! I think we may have hit on a shot that works, with those incredible hills behind me.
Many leftovers, so Kat and I play in the kitchen for lunch. I find fresh basil, parsley, tomatoes in the garden. She makes a batter for the leftover calamari to fry it up. Leftover meatballs, slices of salami and cheese, and the lovely salad Lucia made this morning.
It’s so much fun to play in this kitchen, slice and mince and stir, then eat out on the patio in the sunlight. We did have to ask Lucia how to turn on the stove as it defeated even our own Kat-gyver. But we did in most of the leftovers, and had a good time doing it.
I think I might take a walk, enjoy the sunshine. Tomorrow I’ll carve out some writing time.
Storms last night, big booming thunder. BW reports the storm rolled back a second time, but I slept through that one.
Fresh and coolish this morning, and pretty perfect for yoga outdoors.
They’re working in the vineyard again, and the gardeners are here. BW saw one braiding together a huge sting of onions, which Antonella brought in. She made break this morning, and the aroma of it perfumed the kitchen.
I gave her an old family recipe for bread pudding–and exchange for the pesto. I hope she has fun with it.
We’re having seafood tonight–fresh catch this morning.
We headed out very late morning to Pienza, a good size village about 25 minutes away. Lovely, lovely drive through the hills, the vineyards, the fields–we finally saw a deer, and white, white cows.
Parking is challenging, but we finally found a spot, and walk into town. The pope at the time designed it so the main street curves at both ends and looks longer. What it is, is charming. Full of little shops,archways and narrow alleyways, old buildings, an old church and a pretty and smallish Duomo.
We find sneakers for Jason–nice ones, and I spotted a scarf I had to have for myself. Kat sees canny bottles where you put oil and vinegar in together, but they stay separate. And in the same interesting little hardware type store, I find wonderful wooden spoons. I’m a big fan of wooden spoons, and these are lovely–and a wooden ladle! I love it. I end up with a big handful of spoons.
Lots of dogs here, mostly tiny dogs who are hardly like dogs at all. Interesting street sculptures, a nice bustle of people. I find a pretty shirt–two layers that can be worn together or not–one size. The clerk says the one size is no problem for me, but a problem for her. LOL. And a very cool dress for Kat.
And it’s seriously breezy. Much, much cooler today, and I’m glad I grabbed a little jacket. The light’s quieter with some clouds, and not so intense, so the greens of the fields and trees are softer, too. I wish I’d seen it all in the rain.
We walk out to an overlook–breathtaking views of the hills, the trees. And onto lunch where I had a salad with chunks of apples and oranges. There’s the cutest baby at the table beside ours. His mother’s trying to feed him, but he keeps grinning, laughing, turning his head away to look at us.
Of course we laugh with him. Mama’s very good natured about it.
More walking, and a trip into the Duomo. So pretty, with lots of light and a hushed air.
It’s gelato next! I got a mix of vanilla and chocolate that brings tears to the eyes. Just gorgeous–though Jason touted his peach gelato as exceptional.
We obey a sign that says: Try the sheep’s cheese. It’s pretty great. I don’t buy it–a little hard to take home, but I do buy a container–as does Kat–of dried chili peppers. They have some olive oil here steeped with them, and it’s great. I can do that at home.
Back to the car, and Kat takes a turn at the wheel. The GPS is confused, or we are, as they’ve closed off part of a road. After some round-abouting we follow the lead of another car that just went around the pylons. And we realize they were there because they’d just painted the crosswalk, so it’s all good.
Round the hills again, and perfect directions this time. A pretty, easy drive.
And we’re home again where the wind’s kicking up big time. We dump our stuff and mostly settle into the little living area on the main floor.
We’ll probably eat in the big kitchen tonight–as we did for breakfast. A bit too brisk and windy for the patio. I’m wonder what Asia–who’s cooking tonight–will make out of the local fish.
Pilates, I discover, is more challenging to do on soft, cushy, bumpy grass than yoga. But I got it done. As our Kat is under the weather today, the gang just hangs out.
The lemon and garlic infusion tea Lucia made seemed to help–as did a solid day of rest.
I got a nice chunk of writing done, despite the distraction of the view. Also saw people working in the vineyard today–and the big, odd tractor that goes over the rows. I’ve yet to see any of the deer or wild boars that we’re told wander hereabouts–but I’m hoping I will.
Lucia makes us an amazing salad to leave for our lunch–as we have leftovers–and picks it all straight out of the garden. That fresh, fresh lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers. I try some of the red pepper olive oil on mine–a good and delicious bite.
Read, wander, take a nap(!) Naps are so out of my routine I wake up thinking it’s morning. Nice that it was only afternoon, and there’s more time to plop down in the shade and read some more–and now with a glass of wine.
Before I know it, it’s time for another amazing sunset. Tonight as there are more clouds (rain’s coming) it’s even more spectacular. The overlayment of clouds is burnished gold above the red ball of the sinking sun, and the horizon is brilliantly layers in pink and red streaks. The light gets softer, softer, the colors more intense and luminous. Then the sun sets but leaves what looks lake a simmering fire over the peak of the distant hill. It just holds there, and holds, keeping the big cloud over it all shimmering gold on its underbelly.
On the other side of the sky, the moon’s nearly full. As it rises, it hazes with the clouds that may bring a storm tonight.
Then it’s time for dinner. God, I’m so spoiled now, I want Antoinella to come live with me, and cook every day. Potato and carrot soup with sage, then a pasta, then meatballs and chicory right out of the garden. Followed by some amazing sort of whipped cream with chunks of chocolate.
I can’t eat all of any of it, but that’s not the cook’s fault. It’s all just wonderful. And the wine we had tonight is made from grapes we can see just down from the front of the villa.
We secure everything that’s under the awning, in case we get that storm. If I had the energy–and it wasn’t totally, country dark, I’d go out and walk a few miles just to work off that meal.
Must do a serious work-out in the morning!
But tonight, it’s relaxing with the sound of busy cicadas, and nothing else.
Glorious, perfect day of doing pretty much nothing.
I did my yoga outside–a little tricky with balancing poses on a mat over bumpy grass, but worth it. I’m going to try pilates out there today.
After yoga, breakfast on the patio, So, so nice. BW wanted poached eggs, so Kat and I watch her make them–very much as my mother used to. Hard boiling water–but she adds some vinegar and salt, stirring, stirring when the water gets to that fast boil. Then crack the eggs right in the water, boil them fast for a couple minutes. She scoops them out and onto a thick kitchen towel. Serves them on toast for BW. They were beautiful.
Our shower here has the biggest rain head I’ve ever seen, and was indeed like showering in the rain.
I took my book and walked back to the pool, sat and read–moved into the shade, read some more. Spent a lot of time just looking up, then around at the sun-washed hills and fields.
Walked back for lunch. Amazing gnocci with pesto and a leafy green salad with grilled chicken. The lettuce was so green and fresh I expected it to shatter like glass. Antoinetta gave me the recipe for the pesto. I must try this at home as I grow so much basil.
More reading in the shade, with doves cooing somewhere in the trees.
The four of us finally stirred ourselves enough to walk up to the bocci area above the pool and play. Much fun, even though we’re fairly pitiful. Still, some pretty good throws/rolls here and there–both accidentally and on purpose. I’d already walked across the little dirt road for a closer look at the vineyard, but we all crossed over on our return. Big clusters of grapes–still need ripening, but both Kat and I sampled one. Deliciously tart.
We had Concord grapes growing over our little flat-roofed garage when I was a kid. I remember so well sitting up there eating them in the summer. And the grape jelly my mother would make from them if we left her enough.
And a closer look at the two front gardens. Red, red tomatoes, purple eggplant, green and red peppers. Something that may be kale but is bigger than I’ve seen before. I spy some purple verbena that looks as if it’s growing right out of the stone wall.
Back for dinner. I ask Lucia what the little tree is right outside the kitchen with the fruit that doesn’t quite look like pears, not quite like figs.
Pomegranate! I’ve never seen them on a tree before. They’re very young, fussy and fasctinating.
Asia tells us that tonight we’ll be able to see the ISS near the Big Dipper at about 10:25. We gather out on the chairs on the lawn–with a laptop that shows its progress. It’s over the US, over the Atlantic, over Greenland and so on. The sky’s so big, the world here so quiet, with the only lights the few scattered over the vast shadowed landscape from houses or villages.
And we spot it right away, track the little, fast-moving light up and through the Dipper, overhead. Then it dims and vanishes like a candle snuffed out.
That is our dinner and a show for the evening!
Today the others are going out to explore a nearby village. I’m staying back to bask and to write. Maybe read some more, maybe take a walk. Plenty of left-overs if I want to make lunch. And Antoinetta will be back to make dinner.
We watched the sun set, gloriously, over the western hills. A ball of red that spread streaks and smears of color as it dropped away. The light goes very soft. Our three ladies are here to prepare dinner and see we’re well taken care of. There’s bread and cheese and thin slices of cold-cut meat. I could’ve made a meal of that alone. But there are wonderful scents wafting through the big kitchen.
They’ve picked tomatoes fresh from the vine, served them in big chunks with basil just as fresh.
We’re eating on the patio at the big wood table with the hills all around.
Fresh pasta, cooked to perfection set off with a lovely Chianti. Night lowers–the moon rose on one side of the sky as the sun set on the other and all the hills go into silhouettes.
Now there’s strips of steak–sauted, I think, in oil and balsamic, with thin slices of grilled eggplant, roasted peppers. It’s gorgeous, but I can’t do justice to it after all the rest. We’ll have marvelous left-overs. To finish it off, a fruit parfait, a kind of almost melted ice cream, but richer, with chunks of fresh fruit.
I don’t think you can get more relaxed. If there’s tension left after a few hours in Tuscany with beautiful food, wine, and scenery, you need serious help!
A good night’s sleep in our pretty room, and I wake up to that vivid sunshine over hills of green and gold. Different from my deep summer green woods at home, or the drenched shining green of the Irish hills I love. This is intense and stunningly baked. From my window here, I see olive and cypress trees, and the vineyard just across the little dirt road. Then the rise of hills, the shadows of mountains.
There’s a cluster of brown stone buildings topping a high forested rise. Asia said it was an abandoned village, and someone bought it. He built a hotel and cafe. It must have awesome views.
From this window, I can see about a half a dozen houses scattered, and all look as if they might have grown there. From the other window, I see the front garden, and one house on a distant hill.
It’s a very fine place to be after a bustling week in Florence.
I may do my yoga outside in the sun.
PS. Here are some of BW’s photos from the Pitti Palace