Although my wanderlust knows no bounds and I have an exceedingly long list of countries to tick off my bucket list, I’ve happily spent the better part of the last seven years exploring the world that lies close to home: that is, I’ve traveled almost exclusively within Italy.
I’ll admit this doesn’t feel like a renunciation in any way; I feel very lucky to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world and the awe factor of il bel paese doesn’t wear off with time. I continue to marvel at its longstanding history and traditions, to swoon at the improbability of Italy’s colorful cliffside towns, to revel in its culinary prowess and to relish in its marked regional diversity. It’s this last aspect that keeps me hooked on traveling within Italy because each region is so different and unique – each with its own topography, local traditions, regional dialect, seasonal dishes – that you feel like you’re exploring a whole new country when if fact you’re actually just peeling back layers of one common, but splintered, Italian identity. Even just a one hour drive introduces you to an entirely new landscape and this is what makes travel in Italy so rewarding for me. When I need a change of scenery, I’m spoiled for choice.
Now that summer is over and I’ve indulged in all the sun worshipping I can handle, I’m looking forward to trading the sea for some rolling hills and embrace a little dolce far niente in the countryside this fall. One of my favorite weekend escapes is Umbria, a verdant region central Italy that is every bit as beautiful as Tuscany and yet attracts half as many people (fewer tourists = major plus in my book). In past years I’ve explored the culture-rich cities of Assisi, Perugia, Spoleto and Orvieto so I was thrilled for the opportunity to experience a more rural side of Umbria a few weeks ago during my stay at Casale Prato delle Coccinelle, a countryside retreat less than one hour north of Rome.
Like its name suggests, Casale Prato delle Coccinelle is a historic farmhouse that has been carefully restored and turned into a beautiful three-story rustic villa with a truly breathtaking view of the valley below. With a travertine stone exterior, wood beam ceilings and terracotta tiles, the Casale is immersed in its natural landscape and makes the most of local materials to maintain its regional identity.
The cozy property is owned and managed by Debra Carol Haddock, a talented American architect who has lived in Italy for decades, and her partner Ruggero, himself an architect. The pair share a warmth for hosting guests, transmit a passion for Umbria and personify an aura of countryside living which I got to enjoy during my recent stay at the Casale.
I enjoyed a weekend of relaxation, hammock-lounging and dog cuddles with two friends, Sara and Natalie. Debra treated us to delicious home cooking and pampering while we took walks in the olive groves and soaked in the property’s beautiful view. Casale Prato delle Coccinelle is situated just outside Guardea, a tiny town whose name derives from the Italian “guardare” (to see), a throwback to its prominent hilltop position which gives it a vantage spot for surveillance of the surrounding countryside.
Casale Prato delle Coccinelle has four bedrooms with private bath, a number of communal spaces (including a large veranda), a full-sized kitchen, fireplaces, reading rooms and a large swimming pool, making for a comfortable countryside stay. Debra and Ruggero can help guests plan sightseeing itineraries, hiking and biking tours, wine and olive oil tastings and more depending on the season.
On the border of Tuscany and Lazio, Guardea is just a short drive away from the dying Civita di Bagnoreggio, the Umbrian jewel Orvieto and surrounded by quaint towns like Amelia and Todi. It’s also close to lesser-known gems such as Montecchio and Civitella del Lago. Truth be told, it was hard to tear ourselves from the view to go exploring but it’s a good reason to go back.