If you are studying abroad or simply looking for an authentic experience in Florence, then Living The Dream Getaways is something you should check out. A few weeks ago a friend and I met Grant Isaacson, who works for LTD Getaways, and he explained his passion for giving people the opportunity to experience a different side of Italy. The tourist cliches are good and a must for traveling in Europe, but some people seek more than just pasta and Duomos when visiting this great country. So, my friend Madelaine and I decided to book a mountain getaway on a whim.
Our Friday started with an hour train ride north of Florence to the small town of Marradi. There we were warmly welcomed by our guide for the day, Grant, and his two helpers, Jane and Susan. The two women loaded our packs into their car and drove to the villa where we would meet them later for dinner. Grant lead us on a historic walk through the town of Marradi. He stopped every so often to tell us a bit of history or simply admire the townsfolk. After our tour we hopped on a 20 minute train ride over to the next town (and to the neighboring Italian province of Emilia-Romagna), Brisighella.
Our first stop through town was the historic Via Degli Asini. I would be lying if I said we didn't stop to crack a joke or two. From the street we climbed the 300 steps to the top of the clock tower where we enjoyed a refreshing view, glass of wine, and some cheese. You can see the entire city and all its beauty from the tower. From its rolling hills to its colorful architecture, Brisighella is so breathtaking and picturesque.
After our snack we hiked over to the hilltop castle and enjoyed another incredible view of the city. Once we were done exploring the castle, we walked down the road to refill our wine at a pay at the pump style winery. All of the wine is supplied by the local grape-sowers of Brisighella. Not only is this style novel for those who are used to buying wine by the bottle, but the wine is also local and delicious. We retired to the park after our walk for a delightful picnic and an entertaining game of people watching.
One thing I noticed as I walked through town was that there simply were no tourists. Marradi and Brisighella are like these hidden gems covered in history and beauty that tourists just haven't discovered yet. Florence is incredible, but as strange as it sounds it is hard to immerse in the Italian culture with all the tourists around. Here I felt like I could finally take in the pure Italian culture without a selfie stick being pushed in my face.
After our delightful afternoon, we took the train back to Marradi where we were picked up and taken to the villa for the night. The 40 minute car ride through the Apennine mountains was so breath taking. Everything smelled so fresh and seeing mountains again made me feel so at home. Once we arrived we immediately laid down for a nap and when we woke we found everyone out by the fire preparing dinner.
We sat around the fire drinking wine and sharing stories of the day and getting to better know one another. Being in the company of good people, learning where they come from and how they got where they are today are simply my favorite things about traveling. It's scary how wrapped up in my own life I can get, like living in a bubble. There is a whole other world out there with places to see and people to meet.
Once dinner was ready -roasted chicken and an assortment of delicious sides- we moved to the softly lit gazebo and continued our conversation like we were old friends. We finished the evening with s'mores over the camp fire (my favorite!) and then retired for the night. The next morning I woke to the delicious aroma of American coffee…I may have had three cups. We enjoyed the morning over eggs, toast, coffee, and of course more lovely conversation. We then packed up our belongings and left the villa for an early afternoon hike down the mountain. The hike down was just as refreshing as the drive up, and I enjoyed every second of it. Unfortunately our timing wasn’t so great and we missed our train back to Florence.
There was no use in fretting over it so we stopped at a local restaurant for some delicious lunch and then caught the next train. Although my time with the Living The Dream staff was brief, it was memorable. Some of the best memories I’ve made so far on this trip have come from leaps of faith and stepping off the path. I am grateful for my new friends and time in Marradi, and I hope to return another day!