This Summer was a special one: I decided to take a left turn out of fashion and dedicate myself to my new travel project. It seemed as if the only way to stave off the panic of a crazed leap was to take off, Hemingway-style, to the continent. As I’m getting acquainted with my new Di Principe name, Italy was the obvious option.
We landed in Pisa, picked up our chariot (a tiny, white smart car) and set off in search of la Dolce Vita. First to an artists’ commune in Tuscany. An old terracotta palazzo, filled with the ghosts of a grand past, was now embracing its more rough and ready future, playing host to Villa Lena’s artist residency. I arrived dreaming of writing in the rolling hills, but soon realized that nights echoing with cocktails and jam sessions would mean we just had to throw ourselves into the boarding school-like, bohemian family. There was no possibility of hiding alone in our room… And, as a large party of men in gold robes arrived from Florence, it seemed about time to take the smart car on the next battle of wits down the Italian autostrada towards Rome.
Our next stop was something a bit magical. Secretly, every girl wants to be a princess, somewhere deep down inside themselves. My dream is that of a Rapunzel waiting to be rescued, although I think my years of commitment to bleach at Vidal Sassoon means my hair wouldn’t really sustain the weight of a prince. Some girls might dream of being warrior princesses – maybe like a Mulan – which also works with this story.
Back to the present day, and a very kind invitation for a lucky English girl to visit the Italian Castello Ruspoli. It’s hard to describe the feeling of waking up and padding around barefoot in grand old 15th century entrance halls with doors that swing open onto drawbridges, or wondering how many mistresses had been shown through the hidden door in the ageing silk walls of our room. The effect of living in such obvious history is a strange one: half day-dream, half realizing that I’m just a speck of humanity resting in the castle’s walls.
But did I fall for it? Yes I did. Hook, line and sinker. The ease of living and the art of conversation, time to stop and smell the perfectly trimmed roses – all of this is what makes the society of old aristocracy so intoxicating. Our host Tao summed it up perfectly with a quote from his father, the legendary Prince and Don of the Dolce Vita, Dado Ruspoli, who once exclaimed to him in all seriousness: “Tao, I’m just so tired – there was lunch yesterday, now a dinner tonight”.
Next was the long road south, navigating Naples, staying in imp-like Trullo’s, and reaching the hot, white city of Lecce just in time for another festival: nights upon nights of local religious festivals light up Italy through the Summer months and into early Autumn, with young and old spilling into the streets and dancing until the early hours.
After all this drinking, eating and dancing we obviously needed a break, and at last we landed at Francis Ford Coppola’s perfect Palazzo Margherita hotel. Sofia was married in the gardens of this shuttered marble paradise. I travel a lot, but I have to say this might be my number one place on Earth for a second trip – perhaps stealing my heart as my all-time favorite hotel…
Just go see,