In Under the Tuscan Sun (1996), a memoir about her experiences in Cortona, a small quintessentially medieval city, Frances Mayes eloquently fostered the fantasy and romance of life in Tuscany: “My idea of heaven still is to drive the gravel farm roads of Umbria and Tuscany, very pleasantly lost.” Italy seems to be on everyone’s bucket list these days, so when the prospect of having a reunion in Tuscany is suggested to family members, it creates a mystique that immediately threads them together.
But family reunion relationships can be complicated. Each unit develops its own internal culture, its practices and ways of approaching the world. In our family of childhood, typically parents and siblings, we learn the look on dad’s face that tells you and your siblings that he’s really serious this time, the funny way that your brother communicates that only you and your siblings understand, the inside jokes about your favorite uncle, the way that mom cooks your favorite dish that no one else can match, the seating arrangement at your dinner table, the rituals that are unique to your family.
By the time we’re adults, most of us also have a family of adulthood—our spouse or partner and our children, if we have any—that develops its own culture, which may be different from our family of childhood. When people have reunions with their family of childhood, their family of adulthood and the families of adulthood of their siblings, there is potential for a clash of cultures and differences of opinion about the important things in life.
Ph. Marco Badiani
Having your family reunion at a villa in Tuscany and the profound unifying experience it creates is often the antidote to possible relationship pitfalls.
The passions and charms of Italian culture are legendary. Erica Jong insightfully describes them in “My Italy,” an essay in her book What Do Women Want (1998): “What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that can be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be human, which other places, other countries, lost long ago.”
Even before Italy’s charms take hold of your family, commonalities become established and entrenched with reports of everyone’s trek to the villa: the mix-up at the car rental agency, the nerve-wracking autostrade, the Lamborghini that sped by so fast that you didn’t have time to see its color, the terrifying accounts of cars trying to pass between each other on two-lane roads, the tailgater who was nearly in your backseat, your GPS and cell phone that became out of range. For those who arrived by train, there are stories about disrupted schedules, one-hour rail strikes and missed connections. Yet, all is well. You made it. It’s Italy, and one of the charms of Italians is that they take it all in stride because they have the wisdom that life is too short to get upset about things beyond our control. It’s not only the shared sense of avventura, but also the realization that we all are now here at a villa that is more beautiful than we could have imagined and that we have entered this fantasy-come-true, together, as a family.
The iconic beauty of the Tuscan landscape seems immediately familiar and you have a sense of feeling at home: the winding roads lined with tall cypress trees, hilltop towns in the distance, castles that seemingly appear from nowhere, vine-covered pergolas, terraces saturated with olive trees, unannounced wineries and agriturismi, protective stone walls surrounding medieval towns and, above all, breathtaking sunrises, sunsets and cloud formations.
One of the benefits of staying at a villa in the Tuscan countryside is the proximity to so many towns and cities that can be visited for a few hours or a full day. Planning and taking daily trips become group building activities, as are the conversations about them at the end of the day: the narrow street in Pistoia that your car nearly got stuck in, the inspiring Etruscan gallery you visited in Arezzo, the aromatic cheese shops lining the streets of Pienza, the art and architecture of Montepulciano, and so much more. These visits soon reveal one of the core values of Italian culture—family comes before profits—when you find out that you have to structure your trips around the midday shop closings so that shop owners can eat with their families and friends. What better value for your family to ponder during a family reunion.
Your family’s focus on the region’s culinary delights is so noticeable that it barely needs mention: the villa’s brick-oven pizza and bruschetta, local prosciutto, cinghiale, cheeses, olive oils, truffles and wines. The realization that wine is more than just a beverage but the lifeblood of Italian culture and the centrality of the Italian dinner table reinforce to you, as a family, that there are no differences among family members that outweigh this collective experience and the shared memory that you are creating that will last a lifetime.