By Jackie Toops
To celebrate our wedding anniversary, my husband and I traveled to our favorite country -- Italy! After a decade together, we decided that it was time to try something completely new. Instead of staying in the heart of a bustling European city, we sought peace, quiet and solitude. In a word: paradise.
The Perfect Villa
I went to HomeAway.com, and quickly booked a gorgeous Italian villa situated in the picturesque mountains outside of Rome. Our property was located in the town of Cerveteri, in the province of Lazio. The villa was off the beaten path while simultaneously offering proximity to incredible sites.
When we arrived, the owner kindly greeted us with sparkling and still water, a loaf of fresh bread and biscotti. Around her front door grew basil, rosemary, kiwi, laurels and roses, and the aroma was magnificent. The fragrance was only rivaled by the scent of percolating coffee in the mornings and simmering pasta sauce in the evenings.
Our private villa provided the opportunity to connect and relax in a peaceful location surrounded by blue skies, sunshine and olive gardens, with a view of both the mountains and the sea. Instead of hearing passing cars, tourists and sirens, we were serenaded by the gentle mooing of cows in the distance, the chiming of bells from a tower far away, and a chorus of singing birds. Each day we couldn’t believe that this was ours, and it cost less than the price of a single hotel room.
Exploring the Heart of Etruria
We chose this location because Cerveteri and nearby Tarquinia feature Etruscan necropolises, both designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. All that is known about these ancient Italians is gathered from their beautiful, intricate tombs. I took a course on this fascinating lost civilization while in college and I couldn’t wait to experience these marvels in person.
Cerveteri’s Necropoli della Banditaccia and Cerite National Museum were just minutes away from our villa. I felt just like Indiana Jones while walking through what felt like an ancient city, and touching stones crafted and set by members of this mysterious civilization, eons ago. Knowing that others had lived there thousands of years before me was quite moving.
The lovely walled medieval city of Tarquinia, with its Necropoli di Monterozzi and National Museum was just a 45-minute drive away. With 6,000 graves, it is famous for 200 painted tombs, which date from the 7th century BC.
The train from Cerveteri into the heart of Rome was fast, inexpensive and convenient. There we enjoyed the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and unusual Capuchin Crypt, decorated with the bones of friars.
We lastly ventured to the nearby town of Bracciano. Situated on scenic lake that served as a Roman water source, the focal point is the medieval castle Odescalchi di Bracciano.
A Lifestyle We Love
After exploring tombs, museums, drinking espresso, eating gelato and practicing my Italian, we always had our villa to return to. We became familiar with each curve of the road, passing by barking dogs, sheep with caroling bells, shimmering olive trees and golden bales of hay. The most amazing sight was seeing our villa come into view as we slowly made our approach. It was incredibly beautiful, freeing and romantic, and thanks to HomeAway, it was ours for one week.
We were able to truly enjoy Italy by dining, shopping, and living like locals, not tourists. My husband became proficient in percolating coffee on our gas stove, and I learned the local market and knew where to find fresh pasta, sauces and wine.
Of all my memories from the trip, my favorite is of the two of us sitting on our patio, taking in the evening air, enjoying a glass of local wine, and making plans of retiring to Italy one day. I hope we’ll be so lucky.