The beginning of August in Italy. This is the height of summer. Flowers bloom profusely in gardens, on roads, in meadows, and of course, hanging from window boxes at almost every window. The heat never goes, building and building, often reaching its height at 7 pm, well into the 30s, and giving little evening respite. The garden at our rental accommodation, with trees, bushes and a hammock, lies unused. We are lucky that the temperature doesn’t soar to 40, as is possible in Italy in August, because our new accommodation has air-conditioning in only one room – at the top of the tower.
Yes, that’s what I said. Tower. We rented a stone tower that dates back almost a thousand years. Renovated about 12 years ago into a charming home, owned by a former travel journalist, it is now rented out periodically by the owner. How idyllic, I thought, sitting in our tree house in Wellington before we left. And in many ways it was. Stone walls three feet thick, an arrow slot in the bathroom, and a studio at the top floor, with views across the river to the forest, and villages beyond, their church bell towers stretching above the trees surrounding them. (The studio also proved to be a great location to watch a thunder/lightning storm from). But the heat in our third-floor bedroom, the smell from the owners’ dog in the living area (and by the end of the week, the fleas we found), and the constant concern that we were in someone’s house and had to keep it spotless, didn’t help me feel entirely relaxed.
The tower was in a small village, with a tiny shop just a few doors down, one bar/restaurant over the road, and a trattoria next to the shop, and a church. Sounds perfect. But the bar (in Italy, a bar is in fact a cafe) served the worst coffee I’ve had in Italy, so one visit was enough. The tiny shop was like a small expensive dairy, and the trattoria was only open a few days a week. So we didn’t frequent the local businesses as I would have liked. To add insult to injury, some local luminary – or perhaps the local priest – had decided that the church bells should ring multiple times a day, sounding services or simply the hour or half hour. Why they thought it was a good idea to ring the damn bells about 50 times at 7.30 on a Saturday morning, I don’t know!
The location was brilliant though – so close to the lakes, and very close to the airport (though virtually no noise). But as soon as we ventured out from the village, and before we got to the local town or the lakes, we found ourselves in a kind of no-man’s land. We were in airport services land. Airport hotels were scattered around – in fact, the Crowne Plaza, usually an excellent brand, was tucked away in a back street in a nowhere collection of buildings. (Though nearby, there was a very good pizzeria we visited several times, on the recommendation of the Easyjet guys.) And then there were the carparks. Everywhere, on the main road into the nearby town, tucked behind the Crowne Plaza, the pizzeria, everywhere, there were long-term low-cost airport parking lots (basically just fields crammed with tiny Italian cars), with a constant stream of vans taking their customers to and from the airport. It was all very odd.
Yet in Castelnovate, our little village, set on the edge of a national park, with the Ticino river just at the end of the road (maybe a km away), with our tower, and church bells, with the charming cemetery at the end of the road, the sports field, and the children’s play ground, and friendly neighbours and lots of dogs, it seemed hard to believe that a major international airport was practically next door.