Castel Campo

Trying to keep track of the moments that take your breath away at Castel Campo is hopeless. Tasting the first spoonful of homemade risotto, hearing Saya exclaim ‘cock-a-doodles’ when she’d collect fresh farmhouse eggs, or simply turning potatoes over in a vegetable patch made my heart swoon. The sheer beauty of the week could be found in Fiavé’s green fields and in the generosity of our friends. No doubt this was the best place to be on our first vacation as a family of four.

Saturday started with a 3am wake up call to make a very early flight. Corey’s efforts to get everyone to take a nap at each leg of the journey were foiled by the sheer excitement of the many types of transport we’d take today: taxi, air-train, airplane, and rental car. While a couple naps were finally had on the drive from Verona’s airport to Fiavé, no one could get over how every turn in the road revealed an even more pristine rock formation, brilliant valley or clear stream. The cyclists were getting the best of the valley by riding the hills and curves and resting at local wineries dotting the road. We arrived mid-afternoon to a farmhouse with a cool tiled floor, and devoured a late lunch of piadinas (I hope it’s ok to refer to these as Italian quesadillas). Adventures began straight away with a visit to the ‘cock-a-doodles’ in the henhouse, and then a stroll to the dairy farm, and donkey pad. Our friends toured us around their barn, cottage and the surrounding fields. Seb made us dinner so we didn’t lift a finger in the evening before calling it an early night.

Sunday’s early morning sunshine warmed our faces as we collected eggs from the henhouse. We followed the route again for the dairy farm where Corey was getting braver by the minute reaching out to pet the ‘wildlife’.

We had lunch off of a winding road between two tunnels so if you didn’t know the restaurant was there, you’d completely miss it. Those who find it are treated to a menu where every single dish is delicious. Every. Single. Thing. For me, it felt like magic with the scenery, the food, the wine and the company all in cahoots with one another. The lunch tasted like vacation.

And then we had our first dinner at Castel Campo! The drive through the wooded forest keeps the castle hidden, and when we arrived at the stony walkway, we still were in disbelief that we were at a literal castle. The castle is a sight to behold and unlike anything I’ve experienced, but those two Adirondack chairs in the center of the green brought tears to my eyes because those felt like home. The first thing I did was nurse both Sachi and a glass of wine in those chairs. I needed this moment of gratitude: for the family camp tradition that raised me in those chairs, for the current memories I was making with my own kids, and the future adventures we’d build together. All of these thoughts flooded into my tear ducts while I took that moment for me.

I composed myself, made sure Saya and Sachi put on another fleece for the evening’s al fresco gathering and hovered around the makings of a Florentine steak dinner. Nonna Mina’s friends brought a feast for the grill, and the kitchen was serving up the best summer had to offer: zucchini and salad and a cheese plate for the masses! Can’t believe this is still only 24 hours into our trip.

On Monday, I felt confident to take Saya out in the early morning for the ‘chickens routine’ on my own. We made eggs together, and then while Sachi and Corey slept in, we met Lia for some swinging at the barn. Our girls playing between meals and naps and glasses of wine…I got a jog in today and found myself perfectly content with intermittent wifi. After Neri’s risotto lunch at the castle, I made a promise myself to cook more Italian food when I returned to London. Then, an evening of garden soup at the barn and a fireside hangout under the stars– how do I say “this is the life” in Italian?!

Tuesday was the lake trip. I’ll say two things: one, I understand the definition of aquamarine now, and two, I thought a unicorn would come out from behind the brush as we walked down the pebbly path. What a postcard! The water was cold yet refreshing, and swimming out to the small island on my own felt freeing. We snacked on the banks and helped the kids dip their toes into the shallow waters. In the evening, Neri made polenta in copper pots that he then wrapped in a towel to serve. It was coarse and perfect with a melty beef stew. I added a shakshuka (made during the kids’ three hour naps!), and Nonna Mina added kale chips from the garden for another wonderful al fresco dinner.

We finally got the official Castel Campo tour today. It’s easy to grow comfortable being in the courtyard, kitchen and garden that we realised on Wednesday we hadn’t had a proper tour. Nonna Mina first shared how the castle’s architecture has changed over time due to renovations, erosion, and keeping it up to date for large numbers of guests. There is family artwork all over. Sculptures made by Sof’s great grandmother, wall-sized portraits painted of members on both sides of the family tree, and Nonna Mina’s own creations which she won’t point out unless you ask. There is also a lot that isn’t theirs but it’s all remained even as the castle has changed hands over decades. The biggest surprise was the self-playing piano with Fats Waller sheet music that we all danced to in a large sitting room. Nonna Mina keeps the grounds herself and shared the hardest time is getting through freezing winter in a drafty castle as a party of one.

How could it be Thursday and our last full day together? We tilled potatoes, cut cavelo nero kale and plucked a few tomatoes from the garden. I went on another jog in the morning, and we had a dumpling soup for lunch. From what I remember, the dumplings are a country dish using old bread and leftovers like cured ham to flavor them. The broth was divine and filled our tummies before another lazy afternoon filled with naps. We ate apericena tonight- a remix of aperitivo that flows easily into ‘cena’ or dinner. That’s one compound word I won’t forget for future Italy visits. We ended the evening with gelato made from the milk of sixteen local cows down the road. I found I didn’t even know what flavor to order Saya since we don’t take her to eat ice cream or gelato. I let her pick her ‘color’ and she selected elderflower. She devoured it all.

Friday was the last day of vacation. We’d pretty much mastered the morning egg collection except this time when Saya went to reach for an egg, a chicken was still in the coop and scared the crap out of her! I would have run too. Sof suggested local lunch at a cute sandwich shop right next to a playground. Sachi had her first swing, and I took a few rides on the zipline. I savored the last three hour nap from our girls before we shared our final castle dinner of risotto with Neri and Nonna Mina. The girls basically tucked themselves in while Corey and I packed up, both of us reflecting on how easy it felt to make this our home for the week. Yeah, it’s a castle.

Gratitude really pulls me through on Saturday morning when we wake up at 3am to do the drive back to Verona airport only to be met with a delayed EasyJet flight. I’m also not mentally prepared for the arrival into London. The masses on the train are out for boozy brunches and I have to bat away the hands that want to pinch the cheeks of my beautiful girls. We’re still in a pandemic, people! But the drive, delayed plane, air-train, and taxi are all over and we’re napping as a family, just happily exhausted once we get home. We started the trip abuzz about visiting a castle. We admit we returned home spilling stories about the castle. Yet, I also returned home knowing it’s not actually all about the castle. It’s the change of pace in the outdoors. It’s rejuvenating to be on zero schedule. Campo, like Toulumne and Samuel P, holds space to recharge and to find joy in family tradition. For that experience, I was simply grateful to be in a new location that brought me back to my roots.