Becoming a Countess in Asolo, Italy
“Signora! Signora!” The man outside my car anxiously gestured at the gateway behind me. In front, horns blared, and irate drivers’ heads bobbed in and out while shouting in Italian.
Earlier, I’d left Venice in a standard shift Fiat. Ninety minutes away, Asolo perched in the hills above Venice and Treviso. My haven, the 17th century, Hotel Villa Cipriani, was waiting. Prosecco, grappa, olives, elegant dining and the indulgence of decadent daily routines called to me. But, those 90 minutes became four hours of perplexing signs, wrong turns and mountain roads dominated by speeding, careening trucks and delivery vans.
My haven, the 17th century, Hotel Villa Cipriani, was waiting. Prosecco, grappa, olives, elegant dining and the indulgence of decadent daily routines called to me.
Stone walls defend and define Asolo, a medieval walled village. Streets just wide enough for one small car are lined by arcades, shops and cafes. The street entering the village is a one-way lane that periodically changes direction. I was traveling the wrong way at the wrong time. I couldn’t find reverse. I allowed a stranger to take control of the car. Shifting to reverse, he backed out of the gate. Outside, he pointed to the tiny street light 10 feet up the stone wall. It had two dim lamps, one red, one green. It controlled the traffic. A bit wobbly, I got back into my car, waited for the green light and moved on.
Finally, I find the villa, but no parking. A half mile down the road, I pulled into the first likely looking spot I saw. (Later I learned it was for police cars only.) I pulled my two oversized bags from the trunk, carting them uphill, on cobblestones, in heels. Did I mention that it was unseasonably hot? I was roasting, confounded, thirsty and tired.
Just days before in Venice, the “room with no view” turned out to be hidden in the attic and had no window. Was I getting another Cinderella room?
Entering the hotel, cool, quiet, elegance overtook my mood. The bags were whisked away. The desk clerk was warm and welcoming. I was expected. My room was “prepared.” I let him know I had parked down the road. “Do not worry Madame, we will take care of it for you.” I relinquished my keys and followed a porter with my luggage.
Leaving the main building, we walked across a terrace garden. Entering a small building at the back, we climbed a dark set of red tiled stairs. Uh oh! Just days before in Venice, the “room with no view” turned out to be hidden in the attic and had no window. Was I getting another Cinderella room?
The porter unlocked arched doors richly carved from pale blonde wood. They opened to a sundrenched atrium. “To your right is your bedroom Madame, to the left the bath.” I moved inside. Was this my room? Spacious, airy, filled with antiques, sumptuous surfaces and fabrics, classic art and an astounding view. Marvelous.
The Juliet balcony was perfect for sipping wine. The soft, verdant hills, age-old vineyards, olive groves and gardens below were beckoning. Reluctant to unpack, I feared they would discover their mistake at any moment and move me to another room. But no one came and I decided a soak in the hand-painted tub was in order.
Becoming a Countess in Asolo, Italy
Later, the restaurant host greeted me, “Good evening Madame Charlebois, your table is ready.” Had I made a reservation earlier? At the table for eight, six were seated. The waiter pulled out a chair, and I sat down. As an unaccompanied diner in Europe, I had been seated at tables with strangers before. “Hello, I’m Mary Charlebois.”
The gentleman at the head of the table looked curiously at me. Hesitantly, he introduced himself, “Count Charlebois.” Instantly, I realized I wasn’t meant to be at this table. The waiter made an assumption based on my last name. I apologized and stood to leave. The Count, recognizing the waiter’s faux pas, smiled, “Please join us, after all we must be related.”
I stayed. Looking around the table, I knew I was welcome and I knew I wanted to have dinner with this fascinating group. The conversation flowed in four languages with some translations involving three individuals. The food, wine and service were world class and comfortable in a non-pretentious way. I was in heaven and thought I would wake up from a dream.
Joining the Count and his party for a picnic the next day, our motorcade meandered through the hills, stopping at a villa and vineyards not far from Asolo. Our picnic baskets held Prosecco and almonds from the region. Ham, cured meats and bread were topped with a sweet, spicy mustard.
Sitting under cypress trees at a stone table, enjoying local olives, blood oranges, tangy goat cheese and salty asiago slowed the conversation. Minutes would pass without a word. I felt as though I had always been there and had always known Count Charlebois and his entourage.
We reluctantly packed what was left of our alfresco feast and prepared to leave. “Please come again, Countess Charlebois,” our hostess remarked to me as we left. I didn’t correct her, just smiled and said, “I will Madame, I will”. The Count and his friends moved on to their next destination, leaving me to head back to Asolo and to my own devices.
I felt as though I had always been there and had always known Count Charlebois and his entourage.
Among the wonderful people I met, my favorite was Ennio, Specialità Gastronomiche, the owner of a fine foods shop. I bought two huge shopping bags of amazing delights. Ennio locked up his shop and carried my bags to my hotel, and with his rapid fire Italian, provided a guided tour the entire way. I passed the days wandering the roads, lanes and pathways of Asolo, immersing myself in the timeless way of life. After all, I was a Countess.