Kanye West and Kim Kardashian Choose Florence

Friday, May 23rd, 2014
Will Florence's 16th century Forte Belvedere--constructed to protect the Medici city-- withstand the hordes of paparazzi at Kimye's nuptials?

Will Florence’s 16th century Forte Belvedere–constructed to protect the Medici city from enemy armies– withstand the hordes of paparazzi at Kimye’s nuptials?

How hip is the Oltrarno, across the Arno River from Florence’s tourist-action-packed centro?

Extremely hip.

Hip-hop genius Kanye West will wed reality TV princess Kim Kardashian in the 16th century Forte Belvedere, perched on the southern hilltop of the Oltrarno, on Saturday, May 24, 2014.

Walter and Sharon recently explored the less-traveled quarters of Santo Spirito and San Frediano in the Oltrarno and filed this report for

October 2014 Tuscany Tours

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
SimpleItaly's happy campers by the granaio at Fattoria Montestigliano where Villa Pipistrelli is situated.

SimpleItaly happy campers in front of the granaio at the Tuscan farm estate Montestigliano where Villa Pipistrelli is situated.

You can put yourself in this picture! Escape to the private Villa Pipistrelli this October for the next Tuscany Tour:  Harvest Celebration with SimpleItaly. Two different week-long itineraries are reserved for you to choose from: October 11-18, 2014 OR October 18-25, 2014. This intimate adventure is all about cultural immersion, relaxation, and good times. You’ll truly feel as if Villa Pipistrelli is your home because you’ll unpack once and “move in” for a week of wonders . . .

  • Sessions on making pecorino cheese, watercolor painting, pasta making, and more
  • Tours of wine estates
  • Magnificent medieval Siena–home of the Palio–and a private tour of a contrada museum
  • Gourmet evening meals prepared by a private chef at Villa Pipistrelli
  • Afternoon at a sagra, a local harvest festival, mingling with the locals
  • Free time to truly explore the natural beauty and experience the daily rhythm of Montestigliano, the 2,500-acre Tuscan estate on which Villa Pipistrelli is tucked away
  • Private meetings with English-speaking experts on the culture, cuisine, and lifestyle

Click here to read what folks are saying about our trips. Click here for the full itinerary to put yourself in the picture!

My Dolce Vita

Friday, February 14th, 2014

This article first appeared in the award-winning
subscription newsletter Dream of Italy

Jean Salvadore (left) with SimpleItaly's Sharon Sanders.

Jean Salvadore (left) with SimpleItaly’s Sharon Sanders in the lobby of Villa D’Este.

How does one train to be the international ambassador for Villa d’Este, one of the grandest hotels on earth?

The legacy is daunting. Villa d’Este was built in 1568 on Lago di Como as a Cardinal’s summer palace. In 1873, it was transformed into a luxury hotel that has pampered and protected its guests. Many, certainly not all, are celebrated: musicians from Giuseppe Verdi to Bruce Springsteen. . . statesmen Jawaharlal Nehru of India to Prince Ranier of Monaco. . . writers Mark Twain to Joseph Heller. . . film directors Alfred Hitchcock to Woody Allen. . . fashion designers Bill Blass to Donna Karan. . . and on and on.

So, does one train to be the public face of such a legendary property? No, one simply has to be Giovanna “Jean” Govoni Salvadore.

I met Jean on a tour of Villa d’Este as she greeted our Central Holidays-sponsored group of journalists and travel counselors. She seemed so down to earth, putting us at ease with warm words and cool Prosecco. Simply chic in black trousers accessorized with a lipstick red walking stick and knit top, I sensed that at age 85, she is cooler than I’ll ever be if I live to be 185.

Her latest achievement is My Dolce Vita: A Memoir which is as irresistible as it is inspiring. As for so many of her generation, WW II shaped her life in ways she could probably not have imagined as a child.

more Dolce Vita

Italy . . . A Dream Come True

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Castello Civitella Ranieri, near Gubbio, is now a foundation for the arts.

By Patricia DeBellis

Italy, for me, has always been a catalyst for my dreams. I was a freshman in high school in California when I met my first foreign-exchange student and from then on my dream was to be a foreign exchange student.

This dream came true when–as an alternate for an American Field Service foreign-exchange summer scholarship (my classmate, Fred, had been picked to go to France)–I was told that an Italian family wanted a student. This was unprecedented.

Our local AFS chapter had never sent two students abroad. But, with the backing of my wonderful teachers and friends who contributed to the “Send Patty to Italy Fund,” off I went to live my dream!

This was only the beginning.

As an adult, my dreams continued to materialize. I was teaching Italian, French, and Spanish languages at Muhlenberg College when one semester I invited my French Civilization students to my house for croissants and cafe au lait.

Language professor Patricia DeBellis (left) savored 15 summers at a fifteenth-century castle in Tuscany.

Language professor Patricia DeBellis (left) savored 15 summers at a fifteenth-century castle in Umbria.

One of the students, Jennifer Downey, noticed a hand-painted ceramic plate in my kitchen. She shrieked with excitement and asked, “Is that a Rampini?” I said I wasn’t sure–I’d chosen it for its medieval knights design.

I wondered how a French major knew of this ceramics maker in Umbria. She explained that a friend had invited her for several summers to visit and stay in a fifteenth century castle not far from the small town where the Rampini family produce their maiolica.

The spring semester was ending and when Jennifer came to my office for part of the final exam, she brought a postcard of the castle and asked if I would like her to ask her friend to invite me and my husband! I gasped in excitement and said: “Is the Pope Polish?”

Jennifer Ursula

Student Jennifer Downey (left) pictured with Castello patron Ursula Corning, made Patricia DeBellis’ Italian dream come true.

In 1982 he was and we were invited!
 Our hostess was Ursula Corning, a delightful, intelligent, multi-lingual British-American who loved people and cats. Jack and I arrived at the fifteenth century Castello Civitella in time to celebrate our eighteenth wedding anniversary!

The cook, who every day rolled out the pasta on a marble slab, produced a beautiful cake with two entwined hearts. After a Spumante toast, we headed to nearby Gubbio (where the Rampini plate originated) where we attended a candlelight concert in the cloister of the thirteenth century church.

Patrizia Cicitella Road Sign

For Patricia DeBellis, Civitella Ranieri was the road taken.

This was the wonderful beginning of a fifteen-year-long invitation to a magical, artistic and educational summer stay. Is it any wonder that I love Italy?


Where did your Italian dream come true, or, where would you like it to come true?

At Home in Villa Pipistrelli

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

This article first appeared in the October 2012 issue
of the award-winning subscription travel newsletter Dream of Italy

Peaceful Pipistrelli.

The sound of silence is sweet at Villa Pipistrelli.

By Walter Sanders

I finish my meal of prosciutto, salami, pecorino, pane e olio. I grab a notebook and pour another glass of Chianti Classico to bring outdoors. It’s a sunny September afternoon and I choose a spot under a wisteria-covered pergola.

I have Villa Pipistrelli all to myself because I have arrived earlier than the other journalists in my group. Perfection. I become aware of the quiet. No man-made sounds. The silence heightens all my senses. Even the occasional dove calls her mate in sotto voce.

I began to write…focused by the silence.

A bee buzzes by. The sound is almost shocking, electric. I have to stop and write about that glorious interruption.

I linger and watch the valley change muted colors as the sun sets.

I marvel at the surroundings: such places exist only in movies, romantic novels, in dream states after a pleasing Italian dinner.

But Villa Pipistrelli—the country house where I am—does exist. In the days to come, I will learn how intense and liberating Tuscan country life can be.

more about Villa Pipistrelli