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

The Inner Italian Q & A: Linda Dini Jenkins

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

One in an occasional series of conversations with those who try to “live Italian” wherever they are.

"La Principessa" in Perugia

Linda Dini Jenkins is a freelance travel writer and photographer and the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband (more later on how to win a free copy!). She also blogs regularly about travel and travel writing at Travel the Write Way and teaches creative writing and journaling. She enjoys taking small groups of friends, to explore what Italy has to offer beyond the Florence-Venice-Rome triumvirate, and she can pack her suitcase in 15 minutes.

◊ ◊ ◊

Q: Living “Italian”. . . Is it a great way to live or the greatest way to live?
A: Well, I think it’s the greatest way to live. When you take into account the slower pace of life (outside the big cities!), the immersion in history and art, the fantastic cuisine, the love of design and music, the respect for taking time out to enjoy the simple things . . . whether it’s Italian or Mediterranean or European, it’s how I want to live.

Q: Why?
A: Are you kidding? Start with the food, the design sensibilities, the language, the arts, the vino, the pausa, the passeggiata . . . need I go on?

Q: When did you discover your Inner Italian? What is your Inner Italian named?
A: I always knew about my Inner Italian but, like other children of first-generation Italian-Americans who desperately wanted to assimilate, “being Italian” was something that just happened and was never really encouraged. In fact, I’d heard stories growing up of how hard it was for my father to be Italian in a New York suburb in the 1930s and ‘40s; even being Italian in my first job in New York in the 1970s was something of a liability. And I was always a little ashamed after that of being part Italian (my mother’s side of the family was English/Irish/German) until I met my husband and he took me to Italy in 2000. Since then, I have been a proud and vocal Italian-American. If my Inner Italian has a name and it needs to be something other than Linda, I suppose it’s Principessa . . .

Q: What does “living Italian” mean to you?
A: My grandparents came over from Italy in the late 1890s and they were anything but rich. So for me, living Italian has to do with cooking and eating together, always having crusty bread and wrinkled olives and green olive oil on the flowered oilcloth-covered table. It means not being afraid to be emotional—even if that involves fists and things flying when you’re angry. It means loving music and feeling the arts very deeply. It means trying to have a sense of style—of la bella figura—even if the clothes or table settings come from Target. And it means being a storyteller and a traveler and something of an adventurer.

Legge piu qui

Villa del Balbianello

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Just knowing that a place like Villa del Balbianello exists makes me happy.

But visiting Villa del Balbianello makes me even happier.

Courtesy of Province of Como Tourism

Perched on a cliff on the western shore of the southwest leg of Lake Como, Villa del Balbianello can be accessed by boat—an approach that sets the mood of romance right from the start.

Villa del Balbianello's private marina.

My group of travel agents and journalists, on a fam trip sponsored by New Jersey-based Central Holidays, disembarked at the private marina and entered the gates to paradise. Climbing up the steep gravel path, my memory flashed back to the exquisite Villa Cimbrone in Ravello. (Note to Como Tourist Board: Don’t be offended by the comparison. If I had been to Balbianello first, the evaluation could easily be reversed.)

The chapel facade marked by two distinctive bell towers is all that remains of the convent of an order of Capuchin monks.

Twin Capuchin Towers.

The present Villa and Loggia were constructed in the late 1700s by Cardinal Durini who wanted a quiet summer place to read books. After the Cardinal died, the property passed through several owners and was abandoned for nearly 40 years around the late 19th and early  20th Century.

Enter American soldier and statesman Butler Ames of Massachusetts who purchased and restored the property. The next owner Guido Monzino was a prominent Milanese businessman and avid explorer (he climbed Mount Everest in 1973.) He converted part of the Villa into a private museum filled with his collection of rare art pieces and souvenirs.

Hydrangeas and Cypress.

Fortunately for all of us, Monzino willed Villa del Balbianello to FAI, Fondo Ambiente Italiano, a private not-for-profit organization devoted to preserving Italy’s artistic and natural treasures. That’s how a lucky person like me—or you—can tour the grounds for 6€  (there’s an additional fee to enter the museum). There’s even a convenient public ferry from the town of Como up to the Villa stop (the town of Lenno).

For those with bigger bucks, the Villa is available for booking. Private weddings take place here and movies are made: the Bond film Casino Royale and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones to name two.

The Villa's hilltop loggia.


If you can’t get to Villa del Balbianello right away, don’t fret. You can visit via this delightful video that was taped in early spring. The plants are bare, just coming out of dormancy, but you get a wonderful perspective on the majesty of the Villa and grounds.

What spot would you nominate for one of the most beautiful in Italy?


View looking south from Villa del Balbianello's terrace.