Brandy Stroh: My sweet love affair with Italy dates back to 1984, when my family packed up and moved to Florence, Italy for six months. We were living in the North suburbs of Chicago and my parents felt we needed to explore outside our Midwestern walls, learn more about our heritage and introduce us to another part of the world. Those six months have followed me all my life and continue to have a deep impact on me. I’ve studies the language, returned many times to expand my knowledge and adoration of Italy, my husband proposed to me there and we married on Lake Como thereafter, and a few years ago founded Tuscan Travel Group with my fellow, Italophile, Laura Kavanaugh.
When I was only 12 years old and still in the fairy princess phase of life (ok, maybe it took me a little bit longer than most to let go of it), we took a road trip from Florence to Lake Como and I came upon the most magical place I had ever seen…Villa D’Este. It was not a hotel with gardens to me, it was THE fairy tale. The most romantic setting in all the world. So, before leaving there, I said to my Mom, “I’m going to get married here, Mom,”. I believe the response was a sweet smile and something like, “wouldn’t that be wonderful?”. Yes, Mom, it would be wonderful. Why would you ask me such a crazy question? This place is other worldly and my fairy tale must take place here. Now, I just need to grow up, become and adult, go to university, wait…back up…finish middle school, go high school, get my license, play sports, make friends, then go to university, conquer the world and somewhere along the way, find Prince Charming. Or something like that.
So, back to being 12! We were living in Grassina, Italy, a little town above Florence, renting a guest house from the Malenchini Family, who acquired a magnificent 11th century villa over 100 years ago from the Grand Duke Ferdinando II of the famous Medici Family. My brother, Max and I were students at the American School of Florence, now ISF or International School of Florence. The same school where Laura’s girls went on their journey a few years ago. If you had been reading our blog all along, you would know that. If you haven’t read the blogs from her trip, head straight there after you finish this one, of course.We were spending our weekends traveling and exploring Italy and other nearby countries. Most importantly, we were learning how to be intrigued and interested in the world around us. A gift that has stayed with me and grown through the years, without dissipating. I was also fortunate enough to marry a man who shares my desire to travel together and keep learning and growing outside our daily lives.
That man, my husband, Brad, and I planned a trip to Italy while he was in business school and we were still dating, back in 2000. We traveled all around Italy and ventured to Lake Como where he had planned to propose. We had also been there once before together years prior where I share my childhood fantasy of being married there someday. In a very roundabout way (we’ll save that story for another blog), he managed to learn how to speak enough of the language of love to propose in Italian on the shores of Lake Como and make my fairy tale a reality. Ah, young love. We returned a year later and wed in the picturesque, mosaic gardens of Villa D’Este overlooking Lake Como among 120 of our nearest and dearest friends. We swore we would return annually to celebrate that incredible day and finally made it back for the first time in celebration of our 10-year wedding anniversary…yes, some days (or years), life gets in the way.
The most recent manifestation of my adoration of all things Italy is the launch of our business, Tuscan Travel Group. Laura and I shared many conversations pondering and milling over ideas of how to incorporate our shared passion for Italy into a business. We had a desire to see Italy as an Italian and not simply a tourist staying in hotels, speaking English and seeing the classic sites that all travelers see. We opted for the road less traveled…off-the-beaten-path villas and estates, that were primarily run by generations of families, in hideaway, not very well-known towns with all the character and charm that you envision when dreaming of that romanic vacation or family holiday among the rolling hills of the Italian countryside. We didn’t want our clients to see Italy, we wanted them to feel Italy.
My sweet love affair with Italy stays with me always, in so many ways…through my childhood, my marriage proposal, my wedding, my business and thankfully, my continued intrigue and desire to explore and learn more of all that Italy has to offer.