Gargonza, an Italy highlight

By William B. Kemp
This item appears on page 24 of the November 2019 issue.

Castello de Gargonza. Photo by Bill Kemp

My wife, Paula, and I took the “Village Italy in 14 Days Tour” from Rick Steves (Edmonds, WA; 425/771-8303, www.ricksteves.com) in May-June 2019. Counting a repeat-traveler discount and a payment-by-check discount, we paid $4,200 per person, not including airfare.

The tour emphasized food and wines, with an extensive cooking class and many wine tastings included in the price. We visited Siena and Assisi as well as smaller, out-of-the-way places in central Italy. We had a tour guide throughout and also a local guide in each of the towns.

One of the highlights of the trip was spending two days at Castello di Gargonza (www.gargonza.it), a fortified medieval hamlet 60 miles from Florence. This was the first season Rick Steves had included Gargonza on this tour, and all of us gave our tour leader positive feedback about our experience there.

Dating back to the 13th century, Gargonza became an organized sharecropping farm a few centuries later. After World War II, the inhabitants began moving to cities, resulting in the virtual abandonment of the hamlet.

Instead of selling the hamlet and 1,200 acres of surrounding woods to developers, however, the current owner’s father began restoring the hamlet into a tourist-and-conference center. The owner and manager, Neri Guicciardini, is continuing with restoration efforts.

As you walk the grounds, you might feel like you’re back in the 18th century. The walls around the hamlet, the entrance gate, the tower and a church all are intact.

As members of our tour checked out each other’s rooms, we noted that all were not only spacious but very different. The original layouts of the rooms and apartments had been preserved, but all were equipped with modern amenities. Most had kitchenettes and fireplaces.

A restaurant and snack bar were also on the premises, the restaurant serving excellent Tuscan cuisine.

Upon our arrival, Neri treated us to a wine tasting and gave a short history of the hamlet. He led a tour of the premises, pointing out hiking trails, mountain bikes and the swimming pool with its panoramic view.

Neri was an excellent host and passionate about preserving a significant piece of history. While spending time at the hamlet was enjoyable, it also was close to other Tuscan attractions, including Arezzo (19 miles), Siena (23 miles) and San Gimignano (50 miles).

Since we were part of a tour group, we weren’t sure how much the rooms cost, but a search on the Internet showed they’re between 150 and 195 (near $164-$214) per night with breakfast.

Paula and I enjoyed the trip and recommend Rick Steves’ tours to travelers who are energetic and curious. One advantage of his tours is there is no tipping.

WILLIAM B. KEMP
Austin, TX