Subject: Mugello Valley, Tuscany
Hi, Debbie and Ziners!

We were in Mugello in October, 2004, largely the result of serendipity.

We had hoped to leave our apartment in Lucca on Saturday, Oct 2, drive to Rome and overnight there, then fly back to the US on Sun am. American Airlines had other plans for us--the only available business class upgrade seats were to Bologna instead of Rome and the earliest return flight to the US would be Mon, Oct 4. No matter; two nights in Bologna would be just fine.

But a major ceramics bathroom and kitchen fixtures trade expo was in Bologna that week with not a hotel room to be had in town for less than 300 Euros on Sat night. So Plan B: Overnight outside of Florence and then drive to Bologna, turn in the car, and sleep Sun night in the Nuovo Hotel del Porto, four short blocks from Bologna's Stazione Central, for 110 Euros.

The Mugello Valley is a broad basin with some river impoundments and surrounded by high forested plateaus. 30 km from Florence, Mugello reportedly is a favorite weekend and holiday destination of affluent Florentines. While researching the place, we stumbled onto the web site of SMU's Etruscan archaeological dig in the Mugello Valley If you click on the tab, "Mugello Valley Area" and "Insider's Guide to the Mugello," you'll find pix and info on the area and the La Casa B&B in Barberino di Mugello where we spent the night.

La Casa is a delightful hilltop villa surrounded by olive groves. Jacques and Ricciarda Lemaux, the hosts, are absolutely delightful folks. Their property had been a roofless rundown building when they bought it ten years before. They've turned into a lovely country estate. The pix on the SMU site don't do justice to the place's beauty or the excellence of the reconstruction.

Jacques is a professional hunter who leads big game safaris in the Central African Republic Ricciarda is fluent in English and French. They are charming and attentive and impeccable hosts. We asked for a dinner suggestion. After a rapid- fire exchange in Italian between Jacques and Ricciarda, she made a phone call and announced, "You have a reservation at Ristorante Pizzeria in Latera. Mention the name, Romonelli. It will be very busy but you will enjoy your meal."

The restaurant was in a crossroads village a short drive away and was jam-packed with diners. We were seated in a pleasant dining room on the second floor. A young waitress brought us our menu. I fumbled for the Rick Steves menu decoder. The waitress offered to bring us a menu in English. "You speak excellent English," we observed. A beautiful smile, "Well, my boyfriend is from London!"

And we did enjoy our meal--three courses, vino rosso, water, and caffe, 50,40 Euros.

Our room at La Casa was huge, with a king-size bed and an expansive private bath. We got an early start the next morning, so breakfasted with Ricciarda on local cheeses, fresh bread, fruit, and caffe, and departed for Bologna. Cost of our night's stay was 60 Euros.

Next trip to Tuscany, we've vowed to return--and stay longer.

Jerry in E TN