Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Sometime last fall we found the  Franco Todini winery , located just south of Todi. We’ve returned several times since then to buy wine, and once we even drove up to the Relais Todini, the hotel and restaurant that share the property. Isabella was with us, and she and I went in for a look around. What we saw absolutely charmed us….an old-fashioned stone building with tapestries, beamed ceilings, huge fireplaces and stunning views! Based on the elaborate brochure we were given, I knew this must be a place we’d never be able to afford.

At some point we mentioned the Relais Todini to Wendy and she told us that it really wasn’t that expensive, especially not for a really special meal. That planted the seed that would eventually grow into our Christmas dinner with three other couples, all expats.

Art and Shae were the first ones we asked about having a holiday get together at this spectacular place, and they were all for it. Because Shae is the choir director at the local church, we’d need to work around her busy schedule of practices, concerts and Masses. We decided that Saturday, December 17th would be a good day, and we decided on dinner because Wendy had told us that it was decorated with zillions of lights for the holidays.

Anna and Ramon and Suzy and Jack completed our group. Because of the driving distances for Art and Shae and Suzy and Jack, they decided that they would also spend the night at the hotel. After seeing the rooms in the brochure, I knew that this would be a really special night for them.

As fate would have it, there was a wedding party booked into the hotel that night, and both couples ended up having to spend the night elsewhere. Darn! That might have been my only hope of ever seeing one of the rooms up close and personal.

We’d taken Anna and Ramon to the winery the day before so that they would be able to see the views while it was light outside, and to also give them some help finding it in the dark. (While we were there we also bought a few cases of wine.) Art and Shae were smart enough to come early enough on Saturday so that they too got to see the property during the day.

What none of us were prepared for was what the place looked like at night! The long driveway that leads up to the restaurant/hotel is lined with HUGE cedar trees that must be, I don’t know….75 feet tall? 100 feet tall? Whatever the height, trust me, they’re quite imposing, and as we approached that night, we laughed about our worries of anyone having trouble finding it in the dark! Every one of the trees was lit up with hundreds of sparkling white lights……I think this place must have been visible from the space shuttle! It was absolutely magical!

When we arrived Shae and Art were already there, having a drink in the bar. We joined them with a glass of Prosecco and were soon joined by Anna and Ramon. Once Jack and Suzy arrived we were shown to our table located in a large room surround by glass on three sides. We walked past the kitchen which was visible from the other dining room through large windows. This other dining room was where the wedding party would have their dinner, but of course they were eating much later than we were….after all, our reservations were for eight o’clock, quite early by Italian standards.

During our stay in Louisville Art and I had gone to Liquor Barn to pick up some bourbon and a few small bottles of specialty liqueurs to bring back to Italy. By chance I happened to see a bottle of eggnog complete with bourbon. I told Art I thought that would be the perfect thing to take back to Italy for our special dinner, and I even remembered to bring it with us to the restaurant that night!

Bringing along a little something extra never seems to be a problem in Italian restaurants, although I’ve only seen it done a few times. I did explain to our waiter that in the United States, in Kentucky where we were from, this was a traditional drink for the holidays. He gladly brought extra glasses for the eggnog and even accepted our offer to have a glass for himself! He said he liked it, and I know that everyone else seemed to like it as well. I think mixing some of the old traditions with the new ones really helps to personalize things.
I wish I’d been able to “borrow” a menu so that I could accurately report all the wonderful things they had listed, but the menus were a little too big to hide in my purse. Although the service seemed a little erratic at times, in general the waiter did a good job of keeping up with everyone and there was a lot of sampling going on from plate to plate. Everything was delicious and beautifully presented.

Throughout the evening Ramon and I were busy taking pictures, and Ramon even went so far as to record a few clips of the evening. He later gave all of us a copy of all his pictures and video from the dinner on a CD, along with about ten albums of Christmas music! What a great keepsake of this fun evening!

Although the wedding group started eating after we did, the also finished before we did, and as a result we felt as if we were closing the place down when we finally got ready to leave. We told Art, Shae, Jack and Suzy that we had visited the winery the day before to buy some wine, and our waiter was kind enough to tell us that wine could be purchased by the case from the restaurant! Because the next day was Sunday, the cantina wouldn’t be open, so this was the perfect solution. Everyone had enjoyed the house wine we’d had for dinner and were happy to discover that they could take a case home that night!

As we’ve talked about this evening with the other couples, everyone seems to have enjoyed it as much as we did. I hope we can make it a tradition, and Anna and I decided the other day that now that everyone has started studying Italian, we should all be fluent by next Christmas, so we plan to speak only Italy for next years dinner! We also hope to return before next December, perhaps enjoying a leisurely lunch or a sunset dinner at Relais Todini once the weather is warmer.

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At 1/11/2006 12:55:00 AM , Blogger Jane said...

Barb, this sounds like real fun. How have you met these various people? How about labeling the pictures so that we can know who is who--after reading all about them. Happy New Year. Jane

At 1/11/2006 03:38:00 AM , Blogger Barbara said...

Jane, we met all of these wonderful new friends through the Expats in Italy message board!


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