Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tucking into Tuscany

Pampering in home-away-from-home erases pain of scooter smash-up

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It all started with a crash.

In early May, I was at Castello di Casole, a gorgeous, hilly estate in Tuscany, Italy, with a group of journalists. On our first full day at the property, we ventured to the estate's main building to pick up our rented Vespas. The plan: to take our scooters up to Montefioralle Castle, a picturesque village nearby. My mission: to not kill myself on my first Vespa ride.

I'll save you the drama: I did not kill myself, but I lasted only 10 seconds. After gunning the Vespa and zipping out of the little shed where it was housed -- which was on gravel, I might add -- I slammed on the brakes, effectively crashing my Vespa into the rocks while simultaneously jumping off the bike. I was bruised, the scooter was dented. My Vespa-driving dreams were dashed.

After my crash -- which earned me the nickname Crash Mayhem for the duration of the trip -- the poor scooter was relegated to the shed. My three-day Vespa rental had cost me 20 euros ($27 Cdn) per second. Sunk cost, I thought; better than a busted head. And so I found myself on the back of photographer Paul Alexander's bike for our ride through the hills.

I'm happy to report that Tuscany -- from any which way you ride the scooter -- is spectacular, especially when you're staying at a stunning private Exclusive Resorts residence (

Exclusive, a company that offers its roughly 3,500 members access to 350 homes in more than 70 destinations around the world, had invited us to experience Italy their way, which is to say pampered.

I was eager to see what it's like to stay not in a hotel, but in a large private home with an infinity pool, its own pizza "forno" oven and an on-site concierge.

In May, Exclusive Resorts launched a new membership package tailored to Canadians. Members pay a one-time fee of $215,000, plus annual dues of approximately $22,000, for 20 days of travel that include Canadian Thanksgiving and spring break.

Which brings us back to Tuscany and our group's adventures. Home base was our stunning four-bedroom house -- just one of many private residences on the estate. Upon arrival, our kitchen was stocked with wine, coffee and some of our favourite foods. Prior to the trip, I had mentioned my allergy to some nuts to the Exclusive ambassador who called me to discuss my likes and dislikes. This is the standard service for all members; ambassadors cover everything from trip details to custom-planned adventures. I said I was able to eat peanut butter, not wanting to cause a fuss.

In the cupboard of our large, gorgeous kitchen was my own jar of peanut butter, plus food products labelled as nut-free or not. The incredible service continued throughout the week, with lovely Italian women coming over in the evenings to show us how to make ravioli, pizza and more.

Our days were spent poolside or taking day trips to nearby cities such as Siena and Florence. Coming back every night to our very own house in the hills was like coming home to heaven. The fact we were travelling by van -- Vespas parked safely in the shed -- made it all the better for this weary scooter traveller.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2013 E5

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