I had the best vacation of my life last summer, at a 14th-century castle north of Bologna called Castello di Galeazza
Virginia-born Clark Lawrence manages the four-bedroom sanctuary and leads Reading Retreats in Rural Italy, a nonprofit association that began in 1996 as a quiet place to read more than 2,000 books on-site. It has since become a destination for classical music concerts and international art exhibitions. Lawrence's conviction that the castle is "not mine but ours" is what makes the experience so unusual. The morning I arrived, guests and day visitors had already volunteered to garden, gather firewood, clean floors, and cook. A little utopia is being created. I have already planned a trip for the annual New Year's Eve party.
Unique Quality: The association hosts concerts, art exhibitions, and seasonal events year-round, and is open as a guesthouse to people who come from Italy and abroad to read, relax, and meet each other in a friendly and tranquil atmosphere.
Guests span a wide range of ages, nationalities, and walks of life, from professors and actors to local farmers and ironworkers. All who stay at the castle pitch in with cooking, gardening, and other daily tasks.
The castle, forty minutes north of Bologna, features frescoed ceilings and a library of over 3000 books, and sits amidst extensive gardens and a ten-acre woodland.
Room rates include all meals and drink. Payment must be made upon arrival in euro cash only.
I found this unique place in the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet bluelist as an unusual choice in accommodation near Bologna in the north of Italy. The 14th century castle is the seat of a non-profit cultural association that holds art shows, concerts and events, and hosts reading retreats.
The castle is beautiful red-brick, set in lovely gardens with woodland out the back, a world away from the frantic noise and bustle of the city. Clark, the American who runs the place, provides good food (often vegetables from the garden) and entertainment. Everyone is encouraged to chip in with washing the dishes, cooking a meal or weeding a little.
The rooms are single, double or shared, and are clean and comfortable - the frescoes on the ceilings were nice to wake up to in the morning. I mostly just read, ate, slept, hung out with other guests in the library, kitchen and garden, went for ice-cream in the local town on one of the old bikes, and really relaxed. There was a good classical music concert on one night, with a fantastic pianist from New York, and I got to meet some of the locals.
All in all it was a nice trip for a woman like me on my own, to go to a friendly place and relax. I plan on going back in the winter with my family. I would recommend the castle to anyone who likes a bit of culture and wants to step into a bubble - with no TV, radio, newspapers, it's extraordinary how unplugged you are.
Unique Quality: Hostel prices to stay in a wonderful historic building with flower and vegetable gardens, acres of woods, 14th century tower, relaxed but fun atmosphere with people of all ages, good events programme. All meals and wine are included in the price, so every night is a dinner party. Close to Cento, Bologna, Ferrara and Modena, and only ten minutes drive from the Lamborghini museum. It is possible to do day trips to Florence, Verona and Florence if you can get out of the hammock.
Directions: Forty minute drive from Bologna, in the coutryside near Cento
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Address: Via Provanone 8585, Galeazza di Crevalcore, , Emilia-Romagna, 40014, Italy