It was Christmas Eve. Témi and I had decided to shove off to a small village in the mountains of the Abruzzo. We’d been before. Numerous times. It was a bit of a fave and had therefore won this year’s ‘Christmas bolthole’ competition.
As always, Témi had decided to bring a few ‘essentials’ for the trip. If our neighbours had seen us loading the car, they’d have thought we were off. Permanently.
I was utilising every cubic centimetre of the trusty hatchback in an effort to get it all packed in. I had Betsy, our dog (a 55-kilo Newfoundland), pinned into a small Tetra Pak sized space in the boot.
Doubled up like a pretzel and pressed up against a suitcase full of ‘indispensables’, she looked perturbed and regretful. She’d passed up the chance to stay with Daniella at the doggie kennels, which, in hindsight, was a big mistake.
I imagined her pawing out the words’ help me’ onto the car’s back window in the vain hope of being rescued by a benevolent driver or passerby.
We were both doomed, her and I. The minimalist in me had been steamrollered by Témi’s ‘essentials’ while Betsy had been forced to wear the inside of the car like an iron lung. ‘Maybe Daniela would take us both?’ I whispered to her.
Our bond was broken when Témi interjected with some helpful repacking suggestions. Betsy sighed and, in doing so, fired out two strands of nasal slime over Témi’s yoga bag. I smiled. I looked to the sky as if to thank God for his unending wit and, in doing so, hit my head on a box.
Our destination was an albergo diffuso called Sextantio in the picture postcard village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio. The accommodation, a collection of tiny, rural houses strewn throughout the village, had been renovated with a light touch and a designer eye. It’s simple yet elegant and authentic.
We’d pulled into a parking space just outside the village walls. The fresh air had that delicious scent of wood smoke and nature. The snow-topped mountains in the background set the scene against a brittle blue sky.
Betsy leapt from the boot and manically proceeded to eat mouthfuls of grass. This was part hunger and part a nervous reaction from having been pelted by numerous items which had shot through the car under acceleration during our drive.
‘Is Betsy OK?’ Témi asked as she pulled an IKEA bag from the car with all the finesse of a sommelier extracting a particularly obstinate cork. I checked the rear window for any messages. Nothing. ‘She’s fine’. I replied.
Music and the food of love.
What can you expect on this exquisite 5-night classical choral holiday in the Abruzzo? To start with, there will be a 3-hour workshop each morning with the fabulous Robert Dean.
As one of the UK’s most sought-after singing professors and conductors, Robert spends every waking hour mentoring and teaching many of today’s and tomorrow’s opera stars. He’s a real clever clogs. Not only is Robert extremely talented, but he’s also very sensitive to your needs, great company and a lot of fun.
Each workshop will focus on singing technique and development as Robert ekes out every drop of your vocal potential. You will perhaps discover a new repertoire as well as all the tips and tricks required for fine choral singing.
On the penultimate day of the holiday, you will perform your newly learnt and polished repertoire to the locals. A wonderful collaborative atmosphere is assured as you connect with a new culture through music and singing.
We will be eating in some of the best restaurants in the Abruzzo. Perhaps the best in Italy. The food is simple but delicious. The incredible pantry of goodies this region serves up is almost unparalleled.
With some of the tallest mountains in Italy combined with 133 Km of coastline, the Abruzzo region is truly the king of surf and turf. If all the regions in Italy had a culinary face-off, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Abruzzo came out tops for sheer quality and diversity.
This is more than a holiday. It’s your chance to collaborate with a new culture through music and singing. To be taught by one of the most in-demand singing experts in the UK. To eat the finest food Italy has in store and to stay in an exquisite, unique and genuinely authentic accommodation deep in rural Italy.
Sextantio Bedroom Three
Sextantio Bedroom Two
Sextantio Bedroom Four
Santo Stefano di Sessanio
Authentic, exquisite and atmospheric
We all felt a huge sense of calm as we entered our tiny Christmas home. It was warm. Familiar. Candles had been lit in anticipation, and a slender bottle of Genziana liquor had been left on the side as a nightcap. ‘Nice touch’, I thought.
An open fire roared away in the corner of the bedroom. On centuries-old terracotta stood a stylish shell bath, which lured us in like a siren with a pearl smile. Betsy, still stretching out the last remnants of the car, morphed into a giant, deep pile rug. The whole scene could have been lifted from the centre spread of AD magazine.
We took in the stars that night as we wandered back from dinner. The Sextantio restaurant was another designer interior, ladled with spoonfuls of authenticity. As we entered our abode to turn in for the night, Témi made a beeline for the wonderfully comfortable bed as I hung back to take advantage of that slim bottle of Genziana. Betsy sank into the floor with a deep, unbuttoned breath.
I supped on my nightcap and watched as the lovely ladies in my life snuggled into their new abode. The church bell sounded midnight. It was Christmas, and it was perfect.