My 30th Birthday Part 2: Tuscany, Italy

Welcome to the Italian villa of my dreams. While I will probably never be a rich, aristocratic billionaire, I can certainly live like one for a weekend! To be honest, renting a huge-ass villa wasn’t necessarily my birthday plan. I wanted to celebrate with some friends in Tuscany, and as the list of attendees grew to around 25 people, it was clear that we would need a BIG place to stay.I’d envisioned a sophisticated birthday weekend, sipping wine in the sun, gobbling up homemade spaghetti dinners at a big table with all of my friends, visiting vineyards, and playing charades around a roaring, warm fireplace at night. Tuscany was my ideal backdrop for the birthday antics, and after pursuing Booking.com (hello employee discount!) I managed to find the MOST DREAMY villa ever to host the birthday crew and our antics. Let me tell you about this villa . . . . The villa was three stories.This (below) is the view of the ‘hallway’ on the first floor. Each floor had an identical hallway with a maze of rooms off of it. In total it slept more than 20 people, and I’m convinced there were still beds to spare! There was a beautiful kitchen (below), large sitting rooms, an outdoor pool, expansive lawns, a detached club area and game room, a library, a hot tub, a chapel, ohh, and a SAFARI ROOM. The villa had a safari room. Yes, let’s stop right there and discuss what this means – it had an entire room dedicated to game that the owners had hunted, stuffed, and displayed. Cheetahs, elk, lions, tigers, bears, water buffalo – you name it, it was dead and displayed for all to see. While normally being surrounded by dead jungle animals would have been quite off putting, we embraced the scenario and declared my birthday night a safari-themed fete. With the help of some Tuscan red wine, our new dead friends became the back drop for an awesome celebration, despite the somewhat unorthodox taxidermy.
On Friday afternoon, after spending few fun days in Bologna, Kai and I hopped into a small rental car along with €1,000 worth of wine, spaghetti, cheese, bread, prosciutto, salami, fruits, and vegetables for the weekend! I had 15 jugs of soda water balanced on my lap, and a pile of baguettes fell forward onto the dashboard every time Kai stepped on the breaks too hard! Getting up to the villa was a steep hike, as we drove down through a valley, and then up a narrow dirt driveway to the villa, which was perched on top of a hill. We were the first to arrive and began unpacking, and made sure there were 25 welcome glasses of champagne at the front door waiting for our friends!I’d be lying if I told you the entire trip was fine and dandy. There were definitely some nightmares incurred by my friends on the trek to the villa. No one died and thankfully everyone is still my friend (thanks guys!) but due to a big thunder storm rolling through  in theearly evening, there were canceled flights, power outages, and dark and disappearing roads. Guests trickled in slowly, amid loud claps of thunder, as if a grand murder mystery was about to take place. By 9pm everyone had arrived, and after a few stiff drinks, we were in full-swing party mode! For dinner we made big salads and homemade pizza, and afterwards we changed into our bathing suits for some pool time and hot tubbing! Turns out the advertised hot tub was off of one of the bedrooms, and could only fit about 5 people at once (very snuggly!) so we cranked the shower on full-steam, and turned the master bath into a full on sauna dance party. Kudos to some of my strong guy friends who helped haul large buckets of hot water from other rooms to help fill up the hot tub more quickly (the need to hot-tub-dance is an urgent call!)

At midnight the friend crew convened back downstairs and I got the sweetest happy birthday! It meant so much to have so many of my favorite people, from both Amsterdam and the US, all in one place to celebrate. I imagine this is what having a wedding feels like – when so many people you care about are all together in the same room, and your heart is just bursting with love (and your belly from pasta!)
Although the evening antics progressed well into the early hours (remind me again why we decided to take vodka shots at 2am in an unheated pool?!) we *tried* to be good and get into bed early-ish (well, early-ish for a villa-party-night . . . ) The only activity I had pre-planned for the weekend was a wine tasting at 11.30am on Saturday. I’d anticipated folks would want a low key Friday evening after all the travel. However, you gotta roll with the punches, and when things began to escalate on Friday night, I wasn’t going to be the one to stop the funtimes :) Despite only getting a few hours of sleep, I was the first one up on my birthday morning, and I tiptoed outside to have a quiet moment before the day began. This was the view that greeted me, and I could not have asked for a more stunning welcome into my 30th year! As the fog burned away, the rest of the crew slowly rolled out of bed. We spruced up as best as we could, hopped into our Fiat Pandas (panda, panda!) and set out on yet another Tuscan automotive adventure in search of Fattoria il Lago, the vineyard and winery that had agreed to give us a private cellar tour and five-flight tasting.The tasting was informative and fun, despite about 95% of the group being hungover from the previous night’s antics! The harvesting process was explained in great detail, along with the grape variety and fermentation process for each particular wine. We were given very generous pours, and thanked our gracious hosts by taking home a fair haul of their stock!

We returned to the villa in the afternoon, ready to fuel up on food and relax a bit before the evening was upon us. We had a casual lunch on the villa’s terrace outside, and played some games on the lawn before retreating to our rooms to get ready for dinner, which was appropriately themed Italian Safari. The evening started out relatively tame, with big dishes of pasta, crisp salad, and of course, wine!

I’m actually not allowed to share any of the remaining birthday photos. Why? Well, things escalated pretty quickly. One minute we were having a nice, civilized, sit-down dinner, and the next, the guys were wearing dresses, dish towels, and lipstick, running around outside the villa! To say it was a memorable birthday weekend would be a vast understatement – between shower dance parties, wine tastings, crazy car rides, a beautiful backdrop, so many amazing friends and impromptu nuptials, it was easily one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had :)

xx Ali

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