A fresh look at the Family Reunion

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For me, the phrase “family reunion” connotes matching t-shirts, slide shows, and rack-rate rooms in a mega-hotel. These aren’t necessarily bad things for a large group but, in truth, a family reunion could be whatever you want it to be. Maybe your immediate family is scattered around the world and you’d like to come together, as a smaller group, for something other than turkey dinner. Or you’ve just watched that Steve Carrell movie, Dan in Real Life, and have begun romanticizing an annual family talent show.

I’m afraid to admit it, but Aron and I can both be a bit curmudgeonly when it comes to traveling with others. At least before we had Hudson, there was the sense that we wanted to be up and going when others wanted to be sleeping in and sitting. (Now we wish we could sleep in!) Or we wanted to sneak off for a few hours, just the two of us, and they wanted to do everything together. (Just the two of us? Ha!) It’s a fault of ours, really, that we’re such picky travelers. But it can be really tricky, when you’re in a new and exciting place, to match your pace or interests with someone else’s–and delicate when it’s family. Don’t you agree?

Then, a few years back (I realize as I say “a few” that it was nearly ten), our friends described a group trip to Italy that sounded just right! They rented a large villa outside of Bologna–large enough to have spaces for alone-or-together time–and each couple had their own car (or Vespa, as it were). They’d split off from each other some days and reconvene over dinner, or go sightseeing in small groups in the morning and then relax by the pool overlooking the countryside.

I love it! So low pressure! “We’re heading down the road to the vineyard this morning, want to join?” “No? Okay. We’ll see you for lunch and a bike ride later!”

I’ve been making up my own make-believe itinerary for this sort of family reunion ever since, but it’s a lot easier to imagine (and coordinate) now that you can search and star favorite rentals (you can search with travel dates, property type, how much you want to spend, location, and amenities, for example) to share amongst those traveling. I’m going to pretend we’re all meeting in Tuscany–because if I’m pretending, why not? I found some gorgeous rentals near Lucca–but this could really be so many places.

Imagine: we could fly into Rome and take the train to Florence, or fly directly to Pisa perhaps. From our comfortable base near Lucca (or outside of Sienna or Arezzo or wherever you prefer), we could take winding roads among olive groves and tall grasses to charming hill towns–like San Gimiganana or Montalcino (famous for Brunello). Some days would be completely unscheduled (for long naps in the sunshine, passeggiatas in town, and E.M. Forster novels by the pool), others would be dedicated to group excursions for shared memories (ballooning over Tuscan hillsides, following sunken Etruscan roads, observing an excavation of a fleet of Roman ships, or learning to make fresh pasta at a nearby estate). If somebody wanted to break off and take the kids to Pinocchio Park while another wanted to go to the coast, there’d be no hard feelings–we’ll all be together again for dinner (well, except for that night when grandparents watch sleeping children and parents sneak off for a solo date). And dinners back at the villa could be made together with those items purchased at the local market or from that farm we stopped at by chance when we spotted the “Vendita Diretta” sign: four or five course affairs ending in cheese and dessert and coffee and a digestivo. Or maybe we’d just snack on melon and prosciutto and tell old stories while looking up at the stars. That’s the beauty of renting a home all together.

But regardless, I’m pretty sure that when we got home, for years and years, we’d talk fondly about that amazing week we all spent one late summer in Tuscany.

[top photo ours, from our 2005 trip to Italy]

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