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Educational Travel in Italy

A Creative Writing Retreat in Tuscany

Murlo, Italy - A Creative Retreat

While numerous writers’ workshops take place in Europe each year, most are for experienced writers. The emphasis is on critiquing work already written; you rarely get time off to explore the pleasures around you. By contrast, the Tuscany Castle Arts Retreat, a week-long workshop for writers and artists held at the Castello di Montegufoni, an 11th-century castle in the heart of the Chianti region of Tuscany, is exactly that—a retreat. It whisks you away from contemporary life and allows fledgling and experienced writers and artists alike the freedom to create new work and still have plenty of time to enjoy the cultural life around them: the ideal learning and travel holiday.

Castello di Montegufoni (Castle on the Hill of the Black Hawk) stands on a peaceful country road, the same Via Volterrana once followed by Charlemagne to Rome, about 40 minutes by car from Florence. Nestled on 36 acres, with two palaces, five villas, armories, chapel and bell tower, and 360-degree views of green vineyards and silvery olive trees, the castle has a long literary and artistic history. Dante mentions the castle in the Divine Comedy. In the early 1300s, the poets Petrarch and Boccaccio were said to have taken refuge at the castle from the Black Plague. In 1909, the legendary Sir George Sitwell bought the castle and ushered in a new era of artists staying at the castle, including D.H. Lawrence, Somerset Maugham, Lytton Strachey, and Aldous Huxley. During World War II, several valuable paintings, including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and the Primavera, were stored in the castle to protect them from bombings in Florence.

Now two brothers, Cosimo and Guido Posarelli, operate the castle as a rustic resort and artist retreat eight months a year. Retreat participants receive their own bedrooms but share living quarters and bathrooms.

The workshop participants were all American, but the castle attracts an international set. When I was there in September 2000 I encountered Italian couples, German painters, and a group of 24 friends from Britain who visit the castle each autumn to enjoy the 80-degree weather and take in the local wineries and hill towns. All food is prepared Tuscan style, with homegrown fruits and vegetables, meats freshly killed on the castle grounds, and plenty of the castle’s own wine.

The Workshop: Three days a week, retreat participants attend a writer’s workshop from 9-11 a.m., or, if they prefer, go off to paint or take photos on the castle grounds. The workshop’s emphasis is on creating new work assignments given by the workshop leader, award-winning poet and fiction writer Grace Cavalieri. Participants then share their work with each other and in readings and an arts exhibition. While nearly everyone at the workshop had done some writing or painting prior to the retreat, the only prerequisites are an open mind and a willingness to learn. There is lots of free time to develop your work and meet one-on-one with Cavalieri for feedback. In just six days, I wrote two short stories and several poems, a portfolio of work that at home would have taken me several weeks to complete.

Day Trips: Afternoons were spent either exploring the castle and the adjoining hill towns on our own or in scheduled excursions to Florence, which in addition to tourist destinations included a literary walking tour of Florence. There are also afternoon trips to the fortress towns of Lucca and San Gimignano.

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