One of the most joyful parts of our profession—and one of the main reasons we got into it in the first place—are the human connections we have made over the years. From art historians and archaeologists to local hosts and home cooks, we have met extraordinary Italians in our soon-to-be two decades of planning trips and being able to share their warmth and expertise with our clients is incredibly gratifying.
Unfortunately, the past few months have brought the loss of two of our most beloved Italian colleagues and friends. In September, we said goodbye to the guide and scholar Alessandro Celani, our long-standing expert in Rome, who lost his battle with cancer. And just this week, we were saddened by the sudden and unexpected loss of Felice Bartoli, who many of our clients met during their truffle hunting expeditions on his family farm in Patrico.
Agriturismo Bartoli was one of the first “farm holiday” estates to open in Umbria and the Bartoli family lived on this bucolic rolling land since at least the mid-1700s. Felice and his specially trained dogs would set out with guests to forage truffles in the surrounding woods, and the group would then sit down together to tuck into a rustic country meal with the entire Bartoli family to feast on the farm’s own prosciutto, pecorino cheese, and, of course, truffles.
Many clients visited over the years and they were all impressed with Felice’s warm hospitality and kind demeanor. Felice loved to spin a yarn and, for someone who lived on top of a mountain, he was very worldly…though trying to translate his anecdotes was definitely a challenge. That task most often fell to Cristina, our Operations Manager, who would accompany our guests up to the hilltop above the Umbrian plain and act as interpreter during the experience. She grew close to Felice and the entire Bartoli family over time, and best put into words our feeling of loss at his death:
“Felice Bartoli, or ‘Felicino’, as he was universally known, was the heart and soul of Agriturismo Bartoli in Patrico. A man of rare intelligence, perception, and vision, but also of extreme kindness and warmth, genuine and straightforward. He knew much about the rural culture and was a staunch defender of local customs and traditions, but also an aficionado and admirer of literary masterpieces like Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, from which he would recite passages from memory to his guests.
One immediately felt welcome in his home and both Italians and foreigners understood the sincerity and depth of his hospitality, even if they did not speak his language. I spent many hours in that house and had lunch by his side countless times. The rule was that Felicino sat at the head of the table, Cristina on his right, and the American guests around them. And from his seat at the head of the table, he entertained all of us with his smile, his stories, and the heavy sprinkling of jokes and proverbs that were sometimes difficult to translate into English, but always conveyed his passion and love for his world.
He was always curious about his guests. He asked where they were from, was interested in their life story, and always asked, ‘Do you like Patrico?’ Invariably, the answer was a resounding ‘Yes!’, which made him happy every time! Like his father, Felicino would serve guests HIS pecorino by cutting slices from the wheel directly into each diner’s plate with his father’s knife—a gesture that might have been puzzling at first, but which guest quickly understood as a message: you are at my table, you are part of my vast ‘family’ of friends, and you are welcome here. We will miss him immensely.”