The fruits of a slow life … the Story of Tenuta Delo.
My name is Antonia Mozzanega, née Cipriano. Here at Tenuta Delo, above the Squaranto valley and a few minutes from Verona – around that hill over there – my husband Ettore and I enjoy the fruits of a slow life. We invite you to come share them with us and discover that in Veneto we have been harvesting these fruits for centuries, millennia even. For these are not only fruits of the earth, bountiful though it is, but of the heart and mind and community. Of history and architecture, literature and land and family. And this is the story of those fruits, as it is ours.
My grandmother’s ancestors came, like the original Veneti, from the north. They settled in the Squaranto valley about the same time as our oldest olive trees were planted, over two hundred years ago. Here they encountered escapees from the heat of the south, like my Cipriano grandfather. For these Veronese hills are at the crossroads of two great routes: north from the Po river plains to the Brenner Pass; and east from Milan to Trieste. Many are the travellers who have slowed down here and stayed awhile.
The settlers who gave Veneto its name – these northerners called Veneti – “seem to have been more civilised than was normal for the time and place…loyal to the community and respectful of family ties…skilful farmers who improved the land.”1 I like to think that these Iron Age farmers laid down the roots of our slow life.
MAN’S HAND UPON THE LAND
At the heart of Tenuta Delo is a ninth century tower, strategically positioned to watch out for invaders coming up the valley. During that period Verona itself was distinguished by forty eight towers, building on an architectural tradition a thousand years old. For here there are more Roman monuments than anywhere in northern Italy, from its vast Arena – the amphitheatre which seated 25000 and still hosts glorious opera – to its theatre, ponte Pietra, and Roman gates. As my husband and son constantly remind me (they are both absorbed in construction and design), it is Verona’s architecture that earnt its World Heritage status and caused travellers to stop and stare. And, like Charles Dickens, write admiringly: “Pleasant Verona! With its beautiful old palaces, and charming country in the distance seen from terrace walks, and stately, balustraded galleries. With its Roman gates, still spanning the fair street, and casting, on the sunlight of today, the shade of fifteen hundred years ago. With its marble-fitted churches, lofty towers, rich architecture…Pleasant Verona!” 2
Like nearby Venice, Verona boasts fine art – as the home of Pisanello and the Veronese school, precursors of the Renaissance – and great churches too (San Zeno Maggiore may be the finest Romanesque example in northern Italy). But what distinguishes Veneto from Tuscany, for instance, is the importance of its architecture beyond Renaissance and Church and indeed Italy. Where the patrons of Florence and Siena placed their hands upon canvas and nave, in Veneto man laid his hand upon the land.
For it is here, within an hour’s gentle drive of our Squaranto valley, that you can enjoy the fruits of one man’s labours that changed the course of Western architecture: the villas of Andrea Palladio. A slow day touring the environs of Vicenza (another World Heritage Site) gives a rich yield: the origins of Vanbrugh’s Blenheim and Jefferson’s Monticello, influences on Loire chateaux and Washington’s Capitol.
Palladio designed fine palazzi and churches but what he created for the world to imitate was the great agricultural villa of Veneto: a classically simple yet noble dwelling in harmony with our slowly undulating land. Architecture for a slow life.
THE FLOWERING OF LANGUAGE
As a teacher of literature and history, I could ask for nowhere more inspiring to live. Verona is not just a crossroads for travellers but also for the greatest writers of Italy and the Western world. In the beginning was Catullus, as a man of Veneto a true Epicurean, who influenced Ovid, Horace and Virgil and who entertained Caesar between military campaigns (the general was an early convert to the slow life of these parts). Virgil himself haled from nearby Mantova, my husband’s home town, but it was to be later writers who marked Verona as a centre of letters. For this is where Dante – “the father of the Italian language” – escaped the pressures of Florence, where Shakespeare found the Montagues and Capulets of “Romeo and Juliet”. So the greatest writers in Italian and English crossed literary paths here, to be followed by Goethe, Byron and more.
Writing calls for peace and, scribbling away behind the hill that shields us from the city, to the gentle sound of my daughter’s harp, peace I have found. That and the words for our slow life.
FRUITS OF THE EARTH
Our benign climate has made this province celebrated for its produce, especially its fruits and vegetables. Europe’s oldest market – aptly in the Piazza delle Erbe – still thrives in Verona, and many are our festivals and fairs: major ones for olive oils and wines (Vinitaly); noted smaller ones like the Cherry Fair and the Festa della Sparasina (wild asparagus) in which I participate. Here at Tenuta Delo we enjoy our own produce: wines from our grapes, oil from our olives, even “grappa alla olive” (the grappa softened by contact with the olives – you must try it). Do come discover the simple joys of the Veneto table. In under an hour of slow driving you can taste Italy’s sweetest prosciutto, in the walled city of Montagnana; in Palladio’s Vicenza, mountain cheeses like the celebrated Asiagio; in Bassano del Grappa its unique white asparagus; in Rovigo the wild fowl of the marshes; at Sirmione’s walled city on Lake Garda, by Catullus’ country retreat, Bardolino wines; and everywhere the cherries and peaches and mirtilli of our orchards. To sample the finest single-vineyard wines of the region – Amarone, Recioto, Soave, Valpolicella – let us advise a slow tour or dinner for you, and a good, slow driver.
Because of our produce at Tenuta Delo and my work with l’Associazione della Sparasina, I have joined the Slow Food movement, whose aims we warmly endorse. It seemed natural, since what we harvest here are indeed the fruits of a slow life.
Since my family, like our olive trees, has led a fruitful existence here since the nineteenth century, it would be odd if we did not look to the future. So each year, led by our master planner Ettore, we attend to another part of the tenuta, to grow more produce or restore another building. On one hand we seek out antiques and create more slow food recipes; on the other we put in a hydro-massage tub and wire up a large salone (for guests who want to create their own stories far from the bustle of corporate life). Our aim is to leave behind what the French might call a relais, the English a country house hotel – but a uniquely Veronese tenuta – which travellers can recommend as an escape from busier parts of Italy.
In this ambition we are fortunate that our son Alberto and daughter Ludovica love the Tenuta. In fact, Alberto discovered for himself why it is called Delo, after the Greek delos which means “luminous, an enchantment”. One day he was studying, under a tree up on Cima Delo (our highest point) when he caught himself gazing down on our spectacular landscape and musing how he could contribute to the estate; using his studies and design skills, how he might plan a future here. As Alberto literally saw the light, the slow life had another convert.
So we can now look forward to another generation at Tenuta Delo and the finest fruit of a slow life: a family, together. Come share it with us.
1 Waverly Root “The Food of Italy”
2 Charles Dickens “Pictures from Italy”
Copyright Tony Hodges,
brandstory limited 04.09.09