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Literate and Leisured

Is it Wednesday? Thursday? I don’t know. Time plays tricks in this part of Italy, where all clocks lie and days fly by. You don’t make plans in Galeazza – things just happen around you and you go with the flow.

This little blink-and-you-miss-it village lies in the region of Emilia-Romagna, less than an hour from the beautiful porticos and piazzas of Bologna. The land is flat and cultivated with a scenery of unfenced corn crops and turned soil as far as the eye can focus.

Galeazza Castle

For miles around, the tower of Galeazza Castle can be seen peering over the tall cedar and magnolia trees in its garden. The tower was constructed in the 14th century and the castle has been built on and on to since then. It presents quite a grandiose spectacle comprising at least 100 rooms.

Twelve of these are now used by the cultural association Reading Retreats in Rural Italy for reading holidays, art exhibitions and music recitals. Up to eight people stay here at a time to relax and take advantage of the 3,000-book library, frescoed ceilings and local cooking. There are acres of woodland to ramble around, plenty of paintings to peruse and a constant stream of cultured eccentrics to chat to.

The association is the brainchild and raison d’etre of Clark Lawrence, an impish American-born thirty-something, whose love of the project permeates everything he does. His lust for life and this haven he has created is rivaled only by his amore for Italy, which he calls his true home.

This man’s unique approach means the castle truly is an extraordinary place and a one-off experience for those who visit. Many come back again and again, unable to resist the magnetic charms of the Castello di Galeazza and its caretaker; indeed, most see the two as one inseparable entity.

The magic of the oasis cannot easily be identified. Perhaps it is the way you can talk Brahms over breakfast but still listen to dance music during dinner, or are just as likely to wake to opera as strains of Stevie Wonder. Maybe it is the manic mix of locals, visitors and friends who fill the place one day, only to be replaced by the serenity of solitude the next. You can lounge in the hammock for an hour but then take your life in your hands and your heart in your mouth by braving the homemade swing.

One thing that certainly aids the atmosphere is the chip-in mentality of Clark, his helpers and the guests. Those who stay at Galeazza are expected to help out by chopping vegetables for dinner, washing the dishes or weeding the garden. This isn’t a hotel and there ain’t no room service honey. This system is what makes the castle so different to other holiday destinations. As Clark says: “This place isn’t for everyone, or even most people: it’s only for some people and they know it when they get here.”

Those who adore Galeazza are bound together as a tribe, fiercely protective of the castle and its inexplicable draw. And as the sun sets over the parapets here, I realise I may not be sure what day it is, but I do know I will be spending as many as I can at the Castello di Galeazza in years to come.

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