The expectation hung thick and hard in the air, clinging to our every movement as the rich Tuscan sun beat down on our tired frames. It had been an early start. This gleaming gem in Italy’s well worn crown was hardly easy to find. Nestled between forests at the top of a winding hill, hiding away from the tropes of tourists fighting their way through the city: we were the fortunate few. The anticipation was palpable.
Castello di Sammezzano stood proudly on its luscious green lawn. It commanded your attention, boldly casting its magic over this small group of Italophiles. We held our phones tightly in our hands, eyes drawn to the stunning architecture as we waited to be led in. The castle, rich in history, didn’t open for anyone. That much was clear. As the old embraced the new, my fellow social media addicts and I could barely contain our excitement. Here we were, about to experience one of Italy’s finest residencies, and all we had to do was document our journey through Instagram.
There had to be a catch, no?
A short man in a over-sized t-shirt and tailored pants caught our attention, signalling it was time to enter.
That’s when I caught her.
A young girl, no older than 6, running ahead with startling excitement up the stairs and into the castle. Her blonde curls caught the sunlight and her pale skin stood out starkly against a sweet yellow dress.
Her parents, by my side, smiled affectionately at her youthful animation. It was infectious, and I found myself beaming at the thought of this innocent soul being faced with such astounding beauty.
It happened automatically, the second I stepped through the vast arched doors into the first room (and its rainbow explosion). I was seeing it through her eyes. Fresh, hungry eyes that saw life as the brightest, most wonderful adventure. Where every step was laced with joy. Every breath exhilarating.
365 rooms (one for every day of the year) spread across this dazzling castle. Intricate designs, intoxicating colours, the most awe-inspiring mosaics. This place… it couldn’t be real. We were in a fairy tale, and each sight offered another unforgettable line of the story.
The little girl never stopped running. From room to room, she drunk in every single corner with a thirst I had never seen.
The phrase “Non Plus Ultra” (Latin for “Nothing Further Beyond”) was marked prominently above an archway as she bounded through, a lyrical laughter reverberating around the room. There could be no more fitting words. We were stepping outside of reality and into another world.
In a blink of an eye, our 60 minutes were up. Phones laden with countless kaleidoscopic photos, we stepped back out into everyday life. The little girl spun in the glimmer of the summer rays, a faraway smile etched upon our face.
We all departed, an unspoken bond linking us together, the magic of the trip still pulsing through our bodies.