Russ and Elke's European Travel

It's not only what you see, it's how you see it

Russ and Elke's European Travel is a small company run by husband and wife team Russ and Elke Beck, a professional travel agent.

Over the years we have experienced some fantastic places, people, food and wine.  Out of our love for travel developed the idea to create very exclusive, intimate and interesting itineraries and let our clients experience, taste, smell, touch and hear what has given us so much joy in our travels. 

Un Castello Davvero Unico

Our hilltop castle in Parma

     Having grown up in the Eifel region of Germany, an area that has more castles per sqare mile than anywhere else in the world, I wasn't as excited as my husband and his parents at the propspect of staying in a "real" castle in Emilia-Romagna, the fertile plains of the Po-river valley in Italy. I also knew that no matter how well designed a website is and how professional the pictures and descriptions are, you never quite know what you are looking at until you check in, so I tempered my expectations.

     Months before our departure I had studied every image of every room category offered at the castle and finally decided on an apartment that could accommodate all four of us. It even had a small kitchen, not that I planned on doing much cooking while visiting this foodie paradise. Another perk of staying at the castle was the fact that we could pre-book spa treatments on location. We all felt massages were a brilliant idea after the eight hour transatlantic flight and drive to our destination. Russ and I decided that my in-laws should go first, right after checking out our quarters and dropping our bags.

     Upon arrival at our destination we realized that there was a lot more to this castle than just one immense building. We gaped in awe at a collection of massive stone buildings spilling down the verdant hillside.

     After parking our car in an ample gravel parking lot at the bottom of the steep hill we made our way the reception office which was housed in a smaller building directly next to the parking lot indicated by an antique sign. We were warmly greeted by a very attractive young lady, who, with practiced ease, took care of the check-in process. Key in hand she marched us out to our apartment. To my slight disappointment she didn't head up the hill to the main castle but turned left and walked into an adjacent building. She opened the door and, after telling us where to go for our massage appointments, turned on her fashionable heel and left us to our own devices. We put the bags near the front door and explored the space.

     As I mentioned before the images on a computer can be very different from what you end up with. Our two bedroom apartment really was more of a one bedroom with a studio space above the open plan kitchen/living room. This meant that one of the couples would have to climb a steep wooden ladder to get to a space just big enough to fit a double bed. There was no privacy from the common area below and the men were barely able to stand upright without knocking their heads on the low ceiling. There were 2 bathrooms down below, but in my mind this didn't really qualify as a 2 bedroom suite. For parents with children this would have been ideal, but for 2 grown couples it just wouldn't do.

     My travel companions seemingly took this in stride and, as they were leaving in their flip flops and shorts for their massages, my in-laws yelled over their shoulder for us to decide which "room" we wanted and just let them know when they got back. I realized right away there was no way I could make my father-in law climb that ladder during the day, never mind during nighttime hours when he had to use the restroom. So it was a foregone conclusion in my mind that we would be the ones stuck up there. Once alone I told my husband how disappointed I was in this grand castle stay and that for the money we paid I would like to have a little more of a romantic room. He shared my sentiments and suggested to talk to our resident model/receptionist and find out if they had any other rooms available.

     She understood our disappointment and concerns, and in her very sweet way showed us an available one bedroom apartment with a kitchen and sitting room as well as a suite on a upper floor in the main castle. Surveying the space and the views that resulted from being high up the hill, we decided we would pay the extra money, give my in-laws the ground level apartment and move ourselves into the suite. Both of those accommodations were gorgeous and had amazing views over the valley.

     Now that we had found our new accommodations we needed to move all of the luggage. So back we marched to retrieve our bags from the first apartment, there were carry-on bags, purses, cameras, jackets and huge suitcases to accommodate 4 people. When all 4 of us were working together it wasn't a challenge, but now 2 of us had to get all of it up a steep grassy hill. As I left the first apartment, carrying my luggage as well as the big suitcase of my mother-in-law, we stopped in the reception office to drop off the keys.

     Struggling down the stairs from reception with my mother-in-laws huge, brick filled suitcase I noticed a gallant gentleman riding towards me on a white horse. No, really I'm not making this up. Dismounting his horse in one elegant motion, he quickly exchanged some words in Italian with the staff and then turned to asked me, in perfect English, where I was headed. I told him we were moving into the upper part of the compound. He excused himself, reached over and took the gi-normous in-law suitcase from me as well as my shoulder bag.

     "Let me help you, signorina."

     "Well thank you that is very kind of you," I replied and followed behind him up the hill.

     On the way we passed my mother-in-law coming out of the massage room. She told us she was heading over to the natural cave, which houses a Turkish bath and sauna. I waved at her with my now free hand and told her:"We're moving." She shrugged her shoulders in confusion, I doubt she even heard me, and moved on.

     As we ascended the switchback path that made it possible to mount the steep hill, I looked a little closer at my 'helper', who even though he was wearing riding attire had some air about him. His riding attire was too perfect, his demeanor slightly regal, even suffering under the burden of the over-packed luggage he didn't seem to sweat.

     "Are you on vacation or do you live near here?" I inquired.

     "I live up there," he said and pointed to the largest building in the castle complex right next door. "My family has lived here for more than 600 years and we own and manage this place," he sheepishly grinned at me.

     OH DEAR GOD... I was making a Duke - who had his very own castle - carry our bags like a pack animal! For once I was speechless and only found my voice to croak a "Thank you very much" and "Goodbye" when we arrived in front of our new accommodations.

     He gallantly lifted his hat, wished us a nice stay and strode back down the hill. I felt more than silly, especially when, after exploring our surroundings later, we noticed a parking area directly next to our new rooms. One need only drive back up the road and cross the drawbridge (yes, I said drawbridge) to access it. We simply could have loaded the bags in the cars and driven up. But here we were now, and my sense of awe grew even more when I saw a number of gorgeous indigo blue and pearl white peacocks roaming free about the grounds and looked out my window at the astounding views.

     I finally understood the intrigue of living in a castle.

     You can have a similar experience if you join us on our "Eat Parma Tour" in the fall of 2014. This is a truly unique Italian castle you don't want to miss it!



All text and images are the property of Russ & Elke's European Travel.  Any unauthorized copying or usage will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law.