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Too Much Tuscan Sun: Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide [Paperback]

Dario Castagno , Rob Rodi
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Falcon Guides (18 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1863255079
  • ISBN-13: 978-1863255073
  • ASIN: 0762736704
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.5 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 420,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Synopsis

Over the past several years, "the American in Tuscany," has become a literary sub genre. Launched by the phenomenal success of Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun, bookstores now burgeon with nimble, witty accounts of this clash in cultures - Americans trying to do American things in Italy and bumping against a brick wall of tradition. Before this sub genre exhausts itself, it's only fair that we hear the other side of the story - that of a native Tuscan and of dozens of Americans who have stormed through his life and homeland, determined to find in it whatever they are looking for, whether quaintness or wisdom, submission or direction. There is no one better to provide this view than Dario Castagno. A Tuscan guide whose client base is predominantly American, Dario has spent more than a decade taking individuals and small groups on customized tours through the Chianti region of Tuscany. Reared in Britain through early childhood, he speake English fluently and is therefore capable of fully engaging his American clients and getting to know them.

Too Much Tuscan Sun is Dario's account of some of his more remarkable customers, from the obsessive and the oblivious to the downright lunatic. It is also a primer on Tuscany - its charms and its culture. Structured around a typical Tuscan year, Dario takes us through the sights, smells, and sounds of Chianti during each of the twelve months, including the festivities and pageantry that accord with the season, most notable the Palio - the bareback horse race that consumes the social energies of the people of Siena for all of July and August. Dario also intersperses an account of his own life and times - that of a transplanted British "little lord" who learns to love the wilds of Chianti; of his discovery and adoption of abandoned peasant farmhouses; of his apprenticeship in the wine industry; and of his arduous transformation from bohemian layabout to thriving Tuscan guide. - A new twist on the theme of Americans in Tuscany, tourists through the eyes of the Tuscans as told by a tour guide. - Self-published in Europe, the author has sold 10,000 copies


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First Sentence
I confess at the outset I'm not a native-born chiantigiano: I was born in England. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get me a ticket to Tuscany! 11 Oct 2004
Format:Paperback
Having already spent a great holiday doing the culture vulture bit in Venice I thought I might like to keep my feet dry next time and see what Florence had to offer. A search in Amazon for Tuscan Travel threw up the ususal plethora of Lonely Planet and Rough Guide type publications but I thought I'd go for something a bit more personal and intimate. As Bill Bryson didn't seem to have written one, enter "Too Much Tuscan Sun".
I discovered a little gem in this book. Most travel guides are written by professional authors who don't normally live in the area they're describing. Dario Castagno is a professional guide who has an intimate knowledge of Tuscany in general and Chianti in particular, with a love for the region that shines from the pages. I thought his narrative drew wonderfully evocative pictures of the region. Dario's beautifully written and detailed description of the fierce local competition and raging emotions of Sienna's "Pallio" - a bareback horse race held every year in July and August - is a case in point.
As if being informative isn't enough, the book's also highly entertaining. In between the lush descriptions of towns and countryside there are autobiographical anecdotes and stories involving the American tourists he's guided around the place. Being a Brit I found myself alternately amused or bemused at their antics, most of whom seemed to express a total disregard and unwillingness to learn about the country they were in and the assumption that the whole world is like the USA.
Then I remembered how many of my own countrymen behave abroad!
It's not often I'm moved to write a review but this is one of those occasions. If I wanted to be picky I could say that some illustrative photos wouldn't have gone amiss but it's only a minor detraction.
If you want a travel guide that not only informs at a very high level but can also be read purely for pleasure then this is the book for you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the best author in the world...but funny 9 Oct 2008
By Leanne
Format:Paperback
After reading Under the Tuscan Sun this book came as a nice surprise. I work in Italy in the tourism industry and so many of the customers he depicts are true...some tourists really are ridiculous.
The book is rather simply written - but it is a funny book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastico. 28 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I discovered this through other reading and it is a brilliant read, if you are interested in the region or just want a good read, this is the book for you.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Irritating 20 Nov 2007
By Jen
Format:Paperback
I think the author had two purposes in writing this book: to vent his frustrations by slagging off American touists, and to advertise his tours. How he thinks he can reconcile the two, I really don't know. It just doesn't work.

Sure, he's met some extremely arrogant/ridiculous/moronic characters in his time, but it's bad enough being irritated by tourists (and irritating tourists are not only from the US, I'm afraid) in person - do I really have to read about them, too?

I had hoped for an insider's insight to the area but, aside from some flowery descriptions that didn't really fit the annoyed-and-exasperated tone of the rest of the book, there wasn't much of that. The only "quirky" cultural tidbit I gleaned from the whole book is that it's apparently acceptable for Tuscan tour guides to drink and drive!
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  56 reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dario's Tuscany 23 Feb 2005
By E. Craig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Look, the fact is that the majority of Americans, when they think about Tuscany, see it as a prestigious place filled with great food, views, and shopping - and a place which they can use to impress friends and relatives with stories of being in Tuscany. Now, I will freely admit: Tuscany does have great food and views. And shopping if you're into that. But when Dario says "Too much Tuscan Sun", he's saying "too much hype, let me show you the real Tuscany."

I travel to Italy every year to visit friends and family. I'm proud to be an American. However, I will not deny that every year I encounter Americans who do not behave at their best when they are guests in another country. When in Rome, do as the Romans. Here in the States, we demand conformity of our foreign guests and we are incredulous if they exhibit the slightest "un-American" behavior.

After being entranced by Tuscany on two occasions, I read Mayes' book and watched the American cultural view of Tuscany crescendo. I was extremely off-put by the hype, and consequently have chosen, for the past 10 years, to avoid a Tuscany filled with loud, demanding tourists.

I had loved the magical Tuscany that Dario shows you - deserted white stone roads, fabulous trattorie, ruined castles, churches, villas where it is delicious to imagine them in their hey-day, hills that grow into mountains with villages tucked neatly within, vineyards, active farms and olive groves.

I'm actually considering going back, having fallen for Tuscany once again.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great book - I did love it 12 April 2005
By Thomas B. Gross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I haven't read any of Frances Mayes' books, but my native Italian wife has, and she liked those well-enough that we have visited Cortona. I picked up this book because I thought the title was funny and I enjoy reading books like Beppe Severgnini's "Ciao America", another book written by an Italian about those crazy Americans.

Dario Castagno's book is not nearly as caustic as I had been lead to believe by the jacket blurb, as well as some of the previous Amazon reviews, and the title itself. It wasn't until I reached his chapter explaining the process behind the Palio that I really began to appreciate "Too Much Tuscan Sun" for what it is: a book written for Americans by a native Sienese.

There are a few entertaining anecdotes throughout the book about some of the weird American tourists he has met, but the funny stories he tells about American tourists say as much about him as they do about any of his clients.

A certain percentage of his clients appear to be people looking for a broad introduction to Italy who really ought to be just following the latest edition of Frommer's Italy (which is a guidebook I still use and rely on) rather than hiring a local guide to show them the more obscure sites that mean something to him personally.

I have been to a number of the tourist sites that Dario mentions as frequent stops on his tours, and I think that may help my appreciation of this book. For example, I would never dream of taking an elderly person to see Monte Oliveto Maggiore, because there is a long walk downhill to the monastery from the parking lot. Yet Dario tells the tale of trying to bring a busload of 20 elderly American tourists with predictably disastrous results.

He also doesn't seem to understand that if two couples are calling him every 30 minutes with questions the night before a tour and leaving him waiting in the hotel lobby in the morning it's probably because one or both of those couples are engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the privacy of their hotel rooms, trying to decide how they are going to spend the remaining days of their relaxing Italian sojourn.

I myself have been escorted by Italians to see recently excavated Etruscan ruins, and while Etruscan ruins may be especially thought-provoking to an Italian, I can understand why an American tourist might not find them quite so fascinating.

I have also, personally consumed a lot of Diet Coke in Italy, and I found the number of times this American habit is mentioned to be hilarious (I think it has something to do with the fact that Americans, like me, are accustomed to drinking more liquid throughout the day, and we are trying NOT to gain TOO much weight when we are in Italy).

But the main value of this book is the way it tries to communicate to Americans what an Italian really loves about his country, and what he finds particularly interesting about American culture. I greatly appreciate his chapter on capital punishment, which I had previously recognized as probably the most bizarre aspect of American life, from the point-of-view of an Italian.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dario's Love Affair with Tuscano 8 Nov 2005
By Diana F. Von Behren - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This summer, I saw this book neatly stacked for sale in a wine store in the hill town of Montalcino in Tuscany. Knowing full well that I could get the book at a better price on the Amazon marketplace, I waited until I returned home to place my order. Unfortunately, Katrina's wrath swamped the city of New Orleans and I didn't receive the book until recently. However, seeing the beauty of Italy through private tour guide, Dario's eyes from a time lapse of four months and through the filter of such devestation, enhanced, for me, the book's quiet appeal

As many other reviewers have pointed out, Dario doesn't suffer foreign fools too well, and why should he? His obvious love of his own culture with its sumptions rustic 5 course lunches swathed in a sweet elixir of a fine Classico Chianti or famed Barbi Brunello set against the rolling golden landscape of cypresses, olive groves, vineyards, simple churches and stone farmhouses, speaks for itself. Why, Dario wonders, would foreign tourists, especially American tourists, want to come to Italy and not become Italian for the duration of their trip? Why drink Diet Coke when the fruit of the Sangiovese grapes is at hand? Why hire a guide, if you don't want to visit the area's monasteries, walk its medieval towns or hear of the famous Sienese Palio?

The book, therefore is a collection of recollection. To some, his bewilderment over the lack of excitement displayed with regard to his home and his criticism of the various types encountered during such head-scratching moments, may seem judgemental and anti-American. To others, like myself, Dario will become the quintessential Italian, living in paradise and like the pre-apple Adam, just wanting to share and expecting only an exchange of simple enthusiasm for his introduction to Eden.

In addition to his anecdotes, which intially seem sophomoric until one acquaints oneself with his simplistic style, one can glean some interesting tips on the lifestyle in Tuscany and very defintitely can accumulate enough ideas to create a very special itinerary of one's own of the place's lovely sites.

All in all, the book is a pleasant read, one that replenishes the memory with mind pictures of the Tuscan landscape, the mouth with the crunch or crostini and the earthy taste of that wonderful bean soup at Taverna dei Barbi and the soul with the balm of tradition and culture that abides in each of the farmhouses seen from the road.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast, easy read. Very funny. 3 Jan 2005
By L. Hewitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Maybe you have to know Dario to understand the quips and subtleties of this fun and easy-to-read jaunt through Tuscany. In contrast to some of the reviews and as a paying customer of Dario, I found absolutely no insult in any of his anecdotes. Rather, many chuckles at the foibles and eccentricities of fellow travelers. Plus, many remembrances of unique experiences he offers as a guide when we visit his corner of the world. This book is very funny and a great, quick read. A definite must-read for any Tuscan enthusiast.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tongue-in-cheek rebuttal of the idyllic Tuscany painted by American authors and dreamers 17 Jan 2006
By Bundtlust - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Dario Castagno is a born Tuscan. Raised in London until he was ten, Dario's fluency in English and love of Tuscany, including exploring abandoned farmhouses and villas like the one in Frances Mayes' "Under the Tuscan Sun" and his experiences working in a Chianti winery, led him to create Chianti Black Rooster Tours. Dario gives personalized tours of the Chianti region to groups up to six, and in "Too Much Tuscan Sun" he chronicles seasonal life in Tuscany, cultural gems, and the all-too-often bizarre and demanding American tourists that he is saddled with.

Dario wrote the book as a rebuttal of Frances Mayes and other American writers who paint a dreamy portrait of Tuscany peppered with the notion of "aren't the Tuscans backwards and quaint!" when they run into un-American customs or try to "act American" and are misunderstood. Dario offers a moving account of the Palio and tragic events in WWII Italy, misunderstandings with Americans as presented by the Italian point of view, and an eye-opening chapter on the death penalty in America as reported by Italian media.

The book is arranged chronologically over the course of a year from February to December, with various interludes thrown in. Dario paints a lyrical picture of the various seasonal changes that occur in Tuscany's gardens and landscapes, the power of a passing thunderstorm, and the bounty of crops each season yields, along with mouthwatering descriptions of local Tuscan cuisine. Mixed in are remembrances of his rebellious psychedelic teenage years in Tuscany and earlier (brief) encounters with American college students studying abroad in Italy.

The bulk of the book is devoted to poking fun at the obnoxious stereotypical American tourists that booked Dario's tours: yelling as though Dario can't understand English, wearing large, gaudy, flashy jewelry, leopard prints and stiletto heels for sightseeing in the country, asking why Italians are speaking Italian (!), only eating at McDonald's because Italians can't cook Italian food like they do in America, claiming that caffe lattes and pizza are American culinary creations that the Italians confiscated, refusing to walk anywhere on a walking tour...the list goes on. There are several couples that are presented as happy, easygoing, and well adjusted, but overall the book tends to paint a negative picture of the American (and Canadian!) tourist in Tuscany. Although it reads humorously, it felt nigh stereotypical, but understandably; others of lesser means who may be more in tune with Italian culture probably can't afford to hire Dario and travel Italy in five-star hotels.

A very engaging read, but if Dario pens a sequel, please make it the adventures you've had with laid-back, adventurous, polite Americans who enjoy throwing themselves into Italian language and culture. I felt as though I were being punished via the hoards of loud, barbaric, stereotypical American tourists when, in fact, I can understand some Italian (I regularly listen to Italian pop music), I love to walk everywhere, and can deal with any change in plans with grace and enthusiasm. As a language- and culture-conscious tourist, I felt woefully underrepresented, but enjoyed Dario's in-depth cultural and gastronomic tour of Tuscany immensely (although I lived in Spain on two occasions, I've yet to visit Italy) and hope to one day tour the marvels of Tuscany for myself.
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