Too Much Tuscan Sun: Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide


Over the past several years, "the American in Tuscany" has become a literary subgenre. 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 subgenre 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...

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Over the past several years, "the American in Tuscany" has become a literary subgenre. 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 subgenre 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 speaks 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.

But the bulk of the book is devoted, with humor and affection, to the Americans he has met-the vain, the silly, the ignorant, the ambitious, the horny, the condescending, the charming, and the outright pathological. Some of them have made his life hell and live in his nightmares; others became lifelong friends.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This is the flip half of the story. Thanks to the burgeoning subgenre of books inspired by Frances Mayes, we all know about Americans learning to relax under the warm Tuscan sun. Dario Castagna sees this footloose and not always fancy-free tourists in a different light. As the veteran proprietor of Chianti Rooster Tours, he has guided small groups of visitors, mostly Americans, around the vineyard-rich Tuscan region for years. Born in England to Italian parents, Dario is thoroughly bilingual, affording him ample opportunity to mingle with his clients, who range from the blissfully oblivious to the insanely obsessive. This book's crisp descriptions and sometimes zany dialogue remind one of Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad.
Pamela Paul
Most refreshingly, his book doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is: a light, engaging jaunt into the Italian countryside, unfiltered by an outsider's prejudice and romanticism.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Unlike Under the Tuscan Sun and the flood of cookbooks touting the delights of the Tuscan table, this endearing, lightweight memoir was written by a native of the area. The author recounts the history and character of Chianti-the famous wine region at Tuscany's geographic and cultural heart-and shares his most unforgettable experiences working as a Chianti tour guide for more than 12 years. Raised in Britain, Castagno began exploring Chianti's countryside as a teenager and fell in love with its dilapidated farmhouses, abandoned in Italy's post-WWII period of industrialization; for him, their stone walls, terracotta roofs and chestnut beams formed "well nigh irresistible" windows into Tuscany's romantic past. As a guide, he shared these journeys with his clients, most of them Americans, including T.T., an overly curious businessman for whom a winery visit "was like taking a child to a chocolate factory"; and an Alabama couple who, sweetly, tried to set Castagno up with their daughter. The farmhouses were also the site of Castagno's startling encounter with a couple of teenage artists and subsequent discovery about Tonio, a local, 94-year-old love machine. Castagno delivers his life story in simple, honest, heartfelt terms, though, unfortunately for readers, there are few true surprises or insights. It's brain candy to be enjoyed with a bottle of red. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This work generates much of its humor from the clash of cultures, told from the Italian perspective at the gentle expense of Americans. Castagno, born in England of Italian parents, has lived in the Chianti region of Tuscany long enough to consider himself a chiantigiano, and his love for the history, culture, and people of the area inspired him to start his own business as a personal tour guide for small groups. He has met clients who have exasperated him; others who amused, disgusted, or even impressed; and many who have become his personal friends. Readers who travel will certainly find some of his clients familiar. The book is organized according to the months of the year, and each chapter includes a description of Tuscany at that time, little bits of history, and an amusing story of one of his tour groups. Sometimes funny, sometimes sentimental, this book will be a welcome addition to large travel collections.-Linda M. Kaufmann, Massachusetts Coll. of Liberal Arts Lib., North Adams Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762736706
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 297,158
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Dario Castagno was born in England to Italian parents and moved with his family to Tuscany when he was ten. Through his company, Chianti Rooster Tours, he has guided small groups of visitors—mostly Americans—to his favorite spots in the Chianti region for more than ten years. This is his first book. Perhaps his proudest accomplishment, however, is claiming membership in Siena's Caterpillar contrada, which won the Palio in 2003.

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Table of Contents

(1) Ringraziamenti (2) Introduction: Americans through Tuscan Eyes (3) Discovering Chianti (4) January and the Athletes (5) Chianti and "Chianti" (6) February and the Honeymooners (7) Cradle of Genius (8) March and the Oenophile (9) Fosco's House (10) April and the Know-it-alls (11) Love Among the Ruins (12) May and the Collector (13) Intervallo: The Dutch (14) The Black Rooster (15) The First Excursion (16) July and the Palio (17) Us versus Them (18) August and the Lovers (19) Intervallo: The American Caterpillar (20) Playing Offense (21) September and the Timekeeper (22) Strangers in a Strange Land (23) October and the Coach Tour (24) Intervallo: Death and Life in America (25) November and the Devoted Mother (26) All About Babs (27) December with the College Student (28) The Tour That Wasn't (29) Intervallo: From the Other Side of the Van (30) Conclusion: La Macia

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2005

    American Bashing Disguised as Wit

    Mr. Castagno's book is not so much a collection of tour gude's witty anectdotes as it is a sour testament to his views of Americans and America (ironically, he tells the reader that much of his livelihood is derived from these same Americans). It is certainly possible to encounter difficult tourists and generate funny accounts of their travels, something of which Americans in Europe are quite capable. However, the stories become more unbelievable with each chapter, especially the one about the lawyer who was proud of a coin he acquired in Rome dated 42 B.C. (C'mon, Dario...that was in a brainteaser book I had in third grade!) The chapter on his views on the death penalty was particularly evident of his condescension toward America and what it has to do with travel through Tuscany I don't know.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2004

    We liked it so much, we took the tour!

    Both my wife and I read the book earlier this year in the form of a borrowed copy. We enjoyed reading it so much that we immediately tried to schedule a tour for our upcoming trip to Chianti. Last week, we met Dario and he took us on a tour very reminscent of many episodes of his book. The book, of course, stands on its own with its many humorous vignettes. As Americans, we also learn a little bit about which of our behaviours are perceived as peculiar by Europeans. The book is a very easy read, and it'll certainly make you yearn for being there to enjoy the food, wine, landscape, and not least of all, to experience the author's wonderful company.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2009

    Too Much Tuscan Sun

    I read many books on Italy and Tuscany, and enjoy them all. I felt the author Dario Castagno was too critical of his American clients. His description of places and food was very good.

    Marie T.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2007


    A beautiful, touching review of travel and travelers in Chianti. Dario takes you on a tour that exposes the soul of Chianti, it's soft beauty and strong characters. After travelling many years myself, first carrying a backpack, then doing the bus tours and staying in small to 5 star hotels, I recognized many of the strange characters he describes as well as the wonderful people he introduces. If you can't see the love and humor in the stories then you are probably one of the obnoxious Americans who wonder why you can't order a peanut butter sandwich at Harry's Bar. I would really love to go on his tour, taste the wine and be remembered as 'normal folk.' Grazie tanti, Dario!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2005

    Good Book.

    This book is fun to read. I love it. Joe B New York

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2004

    Reason Enough to Blush

    By Bill Marsano. This comes as a necessary tonic after years of fake-Italy books. Under the Tuscan Sun was charming until Frances Mayes began strip-mining Italy as if it were her personal franchise. A couple of cheap little books cashed in on her fame; then a PBS series (always the kiss of death to authenticity) and after that, the major motion picture, in itself blessed by bearing no resemblance to her book. Now she's shamelessly stooped to Tuscan-decor-for-your-home. Elsewhere there's ritualized 'roots' sagas, such as Mark Rotella's gag-inducing Stolen Figs, and pseudo-intellectualizations of similarly emetic effect (Francine Prose's Sicilian Odyssey takes the cake here, and with only a little effort would make a satiric comedy). Now here at last the Italians have their say, or one Italian does, anyway. And that's enough, because even though he's never malicious, the tourists who descend on Italy in general and guide Dario Castagno in particvular are embarrassing and even humilitating. Castagno was reared in England and so speaks the language as a native, but when he returned to Italy as you young man that didn't do him much good for some time. W jhat will surprise many here is that he spent several years working at a very ordinary winery job before setting up as a guide. That's becauser it's only over the past couple of decades that Tuscany (the actual place) has become TUSCANY! the illusory media darling. When he does start out he meets more than his share of perfectly appalling tourists. There are the overdressed (spike heels in the vineyards), the bullying, the utterly ignorant (one of whom expects to tour Chianti in the morning and shop in the Veneto on the same day), the self-deluded (a couple of superbly outfitted health fanatics whose ability to walk deserts them in Hour One) and the utterly clueless (a fellow who buys a valuable antique coin dated '42 B.C.'). Of course not all are that bad; it's only the egregious that are amusing to read about. But there are certainly more than enough of those. They'll make us mind our manners--I hope--the nect time we go abroad. Interspersed with these misadventures is a goodly view of Castagno's personal history and glimpses of the Tuscany that has disappeared beneath the veneer of modern tourism. It's enough to make me wish I hadn't missed the boat--but at the same time, back there there was hardly a decent hotel or restaurant to be found.--Writer and editor Bill Marsano has been visiting relatives and winemakers in Italy three or four times a year since the 1980s.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2004

    Charming , witty, lite read...

    Dario's book will allow you to see the colors of Tuscany through it's visitors and local personalities. He makes you laugh, but also makes you cry. It captures your imagination as well as your heart. It's a book that you can read in a day and talk about for months. This is a must read for the soul.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2009

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