The sound was unmistakable. Echoing through the undulating hills of Tuscany came the repeated hee-haws of a donkey. Cycling in Italy one becomes accustomed to the chiming of church bells on the hour and the wild barking of well fenced, albeit enthusiastic dogs.
However the call of a donkey leaves one with head slightly cocked questioning if lack of oxygen from a previous steep climb on the bike has produced auditory hallucinations.
Standing in the ancient village of Bagno Vignoni, gazing at the thermal waters that have been used since Roman times, the braying became unmistakable. The mule was in our midst.
As we cycled from Bagno Vignoni toward our lodging for the night Hotel Relais Osteria dell’Orcia, the curious hee-haw donkey talk reverberated in ever growing volume.
Built in the16th century, the hotel served as a horse and carriage station where pilgrims in centuries past sought rest on their way from Northern Europe to Rome. In some ways not so different from, some might say, deranged sweaty cyclists on their own pilgrimage of sorts.
I am delighted to report the accommodations have been beautifully renovated and there was no need to sleep in the hay barn.
Crossing the ancient, and thankfully fully restored, Peruzzi bridge, the donkey dialogue wafting over the Tuscan hills drew us closer to Osteria dell’Orcia.
In our travels we have seen hotels with chickens, cats, dogs, cows, goats and turkeys and can quickly understand why a hotel might have these animal associates for their business. But a donkey in modern day Italy?
Showing great restraint in expressing my curiosity I waited at least 30 seconds after meeting the owner of Hotel Relais Osteria dell’Orcia to ask the obvious.
“Why does your beautiful hotel have a donkey? If you don’t mind me asking of course?” A little manner mindedness bringing up the rear.
The owner gave a broad smile as he told of the grand plan some years ago to have a donkey on site to give rides to children. A rather unique amenity of an Italian hotel to draw families to stay.
Turns out that Mr. Donkey, who found his new home quite lovely, was less than enthralled with the concept of having a munchkin mounts on a regular basis. The owner thought better of the plan.
What the donkey seemed extraordinarily skilled at was hee-hawing his way to fame. Anyone within the vicinity of the Tuscan paradise of Bagno Vignoni is drawn to the sound by natural curiosity. Once on scene the donkey is happy to converse at decibel levels begging for ear protection.
Call him a guard donkey or the town crier, according the the owner, this mule marketing tool works like a charm. Once visitors have found the donkey, they can’t help but notice the beauty of the the setting and the marvelous hotel.
Who needs social media for advertising when you have a donkey?
Have you encountered any animals at hotels you have stayed at?
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