(Posted for independent travellers touring Italy off the beaten tracks)
A l t e r n a t i v e h o l i d a y s
A WEEKEND WITH ***
Only a game, of course. Agatha Christie's party game of eighty years ago
lives again in a magnificent old hotel in the south of Tuscany.
by Claudio Zeni
The scene is Subbiano, near Arezzo, in the south of Tuscany. But this ***
weekend has its origins in England, and takes up a craze invented and
launched by Agatha Christie. Under an assumed name, she entertained the
guests of the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate by inviting them to discover the
culprit and the instigator of an imaginary ***. The grand old lady of
crime fiction was married to Colonel Archie Christie, a man of great charm,
and here at the hotel she spent her time devising all the possible ways of
eliminating his lover. For the occasion she invited the other clients of the
hotel (just as a game, of course) to participate in the plan.
These 'mystery weekend' shows, participatory theatre full of unexpected
twists, have arrived in Tuscany in Italy, and for three days and two nights
the guests of the Relais Torre Santa Flora at Subbiano have to resolve a
*** mystery, discovering the culprit and his motive. Directing the show
is Nicoletta Fiumara, ready to welcome the participants to this enchanting
hotel, rich in history.
A t m os p h e r i c l o c a t i o n
f o r a p e r f e c t c r i m e
Built by Benedictine monks in the twelfth century as a mill, it was part of
the defensive system of the landowners of the Casentino area. A monastic
home in the thir***th century, and later used as a country residence by the
Ducci family from Catenaia, after the second world war the building fell
into a state of complete neglect until a family of local businessmen, the
Soldini, set about restoring it to its former glory, leading to the opening
of the Relais Torre Santa Flora.
In this atmospheric setting a *** (usually by poisoning) upsets the
apparent calm of a group of people (up to a maximum of thirty). The crime is
served at six o' clock on the dot on Friday evening during the welcoming
***tail party. At this point the game of 'hunt the culprit' begins. All the
guests become Miss Marples and Hercule Poirots, ready to unmask the false
alibis of the culprit in their midst.
Nicoletta Fiumara, as master of ceremonies, sets up the teams, and the
guests go in search of clues, finger-prints and *** weapons in what is a
large-scale party game. Sense of humour and imagination are obligatory.
"I decide the plot and the selection of the teams" says Nicoletta "depending
on who is taking part. I have enough experience to be able to determine the
role that each guest can play in the course of the game".
The action is resumed on Saturday with on-the-spot inspections and checks,
which can even include attempts to bribe the staff, who, it is worth
mentioning, are totally in the dark as to what is going on in the various
rooms of the hotel.
However, as in any English mystery worthy of the name, the habits of the
guests are sacred and to be respected. Thus at 8.00 on Saturday evening
there is the gala dinner - at which it is worth keeping one's ears open as
it is possible to pick up some essential information or notice an error on
the part of the ***er. However, there is no need to be wary of the dishes
that are served, because no poisons are allowed in the hotel restaurant,
whose specialities include: turkey and spelt soup, with greens and tomatoes,
ham on fondue of pecorino cheese, and guinea-fowl supreme with pine-seed
Sunday morning in the hall of the Relais, the spokesmen of the two teams
give their versions of events to the assembled teams, after which comes the
dnouement, when the master of ceremonies reveals the name of the ***er
(who is never the butler).
The team that solves the mystery or supplies the closest version to the
'official' solution, wins a free weekend at the Relais, as well as general
admiration from everybody (which is what counts for most in the end).
M y s t e r y i n t h e a r t w o r l d
At the moment Subbiano's weekend adventure involves art dealers, high-class
thieves, and strange interlocking passions. The plot is based on the
ump***th art theft to happen in Italy: previous clues seem to indicate that
Klimt's celebrated 'Portrait of a lady' has passed through the Relais Toree
Santa Flora, and might still be hidden there somewhere.
"The mystery revolves around the culprits and the motives, but most of all
the identity of the purchasers of the stolen picture" says Nicoletta
Fiumara. "This is the premise for the mystery 'Double Knot at the Relais
Torre', our current game. The following weekends will have other subjects
changing by rotation".
F u t u r e a p p o i n t m e n t s
The next 'Crime weekends' are booked for 20-22 October; 3-5 November; 17-19
November and 1-3 December. The cost is 550,000 lire per person, including
two nights, with buffet breakfast, two dinners and a lunch, participation in
the game, and meal-time drinks.
A fax with credit card number is all that is necessary for a booking.
Confirmation will be given when the minimum number of participants has been
For groups of at least 16 people other dates can be agreed; 10% reduction
for bookings of 6 people or more.
Published in Italy by "Avinews - Mediterranean Focus"
Vol. XXI, No. 356 - International Edition Vol. I, No. 5