My Glossy Weekend: Delia Gallagher

Former senior editor of Inside the Vatican magazine and CNN Vatican Analyst, Irish American DELIA GALLAGHER is now CNN’S VATICAN AND ITALY CORRESPONDENT. She has lived in Rome for 20 years, where she enjoys weekends at her home in Maremma …

Delia at the Vatican.

If I don’t have to stay in Rome to cover Pope Francis, my weekends are spent in Maremma, southern Tuscany, about an hour and a half outside of Rome. It’s something of an Italian secret boasting several Michelin-starred restaurants, three chic port towns with shopping and beautiful countryside.

We have a house in Talamone with a large garden that leads down to the sea, where our children, Charlotte (five) and Francesco (three) spend hours outdoors and where my Italian husband, Giovanni, also spent many summers of his childhood.

The house is usually full of weekend guests and, this being Italy, my first thought is always food. I stop in at Antica Fattoria La Parrina, which sells fresh fruit and vegetables grown on their farm. They also make their own cheeses and jams and a fairly decent sparkling wine from their vineyard. The kids take carrots and feed the animals while I do the shopping.

Porto Ercole.

Afterwards, we head straight out to the port of Talamone to check on our boat – we take full advantage of being beside the sea during the summer – the island of Giglio is just in front of us and Corsica a few hours away. If we stay close to home we drop anchor in the cove of Cala di Forno, part of the Maremma Natural Park, where you can actually see deer on the beach! Enjoying a glass of prosecco at Bar Talamone, where we catch up with our local friends, is a Friday evening ritual.

I speak Italian with my husband and English with my children who manage to switch back and forth when talking to both of us. When I’m working I speak Italian with the Pope; it’s a very formal Italian and quite different to English. I started working at the Vatican in 2001, in the last few years of John Paul II’s pontificate. I don’t tend to fall in love with Popes; it’s my job to be able to see as clearly as possible both positive and negatives in their characters, agendas and in what the Vatican does. It’s not all good but it’s not all bad either, and after 20 years here I have a certain sense of how it works so I try to bring that to my reporting.

Francesco, Charlotte and Giovanni.

For me, John Paul II had true star and saintly qualities. One thing I noticed about him, and have actually tried to emulate as a Catholic, is that he was always praying. For me it’s a good way to stay grounded and balanced in a busy world, whatever your religion or your type of prayer.

I was fortunate to know Benedict XVI for 20 years when he was a prominent Cardinal at the Vatican before becoming Pope. He always struck me as being very humble, though he got a bad rap in the media because of his conservative views. However, he was the original “green” Pope, and whether they agree with him or not, most people in the Catholic church admit that he was an intellectual giant. As I studied philosophy and theology at Blackfriars in Oxford, I have read everything he has written and always admired his ability to speak off-the-cuff in a coherent and original way.

I was on maternity leave when Pope Francis was elected, but of course I have met and travelled with him frequently. I will be travelling with him to Dublin; my parents are originally from Donegal and Kerry and I hope to see my relations when I’m there. Francis strikes me as very savvy, energetic and charismatic and because he has generated a lot of interest in the church, it’s an exciting time to be in Rome.

Pope Francis and Delia.

Saturday morning begins with an early breakfast of coffee and croissants in the garden. At breakfast we start thinking about lunch. If we’re going out on the boat it’s focaccia with a simple salad of mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. If we’re hosting at home, it’s prosciutto and melon for starter and maybe pasta with clams or risotto with shellfish.

Italians are serious about siesta time, or riposo as it’s known here. With small children and a full-time job, I am too. Two hours after lunch is the norm. Everything closes down between 1pm-4pm anyway, so you really can’t do much else.

After a snooze, I might nip out for a massage at the Argentario Golf Club, or for some shopping in Orbetello, which has several good shops all on one street.
I especially like Rasná for dresses and accessories. I tend towards classic colours and clothes but for prints, I love Lisa Corti and also buy home textiles from her shop in Rome.

The Duomo in Orbetello.

I also stop in at the twelfth-century Duomo in Orbetello, where I was married, to light a candle and pray for friends. I’ll sometimes take visitors to the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, nearby in Montalcino, where the monks still sing Gregorian chants. They also offer inspiring courses in medieval script writing, icon painting and even ancient recipes for skin and body lotions from their monastic pharmacy. Santa Maria Novella is another favourite monastery-pharmacy. My wardrobes are scented with their Terra Cotta Pomegranate, which is in the shape of an actual pomegranate and lasts forever.

On Sunday morning I head to Porto Ercole to pick up English language newspapers at the local shop. It’s the only place in the vicinity to get them, and they arrive a day late so I read Saturday’s papers. I don’t need the news, which I can get online, but I like to read all the other sections. I’m one of those people who loves the feeling of an actual paper in my hands. If we have visitors we might take them to Il Pellicano Hotel & Restaurant. It’s a secluded spot and ideal for an aperitivo or lunch.

Il Pellicano.

Late Sunday afternoon, we head back to Rome, stopping for dinner at La Rosa dei Venti, a decidedly un-touristy place on a busy road, full of locals with some of the best food in town.

I love my weekends in Maremma, but I never suffer the Sunday evening dread of returning home. Rome is an equally beautiful place to live and work.

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