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Tales (and tips) of Umbria

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A group of my friends and family rented a villa near Assisi last month and here are some of my remembrances.

We rented cars in Rome and after an interesting (some of us might say something stronger) drive to find the house in the dark and drizzle with cryptic directions such as "when you see a castle keep on going uphill" (on a two lane country road), then "when you see the pile of rocks on the right, it is three driveways past that". We arrived at the house late in the evening, dazed and starving. I had called the owners from the autostrada autogrille and they were kind enough to wait for us and have groceries ready for us to use, what a blessing.

It is a beautiful house with extensive grounds with olive trees and beautiful views towards Perugia. We all picked out our rooms and got our stove lit ready for our first dinner. We had pasta with fresh tomatos and garlic covered with freshly grated local cheese, toasted country style bread rubgbed with garlic and strong green local olive oil, cold cut meats, olives, chopped finocchio, fresh greens with olive oil and salt, nice red localwine. For dessert we had sweet wine and biscotti and a as a good start to our vacation, we toasted ourselves, our trip, absent friends and then went to bed.

At this time of year the porcini mushrooms are in season and it is also hunting season so we had wild boar (cinghale) in alot of dishes and sometimes venison. We also heard alot of gunshots almost daily as the hunters patrolled the woods near the house and up in the wooded hills nearby, shooting birds, boar and whatever.

A skinny, elderly hunting dog must have gotten separated from his group and early in the morning I saw him walking outside my bedroom's glass doors. I sat up and he loooked at me through the glass and plopped down on my porch for a snooze. He had a nice collar but no ID so we tried to shoo him out of the property to find his way home, but he would walk outside the gated driveway dwon at the road, hide behind a tree and then beat us back to the house, even though we had shut the gate. So for the time we were there we fed him table scraps and meat from restaurants and tried to find his owners. We adopted each other and it was nice to have a four footed pal to bring leftovers to. Little will the next renters know that their mixing bowls were once used for food and drink by a lost dog.

We loved Assisi and just enjoyed walking through old Assisi at night on the stone walkways after the cars and tourists had long gone. It was really magical. We didn't have any special dinners in old Assisi but we had some wonderful dinners at therestaurant on the main street of Santa Maria degli Angeli wheih is the more modern section of town, located down the hill from old Assisi and near the mean road. The restaurant is near the train station and is called Hotel/Trattoria da Ellide on Via Patrono D'Italia. We had so many excellent dishes, including pastas, meats, thick country soups, rich desserts, good local wine and most of the time we were the only non-locals in the place, it has indoor and outdoor seating and friendly staff.

There is good shopping in Old Assisi for local made and imported scarves at Colori del Tempo on Via Portica 6.B.. I bought long silk handmade scarves in beautiful shades of vibrant and muted colors.

In the new town there are some nice shoe shops, they wer very friendly and spoke some English when they heard my struggle with Italian in my shoe shopping induced haze.

The church in S. Maria degli Angeli is beautiful and on Saturday nights they have a hand held candlelit procession arond the grounds with beatific choirs. It is really moving to watch, but I don't know if they are held year around or if it was a special season event.

A wonderful agritourist restaurant nearby is above Tordibetto, which is a small town near Assisi, it is called Il Cacciatori and you take a narrow winding country road to get to it. It is family run and they speak little but some English. We had alot of fun with them and the food was memorable for it's authenticity to local dishes. I kept having excellent porcini dishes because all of the meat dishes were game, no chicken or fish. Delicious wine and desserts, my favorite was
gelato frozen hard and served with hot coffee poured over it.

Bastia: This is a small town nearby Assisi too. We had some good pizza and light food at Pollicino Ristorante on Via Torgianese, all locals (except us). We were invited to watch their yearly games in a town square where the differnt contradas of the town compete for victory and year long accolades. It was fun to watch and we routed for the team of our villa owners, I have forgotten the team's name but they were "the green team" to us. Alas, they lost, and fell into tears, and we bought some sweets from a vendor and triend to find our cars. In the old days the games were more authentic with horse races,bows and arrows, etc., but now they are goot and obstacle races. some of the people we talked with have disdain for Siena with their cruelty to the horses in the races.

Next time: more day trips

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