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Franco’s favourite ... Umbrian delights

Franco’s favourite ... Umbrian delights

Apr 22nd, 2006, 10:11 AM
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Franco’s favourite ... Umbrian delights

On Umbria, I’m going to compile only one thread – since fewer people go there than to Venice and Rome, and as far as accomodation, I’m sorry I can’t help much: I’m always renting a private old stone house there, which is not (no more, to be precise) open to the public – just to patrons and friends of the owner. Two hotels that should be really nice (though not cheap, either) are: Orto degli Angeli in Bevagna, http://www.ortoangeli.com; and Villa Roncalli on the edge of Foligno (if you have a car – it’s quite far from the center). I haven’t stayed at either of them, but I know their respective restaurants, so I can judge the general (excellent) style of these two venues.

And now for the food: Umbrian food is among Italy’s best. No region on this planet is richer in truffles than Umbria (all kinds of truffles, so there are some of them almost all year round), and Umbrian cooks are using truffles almost as much as onions are being used elsewhere (and that’s only slightly exaggerated). Furthermore, Umbria is making Italy’s most famous, and best, salamis, and similar seasoned sausages – the region around Norcia in eastern Umbria is where those are being produced (and that the Italian name for sausages of that type is “norcineria” says enough about the quality coming from Norcia): many are made of game, such as wild boar or deer, and they’re also making raw smoked hams of those meats.
Some of Italy’s very best olive oil is coming from Umbria – always very fruity and intense. My favourite is a very small oil mill: Fratelli Nunzi in Cantalupo di Bevagna, inexpensive and great. Buy as much as you can there, in order to prevent them from ceasing activity (the younger generation is already running the mill as a part-time job) – you won’t regret it. Umbrian groceries are a joy for food addicts; almost every small village grocery a true delicatessen shop. And if you happen to be in the Foligno area in late September, don’t miss the “Primi d’Italia” festival: http://www.iprimiditalia.it/, a feast of pasta and risotto, with producers of all types (from industrial to small traditional manufacturers) from all over Italy – huge fun!

Regarding restaurants, I’m not an expert for all of Umbria – my recommendations are just for the regions where I normally base myself. Of the above mentioned two, the Orto degli Angeli restaurant is extremely pretty, but the food is not more than good; there are better choices in Umbria. Notably the second of the two, Villa Roncalli: this is one of my favourite restaurants everywhere in the world. One of the rare (RARE!!) examples of an Italian restaurant managing to combine traditional cuisine with creative inventions (most often, creative food in Italy is abominable – Italians are unflinching traditionalists in gastronomic matters!). The Villa Roncalli, to me, is worth every detour, and in fact, worth a journey to Umbria.
Not far from Foligno, in Montefalco, the Coccorone restaurant is another favourite: hearty, rustic, tasty, incredibly delicious food here, for still low prices.
Perugia has, surprisingly so, an excellent Sardinian restaurant: Aladino, via delle Prome, 11.
And yet another just gorgeous place is a really simple, by no means elegant village trattoria: the Taverna Castelluccio in, of course, Castelluccio (near Norcia, though “near” is somewhat exaggerated, given the winding mountain roads).

You’re also getting some really great wines in Umbria: white wines around Orvieto, red wines around Montefalco (the Sagrantino di Montefalco, a local grape variety grown almost exclusively there, is responsible for terrific wines, dry or even, believe it or not, sweet! – sweet red wines normally being a nightmare).

Ok, so much for food & drink. Regarding sightseeing, Umbria is a medieval region. It was full of powerful, rich and independent cities in the middle ages, which were step by step conquered by the popes - in the late 13th century, Perugia was the last to surrender. Given the relative proximity to Rome, the popes would never again allow these cities to grow or prosper - and today (now you understand why I'm teaching history here), they're merely bigger than in the 12th/13th centuries! That means that they don't go much beyond their medieval walls, e.g. - and that immediately outside these walls, you are right in the middle of acres and vineyards. Nevertheless, these small towns (in modern terms, they're rather villages) have kind of an urban flair to them, though in an almost intimate manner - everyone knows each other, like deep in the countryside, but then - there is that certain urban-civic pride, and the structure of a city, complete with magnificent churches, a civic museum (often boasting works of international importance), a tiny theatre and so on.
All in all, it's that unique coexistence of urbanity and cultivated landscape that makes Umbria very, very special; or where else do you have merely five minutes to go by foot from the urban theatre to the next vineyard? The best examples of this rural-urban mix are Bevagna, Todi, Spoleto, and Assisi (yes, Assisi – unfortunately, the only spot in Umbria already spoiled by tourists and notably by pilgrims!!!), but also Spello, Città della Pieve, and even (bigger) Orvieto.
Assisi, of course, has the biggest artistic treasure: the Basilica di S. Francesco, better than each and every museum on medieval Italian painting – certainly one of the most beautiful (and most important, artistically) churches on earth. Overcrowded or not, I feel the need to return every time when being in Umbria.
But it’s also worth touring the countryside, apart from the big and important sights. Many of those totally forgotten medieval towns/villages are waiting for you; just think how rewarding it is to discover the mummified corpse of Beato (i.e. blessed) Ugolino in the crypt of the church of Gualdo Cattaneo, “whose nose and left foot were stolen by his ardent worshippers in the moment of death”, as a faded sign will teach you.

Then, the landscape is marvellous - very much like Tuscany, though a little more alpine and a little less man-made. And above all, it's a tranquil and relaxed region (nobody would ever lock the front door in Umbria, there's no need to). The landscape is rising in the East of the region, around Norcia/Cascia, and there you’ll find the best of Umbria’s non-artistic beauties: the Piano Grande region. High mountains there, but softly shaped, not rugged; and three plateaus in between that are unique in Europe: the Piano Grande (as the most beautiful and important), Piano Piccolo and (just across the border to the Marche region) Piano Perduto, all of them boasting luscious green of weeds and - lentils! Europe's most famous and most delicious lentils are being grown there. Apart from the lentils, the plateaus are EMPTY. No house, no hut (strictly forbidden to build anything there!), no tree. On the one and only steep rock around, in the middle between the three plateaus, there is Castelluccio, a tiny mountain village haunted by the cold winds, a weather-beaten place somehow out of earth, a bit like on the moon. And here (thanks to expert Fodorite nessundorma) is a link to wonderful Piano Grande pictures: http://dptpch.slide.com/c/Piano+Grande

Please note: This thread is not primarily meant for discussion… it’s primarily meant for substituting myself while work won’t permit regular posting during the next six or so months. I’ll try to check once a week, however, so if anyone would like me to answer any questions related to Umbria, please post them here – I won’t unfortunately be able to browse all the other threads…
franco is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2006, 10:18 AM
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Franco, I'm glad Coccorone in Montefalco has your seal of approval. I had a wonderful meal there, of which I still remember each detail - including the Sagrantino (not the passito; I had that elsewhere).

I would add to your list of recommended accommodations the Palazzo Bocci in Spello. It's beautifully appointed and has lovely views of the Umbrian countryside. Besides, Spello is such a perfect tiny jewel, almost untouched by time.
Eloise is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2006, 09:03 AM
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franco,

"Venetian Villas" arrived in the mail yesterday...it is a beautiful book!! I am so eager to sit down and read it cover to cover..thank you (again...)..and yet, another question...Villa Roncalli sounds not to be missed..we have only one night not accounted for in the area...would you choose it or Le Tre Vaselle in Torgiano,the Lungarotti hotel???? As always, many thanks...
Traviata is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2006, 09:09 AM
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Mille grazie Franco,
Very good input for anyone going to Umbria.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2006, 09:22 AM
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Thank you for the great info. Is the restaurant Villa Roncalli anywhere near Perugia?
Maire is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2006, 09:34 AM
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Traviata - VERY tough question! The Lungarotti hotel is reportedly excellent, and their wine is worth tasting in any case; Villa Roncalli is so great as a restaurant (and if the hotel is only half as pretty as the dining room, you'll still love it). If I were to choose, I think I'd decide for Villa Roncalli, since personally, I always rate restaurants higher than hotels (I don't spend much time in my hotel room, but I'm a food addict), but that depends on your preferences... but you could even stay at Le Tre Vaselle, and dine at Villa Roncalli; it's certainly not more than half an hour by car (and you'd be passing Cantalupo di Bevagna, and could stop at the Nunzi oil mill...). Honestly, I don't know enough about your likes and dislikes - as far as food, at least, the Villa Roncalli, hasn't much competition. And btw, I'm glad that you like "Venetian Villas".

Maire, the distance between Perugia and Foligno is modest - 20 miles maximum, quick driving on a major road.
franco is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2006, 09:38 AM
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Thank you, Franco. One more question....we might have a rental car--I'm not sure yet. If we don't, would it be doable to get from Perugia to Foligno?
Maire is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2006, 09:45 AM
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I can't imagine it could be a problem by train - but from the Foligno train station to Villa Roncalli (on the very Eastern edge of that town), a car would be helpful! You might want to take a taxi - don't try to walk, it wouldn't be a pleasant overture to such a delicious meal.
franco is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2006, 09:53 AM
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Thank you, Franco.
Maire is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2006, 10:45 AM
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franco,

The best of all possible worlds....try them all!! Good advice...now I must plot how to space everything, but I will surely try to experience as many of them as I can.....Thank you!!
Traviata is offline  
Apr 24th, 2006, 05:18 AM
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I thought I’d provide one final service: linking all “Franco’s favourite…” threads to each other, in order to make them more easily accessible to future users:

Venice:
food & restaurants: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34791666
accomodation: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34791672
sightseeing & transportation: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34791890

Rome:
where to stay: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34792021
food & restaurants http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34792415
sightseeing: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34792538
franco is offline  
Apr 24th, 2006, 06:20 AM
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I agree that Umbria is, as yet, more undiscovered than Tuscany. Umbria has charms all its own. We just spent several days in Perugia and Monteleone with day trips to Assisi and Spoleto.

The best pizza I've ever had anywhere (and I've tried LOTS of pizza) was at the Cafe di Perugia, which is just a short walk from the the escalotors, towards the main piazza, with a turn to the right just a block or so before the piazza. It was the lightest crust I've ever tasted. I ate every bite.

We stayed at a lovely B&B in Monteleone, Palazzo Consoli. If you want to be in a quiet undiscovered treasure, this is it!! The little town of Monteleone is only on very specific regional maps. It's near Orvieto, if that helps, but on the other side of the motorway, at the Fabro exit. The drive to the town is on a scenic 2-lane road.

simpsonc510 is offline  
Apr 24th, 2006, 09:24 AM
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Simpsonc510--

I can't wait to try that pizza in Perugia.
Maire is offline  
Apr 26th, 2006, 11:57 AM
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Hello Franco, My husband and I will be in Italy this fall for 26 days. I have aready planned the first half of our trip in Tuscany. We want to spend the rest in Umbria. Leaving Sorano, Sovan and Pitigliano and heading to Orvieto, Todi, Montefalco, Spello, Assisi and Cortona. Usually we stay outside of cities/towns....but would like to stay in a city for 2/3 nights, which of the above would you chose?
Thanks!
twoblueshoes is offline  
Apr 26th, 2006, 12:31 PM
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Thanks for the great information! We just spent five nights in Umbria, at Le Case Gialle near Bevagna, last month and just loved it. The scenery and towns are splendid, and definitely less touristy than Tuscany. My favorite hill town was Spello, but we visited so many great ones. I wish I had all of your information before we left!

Tracy
tcreath is offline  
Apr 26th, 2006, 01:09 PM
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Mille grazie, Franco!

Vado passare due settimane in Umbria quest'estate, a Paciano...

This information is wonderful for my trip planning; though I'll be staying with a local it's always good to have other viewpoints.

And my wine store here in the DC area has just begun selling a wonderful Montefalco Rosso that I've been enjoying immensely.

Great information - thanks!
StCirq is offline  
Apr 26th, 2006, 01:33 PM
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franco, thank you so much for the report. I've printed it and it will now go into my Umbria folder for future use! Umbria is on my "short" list of future vacations.
csroe is offline  
Apr 26th, 2006, 02:24 PM
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StCirq,

I must be your neighbor....would love to know where you are finding the Montefalco Rosso, and also which vintner you have found...we are just about finished with the supply we brought back...Thanks so much!
Traviata is offline  
Apr 28th, 2006, 05:47 PM
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Traviata:

I live outside DC in Alexandria, VA. The Montefalco Rosso I've been enjoying is a 2002 Vignabaldo. I buy it at a wine store in Alexandria called Unwined.

Where are you?
StCirq is offline  
Apr 28th, 2006, 06:00 PM
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Hi St.Cirq,

I am in Oakton!! Is Unwined near Old Town?? We use Vienna Vintner quite a bit...they are great about bringing things in, but so far, no Montefalco...I will check out your suggestion...Thanks!
Traviata is offline  

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