Tales (and tips) of Umbria

Oct 14th, 2003, 05:20 PM
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Tales (and tips) of Umbria

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
Natalia is offline  
Oct 14th, 2003, 05:34 PM
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Hey, sorry about the typos, I edited this, but I guess it didn't take, oops.
Natalia is offline  
Oct 14th, 2003, 05:39 PM
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wonderful trip report! More!
Oct 14th, 2003, 11:03 PM
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In Assisi we went to a lovely church for vespers called Santa Chiara D'Assisi, beautiful voices of the hidden choir added to the ambiance. Outside of this church is a very nice square called Piazza Santa Chiara with a magnificient view of the countryside and the sunsets behind the rolling hillsides in the distance.

Walk above Assisi to Rocca Maggiore to a 14th century and earlier castle and ramparts for an afternoon, you can picnic on the outside grounds.

Orvieto: We toured the church and then had dinner nearby at Tipica Trattoria Etrusca on via Lorenzo Maitani, behind the Museo Etruscan, which has interesting Etruscan pottery and artifacts. The food was really good, great local wine and the service was topnotch. My thick country style soup was the best.

I bought some nice ceremic dishes and bowls at the Ceramiche Art Maricchiolo Anna Maria on Via Duoma 21. I bargained a little and he gave me a good price, then when I was so taken with his good looks and sincere smile I left the shop not realizing I had left my credit card behind. He left his shop and caught up with me as I was walking far down the crowded street and returned the card. I would recommend shopping there if not for his ceremics which were really nice, then for his honesty.

Siena: The cathedral is restored now, and now charges admission for the whole church with its beautifully restored marble floors with Biblical scenes in detail, our favorite.

We had dinner at Medio Evo on Via dei Rossi no.40. This is an unusual and first rate restaurant but not over priced, great service, it looks like it is family run and is inspiringly decorated, highly recommended by us. Great meat dishes, soups, pastas, desserts and wine.

Montepulciano: buy wine (alot of shops have wine tastings) and walk the walk up to the Palazzo Cumunale and go up in the torre for views of the countryside. But don't drive into town or you will be stopped and fined on the spot, the signs are not real clear on this and we saw alot of tourists getting fined. We talked to one young man from New York who said the local police woman walked with him to an ATM to get the cash for the fine when he didn't have enough on him.

Gubbio: take the funivia up the side of the mountain from the city to Basilica S. Ulbaldo where the giant wooden candles are stored that are taken around town on Festival Days. The saint is in the basilica too, preserved in a glass case. The funivia has wire baskets about chest high that you stand in on a ski lift like contraption that sweeps you just above the tree tops. You jump in (with help) while it is moving and up you go, we got the giggles while we watched the views of the whole valley, really worth the few euro.

We had dinner at Taverna del Lupo one of the most expensive restaurants in Gubbio and came recommended in our tour books. We were given a menu with double the prices that we had seen on the posted menu outside the door, then when we asked, another set of menus appreared with the posted prices, hmmm. The food was OK, service was OK until the check was given to us with the announcement from the waiter that service/tip was not included in the tab. The owner was nearby so one of our group privately asked her about this and she said that it was included, hmmm again. I am sorry to say I would not recommend this place to tourists, I think they may have double standards for local clientel.

Marmore Cascata: Near Terni, you pay a small fee to walk trails to see these falls which are man made, but made originally in 271 BC! The Falls are higher certain times of the day for electrical usage of the valley, so check tour books for the times according to the time of year.

Lake Trasimeno: At this time of year the lake is not very scenic, it is very low and looks like the Salton Sea near Palm Springs CA. Maybe in the Spring it is full and pretty, hopefully.

Norcia: We drove though Parco Nazionali dei Monti Sibillini, it is a beautiful national park setting with mule trekking in the summer, sounds like fun.

Next time: more side trips
Natalia is offline  
Oct 14th, 2003, 11:07 PM
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Great trip report so far. I love to hear about Assisi. I'm not sure why - perhaps it was an artistic photograph I saw a few years ago, but I have a very strong urge to go to Assisi.
WillTravel is offline  
Oct 14th, 2003, 11:10 PM
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I really think you should visit Assisi, your feelings will be confirmed I am sure. I would like to stay right in the old town and be able to walk around at night and early morning, you really get a serene feeling at those times. The whole town has a good feeling about it, we all agreed on that.

Natalia is offline  
Oct 14th, 2003, 11:38 PM
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Wonderful to read, I loved Umbria more than Tuscany and was starting to think I was the only one because everyone always talks about Tuscany. Don't get me wrong, I liked Tuscany too, but there was something about Umbria that touched my heart. I also really liked Assisi, so it was wonderful to read about your trip.

lyb is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 12:01 AM
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Spello: We fell in love with Spello, it felt so comfortable and friendly.

There is a very moving fresco in Chiesa San Andrea (St. Andrews church) by Dono Doni in 1565. Tears came to my eyes as it shows Mary at the Ascension so overcome with emotion that her legs weaken and Joseph holds her. The saints and the women with Mary talk amongst themselves with looks on their faces that seemed so realistic.
We spoke to the priest about the picture and he showed us around the church, he was very kind and showed us how he was single handedly restoring the church as best he could. He looked so saintly himself that we were truely moved by San Andrea's chiesa.

We walked up to the Torre Belvedere for views and made it in time for the sunset. I had asked an elderly woman sitting outside her door for the way to the belvedere and she stopped shelling her peas and walked us up a ways to make sure we were on the right track. I was wondering how the older people of these hill towns get around on the stone streets year after year in all kinds of weather. Then coming past us up the hill was a very old woman with a cane in each hand, she spoke to our "guide" and they laughed as old friends would and up the hill she went, spry as can be. It must be the Mediterrean diet!

We went into a nice ceremics shop with a pleasant owner, original art and good prices, called Bottega d'Arte on Via Garibaldi 14, the website is www.terrainforma.it.

In late May they cover their roads in flower petals for a festival called Corpus Domini. We met an English woman who had married an Italian and settled in Spello many years ago and she told us we should return for the festival, we would love to.

We had some really good pizza at a trattoria near the Porta Venere, I cannot find the name of it but it is the first place, a little hidden on the right as you start up the path from the ancient porta. There is a good parking lot right outside of this porta too, free parking.

Trevi: A cashmere outlet was recommended to us on the main road at the foot of this town. It is Cruciani/Maglital on SS. Flaminia at KM 145 signpost. Good bargains in the bins with 1/2 price or less. A friend had lent us a discount card for 50% off of one item. Really beautiful sweaters, scarves, etc.

The old town is interesting too, with medieval arches over walkways. Some of them are being restored, but others looked untouched with outside frescos and are mostly inhabited.

Torgiano: we had lunch at an excellent wine bar with great prices and friendly service, English speaking. It is between the wine museum and the olive oil museum which are really nice and thorough and interesting. I would highly recommend both the museums and the wine bar which is called La Cornucopia on Corso Vittorio Emanuele 19. www.la-cornucopia.com. We bought some really good local wine and some of the best food of the whole trip, they are open at night too.

Spoleto: It is a lovely town that has alot of musical events. Eat the local pasta, strengozzi which is thick and very good. We had lunch in a nice outdoor cafe on Piazza Liberta, Ristorante Canasta, inexpensive and good basic food. We didn't spend much time here but would love to return and attend some musical events, we missed La Traviata by a few days, I would have loved that, so have to go back soon.

Rome: We were there during the black out. We only stayed a few nights so this is short:
Finally got to see and hear the Pope speak from his window, it was during the blackout Sunday and after his talk and his blessings the lights came on!

In that area at least they did. It was eerie to be in St. Peters without any lights, just natural light coming in from the front doors, which they opened and the sky lights. The torches around St. Peters tomb were lit and it was a nice experience. The museums were closed needless to say.

After electricity was restored we strolled nearby to get some lunch and had a pretty bad food at The Bar Moretta on Via dei Porta Angelica, 28 euro for a small frozen pizza and a small dish of pasta with canned tomatos on it without cheese. It was really crowded because it was one of the few places open after the blackout and it was hectic but I wouldn't recommend it anyway.

We were still hungry so we stopped at a great pastry shop sort of near the vatican, Pasticceria S. Parenti on via Otta Viano 33. We stood at the bar and had shots of really strong Italian cafe and some tasty pastry, inexpensive and kind owners tried to speak English with us. Locals kept coming to talk with them about the blackout, so they tried to include us in the discussion.

We had dinner at Fraterna Domus on Via Monte Brianzo 62. Only 35 euro for three people having four course dinner with excellent wine. Dinner is served in the convent's basement by the nuns and assistants, very pleasant meal with a lively bunch of German tourists next to us, everyone was in a good mood after the blackout was over. The nuns showed us their chapel which is beautiful and feminine with dainty chandeliers and frescos.

We stayed at Residenza Canali on via dei Tre Arche at Via dei Coronari near the P. Navona. We had a two room suite and it was lovely. It is located in the antique district and quiet and pedestrian only at night. It is family owned and managed and newly renovated and opened four years ago. Highly recommend it, very friendly and helpful staff, the owner let me use her cell phone during the black out when the regular phones were out.

For transfer to the airport we used Multi A Car Service recommended by our hotel. Mercedes car and 45 euro from hotel to airport with three people and alot of luggage. We had to catch a 7AM flight and the driver was early and helped us with the luggage (the hotel doesn't have an elevator). The driver speaks English and is polite and helpful. phone: 330-887893.

Lastly: One thing to remember when you are completely off the tourist track, we became friendly with alot of the locals of Assisi area who told us of day trips, waaaay back roads, small trattorias, etc. where tourists do not tread, so in these areas the locals usually do not speak a word of English. When so many of us are looking for the experience of being the only tourist in a place we will have a richer experience if we know some of their language. A few classes will open up a new world if you want to get off the beaten track, and you will make friends that you will remember forever like we did.

Happy traveling!
Natalia is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 12:09 AM
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Dear willtravel and lyb, I loved Assisi and Umbria so much! I am afraid it will become over touristed too, so we have to enjoy it while we can!

Natalia is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 09:06 AM
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Really enjoyed this report and took alot of notes for the future, sounds like you had a different sort of in depth trip than the norm,thanks.
nocinonut is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 09:22 AM
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Natalia, thanks for the report!! I've been trying to make up my mind where to go next and Umbria was one of the considerations. You may have made the decision easier!! Thanks for taking the time to share you experiences with all of us.
csroe is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 11:02 AM
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Natalia, thanks for letting everyone know about beautiful Umbria! We spent the better part of a week there, in a small town near Perugia. In Assisi, did you explore the Basilica? What did you think of the chapel underneath, where the saint is buried? It made the strongest impression on me of anything we saw in Italy, period. Such a quiet, holy, peaceful sanctuary.

Like you, I took the funivia up the mountain at Gubbio (husband on ground, watching from safe distance!). The landlord at our B&B described it to us as "garbage cans" hung on a cable. I can't say that he wasn't spot on about that, being that they're painted industrial green. And the mummified saint in the church atop the mountain. I think the Italians have more than given the ancient Egyptians a run for their money in that department...I lost track of all the holy mummies I saw.

Count me in as another who loves the relatively undiscovered beauty of Umbria!
Oct 15th, 2003, 11:40 AM
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DLN, I had mixed feelings about writing this report, I would like to see Umbria as it is for a while longer, mostly untouristed. But for my beloved Fodorites, I thought I would share, lol.
CSRoe, yes, I would recommend Umbria, it has so many hidden treasures that isn't quite mainstream yet.

Yes, the basilica was beautiful and very peaceful. I have admired St. Francis since a child because of a church near my home that blesses animals on his Saint Day, so it was especially moving.

As you approach Assisi it just looks so majestic on its hill, like a sentinel, and it is really.
Natalia is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 01:27 PM
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I loved reading your report. My husband and I just returned on Monday from a 2 week trip to Italy, one week of it in Umbria. We stayed in Mercatello, near Marsciano. It was so incredible and like you we had similar experiences with finding the restaurant our friends recommend and the boar hunting.
We arrived Sat. evening and had a 2 hour adventure finding Vallaverde restaurant...it took us two hours with a night sky that held no moon. Very dark! We loved it once we arrived.
On Sunday morning we were awaken by the sound of dogs barking-it grew louder and louder, we jump out of bed in time to see 6 hunting dogs chasing the boar-right outside our doors. They kept coming back to pick up the scent. My husband is a hunter so he was delighted to see the dogs in action.
We just loved Umbria and the little villages it holds. Thanks again.
leslieo is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 02:06 PM
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Thank You Natalia for the lovely report!! I never been to Umbria yet, but after reading your post, I believe that I will love to visit this region on my next trip to Italy!!
Grazie bella,
kismetchimera is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 03:05 PM
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Yes, Natalia, a good Italy trip report worthy of note (how did I manage to miss this ???). And especially good to hear about a region that's less frequented than the usual Big 3 cities.
Tess_Durberville is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 11:57 PM
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I stayed in Umbria (Perugia) for nearly 1 week at the end of August and, truth be told, did not like it as much as neighboring Tuscany and other regions in Italy. The region is lovely and green, the people nice, but Perugia did not seem to be (IMO) as "Italian" as I had expected an Italian city to be. There has been considerable immigration there from both the South and Central Americas that the language I heard spoken around town and on busses was Spanish-accented Italian and/or Spanish - much to my surprise. (My Italian friend from Ancona returned there for a visit after 12 years and was surprised as well). However, I did like the cities of Deruta, Spello, Gubbio, and Assisi. My favorite though, was visiting neighboring Cortona (in Tuscany!) only 45 mins from Perugia.
Huitres is offline  
Oct 17th, 2003, 12:10 AM
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Tess thanks for the kind words, I didn't take any notes at all and this is just what I remembered on the whole.

Huitres, I didn't get into Perugia, just to the COOP at the foot of it so I didn't notice any Spanish speaking people.

I love Tuscany too, I just hope it doesn't get too "precious" with tourists from around the world coming to see what all the calenders promote and people like Mayes taking commercial advantage.

I found Umbria more of an area where people actually live and work and they haven't taken tourism seriously yet. Except for Assisi, of course, but it still is nice (like San Gim.) in the late evenings and early mornings.
Natalia is offline  
Oct 17th, 2003, 12:18 AM
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Natalia: Thanks for your trip report. I have one too, but have been reluctant to post it since my choice of lodging and restaurants aren't always 4* & 5* caliber. I tend to go with the more local Italian places because I know they (the Italians) already expect Americans to spend lots of money on hotels and restaurants and I don't like falling into that genre. I end up having an equally fabulous time staying at little hole in the wall places and thoroughly enjoy my travel experiences!

Anyway, I totally agree with you re: Umbria in general being much more where the Italians live and work - rather than like its tourist-laden neighbor, Tuscany. I found Assisi had as much, if not more, tourists than San G. but that is to be expected in a famous town! Perhaps Perugia is worth a return visit during their famous chocolate festival -- I am tempted to give it another try!
Huitres is offline  
Oct 17th, 2003, 12:35 AM
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Yes, I am sorry I didn't get to pay homage to Perugina!

Tell us some of the places you stayed, the number of stars don't count in my book. I have had the most fun and met the friendliest people in places where they don't take themselves and their star status seriously.

I went back to Sorrento for a few days in the middle of my Umbrian trip and stayed in a "no star" and had a great time too.
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