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Sep 23rd, 2013, 09:03 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 165

We just returned from a wonderful thirteen days in Italy. As is usual with us, a month before leaving we still hadn’t decided on a destination. Wanting to use the amenities of a travel club we belong to we searched available places in Europe and found a week at the Castello Izzalini, a thirteenth century castle just outside of Todi, in Umbria. So we now had a destination and built the vacation around it.

We were going to leave NY on a Friday and start our vacation at the Castello. As it turned out in the few days I delayed buying the airline tickets the price went down a few hundred dollars. I checked if the cost would be less flying out on a Wednesday instead of Friday and that saved a few hundred more, so we added two days to the beginning of the vacation. Thanks to the wonderful help we received from the Forum we were introduced to a number of links on the Sabina area, the hills about an hour northeast of Rome. It is much less touristy then other places and is an area in which many of the farms and wineries have become agriturismos. We booked the two first nights at Agriturismo Santo Pietro in a tiny town called Coltodino, at the foot of Fara in Sabina.




As some of you may know from a posting, a dilemma arose, whereby I hadn’t received a confirmation of the phone reservation I made. No information, other than my name was taken and although I sent many emails and called many times I hadn’t received a response. I put the dilemma to the Forum and was told to trust the booking. Sure enough, just a few days before we had to leave and after having a friend who speaks Italian leave a long message on their phone I received a call letting me know the reservation was made and confirmed.

DAY ONE – Arrival at Agriturismo Santo Pietro and black truffles for dinner

We had a long delay in NY, but a comfortable flight on Al Italia and arrived at Fiumicino in the early afternoon. We picked up our small Punto like Ford, which we rented from Hertz through Auto Europe. The office tried to give us a free upgrade, but as we had arranged to drop the car off in Orvieto rather than back in Rome, there were no larger cars available. Our two medium sized bags fit nicely out of sight in the back of the car and we took off for Sabina.

I had copied pages of maps off of http://it.mappy.com/ and had also loaded Italy maps into the portable GPS we had. We followed the advice of the car rental place and just looked for signs to the A1 and were quickly out of the airport and on our way. We had a scare about 20 minutes out as our GPS still had not loaded and we missed a possible turn off the highway. However, once we stopped for directions and got out of the car the GPS loaded and gave us clear directions. It was a godsend for the rest of the trip. As we got closer to our destination the GPS guided us onto a very narrow and rutted dirt farm road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We were on this path for miles wondering if this could possibly be right. We lost all sense of direction and had no choice but to trust and follow it as there was no way out except forward or back. Eventually it came out in the middle of town, and while we were on it provided some of the most exceptional scenery on the trip.

Having reached Coltodino we called Christina, the contact for the agriturismo and let her know we would be there soon. It was the first use of the unlocked 4-band phone I bought on on Ebay, and the world SIM card from Mobal.com. I was happy it worked. We arrived at Santo Pietro and were pleasantly surprised at how nice the place looked, with lots of flowers everywhere and amazing panoramic views looking down into the valleys and up at the mountain tops. Christina met us, showed us to our room, brought us wine and olives on the terrace and we settled in.

A little later we sat with her and we learned a few things. One was the mystery surrounding the lack of email confirmation. Christina’s father, who does not usually handle the phone, had taken the original booking. As ekscrunchy surmised in the Dilemma posting, the family closed the agriturismo and the restaurant for the last two weeks in August and went on vacation. Christina’s brother received my emails but as he doesn’t speak English he left them for Christina to answer, as she usually does. Unfortunately while on vacation in Sardinia her phone was stolen and she didn’t receive any of the emails. We also found out that we were the only ones staying at the place.

Seven of the rooms at the Santo Pietro are clustered around and above a large common room that has a kitchen, dining table and chairs and a beautiful terrace with amazing views in three directions. As we were the only ones in residence we had the common room and terrace all to ourselves. While some reports have described the rooms as ‘plain’ our room was large, with beautiful wood moldings, a large closet, a bathroom with a Jacuzzi type tub, and most importantly a bed that was big and very comfortable. To be fair there was very little decoration in the room.

A little later we drove fifteen minutes up the mountainside to Fara in Sabina, a larger but still small town occupying a commanding position at the top of the mountain with 360 degrees of the most amazing views. We walked around the park for a while and then went to eat in the only restaurant in town – Il Belsito.

The restaurant had a very large terrace that faced west from which you could see for dozens of miles. This was our introduction to a series of breath-taking views we were to see many times each day – and all so extraordinary that we never stopped being amazed. In the midst of our meal we watched the sun set over the top of a distant mountain.

We had:
A green salad,
Olive ascolana – pork stuffed olives wrapped in a round fried corn ball,
Tonnarello alla Sabina – a thick long spaghetti type pasta with olives, peppers, tomatoes and rough cut prosciutto,
Tagliolino al tartufo – pasta with local black truffles in olive oil and parmesan cheese. In addition to the chopped up truffles in the sauce there were three silver dollar sized pieces on top – heaven.

Croccantino alle nocciole – a hazelnut crusted meringue with dark chocolate mousse

We also had a bottle of Morellino di Scansano, Duca di Saragnano – a pleasant light bodied Sangiovese blend.

The food was good with the standouts being the Tagliolino with truffles and the dessert – 50 euros.

The olive oil at the beginning, which accompanied a super crusty bread, was so good we asked about it. Our charming young waitress became instantly animated and with complete confidence proclaimed it the best olive oil in Italy and maybe the world. With our own taste buds happy and such a recommendation we had to buy some – Sabina DOP – and did as we left. It was definitively the best olive oil we had during our trip. Here is a little video about it.


DAY 2 - L’ulivone and Toffia

The next morning we came down early and took a leisurely walk down the farm road and through the olive trees. There were quite a few that were of the huge, gnarled 100+ year old variety. When we returned Christina had arrived and prepared breakfast. The Agriturismo has a good sized restaurant with a few different rooms on different levels. Christina oversees the food and has two cooks and a staff. As we were the only guests she was doing everything herself.

We ate breakfast outside surrounded by flowers and that wonderful view. This was the first of almost two weeks of superlative sunny weather.

Breakfast included juice, coffee, eggs with those farm fresh dark yellow yolks, bread from a neighboring farm, prosciutto, fresh picked fruit from the garden, homemade jam and yogurt. We are not big eaters and I almost never have breakfast, but the food was fresh and good and we did alright.

As we finished we had a chance to talk to Christina about where to go for the day and to arrange to have dinner there that night.

We were told we absolutely had to go see the largest olive tree in all of Europe which is located in the nearby town of Canneto. So we followed our GPS down winding farm roads and through some beautiful country until we saw the brown signs pointing the way to “L’ulivone”. We eventually ended up in a small parking area of a private house. There’s a gate and a path that leads you to this most enormous olive tree. It is very impressive.


Leaving L’ulivone we found an ATM in the town and then retraced our steps back towards Santo Pietro and on to the Abbey at Farfa, a very important Benedictine monastery that is still active and is set up as a village with a museum and shops. Most of the Abbey was closed, but we did find a convent shop that had some fine items from convents around the world – and my wife did some shopping.

Our next stop was Toffia. This pretty village is perched at the top of a hill and appears to be emerging out of the very stone of the mountain. It is a very impressive sight as it comes into view from the winding roads that surround it.

We explored, walking up and down the colorful brick pathways which were decorated all over with lush plantings of flowers. We were hungry and spotted a sign for a restaurant. When we found it, it was closed. From what we heard in the town there was not much confidence it would reopen. In fact there was no place in the village to buy any food at all. The closest you could come was a café that served coffee and drinks, but no food. We were puzzled at Toffia as it appeared to be a thriving residential community, but had no commerce at all. I made a note to ask about it.

We found our way back to the Farfa and to the restaurant at the Abbey. It was a tourist restaurant with high prices and unremarkable food, but the beer was cold and refreshing. We returned to the agriturismo and rested, explored a little more and got ready for dinner.

Even though she was by herself and cooking just for us Christina acquitted herself well.

It was a beautiful cool evening and we again ate outside. The table was filled with dishes of olives, pickled red cabbage, mushrooms, zucchini frittata, local sheep cheese, bruschetta topped with olive oil and the most delicious tomatoes from her garden, and an assortment of prosciutto and other cured meats. Everything was fresh and a real treat. This was followed by a pasta dish with eggplant and tomatoes and a plate sized ravioli with ricotta and spinach – both excellent.

We were quite content with our meal and happy. We had finished the bottle we bought the night before and were now drinking the very decent house wine. To our surprise she brought out a full roast pork dish. It was very good but we couldn’t finish it.

Desert was three types of grapes from the garden and limoncello. All–in-all this was one the more pleasant dinners we had on our vacation.

This was our first full day and we were very happy. Christina promised to show us around the "Borgo", as she called It, in the morning.

More to come...
blej is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2013, 09:15 AM
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Sounds like an interesting trip. Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to reading more!
zoecat is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2013, 11:45 AM
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Ir's pleasant to hear about places that are off the beaten path. I look forward to reading more.
drchris is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2013, 12:05 PM
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Your trip sounds really interesting. I bought some Sabina DOP to bring home when I was in Rome and I loved it, but it was a year old and probably not nearly as good as what you were able to get.
Blaise22 is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2013, 06:06 PM
Join Date: Aug 2012
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Your dinner at your agriturismo sounds wonderful. So much food! I am looking forward to hearing about how the place near Todi worked out.
wekewoody is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2013, 06:13 PM
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This whole area sounds new and interesting. Can't wait to hear more!
taconictraveler is offline  
Sep 24th, 2013, 08:48 AM
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Blaise22 - We both like a rich green olive oil that highlights the olive. Sabina DOP has a very low acidity, which I'm guessing allows more of the olive taste to come through.

I hope to have more soon
blej is offline  
Sep 24th, 2013, 04:42 PM
Join Date: May 2013
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Looking forward to more! Very nice report so far. It's been a few years since I was in Italy and I'm dying to return. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through you!
sherlyn72 is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 04:53 AM
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Eager for more! Maybe you mentioned this above, but ifi not, how long was the drive from FCO to Coltodino? Sounds like a great start!
ekscrunchy is online now  
Sep 25th, 2013, 06:53 AM
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The first time I remember a TR about this area. More please...soon!
TDudette is offline  
Sep 25th, 2013, 09:13 AM
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ekscrunchy - it took us about an hour and a quarter. I don't know how we would have made it to the Santo Pietro or almost any individual address without the GPS as there are no street signs except in the larger villages. The GPS would say to turn left or right at a certain street. We turned, but we almost never saw a sign with that name. The main roads had signs for the next villages and some of mileage markers had a small indication of the road number.

It was hilarious to hear a Brooklyn type accent on the GPS pronounce Italian street names ..."Vee ah Moan tee boo own oh"

Here's a bit more:

DAY THREE – The hill towns of Sabina, Il Boschetto, Castello Izzalini

We had another very nice breakfast outside and then spent a bit of time talking to Christina about Sabina, tourism and while getting a full tour of the Santo Pietro Agriturismo. This is one of the nice things that can come out of being the only guests in a guest house – you get to know the host pretty well; and Christina was very nice, intelligent and very proud of the Borgo. One thing we learned about the area, and Toffia was a good example, is how hard the area has been hit by the economic situation. Tourism is very reduced and services that rely on tourists close. Eventually you can get a village like Toffia which becomes, at least for a while, completely residential.

During the tour we heard about the history of the Borgo, the farm-fortress which is very old and has been in the family for many generations. Over time, through apportioned inheritances, the ownership of the Borgo and its land was divided. Some families sold and others are living in one or more of the many connected building sections or still own separate parcels of land.

The farm land, planted mostly with olive trees is extensive and has plenty of space to build a pool, a spa, and bring in other services, should the dreams of the owners come to fruition. The website below will give you some idea of the place, although the photos are likely a bit dated as the place is now lush and filled with flowers.

Under the restaurant there are ancient caves which long ago, I imagine, must have connected with distant parts of the fortress, was used to store olive oil when it was produced there (the olives are now sent to the local cooperative to be crushed and made in to the DOP rated olive oil). Now only the upper portions are used for storage.

After the tour we said our goodbyes and headed north.


Two items caught my attention when I was reading through the various links on Sabina: One was a glorious description of Il Boschetto, a restaurant in the north central part of Sabina, in Fianello, and the other was the photos of the hill top villages of Sabina in the link below.


I had made reservations at Il Boschetto so we could have lunch there on the way to Todi. Christina had called and confirmed the reservation for anytime between 1:00 and 2:00. That gave us more than two hours to get there. I had also plotted a course winding through the ridge of mountains that would take us through or around a number of towns pictured in the link.

What I didn’t count on was heading in the wrong direction for quite a while and spending almost an hour before we recouped and found our way onto the right track. Luckily everywhere you go is beautiful and so it was not an unenjoyable time. Once we were on track it was one stone village atop an inverted ice cream cone mountain village after another, each one more unbelievable than the one before. We kept asking ourselves, “how were these built; especially so long ago?”

The roads up, down and around the mountains were not for the faint of heart. For anyone hesitant to drive on the Amalfi Coast, stay away from here. Very very narrow roads with unending hairpin turns. I must admit it was fun although at times somewhat terrifying for my wife. Every time one of the villages came into view we stopped and took pictures.

Hilltop by hilltop we made our way north and then west. We caught sight of or went through or around Roccantica, Casperia, Torri in Sabina, Rocchette, Montebuono. Finally, just before two we arrived at Fianello and the restaurant.

Il Boschetto is a full working farm and agriturismo. The restaurant itself appeared somewhat new and modern with large windows opening to a very large terrace, which has a beautiful view of the valley and hills in the distance. It was very sunny and hot day so we went inside.

We ordered the full meal, from antipasti all the way to dessert – a mountain of food. It was a bit of a disappointment – not because the food wasn’t good, some of it was very good, but some was not and I had expected all of it to be special.

The antipasti was abundant and very good. The gnocchi with lamb sauce was excellent, very different from the cloud like gnocchi we had in Asti. This was smaller and thicker; you are meant to taste and enjoy the ‘pasta’. The veal scaloppini, which we both ordered, was unfortunately filled with nerves and tough.

The waitress proudly brought over a full serving of tripe on the house. It looked good and we both tasted it, however it has a taste we have not yet acquired. The meal with one beer was 60 Euros.


We left full and curious as to what our next destination would be like. It is 43 kilometers from Fianello to Izzalini, which itself is roughly 15 kilometers south west of Todi. Castello Izzalini has a late afternoon check in so we were in no hurry. The drive took us through rolling hills, with some hill towns and a change from almost all olives to a broad mix of agriculture. As we moved north the views began to include the finely plowed squares and rectangles of planted fields which were stunning when viewed at a distance and from high above.

We drove down a hillside and saw a sign for Izzalini – took a breath and saw the sign indicating we were leaving Izzalini. We turned around and drove into a driveway just past a bar/café and found the Castello. In front of us was a large stone courtyard with a tall bell tower and attached stone buildings. We found the office, signed in and Frederica showed us to our room. It was a one bedroom suite and our first impression was that we had entered a model apartment. The place was spotless and fully furnished in a way that appeared luxurious in someone’s idea of updated medieval modern. It was not unpleasant at all but not the way anyone who lived there permanently would decorate.

The main room was large with four full windows facing the front. It was a living room/dining room/kitchen all in one and well furnished with everything needed. Off this main room was a long hallway which had a closet, the bathroom and, at the end the bedroom. Frederica pointed out to us that we had the only “gold” bathroom in the Castello. The floor and walls were covered in a small tiles filled with gold flakes that reflected the light - a little over the top but after a day we didn’t notice it. As I mentioned, when we walked in we thought the place was a bit sterile. But as we moved in we came to really appreciate the space and all it offered. It became our home for the next week.


Evening came and we were not very hungry, so we got directions to the next town and went shopping for food. We found a very nice food store and bought some general items and antipasti items for dinner. This included cheeses, homemade capicola cured by the grocer, some bruschetta, fruit, amazing tomatoes and a sagrantino rosso. We sat at our medieval modern dining room table and had a feast.

One thing about staying in a castle like this one – sound does not travel well from one room to another. That’s a blessing of quiet, unless…I went down to the office to check emails as the wireless did not make it to the room. When I went back I banged on the door, which is very thick and super heavy. I banged as hard as I could but no response. After 15 minutes I had Frederica come up and unlock the door. My wife was happily reading in bed and didn’t hear a thing – or so she says.

More to follow – in Umbria
blej is offline  
Sep 28th, 2013, 04:25 PM
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Looking forward to more...
wekewoody is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2013, 01:59 PM
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I really apologize for the delay. A rash of responsibilities have arisen and time is short. Here is a drop more:

Day 4 - Spoleto

We awoke the next morning to another beautiful day and took a walk to the local bakery. Its located about 200 yards south of the Castello. Its not something you would likely discover if you didn’t know about it beforehand. I found out about it reading the reviews on RCI. Unfortunately when we got there it was closed. That surprised us as in the States Sunday is when bakeries make most of their money. So we made do with what we had in the suite and decided to head out to Spoleto.

To get to the highway we had to head towards Todi. It’s a relatively large hill town that sits up high and cuts a nice figure from a distance. We stopped to take a picture. We also took our first picture of what was to prove a very beautiful and common sight – endless fields of sunflowers carpeting the valley with their golden yellow color.

The ride to Spoleto was half on the highway and the second half up and down and back and forth on switchbacks. There wasn’t much to see and it became a bit tedious. This had an effect later in the week when we decided on our destinations. We eventually made it to the town, found a free spot and walked. Unfortunately we were very very far from the center and had to walk for quite a while. I had brought Back Road Italy with me and we planned on following their walking tour of Spoleto.

We found the Roman Theatre and explored, also going into the museum, which was small but interesting. That was the last of following the tour. We just walked, explored, and went into the many shops that were interesting. Eventually we found our way down a long row of steps to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta with its impressive bell tower and beautiful frescos of Fra Filippo Lippi. There were also some pieces from the 12th century and we began noticing the faces and expressions on the artwork. In particular we noticed how over time the faces went from faces of pure devotion with no personal expression and eyes looking up or humbly down and little concern with realistic proportion of arms and hands to more realism, personal feelings shown in the faces, straight gazes looking at things or each other. This became our main focus as we went into churches during the trip.

We had lunch at a restaurant that was OK and we explored some more. Spoleto is spread out and reasonably large so even though we walked for hours we saw only a bit of the town and not much of the main attractions. However, we enjoyed what we saw and had a feeling for the town. We were tired, had a long walk to the car and a bit of drive, so we headed back to Izzalini.

During our walks we encountered a number of very fine shops filled with cheeses, wines, pastas and everything you could possibly want. We had purchased a fine aged pecorino, an artichoke and tartufo sauce, and bag of artisanal fettucine among other things. We ate very well that night.

This set a pattern we were to follow during our stay in Umbria: travel to a destination, explore, perhaps visit another destination, buy food to cook and eat dinner in. In the past we hadn’t had a suite with a kitchen so we ate all meals in restaurants. It was a change and as the raw materials are so good we enjoyed.

More to come but possibly with some delays - hopefully short.
blej is offline  
Oct 10th, 2013, 01:37 PM
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For anyone still curious, here are the next two days:


The next morning was Monday and bright and early we headed for the bakery. There’s something comforting about going to a local bakery no matter where one is - the smells of the bakery and the friendliness as people greet each other. We bought croissants, bread, bruschetta of two types and some dessert items.

After breakfast we headed out toward Montefalco. The ride was easy with a nice mix of open road and hilly switchbacks. Inside the impressive walls Montefalco is a relatively small town with one main street of shops and one central piazza. We found our way to the piazza and made reservations for lunch at 1:00. We then explored. The town is very ‘tidy’, very clean, well-kept and homes decorated with flowers. While my wife shopped for some clothes I entered one of the many wine shops and had a nice conversation on the numerous producers of Sagrantino. I bought a nice rosso (can’t remember the producer) and a Tabarrini Colle Grimaldesco Sagrantino. We had some time before lunch so we explored just outside the walls where there were more shops, a pretty church and a grocery store where we stocked up on groceries.

The Enoteca l'Alchimista, in the Piazza del Comune, has a wonderful selection of fine wines from all over Italy inside the shop and outside has a large area covered in umbrellas. A table was waiting for us and we sat down to a truly delightful meal.

We shared a “summer caprese salad” with bufalo mozzarella, pesto, watermelon and roasted hazelnuts – delicious and perfect for the hot sunny day. My wife ordered chicken breast, sliced with soy and ginger, fennel cream and minced black olives. I ordered a beef filet cooked in a Sagrantino sauce and, of course, a glass of Sagrantino. We also had a side of roasted tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant. Everything was perfectly cooked and delightfully presented. Even the bread we had was exceptional. The pistachio gelato was filled with chunks of pistachio. It was nice to take our time with the meal and relax watching people in the piazza.

On our way back we stopped in Todi. Todi It took us a while to get our bearings and then the nerve to drive through the narrow streets of the town filled with people walking, and all the way up to the Piazza Gariboldi and park. The panoramic view from there was worth the drive. Right around the corner is Cattedrale della Santissima Annunziata in the Piazza del Popolo, which was worth the visit. Near the corner of Via Mazzini and Corso Cavour my wife found a shop selling designer women’s clothing and which was closing out their children’s line. She bought a pair of Dolce & Gabbana jeans for our granddaughter’s first birthday. She got a great buy, but these little miniature pants still cost more than I pay for my jeans.

After a bit more time in and out of shops we headed back to Izzalini where we met our neighbor. They talked us out of going to the pizza restaurant in Fiore and told us about a quaint family run place a bit further where grandma cooks in the back. It was the kind of place that is out in the middle of nowhere, with an obscure sign and very little light. We passed it, came back and found it. The food was good decent country food. The highlight was when I ordered a vin santo at the end of the meal and the owner came out and apologized that he was out of it but had a reserve liqueur he made himself. It was excellent.


The next morning we left for Spello early. I had initially intended to visit Norcia first and then Spello, but looking at the map it was clear it would take a good hour and a half or more to get there so we changed plans.

Spello was lovely. With the possible exception of a tiny hill town we saw the following day, Spello was the prettiest and most charming of the towns we visited. All in pink and white stone flowing down the side of the mountain, it is large enough to have a substantial number of shops of various kinds, lots of restaurants, churches and small enough to have an intimate feel. The residential areas were filled with planters and flowers, vines growing up and grape vines hanging down from second story balconies.

As we approached the town we followed the signs for parking and were delighted to find a very large public parking lot that was free and a two minute walk to one of the town gates. We followed the winding road up, going in and out of artists' studios, some very unique shops and the Duomo. We eventually ended going into the Tessitura Pardi shop on Via Cavour. My wife had seen their shop in Montefalco but did not purchase anything. They sell exquisite linen and cotton items for the home and we came away with a beautiful tablecloth (which is being used as a blanket) and matching pillow cases. The bag was heavy so we left it with the shopkeeper and agreed to come back before she closed in a couple of hours. These we spent exploring. We headed to one of the Roman gates, magnificently strong and beautiful at the same time - the pink and white stone striking in the sunlight with the valley below. Then up and up to the opposite end of the town from where we entered. Here we found an even more beautiful view of the valley spreading down towards the west and the mountains with their hill-top towns far in the distance.

As we walked down and around the other side, which was a bit more residential and charming with bakeries and smaller restaurants. It became clear it was moving quickly towards lunch time as we could see shades and curtains being drawn on the shops. I had to run to get back in time to get our bags. The lights were already turned off as I made it into the store. Had we known in advance of a restaurant open at that time we probably would have stayed for the rest of the day. But we didn’t and were a bit tired from all the walking on stone – and we would have had to walk back uphill in any case. So we took the easy way and walked down to our car and left Spello.

The sign indicated that Bevagna was only a few kilometers away and a few minutes later we parked inside one of the gates. I can’t really give a fair picture of Bevagna which is a relatively small town and flat. We arrived when most everything was closed and very few people were out and about. We found the streets and the bottoms of the buildings dirty and in poor repair, especially in the smaller side streets. There were very few decorations and flowers visible. Coming after seeing Spello this was a let down.

We did have a simple but very decent meal at Il Grottino. They have a pleasant covered terrace in the back and well prepared local food. Feeling refreshed we walked around for a while. The medieval buildings and churches themselves are very interesting with many being from the 12th or 13th centuries. We only entered into one building, the church Chiesa del Seminari. In some of the narrow streets you can see double buttresses connecting the building on one side with the one on the other side at two separate heights. When we decided to go back to Izzalini we walked to the wrong gate and so got to see a bit more. We left knowing that we probably missed more than we saw.
blej is offline  
Oct 10th, 2013, 02:31 PM
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just found this, blej - thank you for sharing your trip with us.

yet another part of Italy to add to my "must see" list.
annhig is offline  
Oct 10th, 2013, 02:41 PM
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bardo1 is offline  
Oct 10th, 2013, 05:04 PM
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Boy, your report sure brings back great memories of our trip to Umbria. We also enjoyed lunch at L'Alchemista and we bought linens at the shop you mentioned in Spello.

We stayed in Spello and loved having it be our "home" for several nights.

Thank you for bringing it all back...
wekewoody is offline  
Oct 11th, 2013, 12:20 PM
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Wekewoody - the lunch at L'Alchemista was clearly the most delightful meal we had during our vacation. In fact, when we left Spello I was all for returning to Montefalco to eat there again - but we opted for Bevagna instead. Glad you are enjoying the report.
blej is offline  
Oct 11th, 2013, 07:39 PM
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Posts: 165

After so many days of exploring hill towns, as much as we enjoyed it it was time for something a bit different. So we fired up the GPS, put in Castiglione Del Lago and set off. The ride was an hour but easy as could be – almost all highway. We parked behind a bunch of cars that had just pulled to the side of the road. They said it was OK to park there so we left the car and climbed up a short hill only to find ourselves in the midst of a street market. Dozens of booths selling everything from shoes and fashion clothes to fish, cheese and produce spilled over, around, up and down a field and the main entrance to the town. My wife found some comfortable shoes with heavy rubber soles, which she wore on the cobbled streets for the rest of the vacation. After a while we entered the town and the booths changed to brick and mortar shops. We found one that had black truffles for sale. I picked one, along with some cheese, honey and some pastries and we continued on our way.

We walked until the road opened into a piazza with the castle at the back. Here there was another market of flowers and produce. Although I had previously warned my wife about touching the produce, habit kicked in and she started squeezing and selecting some tomatoes. She was immediately chastised by the lady doing the selling so she just pointed and the seller bagged the fruit. I think the lady felt bad seeing the embarrassed look on my wife’s face and she gave her some fruit for free.

I had managed to get directions to the ferry so we climbed up to the town wall where you have a nice view of the lake and then started down to the path leading to the ferry station. As we walked we fell in step with a couple from the Midwest who were staying at Castiglione Del Lago but had visited many of the same towns we had. They were the first Americans we met on the trip, although we think there was a family from the States at the restaurant in Montefalco. The ride to Isola Maggiore was wonderful. The day was sunny and hot and the breeze off the lake as the ferry surged forward was wonderful. When you arrive there are a couple of restaurants just off the dock. We decided to walk a little further and found All’ Antico Orolgio, the antique clock.

The restaurant is not as refined looking as the others but has a large outdoor terrace overlooking the lake. We ordered the special lake appetizer which included latarini, tiny lake fish about an inch long battered and fried, carp roe bruschetta, perch bruschetta with tomato and perch balls breaded and fried. My wife had spaghetti with clams.
When we walking to our table I had spotted someone eating what looked to be a large crab. I couldn’t find it on the menu so using a translation app on the phone I found that the word for crab in Italian was granchio. Sure enough when I asked I was told they had it and the waiter let me know he thought it was a great choice. When they brought the crab to the table everyone in our section got up and took a picture of the dish. The crab was huge and sitting on top of pasta. It was excellent, as was everything else we had. It took a little effort and the help of the app to explain that my wife wanted an espresso in a glass, with lots of ice and milk. But in the end she got a reasonable facsimile of iced coffee, a truly American drink. I had a truly Italian gelato – maybe I’ve been lucky but I’ve never had a bad gelato in Italy.

We had a long walk to the car which was happily still there, and as I wanted to visit another town we took off. On the road leading out we passed a cashmere factory outlet. This was a real factory outlet and we mistakenly walked into the actual factory and had to be shown where the door to the outlet was. It turned out to be a Fiorini Cashmere factory, makers of luxury cashmere clothes. The clothes were gorgeous with the wool as fine as it could be. The discount was about 70% and my wife found a sweater she liked and we picked up some gifts.

About 15 minutes later we had made it up the hill to Panicale – perhaps the prettiest little hill town we have been to. It is up high and you have an incredible panoramic view of the valley below, Lago Trasimeno just past and the mountains in the distance. We went into a few shops and walked around for about an hour. Panicale is very small and the streets form concentric ovals around the center. The town is very clean and well cared for. We sat in the square by the fountain and had some wine and bruschetta and just watched the goings on. The sense we got was this is a town where people know an like each other. I later found out that on Thursdays there is a jazz concert on the square. Its location seems perfect for a stay as you are close to both Tuscan and Umbrian towns. Below are two photos from online.



We had a bit of a ride back. We had moved to an area between the two major highways and the path home would be on smaller roads. What we didn’t know was that it would reveal some of the most beautiful vistas of the vacation. Not only were there views from above but views from below and beautiful views of perfectly plowed fields of different colors and textures. This was an area where one moment you were down in the valley and the next climbing up a hill and then across a plateau, all within a few minutes and all perfectly manicured, planted or plowed. Large farms with an impressive farm house or villa standing alone in the middle of greens, golds and browns. If Sabina was nature and the Umbrian hill towns were man conquering nature, this was man and nature in beautiful harmony – not powerful, peaceful.

Last event of the day: I love truffles and have been on a truffle hunt. I really like the smell and taste of truffles. So that evening with great expectation, I took the black truffle we bought and went to slice it to put it in the pasta with olive oil and the pecorino we bought earlier. The truffle might as well been a clod of dirt. It just crumbled, had almost no aroma and hardly any taste. I made the ultimate error – I got so excited seeing it, I never smelled the truffle – it was old and worthless. A lesson learned the hard way.

Next – a day at home and Orvieto
blej is offline  
Oct 19th, 2013, 02:47 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 165
Our GPS always seemed to present the shortest route possible regardless of how difficult the journey on the selected roads would be. The suggested route to Orvieto was no different. It took us on winding roads up and down and around the mountains; but it also presented the most spectacular panoramic view of our trip – of which there were many.

The crowning hill town of Civitella del Lago is known for the beautiful views looking down at the Tiber River and the dam and the mountains in the distance. Yet, the road we were on was high enough so Civitella del Lago appeared as small village far below us. We also had a tremendous commanding view of all the hills and planted valleys for miles around leading to mountains of varying heights in the great distance. We stopped and just marveled for a while, then slowly made our way down winding around the mountain and eventually down onto the road even with the dam.

Orvieto has to be one of the most impressive towns to see as you approach from a distance. It is an immense, impregnable citadel sitting atop massive volcanic cliffs and surrounded by equally massive walls.

As we didn’t know that the funicular, which takes one up to the town, is located in Orvieto Scalo, the new part of Orvieto, we started to drive up to the top. Luckily we found a paid parking lot early on. We then had to take a good number of extremely long escalators, many of which were not working, to get all the way up to the town.

Orvieto is a large and substantial hill-town which has everything to offer. In particular it has a truly fabulous duomo, dedicated to the Assumption of Mary (Santa Maria Assunta), construction of which was begun around 1290 and lasted almost three centuries. We spent a great deal of time in the cathedral, particularly in the Chapel of the Madonna di San Brizio admiring the amazing fresco cycles of Fra Angelico and Luca Signoreli on the vault and walls. (bring binoculars to appreciate details from afar and to avoid the neck strain we suffered from looking at ceilings and vaults, which frequently contain the finest of the fine.)

We then explored our way in and out of shops until we reached Via Misericordia and the Trattoria dell’ Orso. The restaurant was mentioned in an older post I read, the speaker insisting that their faraona al salmì, guinea fowl with chicken livers and juniper was not to be missed. We found the restaurant which had all the blinds drawn. We almost turned back, but my wife tried the door and in we went. We were the only ones there.

We shared an order of linguini with zucchini in a gorgonzola dulce sauce flavored with lemon zest. It was delicious – my wife considered this to be the best dish she had all vacation. For a second dish she ordered a chicken cacciatore which was excellent. I ordered the faraona, which that day came with a tartufo sauce. It was beyond delicious. One of the two best dishes I have ever had in Italy and likely anywhere. If you like small birds and truffles this is not to be missed. With the house white, a homemade tiramisu made with pineapple pieces and limoncello, coffee and a vin santo we were truly happy and satisfied. Reviews of this restaurant will tell you that the charming owner, Ciro, makes the meal more enjoyable. As we were the only ones there we were able to have a long and delightful conversation with him. I was happy to hear that his restaurant does well at dinner time and is full on weekends.

We explored some more and then visited the labyrinth of caves that were dug deep into the volcanic rock. They are full of deep holes and tunnels that once led to escape paths under the town. It was fun and also included access to one of the cleanest restrooms I've been in in Italy.

As we retraced our steps back, we decided to visit Civitella del Lago, the town that we looked down upon, as we drove through the mountains in the morning. It is a very small, very handsome village with only a few hundred residents, which increases in the summer. As mentioned earlier it has lovely panoramic views of the Tiber, the dam, and the high mountains in the distance. We explored almost the entire village in about 45 minutes. There is a map of the village placed in various places describing the sights of interest and some of the village's history. All in all it would make a very nice place to spend a week as it is centered 20 minutes from Orvieto and Todi.

The next day, unfortunately not feeling too well, I stayed in the suite. That night we decided to finally visit the local pizza restaurant, Rosa dei Venti a few minutes away in Fiore. The bruschetta, stuffed zucchini flowers and pizza were all very good. This was our final full day in Umbria.

Next - Rome
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