by Bethany, Lidy and Matt
Umbria is a land rich in spectacular scenery, rolling hills, cultural treasures and historic landmarks. Bordering Tuscany to the south, Umbria is similar in nature, topography and culture yet relatively undiscovered. Join Wimco's traveling team on their fact-finding mission through the Italian countryside - a learning experience they will never forget.
The adventure began once the Team reached Rome. With the sun quickly descending behind Italy's rolling hills, the Team packed into the rental car and proceeded to Mercatale to find their villa, Salicotta. Advised that the drive was little over an hour, they soon realized an Italian must have estimated the time. Four hours later, with Fiats and Renaults whizzing by as if they were standing still, the Team was still en route. An approach from Florence would have been only a two hour drive, they later learned. Upon reaching the village of Mercatale, the trio had to find the villa. Even with accurate directions in hand, this, too, proved to be challenging. Navigating by landmarks like the "cypress tree between two oak trees" and the "goat farm at the end of the village" were just one of the challenges of finding their way; driving through in the dark was even more interesting. Once they reached villa Salicotta, the group received a warm welcome from the villa’s owners, Aldo and Alda, who served as "key-holders" for that night. Villa caretakers, who are called key-holders, greet you upon arrival and orient you to your surroundings.
In need of gastronomic care, the Team was advised by Alda and Aldo to drive back into Mercatale and dine at Mimmi's. After a mere 10-minute drive (American driving time), the group meandered their way back into the village. Matt, feeling overly confident, rolled down his window to ask a group of Italian teenagers "Ciao, buona sera. Dove è Mimmi’s?", only to have one of the better-educated youths respond, "Hello, good evening. It’s that way." And, rather than point the way, the group of 10 kids proceeded to run down the middle of the street to escort the trio for the remaining 20 meters to Mimmi’s. While dining at Mimmi’s, guests are served what Mimmi has cooked for the evening. Mimmi’s has no menu, though every night she includes her special cannelloni and tiramisu, which are part of every meal. With the help of her son Giovanni, they prepare each meal themselves. Additionally, they grow their own olives for oil, grapes for the table wine, and lemons for the traditional Italian digestif, limoncello, all of which are produced at the local village co-ops and served nightly. A long day of connections and white knuckle driving was finished with a spectacular five course meal, which for the three of them (including wine and tip) amounted to no more than $60 US.
After a much needed slumber, the team awoke to the sounds of a distant dairy farm. First stop Spoleto, to inspect the Hotel San Luca and this magnificent tourist destination. Spoleto, home to the Festival of Two Worlds, attracts tourists from all over the world with its cultural and musical events. The magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, a venue for the international music festival, is a fascinating example of three periods of history: the building incorporates materials and design from the Roman, medieval and Renaissance periods. Dating from the 1st century A.D., a Roman theater that had remained buried until the early part of the 20th century has been excavated, totally restored, and now serves as another venue for the international music festival.
After a 90-minute drive, the group arrived at the Hotel San Luca and were greeted by owner and General Manager, Daniella Zuccari. Daniella, sometimes affectionately referred to as the Martha Stewart of Italy, is a most gracious hostess who takes great care of her guests and hotel. This beautiful four-star hotel is located on the site of a fountain that Pope Innocent III visited in 1198. Legend has it that, in his presence, the fountain miraculously began spouting clear, plentiful water. After an inspection of the various room styles, the team agreed that the Hotel San Luca would be perfectly comfortable for their discerning clients. An indication of the quality of the bathrooms at the Hotel San Luca is the fact that Paolo Zuccari, husband of Daniella, manufactures bathroom fixtures.