by Anne-Marie and Glenn
Umbria, a region of rolling hills, fertile farmland and ancient medieval towns, provides a titillating tour of the senses.
After arriving in Italy's hectic capital on a British Airway Flight from London we were looking forward to the soft embrace of the Italian countryside. There was only one problem - we had to get out of Rome, and out of the airport parking garage, first. Tucked into our rental car and bracing ourselves against the onslaught of the Italian drivers, we found that adapting to the Italian way of driving (translation: as fast as possible) takes approximately the same amount of time as it takes one to thrice orbit a Roman traffic circle. Around and around, and once more around the airport traffic circle we went before we were at last launched onto Autostrada A1, heading north to Umbria.
With the hustle and dust of Rome now in our rear view mirror and green rolling hills stretching before us, we relaxed and settled in for the drive to Todi. Around each bend in the winding country roads, a collage of colored squares greeted us. Red poppies, purple irises, yellow and pink roses and blue wildflowers wrapped the rural fields in a vibrant quilt, while olive groves, citrus trees and vineyards cloaked the countryside like an ancient tapestry. The rich, earthy scent of the pastures soaked the misty valleys, and a fresh, cool breeze kissed our skin atop each hill.
Morning Mists bring
We arrived in the ancient town of Todi just as the morning mist gave way to a mid-day shower. After parking the car outside the stone walls of the city, we scurried under the lichen-covered arches and up the hill and joined a small group of locals huddled under umbrellas outside a cute trattoria. A few minutes later, two smiling waitresses led us to a little table. Glancing around, we noted we were the only tourists in the small café. When our waitress returned for our order, we noted we were the only English-speaking people there, too. Pointing at the menu and smiling, we somehow ended up with a carafe of robust local wine and a delicious meal of homemade pappardelle pasta covered, of course, with truffles. The pungent, earthy scent of truffles followed us everywhere throughout Umbria. Our simple meal in Todi that first afternoon was typical of many to follow: fresh, local produce and pasta prepared with herbs and olive oil and accompanied by a jug of local wine. Over the next seven days we were to return to this quaint trattoria in Todi more than once.
From Todi we drove north to Villa Olivi, where we based ourselves during our stay. The rustic villa is superbly located between Todi, Deruta and Perugia in the heart of Umbria. The "key holders" were waiting for us when we arrived and greeted us like long-lost friends. After a tour of the premises, conducted entirely in Italian, they showed us the provisions they had stocked the villa with and the wonderful meal of veal, pasta and salad they had prepared for our dinner that evening. After dinner, full and content, we drifted off to sleep with the splendor of the region permeating our senses.
Three Towns and a Tavern
Sunday morning at sunrise we woke to the sound of pheasants cooing from the bird sanctuary next door. After a light breakfast with fresh cantaloupe, strawberries and melon, we set out for the hillside village of Deruta. Famous for its narrow streets lined with brightly colored ceramics and its wealth of local artists, life in the ancient hamlet has not changed much since the 11th century. After a morning of winding our way up the steep streets and exploring the displays of vibrant blue and yellow urns and exquisitely detailed tiles, we stopped to ask an elderly woman directions to the nearby village of Gubbio, where we hoped to have lunch. She smiled, pointed and answered, "I think it is this way, but I have never been."