by Anne-Marie and Glenn
Consulting our map, we climbed back down the hill and headed north to Gubbio. Perched on the slopes of Monte Ingino, Gubbio provides incredible views of the surrounding villages and valleys. Parking again at the base of the village and climbing to the village center, we passed one tiny shop after another filled with bins of truffles and giant cheese wedges. Whole legs of prosciutto hung outside a few of store windows. The smell of grilled artichokes drifted out of one shop, and a stuffed boar's head hung over the doorway of another. Flower stands and wine shops dotted the ancient alleys. As in most towns in the Italian countryside, the cathedral and the surrounding square in Gubbio anchored the village. After a look in the medieval church, we arrived at the Taverna del Lupo, a well-known restaurant organized around numerous small, beautiful stone rooms divided by archways. Families filled some of the rooms, enjoying their Sunday meal. We began our lunch with an antipasto of bruschetta topped with truffles and olive oil, a primi of penne covered with deep red tomatoes, and ordered a secondi of sliced duck and simple roast pork with rosemary. We enjoyed our feast at the slow pace of a Sunday afternoon in the Italian countryside, listening to the locals, chatting about the sideboards of sweets and tiny cookies and studying the hand-blown glasses and carafes of local grappas and wine lining the walls.
Late in the afternoon, instead of driving back to the villa we decided to take a detour to a third hillside town, Spoleto. Winding south through the country, we passed bright fields of wild mustard, green and silver groves of olive trees and several vineyards. Along the crests of the hills, rows of cypress lined the ridges like soldiers standing watch at their ancient posts.
Viva la Villas
Monday and Tuesday were villa exploration days. Hosted by our local Italian representative, we visited more than 10 villas in two days. The villas range from charming and simple to elegant and extravagant, and each villa somehow seems to fill its own niche in the region. A few times a day we would scan the patchwork hills for the village of Todi, always a recognizable landmark on the horizon. Tuesday afternoon one of the villa owners invited us to join him for lunch in Umbertide at Adamo Ristorante, a restaurant located on a farm that serves the farm's own products. Our host insisted on serving us the antipasti, primi and secondi, all accompanied with coordinating wines and followed by dolce and espresso. It was quite a meal!
Wednesday, May 1 was May Day, a national holiday, and we took the day off from villa exploring to visit the town of Orvietto, another medieval town high on a rocky hill. Once again we parked outside the city walls, but instead of tackling the steep incline up to the walled city, we took the funivia, or cable car, up the hill. Orvietto hosts one of the Italy's most magnificent Gothic buildings, the Orvietto duomo. After hearing about a miracle in a nearby town, Pope Urban IV ordered the church built at the end of the 13th century. The church took more than three centuries to complete. The massive marble structure is almost overshadowed by the church's colorful façade. Inside, Luca Signorelli's superb frescos along the wall and ceiling are said to have inspired Michelangelo's work 40 years later on the Cappella Sistina, the Sistine Chapel.
After visiting the duomo, we chose a café in the main palazzo which was recommended in our Fodor's guide. It turned out to be the first place we'd eaten where there were more tourists than there were locals. We decided to stick to our previous strategy and follow our senses instead of our guidebook for the rest of our stay.
We had plans to join one of our hosts for dinner at Fattoria di Vibio, a restaurant owned by the host family 12 miles from Todi up a curving mountain road. As we drove up, up and up, once again we looked to see Todi, perched on its craggy hillside, bathed in the fading glow of the sunset.
Thursday and Friday were two more days of villa viewing, with one last stop in Deruta where Anne-Marie finally found and purchased her perfect urn. Friday we spent a quiet evening in our villa, reflecting on the wonderful tour of the senses Umbria had offered us, realizing we were more than a little sad to be moving on.
But Saturday it was on to Tuscany, and all that it promised...