Category Archives: restaurants

Cost of living here in small town Umbria

One thing I have not addressed in this blog is the cost of living here in Umbria. Recently I read a blog talking about the cost of living in Milan. Admittedly, it is less expensive to live there – it’s rated the most expensive city in Italy, than in most cities in the US, but it is still more expensive that many other areas here in Italy. People who are still working and have no choice but to live in a place like Milan do so, but retirees, like us and many people who move here on an ER Visa from the US, do have a choice.

Generally all the northern parts of Italy are more expensive than the south. And of course Tuscany, which has always been a magnet for expats is quite pricy, especially Florence. But central provinces like Umbria, or Abruzzo, or les Marche are a real bargain. They also see fewer tourists and, therefore are more welcoming, in my experience. Umbria is just next to Tuscany and has many of the attributes that attract people there. It has beautiful hill towns, the food is amazing and it has some of the best wines in Italy. It is also known as the “green heart of Italy” because it is in the center, vaguely heart shaped and, being very agricultural, very green. It is also a very traditional area. A little more tranquil and old fashioned.

People have asked me how much things cost here so I will endeavor to list some things.

Housing.
Buying a house here is not terribly expensive if you don’t want a palazzo or a fattoria in the country with olive groves etc. But I should also say, like anywhere else, there are a wide variety of houses in a large variety of sizes and price ranges. For lower budgets I know of several habitable apartments in our town in the neighborhood of €80-100K. This would be one or two bedrooms and bath(s). A fixer-upper would be much less. Usually houses here are smaller so plan on 800 – 1,100 sq ft for that price. Also a real savings is that you won’t owe any property tax on your prima casa, or main residence. Apartments for rent are very reasonable. An apartment of this size will rent for in the neighborhood of €400-500 a month. Usually it comes furnished. Generally apartments rent with a lease for 4 years with option to extend for 4 years at the same rent. Other option is 3 years with 2 year extension. But you can negotiate. Many times utilities are included in the rent.

Utilities
Speaking of which, utilities can be expensive here. Houses are rated from A-G for energy efficiency, “A” being the best as far as efficiency goes. Old buildings are notoriously bad with no insulation and thick stone walls which conduct the heat/cold. Our building is about 500 years old and of the later sort. In winter our bills were running in the neighborhood of 240€ for two months. But this past winter we got a 400€ bill (2 months). It was very cold.

Two months of gas

Also most people, including us, use a pellet stove (stufa) to warm parts of the house.

Most places do not have air conditioning. We have two electric units. We don’t use them much so our bills are small. Water is a lot less here, around 20€ for 2 months. We pay 75€ for trash removal twice a year.

Coffee/drinks/wine
At my local Bar/Coffee shop an espresso is 1€. A cappuccino is 1.20€. Compare that to Starbucks! And it is way better. A small beer is 2€. An aperol spritz (mixed cocktail) is 4€. Many bars have happy hour with snacks gratis if you buy a drink.

To buy a basic bottle of wine can cost as low as 3€. Here they also have sfuzzi which are like a wine gas stations! Bring your bottles and fill them for between .80 and 1.30€ a liter! Of course high quality, pedigree wine is more. 12€ or more a bottle.

Eating out
We have several types of restaurants. At a trattoria, which has great local food, you can get 3 courses for around 15€. A fancier Ristorante you will pay more, 8-10€ for an appetizer. 17€ for a steak. Pizza at a pizzeria is around 5-8€ a pie which is more than enough for a person. Contrary to common thought, most places are fine if you ask for a box to take left overs home. You can get just a slice for 1.20€. No tipping here. Round up if you want.

Supermarkets and food shopping.
This is a comprehensive subject and maybe should be a separate post. Groceries are less expensive on the whole. Many larger towns have weekly markets (mercato). The produce is good, fresh and affordable. For around 10€ I can get a big shopping bag of gorgeous produce to last a week. The markets also sell pecorino cheese of all sorts and ages and prosciutto and cured sausages and salami for which Umbria is known. Also a fresh mozzarella man, and my fish lady in her truck. My normal shopping habits are, I shop the two weekly markets, Wednesday and Saturday, for produce, cheese, specialty meats, fish. I shop the butchers, bakers, etc for fresh meats and bread. I only go to the supermarkets for staples like sugar, cleaning products, etc.

Approximate prices at a supermarket: you can get a whole chicken for 3€. Hamburger patties for 1.50€ each. Pork chops for 3€ lb. Steaks for $6 lb.
For fancier things you’d pay.
Veal steaks $8 lb
Beef filet steaks $12 lb
Salmon steaks $8 lb
Ground beef $4 lb
Lamb for grilling $3 lb.

Cars
Autos cost about the same here as the US but you must be a resident to buy one. There is an annual car tax as well. Of course I think everyone knows gas and diesel is a LOT more expensive here. Probably 4-5 times the cost in the US.

Internet/satellite TV
Our Skye satellite TV costs 30€ a month. Phones you can top up as you use the service. It is a lot less expensive than in the US. There is a TV tax to pay for public Italian RAI TV rolled into your electric bill. Internet can be rolled into a package with your phone and is not expensive. But it’s not very fast here.

Other travel
Train travel is reasonable. One way to Florence from here is 12€. We take the Freccebianca from Folognio to Rome fairly often. It’s reasonable (from 16.90€ on the fast Frecce train) and we are in Rome in an hour and 15. Have lunch, shop, come home before dinner. The fast trains (frecce) that run between bigger cities are more expensive and have several classes of seating.

Air travel can be very cheap here. There are a number of discount carriers like Ryanair, Easyjet and Wiz air. Umbria has a small airport but it is limited. We love it because it is so small and easy to use, parking is plentiful and cheap. We use Ryanair out of Perugia for our annual trip to the UK. There are several flights a week. We also flew to Bucharest Romania on Wizair once, just because we could! And there are a couple of weekly flights to Sicily. In summer they add more. Frankfurt, Brussels, Sardinia, Bari. If you shop around and are flexible you can fly for as little as 19€ round trip to Catania or Bari. Our friends go just because it is so cheap. But for destinations farther afield we go to Rome, Florence or Bologna.

Visit with friends

We have had an eventful week with friends Carlo, Mary and Mary’s niece Emily. Since they were 3 they rented an apartment in Montone (FaceBook page The Apartments Montone) owned by very good friends of ours should you be interested to visit an amazingly pretty Umbrian hill town near Umbertide.

We had one or two mishaps, which I can now laugh about. We had all planned to go to the Infiorate in Spello on Sunday, Corpus Domini. I had never been to this festival and it is wildly popular. Advice is to go early so we all were to meet at 6AM for a 6:45AM arrival. Well, the mishap was our inability to meet up and ride together. The good news was they went on their own and really enjoyed a one-of-a-kind experience. The bad was we didn’t but that’s not so bad since we can always go next year!

We also planned another first for us. We booked a tour of the Perugina chocolate factory in Perugia. First we had a lovely lunch in beautiful lakeside town, Passignano sul Lago. We strolled the lakefront promenade, enjoyed a refreshment and headed for lunch. Being a Monday many restaurants had a rest day so were closed. We just went in a lakefront place that was open called Ristorante da Lucciano di Caciatori. Turns out it was an excellent choice and we all enjoyed our lunch.

My panzanella salad was cool and refreshing. It is one of the signature Tuscan/Umbrian antipasti. In the past the people were terribly poor and by necessity, frugal. So as not to waste stale bread they added cubes of it to a salad with a vinaigrette dressing so it became quite damp, along with chopped crisp celery, cucumber, tomato, onions. It is today, a specialty of the area. Adding the shrimp was a nice touch but not usual.

We all had the Orate which is sea bream. it was grilled whole, filleted and they put crispy potatoes on top. Yummy.

Next was the chocolate tour. Perugina was started back in 1907. But later Luisa Spagnoli founded the Chocolate factory which was one of the most important factories in Perugia. During the first world war she had to take over the factory management as well as having to look after her own three children and home. She was very forward looking, so she opened a nursery in the factory so her female employees could continue to work. They brought their babies to work while the men were away at war. The nursery exists in the present factory. In 1922 Luisa, wanting to use up extra hazelnuts created one of the most iconic of Italian chocolates, Baci – the Italian name for kisses. Nearly 100 years later the recipe remains unchanged. Nestle bought Perugina in 1988 but made few changes, happily.

Emily in front of the worlds largest Baco. This one is fake but Perugina did make one in 2003 and it has the Guinness World record. It was 2.15 meters (~6.5 feet) tall, 7.26 meters (~15 feet) wide and contained 5980 kg (14,000 lbs) of chocolate. They broke it up and it took 4 hours for the crowd at the annual Chocolate fest to eat it!

Our English tour
Baci Baci everywhere!

The factory was not running on our day there except for a very small section but it was fun to watch all the chocolate bars flying down the belts and the machines wrapping, picking them up by threes and filling boxes. We also got a chocolate tasting at the end with all of the types. There are about 7 or 8 from super dark to milk to white. Yum. Our tour guide, Laura, quickly whisked the chocolate out of reach after a few minutes as some of the Australians on the tour were filling their purses and bags! It was a fun tour.

Wednesday our friends stayed in Umbertide since it was our big market. They shopped for clothes and trinkets while I shopped for lunch ingredients! I made an Antipasti plate with melone and prosciutto and then fried squash blossoms, hot from the oil. Afterwards we had a Strangozzi with fava beans, fresh peas and asparagus. Very primavera. We had a nice afternoon on the terrace.

One day they went to Assisi. I opted out mainly to rest my knee. On Thursday we headed out to Gubbio. It is such a pretty place and we walked up through the streets to the Funivia. It is yet another unique experience. I had heard it is very scary and I don’t like heights. Everyone, except Luther wanted to go. So off we went. In the end all but Carlo wimped out! hah! It looks much like a bird cage that you stand in. It can hold one person or two thin people. It goes up to the monastery with amazing views. At least, that’s what Carlo said. I grabbed a picture from the net since I didn’t think to take one.

We all met up after for a nice lunch at Locanda del Cantiniere. We had wanted to try this place for a long time. It was quite nice but they were between menus. I’ll go back.

My starter.

The pasta was rich with nuts. A pesto.

All their bread was house made. The dark one was chocolate!

After lunch we walked on up through town to the main square. I think this is the perfect ride in a town like Gubbio. Loved the basket.

View from the main square.

A couple of gents who added a bit of local color !

We bid farewell to our friends. They promised to come back….Maybe even buy a place here!!!

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During the week the weather was sunny and alternately we had huge storms. I met up with my friend Crickie who is always wiggling with delight to meet any person!

 

This is the season when the house martins, thousands of them, nest in the eaves all over Italy. I eagerly await their return. They are a bit messy but eat billions of insects. How can that be bad? They like to nest in condos, i.e., all together. Since our comune was renovated many of their old nests were destroyed so they are finding new places. One right above our office window! Sweet.

 

Here and there…

The last week we have gotten out and about enjoying the beauty that is Umbria. And the bountiful restaurants. Poppies are blooming everywhere. Here was a whole field of them near the Tuscan border.

We went back with some friends to one our favorite places near Magione, a town close to Lago Trasimeno. The restaurant is Umbricello del Coccio. They have a really pretty herb garden next to the terrace with a cute priest presiding. This is on a pilgrim route so there is a church next door – Santuario della Madonna di Lourdes. Inside there is an identical cave, or grotto, to the one in France.

Brilliant sunshine splashed across the church.

Lunch was Umbricelli caccio e pepe.

An assortment of legumes for which Umbria and Toscana are famous.

Cinghiale (wild boar) stew with black truffles.

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Yesterday we were off on an excursion to a winery. Sometimes these places are hard to find. And they are EVEN harder when your husband gives you the wrong name!! We visited Tenimenti d’Alessandro. Luther had made an appointment for a tasting. it was a large estate with vacation apartments, facilities for conferences, a restaurant, olive groves and vineyards. This vintner was bucking tradition and had planted Syrah and Vigionier. Normal Tuscan grapes are San Giovese and Vermentino.

We met up with Laura who was a nice young woman who had recently moved from Rome to be with her fiance. He is the chef at the restaurant on the estate. She took us on a tour of the facilities. Pretty normal except for a couple of “experimental” containers for some of their wines. They were unique to us.

This one is terra cotta.

And this one was ceramic.

We settled in for our tasting. We could each pick four. We chose a white, rose, and two reds. Maybe the Wine Guy will do a column?

Rose is called Red Pepper!

The property was on volcanic soil and they had used the lava in interesting ways. One was as a kind of rock garden along the walkway. This one was in the building housing the restaurant.

Restaurant is called Creta.

It was comfortable, attractive and unpretentious.

Olive oil dish.

Ricotta salad with cabbage. It was yummy. 

I had risotto with carpaccio

Luther had beef with cabbage.

I loved this old farmhouse sink . Wish I could have one!

It was a fine outing in Tuscany and the weather is now ab-sol-utely perfetto!!!

Norcia and Piano Grande

This week we decided to go with friends on a long drive to south eastern Umbria to a place I’ve wanted to visit since we’ve been here, Piano Grande (big plain) and Castelluccio, the small town on the high plain. This is a unique landscape. The plain is at an altitude of 4,000 feet and is surrounded by the higher Sibilline mountains which rise to 8,000 feet creating a bowl. The plain is a karstic basin which is made up of porous limestone which holds underground reserves of water. It is crisscrossed by “ditches” which drain the rain water into holes in the limestone. In summer it is carpeted with purple, red and yellow flowers. The regions famous lentils are grown here. Castelluccio is the only town up in these mountains and sits on a hilltop overlooking the plain. Unfortunately the town was 60% destroyed by the 2016 earthquakes and has been abandoned. The sweet thing is that all the farmers from down below drive their tractors up in the spring and they help all the villagers plant the lentils each year. It is the lentils that bloom purple.

We drove up a winding mountain road that was being repaired. It had been closed for 8 months after the quake but it is far from finished at this time. Along the way we passed destroyed buildings. As we rose higher we entered the low clouds and it began to rain. Due to the rain we couldn’t see the plain well so my pictures are very misty. I will go back during June or July when the flowers are blooming and it’s sunny. Somehow this somber, misty landscape evokes sadness in keeping with the destruction you see everywhere.

The hotel that collapsed.

Piano Grande in the mist

Castelluccio

We headed back down the same road. The road used to go through but it is closed at this time. We were going to visit Norcia for lunch. Luther and I had not been in a few years. It had been a vibrant little city famous for its cured proscuitti and sausages. But, being only 6 kilometers from the epicenter of the last quake (6.6) it is in very bad shape now, with most of the businesses being relocated outside of town. I was so sad to see the beautiful buildings covered with elaborate scaffolding awaiting repair. The saddest, to me, is the monastery. The front facade is all that is standing and that is being held up with the structures built around it.

This picture was taken in 2014 on our first trip to Norcia. This is the front and side of the building with the old tower to the right..

This is the same piazza. You can see the old tower has collapsed, as has the entire back of the church.

Facade facing out with supports.

This the front facade from the back. This side would have been inside the church and this rose window would have faced out. Nothing left.

This is the bell tower that stands to the left of the facade in the top picture. If  you look closely you can see the entire top portion has been knocked askew and it is held together with bands of cabling.

Wanting to support the town we ate at a restaurant near the Teatro. It was a fine lunch.

The antipasto plate which we all shared.

My Strengozzi with vedure di montagne.

Jens risotto looked AWESOME!

We shared our ham and sausage with this little, skinny stray. Another table was doing the same. I don’t know how she held it all down. I can imagine she’s never been this satiated in her life!

A couple comfortably enjoying a caffe on a bench in the piazza

Bye, bye Norcia. We will be rooting for you!

Fun restaurant posting

Today, for Luther’s birthday, we decided to try a recommended restaurant called L’Umbricello del Caccio. It is nominally in Magione which is between Lago del Trasimeno and Perugia. This restaurant is south of both of these towns up in some modest hills. Very pretty countryside with lots of olive groves and yellow fields of just-harvested wheat stubble.

We arrived in a small hamlet with an old church with a pretty clock. The bells rang every quarter hour. There is plenty of parking and the restaurant is on one side of the small road through the village while it’s dining terrace is on the other. This terrace sits right on the edge of the hill. Too bad the view is marred by three unsightly power lines. For this reason I didn’t take a photo.

The fun part of this post is that, like almost always when we walk into a restaurant, they spoke English to us and automatically gave us English menus. We have gotten used to this fact of life here. Somehow we are nailed as foreigners before we open our mouths. I’ve figured out they don’t know what sort of foreigner you are generally. German, English, Dutch usually. When we spoke in Italian to him he asked if we understood Italian. We said we did so he brought over Italian menus.

Here’s the fun part. This is a good example why I hate getting the English menu. They don’t really translate it fully or correctly. The first picture below is the English version of the Antipasto menu. The second picture is the Italian one. I count 10 choices on the English one and 16 on the Italian one. This illustrates how much tourists miss out on if they don’t at least understand “menu” Italian. What a difference! The subsequent pages were equally deficient.
antipasto_english

antipasto

They specialize in a dish called Caccio e Pepe. It is made by putting the hot pasta into the hollowed out rind of a parmigiano cheese. The cheese is scraped and stirred so it melts into the pasta. They also specialize in house-made Umbricelli. It is a very fat, dense, chewy spaghetti type of shape. Luther’s pasta was made in house and was what they call integrale or whole grain. Hence the slightly unappetizing color. Worm-colored…don’t think about it. He liked it! His second course was Cinghale or wild boar which they do wonderfully here. Sorry, my picture didn’t come out.

Here is the wheel of parmigiano in which they make the pasta.
caccio_pepe

Luther’s Umbricello.
luthers_pasta

I had caprese salad. The tomatoes should have been better, especially at this time of year. It tasted good. Then I got Umbricello too but mine was Carbonara with truffles. I had not had this is a long time as it is not normally on menus in Umbria. Carbonara was invented for the American soldiers after WWII in Rome because they had eggs!

My pasta.umbricelli_tartuffi
fork_umbricelli

We were sent on our way by a sweet angel. It was a nice outing…if very HOT!
angel

Zibu 2.0 Bistro

We have a new Bistro in town. It is a pop-up called Zibu 2.0 Bistro.
zibu_bistro2 There is a restaurant called Zibu 2.0 down the hill from us. They decided to try this pop up idea. The main restaurant has a beautiful space with vaulted stone ceilings. We have found the food spotty but continue to try it every so often. Then they had a wonderful little idea. Open an outdoor cafe with a limited menu in a pretty piazza. It is next to the town Opera House and Theater and La Rocca, our fortress. pretty_tables

It is a bit slap-dash in it’s furniture…mostly recycled things and mis-matched chairs. It also has sofas and places to sit and have a drink. Rather like an informal lounge.

We have gone a number of times. Once for a light dinner and the rest of the time for lunch. It is only a few steps from our door. The menu on the chalk board changes daily. zibu_bistro3

and they have a standing menu as well. menu
A few carefully chosen wines and beer on tap complete the menu. We do really enjoy it so I thought I’d give it some ink.

Today, Sunday, is a gorgous day. So clear with sunny skies and puffy clouds and a perfect temperature…a respite from the heat. We had a plate of fried squash blossoms which we shared.squash_blossom

Then Luther had pulled pork. A surprise! pulled_pork

And I had something called Suppli cacio e pepe. It was risotto with lots of Parmaghiano, shaped into cylinders and then they were breaded and fried. I decided to be adventurous an try it. It was GOOD!Suppli_cacio_e_pepe