In Umbria, olives are a way of life. The oil is amazing with grassy, peppery notes in your mouth. You drizzle it on bruschetta, meats, vegetables, soups and salads. Everyone in Umbria either has an olive grove or knows someone who has an olive grove who needs help with the harvest. It seems everyone gets involved. It is very inclusive and a real way of life here. The olives are all colors.
This is my second olive harvest. It’s been 3 years since my first one so I’m not a total newbie! There are about 70 trees spread out over the property which is beautiful, by the way. It is up above Calagrana, our friends Agriturismo.
We did the bottom field first. We started out being 12 people but by the end we were 9. A couple of the trees were definite overachievers. Just loaded with olives! It is a really full day of work. We help them set the nets under the trees, dragging them about and putting supports at the bottoms to keep the olives from rolling off. Then we use little rakes to rake the olives off the branches reaching as high as we can. Meanwhile someone works the “basher” which beats the upper branches to shake the olives down. Then you have to lift the nets and roll all the olives together and put them into plastic crates called cassetti. Physical labor all on hillsides so lots of up and down walking. I am proud to say I did it! For two full days! Not bad for an old broad.
When you participate in an olive harvest, there’s no telling what will happen. Our group started singing Mary Poppins songs. Turns out several of us knew all the words!! Chimchimanee, I Love to Laugh, Feed the Birds… fun!
By the end of the first day we had harvested less than half the trees and had 43 boxes of olives. A bountiful harvest! We had run out of boxes, and it was getting dark so the end of a productive day. Plan is to take the boxes to the Frantoio, or olive mill, and press them and return Monday for a final pass at the trees. There are some totally loaded trees on the upper slopes. Then they will take the rest to the mill for pressing. A real bumper crop this year.
We had a lovely after harvest dinner. Albi had prepared chili con carne for us all. Excellent and the perfect thing to fill our empty stomachs after a hard days work.
Monday we worked a second full day in the olive grove. Ely will pick again tomorrow and Wednesday. There are so many trees still to do. She went to the mill this morning with Saturday’s harvest which weighed in at 950 kilos and yielded 132 liters of oil and she says it is really good. Peppery and grassy. Just the way I like it 😋 This day we picked half again as many (with only 5 people) so should get another 60 liters and whatever else she does back to the mill. I took a tumble as did little Olie as the nets were wet and on a very steep slop. My feet would slide downhill. I could get no purchase. SO I decided to take a couple pictures of this amazing property. Autumn colors.
I’m going to the mill to take pictures Thursday with Ely for the final press. Second blog to come on that.
We had been anticipating our upcoming guests, Chuck and Terry. Chuck is Luther’s cousin and Terry is his wife. They live in Knoxville. I had only met Chuck once or twice and very long ago. We had a superb time with them. It is always a pleasure to have guests who so obviously enjoy everything we show them and are always up for anything.
We went to Montone the evening they arrived for a dinner at Antica Osteria. It was good as always. The next day we had planned to go to Assisi which is always the top site to see in Umbria. Terry bought a pretty purse at Michaelangelo Leather shop right in the main piazza. I also was interested to look at the briefcases they had which were quite plentiful. I have a friend coming soon who will be looking for this item.
The day was amazing. The mornings in Umbertide are always very foggy starting in about September. It is like clockwork every year! It burns off in an hour or so. The sky was brilliant blue. Here are some Assisi pictures.
After all that sightseeing we took a break for lunch. We ate at Piazetta dell’Erbe as we almost always do. My favorite restaurant there. I had the octopus and the black gnocci with truffles and parmesan cream.
After lunch we visited Deruta where Chuck and Terry bought a beautiful bowl for her table. I hope they got it home safe and sound.
On Wednesday we were expecting the Stufa serviceman so we had to stick close. But then, it is market day with plenty to do right in town. I introduced Chuck and Terry to the Porchetta Panini. Makes a decent breakfast. We wandered the stalls and afterward we went to Patrick’s Enoteca for lunch.
That evening we had my World Famous Bolognese sauce on Strangozzi. 🙂 Everyone seemed to like it.
Thursday we thought we’d go wine tasting. It was overcast and showered on and off but not too bad. First we visited DeFilippo Winery. They are Bio-dynamic and use natural pest control…geese! and horses to plow.
We had time for one more winery and ended up at Pardi in Montefalco. This winery, where we’ve been once before, is owned by a pair of brothers. They are trying interesting things with wine.
Next was…what else? Lunch! We had a reservation at L’Alchimista in Montefalco. We did sit outside despite the sprinkles which we had to shift a couple of times to avoid under the Umbrella.
The visit passed too fast but we did get in three full days with them and we hope they come back to visit us soon. They are always welcome.
While they were packing up to go I was making a gazpacho with a bunch of itty bitty vegetables that my friend Angela had given me. All kinds of things and only a little of each so I though they would work well for a Gazpacho. It did smell wonderful while cooking and nearly got Chuck and Terry to stay a while longer…
I’ve begun a walking regime since my knee is still recovering and I figure walking will help both it, and the rest of me! So, sometimes I combine the walk with an errand or two I need to run. Today, I needed to visit the post office. Always a treat 😏. The following is the trip in photos.
020 – that’s me! Finito! Successfully mailed my package.
Umbertide has everything we need. Some of it is not so pretty but it is functional unlike some of those pretty hill towns. They usually are all looks and no substance.
Ah. It’s the season for the Yellow Waves of … Tobacco?! Yes, tobacco.
From about Perugia, northward to the mountains and the source of the Tiber river is fertile ground for tobacco. All along the river plain and up into the valleys to the east and west you will see field after field of tobacco. It is a huge cash crop for the farmers around here.
It is used to make cigarettes and also the Tuscan cigars. Umbria is one of three regions in italy to grow tobacco, the other two are the Veneto and Campagnia.
Farmers practice rotation of their fields. The rotating crops are: sunflowers, corn, winter wheat, tobacco, and one year the field is fallow. Sometimes they plant legumes and plow them under in the fallow year. It enriches the soil.
I figure it’s none of my business who grows what and I don’t mind if they grow tobacco. I won’t be smoking it but many people do. And to tell the truth, it is a beautiful plant. Especially now when it turns from dark, forest green to bright lime, to yellow.
Tobacco facts… …
I found out it is in the same family as eggplant, pepper, petunia, potato, and tomato. Tobacco has a small seed, which cannot be sown directly in the field; seedlings are raised in selected and tended seedbeds where protection is given against heavy rain and excess sun; young seedlings are planted out by hand or mechanical transplanter, and spacing between seedlings and rows varies with the kind of tobacco and with the location. Tobacco is picked when leaves are “ripe”. Leaves ripen progressively from the bottom of the plant to the top, so lugs (the bottom leaves) are picked first and tips picked last.
Life cycle in pictures
The plants must be watered throughout the growing season. Most fields are within a short distance of a water source so water can be pumped to irrigate the fields. This field is just beside the Tiber river.
Beginning to ripen. Typically tobacco is picked six times, with three leaves taken per pick and six leaves in the final pick. Gradual picking may continue for 2 months. These have the very bottom picked already.
There are harvesters that take just the leaves from the bottom off and work their way to the top as they ripen to leave the stalks. The leaves are piled high into green farm wagons pulled by tractors to the ovens found throughout the area. Here is a row of ovens. The tobacco is half dried here and packed and shipped for final processing.
It is a seasonal rite around this area so I look forward to watching. And it is a part of the rhythm of life. The beginning of Autumn.
I try to keep my blog totally apolitical. That’s not what I’m trying to communicate in this blog. But Italy and the EU has a situation now. And this post may seem a bit political but I hope everyone will read it with compassion. Or don’t read it. That’s fine too.
As you may know Italy had a significant election this year and a coalition was formed. The main party called the Lega, is right wing, anti-immigrant. Salvini is the person in charge of the ports and he has blocked the incoming droves of immigrants rescued from flimsy rafts in the Mediterranean. He wants the EU to step up and start taking some of them. To do their part.
My friend and I met up for coffee last week and we got on the topic of immigration. In the last few years the EU has generally closed its internal borders and any entry points to the African immigrants coming by the boatload to Europe. Largely they land in Italy and Greece, the two closest places. These two countries are the least able, of the EU countries, to help them, and because the borders are closed elsewhere they get bottled up here. I was saying to my friend that I didn’t like the economic immigrants just looking for a better future. That I was OK with the ones, families, women, children, fleeing war. 95% of the people who arrive are young, single men from sub-Saharan Africa with no skills. My friend mentioned that most of the immigrants to the US were economic immigrants, Irish, Italians, etc. And she was right. And these immigrants to the US took advantages of the opportunities offered there and worked hard and made it. The American Dream. But sadly, Italy cannot even offer it’s own children opportunity, let alone 700,000 immigrants with no skills to offer. Italy has no way to help them succeed. I think other countries in the EU do offer more opportunity. Too bad they are unwilling to share it. 😢
I hope the American Dream can live on in our wonderful, strong country. America has benefited, and will benefit so much from the majority of the immigrants. I hope we will continue (or resume) to welcome them and offer them the opportunities, if they work for them, as their predecessors have. Because we CAN do that.
I have noticed I have a number of email subscribers that are Bots, i.e., not really people. I have no idea why anyone would target my blog as it is non-commercial etc. but for whatever reason, they do. SO I am going to go through my list of subscribers and purge the addresses that look suspicious to me. I’m telling you this so you will know that there is an off chance I will delete a REAL person by mistake! So if you notice you are not getting posts in your email from me in the future you may want to check the page and if there are posts you missed, re-subscribe. Sorry for any inconvenience!
So August is upon us. The time of year when one cannot accomplish anything because everyone is on vacation. So we have enforced down-time which I guess isn’t so bad. It has been, still is, and will be for the foreseeable future very HOT. Staying inside with all the shutters closed. Drinking cool drinks…speaking of that! August 1 is the day everyone has to have a glass of white wine to keep the snakes away…unless the person who told me that was just pulling my leg! I’ll have a glass of wine anyway!
So I’m just catching up on things now that I’m home and idle. A couple of weeks ago we had a magnificent display of flag throwing. The flag throwers were from a small town called San Gemini in southern Umbria. I took a ton of pictures. Here is one.
And about a month ago we had the opportunity to go on a tour of Civitella Ranieri. This is the castle, built in the 1400s, which is on a hill above our town. It is leased by a foundation based in NYC named the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. It is an artist residency program that hosts Fellows and Director’s Guests at our castle. But on this occasion they were opening the castle to guided tours. It is a magnificent building. Here are a few photos.
House for sale
And finally, our friends Joseph and Paul, who live just across the Piazza from us have decided to put their wonderful apartment on the market. It is definitely a one of a kind property in the heart of Umbertide. Totally renovated and beautiful from stem to stern. But I will let the websites which show this apartment speak for themselves. By the way, some of you may remember this one from the House Hunters International a few years ago.
I know many of my loyal followers are interested in someday coming to live here in Italy. And they also may have friends they can pass this along to. So I am showing these listings from my friends as a favor to them. And BONUS! they are offering $1,000 to anyone who finds a buyer that closes.
***a mama bunny and her babies!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 5-8€ for an appetizer. 12€ 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.
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.
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.
Train travel is reasonable. One way to Florence from here is 12€. We take the Frecciabianca from Folognio to Rome fairly often. It’s reasonable (from 16.90€ on the fast Freccia 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.
Saturday we visited the Only Wine Fest in Citta di Castello. It was a nice day and we got there at 2pm when they opened to beat the crowds. I took a seat and watched the comings and goings focusing on fashion rather than wine.
A great day to welcome spring. Thanks Ely and Albi!
Spring is fully in progress. Today is April 25, Liberation day for Italy and the end of WWII so a national holiday. In Umbertide it is a more somber day. On this day in 1944 the allies bombed the town killing 78 people and destroying about a quarter of the Centro Storico of the town. They were trying to hit the bridge over the Tiber and the railroad to block the retreat of the Germans. They had to try four times before they hit the bridge, meanwhile doing a lot of damage. The sad part is that Perugia knew they were coming an didn’t warn the citizens, who were mostly still asleep in their homes. Had they been warned they may have evacuated. A sad tale. Anyway, they have a Catholic ceremony in Piazza 25 Aprile and the band plays and everyone comes out early in the morning to remember when it happened.
As I was watching from my window the Carabiniere showed up in their shiny black and red car. They are the State Military police whose spiffy uniforms were originally designed by Armani. Anyway, they climbed out of the car and started toward Bar Mary for a caffe but as they walked a woman called out to them and one broke off and went over to her, giving her the double kiss of greeting. I couldn’t help comparing them to our police in the US. Hmmm.
Yesterday my friend Jen and I went for a little drive around the neighborhood. I took her to one of my favorite places nearby, the Abbey of San Salvatore in Montecorona. The Romanesque church was built with three naves and an octagonal bell tower and was consecrated in 1105. My favorite part of the church is the crypt. It feels very ancient and special. The crypt has five-naves and three apses dominated by roman and old medieval columns, each one different from the other. Check out my pictures.
Montecorona is also known for its famous peaches. These trees are just down the road from the church. The church is situated at the foot of Montecorona, a small mountain. On its top is part of the abbey associated with the church. The road itself is the old Roman road that followed the Tiber river valley south. It is very narrow. Barely room for two cars to pass in places.
On Saturday Luther and I made a nice excursion to Deruta, the famous ceramics town. I have slowly been gathering a six place setting of ceramics. I ordered another set and some salt and pepper shakers. And I bought this pretty little serving plate. It is the pattern that I chose but each place setting is a different color. This time it’s teal. Last time it was navy, and the time before it was a wine red color. See the detail on the serving plate I bought. Every intricate pattern and dot is hand painted. Hence the cost!
And a mundane issue. My Lavatrice — washer — died last week. So we walked over to our local Formica store. Formica means ant in Italian. No idea why a chain of stores would be called that! Anyway, they had a good selection and we chose a new washer and drier which were delivered and installed the next day. We went back and paid for them after I tried them out. They are so much better than the old ones!