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Sestri Levante and the Ligurian coast

For our anniversary we decided we needed a short trip to celebrate. First trip since last September. Long, long days of lockdowns and restrictions. We decided to go to the Mediterranean coast. North of the Cinque Terre and south of Genoa. We haven’t explored this area before.

We left Umbertide at eleven. It’s only around a three and a half hour drive. We stopped for a picnic. They don’t make that easy in Italy. They have rest stops but they seldom have a picnic area. I think we did see three places with a parcheggio and tables but two of them were too early and the one we thought was perfect was closed! So we kept going. Finally by 2PM we found a rest stop with a few picnic tables in front of a shop. We decided to just go for it. I’d brought some pasta pesto salad and some fried chicken. Can you say picnic? We also had some wine. So it all worked out.

We continued and arrived in Sestri around three. We were staying in the Hotel Vis a Vis. Way up high above the town. As always, the parking and access are ridiculous. The hotel assured us there was parking. And I guess technically there is. The drive up to the hotel was several very sharp hairpins and super steep. We negotiated it OK but, not having ever been here before we didn’t know what we were headed for. We were nearly at the top and a woman waved us back. So we backed up and got out of the way…two cars cannot possibly pass each other. The woman helped her husband to get out of his parking place…no easy feat. We figured we would continue on up and we took his parking place. Luther said he didn’t fancy taking the car back out so we will probably just hang around the ‘hood and see what’s to be seen. At least for tomorrow.

Reception checked us in and took us to our room which wasn’t quite finished so we went to the rooftop bar for a drink. Beautiful space. Views to die for. I forgot my big camera but this one is from my phone. It’s the view. And the bay is called the Bay of Silence. Isn’t that a pretty name?


After relaxing and getting cleaned up we enjoyed the bottle of champagne and strawberries we had in our room while watching the football match — Italy/Wales…Italy won 🙂. Then we headed for dinner. The restaurant in the hotel is Olimpio. On the fourth floor with glass walls all around. Good table spacing. It was my first time eating inside a restaurant since last fall. The sunset was gorgeous.

The meal was good. I had oysters again. And we split the Dorado catch of the day. It was baked in a salt crust and beautiful and tender.

Monday
Morning and it is our actual anniversary. First to breakfast. They have it in the dining room and there is a nice outside garden space. Typical Italian breakfast with many breads and pastries, yogurts, ham and cheese. Also available were hard boiled eggs and toast and cereal. For extra money, you could get eggs anyway or a whole list of omelets.

Today we planned to explore the town and do a walking tour. So by around 10am we were off. The hotel has this cool elevator that goes right down through the mountain to the street level below. Makes for easy access to the beach and the town. The first thing I noticed was the brightly painted houses. And many, many trompe l’oeil facades. This yellow house below has a flat wall. The 3-D affects are painted on. Very well done I say. There were many, many more in town painted like this.

We walked down to scope out our restaurant choice for tonight. It is on the Bay of Silence, named Portobello and owned by our hotel. The bay of silence has a breakwater and is quite small.

We did a lot of walking. It is pretty touristy with small streets. We stopped for refreshments. Here are some pictures.

We returned and rested and cleaned up and headed for dinner. Portabella was a nice place right on the beach with much to watch. Little kids were still out playing on the beach. Adults were swimming. Boats were returning.

Liguria has very different food from our part of Italy. It is almost completely seafood based, but what is the biggest surprise is the prominent place potatoes play in so many dishes. When we were here a couple years ago I had octopus which was served atop a pile of mashed potatoes. I was surprised. But now I see it was not unusual. My pasta dish was a thin twisted pasta served with a sauce of cooked diced potatoes, green beans and pesto. Of course, everyone knows pesto was invented in Genoa so I had to try it. It was a strange dish. But very good! Luther got stuffed anchovies. They also use a lot of olives and tomatoes in their dishes so it had that. For his main meal he had a seafood dish with a prawn, mussels, a scallop, and a little tower of fish, potatoes and other things. I had a filet of Ombrina. They called it Croaker in English but it sure wasn’t anything like the Croaker I’ve had in Virginia. Very dense and thick white fish. I finished with a scoop of sorbet. A nice anniversary dinner.

Tuesday
We have two nice balconies. One faces the town. One faces the water. Every morning and evening I spend a lot of time out there.

We decided to explore the coast north of Sestri this day. This meant we needed to move our car 😳. Just kidding, it wasn’t too bad. Our parking spot was better than most, believe me! It’s like sardines here. Once we got out , we held our breath that no one would be coming up the driveway. It is not big enough to pass.

We headed for Portofino so we could say we had been. It was a bit of an ordeal. Driving there is not recommended. Judging from the number of people we saw walking along the road I’d guess most people get there on foot. We did make it and as anticipated there was no parking. So we returned to Santa Margherita Levante, the town just next to Portofino. I did manage to snap a nice picture of Portofino on our way out.

Turns out there was quite a lot of street parking in Santa Margherita. The Angelo Giallo.

Once parked we wandered the town. It’s very cute and has a lot of small streets and nice shops, restaurants and bars. We stopped for refreshments. I tried a spritz made of St Germain, Prosecco, ginger ale, ginger and mint. It was refreshing.

We found a lunch spot, Il Patio, and had a tasty lunch. I had spaghetti with vongole, spaghetti with clams. Luther had a fish Ligurian style.

While we were eating a blackbird found a treasure just across from us! A cherry. He had a good time pecking and chasing it and pecking it again. I got a pretty good shot.

Pictures of some of the streets.

They had a pretty and very baroque church.

We returned to Sestri and stopped in the supermarket to buy a picnic for dinner. It would be beautiful to sit on the balcony and watch the evening come. But first we wanted to go to the roof top bar one more time before we left. It is a beautiful place.

We had cocktails. I had a Mojito. Luther a spritz. They always bring a nice plate of munchies to go along with any drinks you order in Italy. It is not done to drink without eating.

We enjoyed our picnic of cold meats, cheeses and fresh sweet cherries. The weather was wonderful.

All in all it was a nice and relaxing trip. I would go back to this area again. It wasn’t my favorite beach but the town itself was nice. The hotel Vis a Vis was not quite the cruise ship it tried to be. It had lots of good things going for it. They just need to up their game on a few easily fixed items in the room.

We left at around 10:30AM and got home by 2PM. It is ungodly hot in Umbertide. Like a blast oven. It makes me want to go RIGHT back to Sestri!

Ciao for now!

Catch up

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted. We have been doing a few things. Mostly mundane. We had a Calagrana lunch last week with two couples. Then we had a lovely invitation from Vera and family to their mountain house. It is three kilometers up a winding mostly gravel and dirt road. They are at the very end. So beautiful up there. It was just us and the family. A simple barbecue but so nice. Le regazze!

Some of the food.

The week was full of chores. We have to replace some of our zanzariere. Zanzara is the word for mosquito. Say it out loud. Doesn’t it make you think of the zzzzzzz noise a mosquito makes beside your ear? Two of the screens are ripped and several no longer hook down as they should. They said they’d come next week. And yet again we are trying to get our Tessere Sanitaria renewed. But we needed an appointment so we go next week.

Finally today we had a little fun. We met up with a friend who is buying a house here. He has been stuck in the US because of the travel restrictions but he finally got here this week to see his house. And we had lunch at Nonna Gelsa, a nearby restaurant. Ravioli with pistachio pesto.

Tomorrow I start packing for our little getaway. Leaving on Sunday. First trip since our lockdown from last fall. We are going to Sestri Levante on the Mediterranean. North of the Cinque Terre and south of Genoa. It is to celebrate our anniversary. I will do a trip report, of course!

Ciao! 🌈

Umbertide is back!

Eurocup. Italy versus Turkey. Back in the olden days. Before Covid. We had exciting gatherings in front of Bar Mary to watch sporting events. Mostly soccer, or football as they call it here. Since Covid things have been different, but tonight! Tonight! There’s a huge crowd outside. Bar Mary, as of old, has set up a big TV and the chairs are all pulled up to watch the game. Cheering erupts at intervals. I can hear it well up here. See the fun…

Makes me happy.

Winery visit — La Palerna

Today my friend Elizabeth Wholey arranged a wine tasting and lunch for us. It was a pretty day and we took off north — way north. To the very top of Umbria. It meets up with Tuscany and to the east Le Marche. Three regions. This winery is not in a wine region. It is in an unlikely location. And they are focusing on the Pinot Noir — Pinot Nero — wine grape. Also an unlikely choice. The winery is called La Palerna. It is at an altitude of 650 meters. High above the upper Tiber valley. Owned by Luigi Merendelli and his wife Paola. They own a large packaging company called Vimer. Here is the view from the winery.

We were greeted by Rosanna. She has worked for the Vimer industries and the family in different capacities for a long time. She is Swedish born but was raised in Luxembourg. She married and moved to the Upper Tiber Valley with her husband who is from here. Now she is in charge of sales and marketing of the Palerna winery.

We toured the property with the permission of Paola to include their beautiful grounds.

Rosanna took us around the property. We saw some of the vines and also the orto, or vegetable garden.

Orto, well fenced in to protect from the animals
Sangiovese leaf.
Pinot Noir leaf
Vine, Pinot Noir, has red stems
Sangiovese has green stems. See the baby grapes?

Next we toured inside the winery. These are the methode champenoise bottles. They are turned a quarter turn every week and slightly tipped higher. It encourages the sediment to slide into the neck where it can be popped out before corking.

Rosanna provided us with a lovely antipasti to complement the wines we tasted. They are very proud of their Methode Champenoise sparkling wine. Nudo di Palerna. 100% Pinot Noir.

She sources her food locally. We had a big platter of toasted bread drizzled with their oil.

We had the Mozzarella di Bufala from la Fattoria Montelupo. I buy mozarella often. I am a huge fan of the cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo. It is famed from down south in Campania. I’ve had it a number of times and am always blown away by the rich creaminess. It is NOTHING like common mozzarella. Well, I am here to tell you this is the real deal. Made from the milk of water buffaloes just north of us. The fat in both the olive oil and the cheese is cut by the sparkling wine which is why it’s paired. A marriage not to be beat!

Next we tried their Rosatto. Or Rose to us. Made from Pinot Noir and Sangiovese grapes.

She paired this one with meats. Salami and cured ham or proscuitto. Also from a local producer – Azienda Agricola Pigolotti. Along with a plate of bruschetta with pomodori…tomatoes.

Next we had. This was an everyday quaffing wine. Only €8.00. This is a normal price for decent but not fancy wine. We had this one with two local cheeses. Both pecorino.

Then, the prized Pinot Nero. This is not a normal grape here. We have only seen it at one other place near Orvieto. Sr. Merendelli fell in love with the French Pinot Noir and decided to dedicate much of his vineyard to this grape.

And finally Cospaia1441. It is made from Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It is nice with a lot of fruit and boldness. But the best part is where it got it’s name. It seems the border between Tuscany and the Papal State of Umbria was not fixed. There was constant fighting. So, finally, in 1441 the two agreed the small river running from the Marche down to the Tiber river would be the border. The north would be owned by Tuscany and the south would remain a Papal state. Due to a technical error, they seemed to not mention an island in the river. So it was neither Tuscany, nor Umbria, but a free and independent republic for almost 400 years! The label has a floating island on it held up by balloons. The motto of the land was “perpetua et firma libertas” — “firm and perpetual liberty”.

Here are Rosanna and my friend Elizabeth.

An excellent excursion. Other than a bit of haze it was a beautiful day. Let it be the first of many more!

Information of little import…

I say “information of little import..” but actually, if anyone comes to Italy to live, or even to rent an apartment and stay awhile, it could be useful. Just another quirk of Italian packaging.

As in most places, you can buy already made hamburger patties in the store here. I don’t usually because I prefer to make my own. But our favorite butcher, Etrusco, has the best beef and the burgers are juicy not dry, so I do buy some when I’m there. Luther is a real burger hound! They come individually wrapped in a packaged like this…

Looks good right? (Sorry to my vegetarian friends!) comes out of the package ready to slap on the grill. Not so fast. When we first moved here I learned this lesson. Watch and learn.

As you can see, there’s an invisible plastic sheet. Now, I can understand when you buy four patties in a stack you don’t want them to stick together so you’d do this. But this one is in an INDIVIDUAL plastic pack. There is NO NEED for plastic, and on BOTH sides! I learned my lesson by melting the plastic into the patty the first time. Live and learn! 😅😅
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Enjoy your week, and be sure to — “rimuovere la plastica prima della cottura!“ 😁

Tenuta Borgo Santa Cecelia

Today we had yet another excellent adventure. More correctly we had an excellent Pranzo. Luther had read in a column he subscribes to called Doctor Wine, about a albergo and restaurant that was highly rated and not very far from us. It is called Tenuta Borgo Santa Cecelia. No one I know has been there that I know of. It is not new. They said it was opened in 2014. Closed for a while because of the earthquakes and then got closed again by Covid. A rough road.

It is in a beautiful place. It took about 25 minutes by car to get there. It was in the middle of nowhere, but that nowhere was amazingly, stunningly Umbrian beauty at its best. You could see the Apennine Mountains in the distance. And all around, because we were way up on a ridge with 360 degree views, farms and forest. The Tenuta came into view. A group of honey colored buildings.

We were welcomed and seated on a pretty terrace. We proceeded to be wowed by the food. Sometimes you can’t help but wonder how a place that’s fairly remote gets their business. The place was perfectly and stylishly decorated. The lawn was manicured. It was elegant but without being stuffy. Comfortable and welcoming. And where did they get a chef so talented as this one to come out there? We did ask. He is from Gubbio. This restaurant is about halfway between Umbertide and Gubbio. He trained in the north and has cooked all over the North. But the owner of the Tenuta lured him home from Bologna. So. Let’s see what he could do! This first one is the view from our table.

This was the gift from the chef to start us off. Such a nice presentation. On the left are egg shells filled with a very creamy, very cheesy custard. The orange dots are “smoked butter”. It was great. The one on the right has two potato bread balls with a house cured slice of venison. Pleasantly tangy.

We ordered and the antipasti arrived. I just got shots of Luther and my dishes. He got what translated as tuna of rabbit. It was beautiful and the vegetables with it were the star, and Luther never raves about vegetables. Mine was puréed smoked cauliflower with a cream on top. Porcini mushrooms and cauliflower and crunchy brined almonds. I think it was one of the best things I’ve ever had. I should say, the veggies come from there, the game is wild from the property. They actual forage for some of the vegetables in the forest and fields around there.

We all chose a secondi. I ordered the venison, Gary and Luther got the lamb and Susan got the pigeon. All were superb but my venison was the star. It had a wild herb pesto with it and a foraged green.

Hungry yet? 😁 Our wine was about perfect. Lungarotti Rubesco can’t be beat.

The portions were perfect for us and we had room for dessert. They had four different ones. We got one of each and shared. Mine was honey, whipped cream and honey gelato. Luther had Mont Blanc which was pie-like. There was also a pear one, and a chocolate one.

Finally, a goodbye gift. A chocolate cookie with a dab of coffee cream, and a chip with a Campari reduction. That Campari had a real bite.

It was a very wonderful lunch. Our friends, Susan and Gary and Luther and I have always enjoyed a new restaurant to try. This one was especially liked because we are just getting to exercise our freedoms and it was such a surprise. A real FIND as we are fond of saying. We will go back. And it is a great place for us to bring guests, if ever we get them again!

Arrivederci and have a great Sunday!

Torlonia Marbles – Rome

Off to see the the Torlonia Marbles in Rome. They have been long buried from sight. They are amazing. Here is a great link from BBC about the Marbles.

We drove to Foligno and took the 9:20 Frecciabianca. Comfortable train, fast and with few stops we arrived by 11am. When we exited the Termini Stazione we first saw a vaccination clinic set up in front in the parking lot. I’ve heard Lazio, the Region that Rome is in, is doing very well with the vaccines. Most of the people waiting looked young.

We took a taxi for our 11:30 tour. I bought the tickets online. We’ve only been to Rome four or five times in our lives. This was a very different Rome. As so many have said, it’s empty. Our first trip there many years ago we foolishly drove. When we FINALLY got to our hotel the desk clerks asked “what made you think you could drive in Rome?!” We have avoided it ever since. But yesterday? The taxi zoomed freely down the wide and mostly empty streets. It was a breeze. I said to Luther “we could do this!”.

The taxi let us off at the bottom of Capitoline Hill. Now it is a series of museums but back in the Roman times it was where the Senate met. It’s up high with great views all around. On our way we passed a great viewing point for the Roman Forum. It was empty, save for a couple of families. Once up on top, it again was quiet. As Luther said, “you could hear a mouse dropping…” sorry 😊. We found the entrance and went into the exhibit. Do read the article I linked above to understand where these Marbles came from, how the man who collected them locked them away in a filthy space for years and years. See below picture I borrowed.

Now they shine brilliant, bright white. I found the faces of the statues so expressive. I did take a “few” pictures. So I’ll post some here. Hard to choose which to pick, so I put a lot in. They all come from Rome or Greece and are dated from around 200 BC to 300 AD. I will include text in the captioning under the pictures if I can remember anything.

Old man from Otricoli. Luni Marble.
Frieze detail.
Frieze detail.
Seaport. Greek marble.
This is a magnificent bowl. One piece of marble. Enormous. You can see Luther’s leg just stepping out for reference.
I love the detail of the basket.
Odysseus, escaped from a blind giant by hiding under a sheep. The giant was touching everything that was leaving. All he touched here was a sheep…so Odysseus got away.
Baby strangling a goose.
Guy lost his head…but his nose? I guess maybe they cut it off first. I’m sure there’s a story somewhere.
Statue of a resting goat. Amazing detail. Greek marble.
Of all the statues I’ve ever seen, this is the ONLY one with a ‘stash. Check it out!
Archer. Greek marble.
A satyr, the caption said. I thought they were goat-men, but apparently not always. There were two side by side. They were so relaxed.
I love this statue. Don’t remember what it was called.
Married couple.

We were hungry now and had reserved a table in a restaurant nearby. Ristorante Dulcis in Fundo. Took us a while to figure out how to get off the Capitoline hill and down to the normal streets. On the way we passed a great overlook of the Forum. Amazing. And with only a couple people in it.

Then this place was tucked away on a small, and quiet street. Nice outside space. Yesterday was the day restaurants can serve inside, but I prefer to be outside. As we sat down, I spied, with my little eye, another patron eating a plate of oysters on the half shell. I haven’t had them since my last trip home which was two years ago now. We got menus, in English. I hate English menus. So I asked for Italian ones. But the oysters were nowhere to be seen. The word for oysters is Ostriche. But when I asked they assured me I could get them. So I did! And then a plate of fat noodles with shrimp. Very good. Luther got the antipasto fruiti di mare. Seafood plate. And then a spaghetti with shrimp.

All in all the day in Rome was great fun. We returned on the 5:25 Frecciabianca and were back in Umbria by 7pm. One of the reasons we like it here is that both Rome and Florence are easy day trips. It’s good to visit the big city, but I want to live in a smaller town. For me, big cities are fun only in small doses.
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Today is Republic day which commemorates the end of the Monarchy in Italy. The people voted to do away with them. It’s a national holiday. Buona festa della repubblica! 🇮🇹

New “zone” designations in Italy

The Local has just published the new destinations for the regions so I thought I would pass it along and also the restrictions or lack thereof within the regions.

Three Italian regions – Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Molise and Sardinia – are under ‘white zone’ rules from Monday 31st May, following the latest ordinance signed by the health minister on Friday. Abruzzo, Veneto, Liguria and Umbria will turn white the week after, the government has said. These regions are being downgraded from ‘yellow zone’ risk status to white as planned, as the health data continues to improve across the country.

Under ‘white zone’ restrictions, regions can drop most of the restrictions currently in place in yellow zones, including the evening curfew and the restrictions on opening hours for businesses, including restaurants.

The regions moving into white zones will be able to drop the last remaining restrictions, and reopen indoor restaurants and bars, fairs, theme parks, conferences and indoor swimming pools and hold weddings earlier than planned under the national roadmap for reopening.

So far, only mask-wearing and social distancing rules must remain in place in white zones, the health minister has said.

For now, nightclubs and discos are still suspended and it is not known if or when Italy May relax the rules in wearing masks outdoors.

And the final set of rules in each region depends on the local authority, as each is free to impose stricter restrictions than those set by the national government.

The regions moving into the low-restriction white zone have registered fewer than 50 coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants for three weeks consecutively – the threshold for determining white zone eligibility.

The regions moving into white zones will be able to drop the last remaining restrictions, and reopen indoor restaurants and bars, fairs, theme parks, conferences and indoor swimming pools and hold weddings earlier than planned under the national roadmap for reopening. 

So far, only mask-wearing and social distancing rules must remain in place in white zones, the health minister has said.

For now, nightclubs and discos are still suspended and it is not known if or when Italy may relax the rules on wearing masks outdoors.

And the final set of rules in each region depends on the local authority, as each is free to impose stricter restrictions than those set by the national government.

Yay for us here in Umbria….I hope we keep up the good work! 🇮🇹

Beautiful day for lunch outside!

Of course, outside is our only choice right now but that set to change next week I think. We had originally been going with another couple but turns out they got their vaccination appointments right at the time of our lunch so they had to cancel. It had been so long since we had been to l’Alchemista we decided to just change our reservation to two and still go.

A gorgeous day today too. Sunny and highs of 28C or 82F. Montefalco is a hill town about fifty minutes from us set in the famous Sagrantino wine region. It is also known for it’s high quality olive oil. Here are some pictures along the drive taken from the car so not the best. I have always thought this is the prettiest part of Umbria.

We reached the hill town and I took a picture from just outside the walls. The big, round mountain is Monte Subasio. The pilgrimage town of Assisi is on the left of the picture on the mountain side. The plain has the town of Cannara, famous for its onions. Back in Roman times it was a lake.

We were greeted like long lost friends and seated on the outside dining terrace. It is in the main square and has spread out to about double its previous size. It was so nice to see all the happy faces, not just of the diners but even the wait staff seemed happy. It has been a long dry spell of them so I’m sure they are pleased to be back.

We had their delicious olive oil, brilliant green, and their homemade bread while we chose our food. They brought us a gift from the chef which was delicious. A small scoop of cheese and cream whipped almost to a custard with a drop of blood red pepper jelly and a crispy fried piece of faro. Sorry, I got carried away and took a taste before I thought to photo it.

My meal started with La Stracciata, scrambled eggs with truffles. Light and tasty. Then I chose the hamburgher, as they spelled it. It was nothing like a regular hamburger. They described it as “gourmet, knife cut, beef hamburger on guacamole, carmelized red onions, crunchy bacon, and ‘Brancaleone’ cheese from Norcia”. It was very good. Pictures…

And to see the inside…

Excellent Montefalco Sagrantino.

It was a lovely lunch on a lovely day. And it was a real pleasure to do a little road trip out of our area.
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Enjoy your holiday everyone. Let’s hope the summer stays safe and we can all have some fun.