We’ve been busy! Our Niece, Rachel, and her husband, Alex, came to visit for the second time and we were thrilled to have them. They are easy guests and up for anything. Our way of touring is to try to arrive at our destination for that day around eleven-ish, giving us a couple hours to walk and tour until lunch at around one. Lunch being the focal point of the day. I am sure many wouldn’t focus all around Pranzo, but we do! 🙂
They arrived on Saturday late-ish. We drove over the mountains on a twisty road to get to the train station at Torontola/Cortona and got them at 7:45. All along the way we saw the cinghiale or wild boars who come out around dusk for their nightly destruction. They are big and you wouldn’t want to hit one. Luckily they are also smart so keep out of the way. We returned and went straight to C’era una Volta. Always fun because there isn’t a menu. It is recited to you what they have that day.
Sunday. We had planned to go to Siena. We had tickets to see the duomo and then a reservation for lunch in a new place. The Duomo was amazing. I have been there before but this time we went inside and really appreciated it. The floors in particular are amazing. And we learned the church is black and white striped because of the legend of the origins of the city and the black and white horses the leaders rode. There is also a library of illuminated manuscripts from the 1400s which were amazing.
We headed over to the Campo. It is an enormous piazza in a shell shape where they hold the Palio twice a year, a bareback horse race held since 1633. Yes, 1633. There are 17 contrade in Sienna. These are neighborhoods. Each has an animal and a flag with that animal on it. 14 of these contrade get a horse to run in the Palio. It is decided by a lottery which get a horse. The contrade are fiercely competitive. The fish street light below is from one of the contrade.
We walked to our lunch destination in a rather off-the-beaten-track neighborhood. I chose it from reading the write ups and also because the chef is Japanese and the food is Italian with Japanese influences. Campo Cedro
Monday. We went to our nearby winery Vineria Carmine. We opted for the lunch and wine tasting. It was lovely as always. We toured the cellar which happens to have been designed by the Architect who is designing my kitchen here. They have two amphorae which they got in one of those recycle places here. Italians don’t throw anything away and always reuse things, like roof tiles, paving stones, doors etc. No one knew where they came from or how old they were. Turns out they date to the 700s and are from Puglia. No one knows how they got here.
Tuesday. We headed to Montepulciano, a pretty Tuscan hill town. It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. We found a good pay parking lot near the bottom gate into town. It is a pretty long walk up the hill and around the end to the Piazza Grande. We looked in the many small shops. Some pretty nice things! I bought a new purse. Rachel got one too and Alex got a beautiful black leather jacket, soft and smooth as butter.
We walked back down the hill and drove to our restaurant which was at the base of the hill next to the Tempio di San Biagio, a beautiful church across from which was our restaurant, La Grotta. We’ve been going here since 2001, even before we moved here. It is wonderful.
Wednesday. This was the day we chose for Rachel and Alex to rent bicycles and go for a little giro around the Upper Tiber Valley. I guess they rode for four hours or so. Then we all met up for a spritz at Bar Mary.
Thursday. We decided to go to nearby Perugia. We rode the Mini Metro up to near the center. We strolled around the beautiful 24 sided marble fountain and down the Corso Pietro Vannucci the main shopping street in the center. We visited the underground city. During the 16th century, the Baglioni Family, who held absolute power in Perugia, were fighting among themselves making the city vulnerable to a Papal interference. In 1540, the Pope made things worse by mandating that Perugia purchase their salt from Papal saltworks, at a higher cost compared to the salt from Siena, Tuscany.
Since salt was crucial for food preservation, this increase in price resulted in widespread starvation among the population. In response, Perugia declared itself a Republic and resisted the Papal troops, but was eventually defeated. It was during this period, known as the “salt wars,” that the custom of unsalted bread emerged. To this day Umbrian bread is made without salt making it flavorless.
At this time Pope Paul III was building a very visible and impressive fortress to show the power the Pope had over the city. This required the demolition of the Baglioni family’s main houses and fortified towers. The roads under the city are the original medieval roads roofed with impressive vaults to support the load of the fortress above of which nothing remains today. It was destroyed after the 1860 reunification of Italy to show how despised the Papal power was in Perugia.
Friday. We had decided to visit a casaficio or cheese making farm. Fattoria Calcabrina is an organic goat cheese farm near Montefalco and Bevagna. It is not set up to give tours and has a basic counter where they will let you taste the different cheeses. Rachel is very inquisitive and had many questions which the owner/cheese maker seemed happy to answer. It is not the optimal time for cheese in autumn. Spring is when to go when the kids have been born and the goats graze on the new spring grasses and herbs and are giving much delicious milk. We tasted all they had on offer and I bought one flavored with chives. There were a horse and several dogs and chickens but we didn’t see the goats. Here is Rachel with a Maremma dog happy to be petted.
After visiting the casaficio we went to see Bevagna. It was very quiet at this time of year. We strolled the pretty streets, took some pictures and ate at Ottavius.
Alas, all good things come to an end. We took them to the train station to catch a train to Fiumicino for their flight home tomorrow. They brought an empty suitcase which they filled up to the brim. Pastas, booze, leather goods, chocolate. We love having them as guests. They are up for anything with enthusiasm. In addition to our lunches out we dined out for dinner once, we got pizza once and I cooked pasta twice. The other nights we had varied stuzzicherà which is a meat, cheese, fruit, bread feast that is called a snack here. In the evenings we watched a series on YouTube which I highly recommend to those who love art, food and Italy. The first of the series is called Sicily Unpacked – three one hour segments. The next two seasons are called Italy Unpacked.
A la prossima!