At Leisure

LEAVE ROME ITS COLOS­SEUM AND PARIS ITS EIFEL TOWER; LET TUS­CANY HAVE ITS CHI­ANTI WINES AND HORDES OF VIS­I­TORS. WHERE I’M GO­ING IS ITALY’S RECLU­SIVE CHILD, UM­BRIA – EUROPE’S BONA FIDE SLOW-FOOD HQ.

World Travel Magazine - - Contents - WORDS & PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY CINDY-LOU DALE

Forgo Italy’s over-touristed re­gions, in­stead drive on to Um­bria and ser­e­nade in it’s ar­chi­tec­ture, land­scapes, cas­tles – and the food.

Af­ter col­lect­ing my Maserati from Mo­dena, I take a leisurely road-trip through Um­bria’s un­du­lat­ing land­scape of quilted fields and steepled vil­lages. The fetch­ing vis­tas are in ev­ery imag­in­able hue of green and dot­ted with small farms where geese and chick­ens loi­ter along road­sides that sel­dom see pass­ing cars. Um­bria is also one of Italy’s most fer­tile cor­ners, a re­gion of old-fash­ioned food tra­di­tions, where re­fined in­gre­di­ents boom.

CASTELLO DI MON­TI­CELLI, NEAR PERU­GIA

Right at the top of my Um­bria mustdo list is to spend a night in a cas­tle, the grand­est of which is Castello di Mon­ti­celli, sur­rounded by two acres of gar­dens and ter­races, six acres of for­est, and a large patch of land where or­ganic pro­duce is grown.

Pro­pri­etor Ellen Krauser ex­plains, “Castello di Mon­ti­celli started life in the 6th cen­tury as a fortress, then she was a monastery, which be­came a hunt­ing lodge and in the last cen­tury, she was a prison dur­ing the World Wars. My busi­ness part­ner, Prof Giuseppe Tul­lio, and I spent 18 years re­in­stat­ing the me­dieval fea­tures of ev­ery room.”

Din­ner is an al fresco, four-course event with typ­i­cal lo­cal pro­duce; and break­fast, taken in a glass fronted con­ser­va­tory fac­ing the val­ley and Peru­gia in the dis­tance, is a con­ti­nen­tal in­dul­gence.

MA­JOLICA CE­RAM­ICS, DERUTA

At first I felt cer­tain the beau­ti­ful stone town of Deruta is like all the other me­dieval ham­lets in ru­ral Um­bria, but walk­ing through its an­cient gates I soon see its claim to fame. The streets are lined with ce­ramic shops, work­shops, fac­to­ries, pot­tery schools – there’s even a ce­ram­ics mu­seum and a place to try your hand at the pot­ter’s wheel and be­come an ar­ti­san’s ap­pren­tice for just the day.

I visit Grazia Maioliche Ce­ram­ics, a cen­turies old ce­ramic fac­tory, and meet with Dr Ubaldo Grazia who speaks of his fam­ily’s his­tory in ce­ram­ics and the suc­ces­sion of highly sought af­ter mas­ter artists who em­bel­lish their pot­tery. Dr Grazia ex­plains that over the past 900 years, the craft has been handed on from fa­ther to son, with no changes to the method.

LUN­GAROTTI WIN­ERY, TORGIANO

I’m lunch­ing at L’U Winebar on an un­fussy gourmet fare with Chiara Lun­garotti of the Lun­garotti Wine Es­tate. Over a glass of Rubesco, she ex­plains that Um­bria’s balmy cli­mate is ideal for grow­ing wine. Her late fa­ther first be­gan plant­ing vines on the 620-acre es­tate back in 1962 and now Lun­garotti ex­ports some 2.5-mil­lion bot­tles an­nu­ally. A cel­lar tour re­veals the sci­ence be­hind the vini­fi­ca­tion process, and con­cludes with a tast­ing. As I leave the vil­lage I pop into the wine mu­seum, de­signed by Chiara’s mother.

UM­BRIAN BEER, TORGIANO

Re­sum­ing my food trek, I meet An­to­nio Bocco of Fab­brica della Birra Peru­gia, a lit­tle brew­ery pro­duc­ing some of Um­bria’s finest ales. An­to­nio tells me how he and a group of beer-lov­ing friends planned the re­launch of Fab­brica della Birra Peru­gia – the re­gion’s sig­na­ture beer whose fac­tory closed down in the early 1900s.

HO­TEL LE SILVE, NEAR AS­SISI

Head­ing up a steep moun­tain pass, the fire-breath­ing sound­track of Maserati’s Fer­rari en­gine is pure rock ‘n roll. But I can­not help but think I’ve missed a turn­ing as my sur­round­ings are now get­ting way be­yond ru­ral. The tar road gives way to gravel, which be­comes a sin­gle dirt track at the end of which is a set of large iron gates, pro­vid­ing ac­cess to a 10th-cen­tury moun­tain inn - Ho­tel Le Silve di Ar­men­zano. The restau­rant’s breath-tak­ing views alone make it a worth­while trip, but wait till you see the menu – it’s a re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence.

THE BEST PASTA RESTAU­RANT IN EUROPE

My nu­mer­ous en­coun­ters with Italy’s pasta has pretty much guar­an­teed a re­turn visit, es­pe­cially so to the pas­toral ham­let of Scheg­gino, a hill vil­lage where noth­ing much has hap­pened in the past cen­tury. Here sev­eral flights of an­cient grey stone stairs car­ries me to Os­te­ria Ba­ci­afem­mine. Elisa Valen­tini smacks around a ball of pasta, knead­ing it this way, then that way, ex­plain­ing that her typ­i­cal Um­brici pasta is made from only flour and wa­ter and that af­ter knead­ing, it’s rolled out then roughly sliced into spaghetti-like strips. Elisa ex­plains that for her Um­brici, the per­fect ac­com­pa­ni­ment is truf­fles – mo­ments later I’m pre­sented with a plate of Italy’s best.

FOOD PRO­DUC­ERS, NOR­CIA

Tales about con­jur­ers, palm read­ers, and witches who cast spells over the moun­tains and woods, have been told about Nor­cia for cen­turies - some con­spir­acy the­o­rist feel this may ex­plain its fre­quent earth­quakes - the most re­cent of which left the old town’s an­cient build­ings ly­ing in ru­ins.

Ca­tia Ulivucci, a Nor­cia farmer, and owner of the famed cured meat shop ‘Norcine­ria Er­cole Ulivucci’ ex­plains that the 2016 earth­quake took her farm­house and her shop. Ca­tia now runs her busi­ness from a stand in a car park. She is of course an Um­brian farmer and as such, she’ll make a plan to get back on track and with plans to open a cook­ing school aimed at tourists. Ca­tia in­tro­duces me to her herd of Apen­nine sheep, and speaks of her favourite cheeses – the clot­ted Gi­un­cata, eaten with sugar and cin­na­mon and Ca­ciotta ai Tartufo, sea­soned with black truf­fle.

CASTELLO DI GAL­LANO, VAL­TOPINA

Din­ner and my bed for the night is at Castello di Gal­lano in Val­topina, a UN­ESCO World Her­itage Site. Once a Bene­dic­tine monastery, it was left aban­doned for nearly half a cen­tury then pri­vately pur­chased and ren­o­vated, de­liv­er­ing a small vil­lage of self-con­tained stu­dios, swim­ming pools, a del­i­catessen and two places of wor­ship.

Over a glass of Mon­te­falco Rosso I look out across the val­ley bathed in hues of in­digo and mauve, in the dis­tance an Um­brian farmer is till­ing the soil with his hoe, and fur­ther still a trac­tor fires up to do some of the same. Around me the branches hang low with birds seek­ing out a suit­able van­tage point to see out the day.

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