There is an endless choice of “what to do in Umbria,” from art and history to nature to food and wine, so I decided to compose a Perfect Day, what I would do if (the worst happened) I only had one day in Umbria…
This is a guest post from our friend Jennifer, very curious to see what is her Perfect day in Umbria. Here's her post:
Its early September, and I begin my day with a bike ride starting from my adopted hometown of Cannara, to Bevagna, one of the most beautifully preserved Roman towns in the Umbrian valley.
Heading out onto the Pian d’Arca, the fertile plain just outside the village, I have a 360 degree view of all of the hill towns: from Montefalco to Spello, Assisi, Perugia, Bettona, and back again – here you can see everything!
I first take a brief pause in the place where St. Francis preached to the birds, a most contemplative spot. Few people know about it, as no great cathedral or golden arch was erected nearby to indicate its presence to passing tourists. Around me there are only fields of onions, chickpeas, and grain; and all I can hear are the honks of a few neighborly geese and the chirp of songbirds, surely descendents of those who were friends of the great saint. I decide to follow along the Topino and Teverone Rivers and make a quick stop to pick some ortiche, or wild stinging nettles – I’ll use these tonight in my dinner.
Continuing along through the plain, I whiz past the gorgeous green rolling hillsides covered with vineyards and olive groves. The olives are still holding onto their misty green color; it’ll be another few weeks before they start to blush black – a cue that they are ready to be harvested.
Its early in Bevagna as I roll in, and I am ready for a coffee. As I take a rest, I watch the piazza come to life: shopkeepers open their doors, the smell of bread and pizza perfumes the air, and old ladies squabble over which type of tomato is better for making sauce.
On my way back, I pass by Lake Aiso, a small but profoundly deep spring-fed lake. To me it has an oasis-like quality, the way it appears, lonesome in the middle of the plain, and I refresh myself at its small water fountain.
My next destination is Torgiano to visit a winery, but I am going to take the long way (I only have one day, after all!). I plan to drive over Mt. Subasio, so I cut through Spello and head up the mountain towards Collepino, a darling little town mostly used as a second home during the summer months, when residents of the valley head for the hills to escape the heat.
From Collepino, I continue up to the summit of Subasio where I am greeted by some wandering horses and cows. Here I find what I am looking for: one of the greatest views in all of Umbria. The valley in front of me below, and the Appenines rising behind. What better place to take in a big breath of mountain air and pause for lunch?
I had picked up a panino con porchetta from Cariani in Bevagna. Porchetta is the street food of Umbria, which some say dates back to the Etruscans, and there are trucks selling it everywhere. Its made by taking a whole deboned pig and stuffing it with its liver, wild fennel, rosemary and garlic, then roasting it for 7 hours until it has a crunchy delicious golden crust. Simple and perfect – just like Umbria!
Coming down the other side of the mountain, I pass the Eremo delle Carceri, site of one of the caves where St. Francis would come to pray. This is another wonderful place to visit, but alas, the wine is calling, I have to keep moving.
After passing Assisi, I head directly to my destination. Most of the tourists flock to the wineries of Montefalco, but I am going to Torgiano, the first wine zone in Umbria to receive DOC and DOCG status. Terre Margaritelli is a family-owned winery, which produces fantastic wines from this territory. I begin with a leisurely trot on horseback through the vineyards. The vendemmia, or grape harvest, has started and as workers finish to pick the clusters of plump grapes, the leaves on the vines begin to tinge various shades of crimson and gold. After a brief tour of the winery, I finally get to taste the wines, from classic Umbrian Grecchetto and Sangiovese to modern offerings using Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends – they are all fantastic!
My final stop is Fattoria Luchetti located in the area of Collazzone. This farm produces what I consider to be the best meat in all of Umbria. On its 200 acres one can find grazing Chianina (the true native cow of Italy), sheep, horses, pigs, and birds, various crops, a butcher shop, restaurant, and agriturismo. Its a tough choice, but I decide to buy some prosciutto made from the Cinta Sinese pig and lamb shoulder to cook for my dinner tonight.
Finally heading home, I plan my menu: torta al testo (an Umbrian pizza) with Prosciutto of Cinta Sinese, Gnocchi with Stinging Nettles (remember I had picked them early in the morning on my bike ride), and Friccó d’Agnello – a lamb dish typical of Gubbio; accompanied by a bottle of Mirántico from my trip to the winery. It has been a long, but fulfilling day, a true experience of the “green heart of Umbria,” but one day is just not enough!
Jennifer McIlvaine has been cooking for 15 years in restaurants in Philadelphia, London, Seattle, and Foligno. In 2006, she joined her now husband in Umbria. There, she worked at Il Bacco Felice, before opening her own restaurant, Trattoria Basilikó. She is now a private chef and runs cooking classes and eno-gastronomical tours for visitors to Umbria through Life Italian Style.