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Report 1084: A Springtime Slow Travel Prize: Ten Glorious Days In Umbria And A Little Bit Of Rome

By Stella from New York, NY, Spring 2006

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Page 4 of 12: Montefalco in the Fog, and an Epic Meal in Trevi

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Eat here in Trevi

I don't think I have ever slept as well as I did at Le Case Gialle. The bed is really comfy, the linens susbstantial, and the blankets are thick and cushy. C. slept like a rock too. It was a sign we were both finally relaxing and letting the stress of New York City life wash away. Another great loaf of bread arrived on our doorstep, along with the International Herald Tribune, and we enjoyed another breakfast of butter, jam, honey and espresso. Yum.

Out the door, there was a thick coat of fog hanging low and dense over the hills. We could barely see ten feet in front of us; driving would be challenging and quite different. As we worked our way down the winding roads to Montefalco all we could see was the road in front of us. Montefalco is known as the "balcony of Umbria." It was perhaps not the best decision to go there on a foggy day, but that is where the roads took the Alfa, and who were we to argue?

We arrived to find that it was market day in Montefalco and I was thrilled - not so much for the household wares, clothes or produce, but because of the porchetta truck that was parked front and center. It was one of my fondest desires to watch C. enjoy his first porchetta sandwich, and although it was only 10:30, he was standing in line to get that sandwich before I even had a chance to point it out to him. He waited patiently as the handsome man in the truck sliced the porchetta with a long, thin-bladed carving knife while simulataneously winking at me. From the ensuing moans and groans, I gathered that a mid-morning snack of pork hit just the right spot.

We decided to see a bit of Montefalco anyway, even though we would be missing out on the perfect, 360 degree views of Umbria. The first stop was for some very excellent cappuccino at a local bar, where we watched the residents of Montefalco going about their daily business, greeting each other enthusiastically, asking about the weekend, the family, life in general. People-watching in Italy is a joyful exercise.

From the cafe, we slowly made our way to the Chiesa di San Francesco, which contains a fresco of the Nativity by Perugino and is the main art attraction of Montefalco. Upstairs from the church was a small pinacoteca, with a small but impressive collection of Umbrian art from the 13th through the 18th centuries.

From the center of Montefalco are five streets that radiate outwards like a star; from the perimeter it is easy to wind your way upwards and downwards in the pattern. My favorite find was the tiny, tiny church of Santa Lucia. Barely one story tall, it contains a few wooden pews and a small, well-kept altar. I had to duck through the teeny door to enter; it was so perfectly magical, bringing me to tears. Strolling along the narrow, moss-covered streets of Montefalco. C. decided he must live there one day, and although I agreed, neither of us could figure out a way to make that happen off the top of our heads.

Our next stop was at the Chiesa di Santa Chiara, which told the story of St. Claire and her order of nuns from Montefalco, founded in the 13th century. We finished our visit with a stop at the Cantina of the local winemaking cooperative. The woman behind the counter helped us select some inexpensive bottles that would undoubtedly hold us through the rest of the week, plus a bottle of the local Sagrantino Passito to enjoy with biscotti, if we ever bought some. We had no provisions in our kitchen, but at least we now had wine.

On our way out of town we passed by the local monastery, San Fortunato, and found the small frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli that are on the walls of the rectangular church. As we exited, we noticed that the sun was starting to peek out, and we hoped it meant that some of the fog would lift. I was reluctant to leave Montefalco; we hadn’t seen the view that it is so famous for, and we hadn’t eaten at L’Alchimista, an enoteca with an excellent menu that I had been dreaming of ever since I read about it. We decided to leave Montefalco behind to continue our day, but promised each other we would return on another day for the view and the meal.

As the sun began to burn off the fog, the Alfa headed for Trevi, or so we hoped. Leaving Montefalco, there was one sign pointing us in the direction of Trevi, but there was nothing to lead us further. Even worse, we had forgotten to bring the trusty map. Navigation from that point onward was on pure instinct.

After some wrong turns, Trevi suddenly emerged in the distance, fading in and out from the fog. Arriving at the base of the town was quite dramatic; the hilltown seemed almost mythic and we both audibly gasped. Trevi is very impressive, jutting out from the side of a mountain, layer upon layer of crowded buildings, reaching a summit with the top of the Duomo presiding over it all. We loved everything about Trevi – the winding descent upward, the pinkish hue of the buildings, the general drama of the place. After parking in the vast, open Piazza Garibaldi, we set off to explore.

Eventually we found Piazza Mazzini and the restaurant I had hoped to visit, La Vecchia Posta. A young and quite foxy man greeted us warmly, and we were seated in a pretty, yellow-hued room that contained only three other tables. One reassuring thing about visiting Italy again and again is that there will always be great restaurants and great-looking people.

Our meal at La Vecchia Posta, a Slow Food recommended restaurant, was nothing short of fantastic. We only ordered our secondi, and let the kitchen decide the rest. The magic began with a sequential tasting of antipasti, presented in twos, flight by flight. First came local pecorino with local honey and local berry jam. Along with that was faro salad made with diced tomato and torn basil leaves; what was amazing was that the faro itself was incredibly flavorful, not just lumps of chewiness as faro can often be. Next came a plate of sliced meats – bresaola with tiny wedges of juicy orange, sweet proscuitto, coppa, salami and warm, tiny cheesey biscuits. After that was an assortment of bruschetta: truffle, pureed artichoke that floored us with its depth of flavor, olive oil and salt, and tomato. Then came one of the best dishes I have ever placed in my mouth. Two fried quail eggs, topped with grated black truffle, and next to each was half of a potato; the potato had been cooked whole in parchment, then split in half and placed under a broiler until slightly browned, then topped with a slice of lardo. We nearly started crying. The potato was so creamy inside, and it was filled with flavor. It tasted like the soil it came from. Unbelievable.

Our pasta courses were equally impressive. I had strangozzi tossed with wild asparagus that were about as wide as a toothpick and almost too good to be true. C. had pappardelle with wild boar ragu. The boar was diced tiny and tender and it had been simmered just enough with the wine, tomato sauce and herbs. We were in gastronomic heaven.

Entrees were unadorned and perfect. C. had pork livers stuffed with herbs, skewered and grilled, which were luscious. Pork liver is unlike any other in terms of texture and flavor; perfumed with bay leaves, it was tender and succulent. I had wild boar cooked in red wne and it was everything it promised to be, flavorful and meltingly tender. Hidden in the sauce were whole, fresh juniper berries that exploded in my mouth.

We really thought we were destroyed by then, but when offered dessert menus, we could not turn them down. C. enjoyed affogato - house-made gelato drowned in espresso, and I had gelato with local frutti di bosci (forest berries). We finished both embarrassingly fast. As he cleared our plates, we chatted with the handsome young proprietor, who explained that it was his mother in the kitchen. We told him we were both chefs in New York and asked if we could have jobs there. He got a good laugh out of that; why would we want to leave New York to come to Trevi? Our epic meal at La Posta Vecchia lasted three hours and was one of the best meals I have ever had in my life – an experience that is a combination of time, place, company and circumstance coming together perfectly to create a sweet, everlasting memory.

Out the door and through the streets of Trevi we went, our stomachs full and our legs waddling up to the Duomo, the highest point in the town. Along the upper walls we lingered to take more glorious photos, and from our vantage point, C. could see roads that led higher into the Appenine mountain ridge directly behind Trevi. We looked at each other and I knew he we would be in the car within minutes.

C. found the road into the hills quite easily, it wound up and up and up. Higher and higher we climbed, up the hillside covered with olive trees that produce the DOP Olivo di Trevi. As we climbed up and up, it was hard for me not to imagine the Alfa plunging over the side of the ridge. C. thought this was ridiculous, and to prove the point, he attempted a U-turn that brought the edges of the tires precariously close to the edge of a precipitous drop. I freaked out, as it seemed the only appropriate action when one is completely and utterly terrified. It was, however, hard to remain freaked out when I saw the view - hundreds and hundreds of olive trees in perfect, symmetrical rows, and not far away, a fruit tree orchard just starting to blossom. Behind us, the mountains loomed, with forests of pine trees blanketing the base. As the car wound it’s way back down towards Trevi, I spotted a flock of sheep grazing underneath some olive trees. They were quite scraggly looking, and I wondered if they would ever fatten up to the size of Sillvana’s chubby sheep. Pondering this brought my heart rate down to a more acceptable level.

Heading back to our home base, I remembered that it was time to get some real shopping done. Our cupboards were bare, except for coffee and wine, and who knew when we would be overtaken by the urge to nap through dinnertime once again? We decided to head for Bevagna, and found some little shops for fruit, veggies, sliced meats, cheese and some juice. Loaded up, we hauled ourselves back to Le Case Gialle. Our huge meal at La Vecchia Posta meant that there would be no dinner that night, just snacks. We eased into the easy quiet of early evening, hanging out on the porch and drinking wine. I loaded the day’s pictures onto the computer and we huddled around it, setting a slide show to music and reliving another great day. C. made us an evening feast of the cured meats, cheese, a small salad of zucchini and tomato, flavored with the herbs picked right outside our door.

The clementines we had found in Bevagna were as sweet as a spoon of sugar, providing the perfect ending to another wonderful day in Umbria. It was nice to simply be in each other’s company, and we relaxed with our glasses of Passito, tackling the last two hints of the International Herald Tribune crossword puzzle. Montefalco twinkled goodnight to us from hills.

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