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Report 450: Saints and Flowers, Ham and Cheese: Seven Days in Norcia, Umbria

By Jeannew from PA, Spring 2003

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Page 5 of 8: Days 3 and 4, Another Saint, Cheese, Old Cars and a hike

Day Three: Saturday June 7, Another Saint, Cheese and Old Cars

Today we take the car to explore some towns in the vicinity. First we stop to take a photo of the tiny pink hillside town of Abeto. Then on we go to the Abbazia di Sant’ Eutizio, a lovely 12th century building in a beautiful setting. According to the Cadogan guide, Eutizio was a hermit in the late 400’s. The Benedictines founded the abbey here which had its heyday in the era around 1000. It had a famous library and was a center of medicine at that time. Today there remains a Romanesque church with springs trickling down the adjacent cliff to feed the fountains and roses in the courtyard. Outside the abbey is a simple restaurant with shady outdoor tables. A hiking trail goes from here to Norcia, but we leave that for another time.

We stop briefly in Preci where we walk the stone streets, hot at noon. Preci was once famous for its surgeons who learned from the Benedictines and used their skills to heal the sick and, it had been alleged, to supply the choir with male sopranos. Lore also has it that the skilled surgeons of old Preci and the historic pork butchers of Norcia would swap trade secrets.

On we go the industrial zone outside of Norcia to scope out the Umbria cheese cooperative for cheeses to take home. Our experience has been that we can usually find the same cheeses that are sold in the boutique shops at better prices if we seek out the farmers’ cooperatives. There is a large selection and we purchase small amounts of various types of pecorino to evaluate. Fruit and these samples make for a satisfying lunch. Though not very quaint or historic, there can often be good shopping in the industrial zones. Before leaving I snap a photo of the lovely view of Norcia across poppy filled fields.

This afternoon we do more shopping in the historic center and walk to the bar for our daily gelato. Polizia Stradale roar by us on their motorcycles, followed by a parade of antique roadsters. We watch them gather in the piazza as we eat our gelato. A thunderstorm drives us, the Polizia and some families to take refuge under the loggia of St. Benedict’s church. Young men are admiring the motorcycles of the Polizia while I admire the uniforms. A very old and beautiful Austin roadster arrives late for the rally and is carefully pushed under the loggia. The driver leaves to purchase two rolls of paper towels to dry off his car while a new mother sits nearby, her beautifully dressed and blanketed baby in a pram. It is times like this that are not likely to be captured if one is a fast traveler rushing from sight to site.

After a siesta and walk around the upscale neighborhood near the hotel, we get in the car deciding to explore a bit and have dinner if we come across a restaurant. We take the road past the industrial district and head straight instead of taking the turn off to Ascoli Piceno. This seems to be the longest (7km) straight section of road in these parts. We continue to follow it when it winds up into the hills. We come across a sign to Madonna delle Neve. This is a site I was unable to find on my last trip, and here it is! This church is in ruins, but plexiglass has been erected to shield the remaining frescoes from the elements. We soak up the ethereal beauty of this setting. The countryside is bathed in the last light of day as we make our way back to Norcia. Because the one restaurant that we passed in the countryside was closed, we settle for € 10 worth of food from the rosticciera for dinner in our room.

Day Four: Sunday June 8, Flowers and hike

There are hikes, and there are Hikes. We are not mountaineers, and although there are plenty of spectacular Hikes in these regions we elect one more suited for our abilities. The Sibillini Park has miles and miles of wonderful trails that could keep the serious hiker busy for weeks. Today we drive to Foca d’Ancarano, a location where a trail crosses the road to Preci. We park the car and follow a track up into the Patino valley. This is a 7 km round trip and 1090 foot climb. It takes us 2 hours to ascend and 40 minutes to return to the car along the same route. We have to stop frequently in the shade to cool down as we climb, but we are passed by a shirtless senior jogger. We take the time to enjoy beautiful views down to Norcia, and up to the rocky summit of Mt. Patino. The quantity and variety of butterflies and flowers are amazing. We do our best to soak up the beauty, but cannot tarry long because of buzzing and biting flies.

Returning to the hotel we wash out our clothes and lounge on the balcony watching the thunderstorms roll in. After siesta we dress for a leisurely but slightly rainy passaggiata to the Granaro del Monte restaurant. Franco greets us warmly and asks if we are from the Netherlands. When we say USA, he and the other waiters start bragging about Nicole Kidman and her family staying and eating there. We enjoy a lengthy and delicious dinner.

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