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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 6 of 8: Day 5, Castelluccio and the Piano Grande, More Flowers

Day Five: Monday June 9 Castelluccio and the Piano Grande, More Flowers

Castelluccio is a small mountain town which rises above the Piano Grande, a 16 square kilometer plain ringed by mountains. Lentil farming and sheep herding are the economic mainstays, but a few restaurants and a small hotel are there to serve visitors.

We wake to heavy fog and head out to Castelluccio, stopping at a supermarket in the industrial zone for water and snacks. The day brightens as we drive and we can see Madonna delle Neve in the distance. In the hills above the Piano Grande we have to detour around two enormous mares and their foals that are using a road sign for a scratching post. Horses, sheep and cattle can appear without warning on these roads. By the time we get to the Piano Grande the sun is brightly and warmly illuminating the vast fields of flowers.

We park our car and revisit the Castelluccio ring walk from the book Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria. We had done part of it on a rainy day in May of 1998, meeting a family of wild boars. At that time there were still occasional patches of snow surrounded by crocus, narcissus and bright blue squill in the higher fields by the trail. Pink spikes of wild orchids were in lower elevations. I had seen wild peonies in bud, but we were too early for the bloom. Now in June 2003, we are treated to wild geraniums, buttercups, forget-me-nots and red wild peonies in full bloom. We can hear the bells from the cattle grazing in fields below us and see on distant hillsides flocks of sheep being watched by large white shepherd dogs. The butterflies are as dense as on yesterday’s trip, as are the biting flies, which along with the heat eventually drive us back to town for lunch.

We eat on the terrace of Taverna di Castelluccio, looking down at pastures and parking area. Looking up we see the Sibillini peaks still touched with snow and beyond are white puffy clouds floating in a brilliant blue sky. Simple vases of field flowers grace the tables. Our hearty lunch starts with soup of the local lentils topped with toasted garlic bread. Pasta course is ricotta cheese filled tortellini in sage butter accompanied by a fresh mixed salad. Happy Italian trippers climb the street by the Taverna. After lunch we stroll around this small outpost to the other side which looks down upon the main part of the Piano Grande in all its floral glory. We can also see the peaks of the Gran Sasso in nearby Abruzzo from the top of town. As I climb up and down the streets I notice that my left knee hurts.

After lunch we drive back to the hotel and go to the pool. Even though we are in the mountains, the wicked heat wave of 2003 has pushed daytime temperatures into the 90’s. As we enter the pool area, two attendants walk up with towels and start a friendly chat, asking us where we are from, etc. Eventually they get around to letting us know that guests are required to use the outdoor shower before entering the pool. I think they have accomplished their task very diplomatically. In true Slow Travel fashion we lounge around the pool for several hours watching the puffy clouds slowly grow and gather into a thunderstorm. We move to our balcony to watch the lightening and rain move across the land.

When the storm clears, we head into town for our pre dinner gelato on Piazza San Benedetto, watching the small children mirror the swooping and swarming of swallows above. Dinner is at Ristorante Beccofino, mentioned in the section on food. Walking down the gentle hill to our hotel I feel a queasy little instability in my left knee and immediately think torn ligament. I hobble back, and mail carrier hubby phones the office of an orthopedic surgeon on his route and has an appointment set up for me for the day after we get home.

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