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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 7 of 8: Day 6, Lunch in Scheggino and Art in Norcia

Day Six: Tuesday June 10, Lunch in Scheggino and Art in Norcia

The air conditioning breaks down in the middle of the night and I awake to a stuffy room. Opening the balcony doors admits a fresh breeze and the light of the half moon. The noise of early morning trucks up shifting on their way to Ascoli Piceno and points east filters into my consciousness. Oh well, this is just a way to ease me into the traffic noise back home.

Down at breakfast is a new couple being oriented to their ATG Footloose hiking vacation by their route coordinator. Our first trip to Italy began with an ATG walking week so we take a bit of time to chat with them. The route they are doing takes them from Castelluccio to Spoleto in 7 days, one I can dream about doing someday if I ever get in top form. Today I must content myself with a slow walk to town for shopping and buying stamps at the post office. Because it hurts to walk down hill, I wait at the Porta Romana when errands are done for hubby to bring the car for me.

We head south on the road that follows the Nera river as it weaves between mountains and past small hillside towns, ruined watchtowers, and the Urbani truffle headquarters. The weekend tourist traffic is gone and the commercial drivers have been though much earlier, so there are more bicyclists than motorists on the road. In only 30 pleasant minutes we arrive at our destination. Scheggino is a town blessed by abundant springs in which they raise crawfish and salmon-trout. I have driven by it on two previous trips wishing to stop but not having enough time. Today we drive along a tiny canal, cross over an even smaller bridge to the parking lot of Ristorante Albergo del Ponte.

We stop in and make reservations for lunch an hour later and go out to explore this pleasant little hillside town, poking into alleys and lanes. After a very slow down hill hobble, accompanied by a friendly cat, we walk along a poplar shaded lane flanked by a fast flowing stream to one of the springs. A shaded bench by this clear and serene pond invites us to sit awhile and watch the dragon flies flitting above the water. Soon others quietly arrive to occupy other benches. They appear to be seniors accompanied by nurses or visiting family members. Behind us in the shade of the mountain appears to be a “Casa Reposa” (rest home). When the time comes, I’d like to be sent here!

Although the sun beats down brightly on the gardens and roses outside it reflects coolly off the shiny floors of the Del Ponte dining room and onto the pale green walls and butter yellow damask table linens. Locals, truck drivers, and elegant French tourists share our enthusiasm for the food. I have a plate of crawfish in green sauce with a side of chicory. Hubby has a whole trout, split, grilled, covered with grated black truffle and served with boiled potatoes. For dessert he has Zuppa Englese (trifle) and I have gelato. It is a nice end to an excellent lunch in a pleasant but unpretentious setting. The Del Ponte also has a separate gelateria.

Back in Norcia and after siesta we walk slowly up hill into town. We are super Slow Travelers by now with my bum knee. Our destination is the Castellina on the Piazza San Benedetto. The Castellina is a former fortress built in the 16th century to help govern the region and protect the Papal territories. It is now a pleasant oasis on a hot day and houses a collection of artifacts and art. We are happy to find brochures in English about the history and collections. Among the exhibits are Greek and Etruscan pottery, beautiful life size 12th century wood carvings of the Deposition and a life size Annunciation by the younger Della Robbia. Out the window is a stunning view of St. Benedict in his square, his church behind him, then the town, distant fields of poppies and the mountains. After our afternoon of culture, we emerge on to the Piazza for our next gelato. We meet the ATG couple flushed and sunburned from their hike down from Castelluccio. They admit that the walk was a hot one, but they were too enthralled by the flowers of the Piano Grande to care.

The rest of the evening is spent purchasing 2 wheels of cheese from the dairy cooperative to take back to the US and returning to the hotel with a delicious pizza and serving of greens for dinner on our balcony. We reluctantly pack for tomorrow’s departure.

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