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Report 668: Nine days in Umbria and Rome

By Russell Wayne from Connecticut, Summer 2005

Trip Description: A brief overview of our trip in June 17-26, 2005 to Spello, Assisi, Bevagna, Norcia, and Rome.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Rome, Umbria

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Day Tours; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 2: Umbria: We'd Happily Visit Again and Again

We left on June 16th from JFK for Rome, via Dublin on Aer Lingus, thanks to our American Airlines frequent flyer accounts. The tickets were only $51 apiece. If the price hadn't been that low, we would not have flown Aer Lingus. Three of our four flights were late and we came within five minutes of missing our connection at Dublin on the way over.

Complicating the problem is the fact that passengers connecting at Dublin are required to go through passport control and customs, then up one floor, back through security, and then find one's gate. Not a simple task, especially when your prior flight is nearly an hour late. There is no provision for those in transit.

Plus: The seat pitch is ridiculously tight and on two of the flights our seats would not recline. Aer Lingus now bills itself as a low-cost carrier. It is also a very low comfort carrier. Advice to frequent flyers: Avoid Aer Lingus by booking early so you have a selection of more user-friendly carriers.

Upon arrival in Rome, we were pleased to discover that our baggage had also made the plane. So we headed for Avis to pick up our rented car. That was reasonably efficient and quick. The only surprise: The car (Renault Laguna) we were offered (and took) had minor damage on three of its four corners as well as a cracked left side mirror. It did run well and was comfortable, however.

Once out of Fiumicino, we headed for the ring road around Rome and then north to the Orte exit on the autostrada, where we got off and headed for lunch in Narni. We parked near the main square, found a cafe serving panini, gelati, and espresso and began to decompress after the hop across the pond.

After lunch, off to La Bastiglia in Spello, where we stayed for five nights. We had selected La Bastiglia for several reasons: its one-star Michelin restaurant, heated swimming pool, nice setting overlooking the countryside, and reasonable price compared to Palazzo Bocci. We were pleased with our stay and would recommend La Bastiglia. A few comments are in order, however.

  • After looking over the menu, we decided against eating dinner at La Bastiglia. A bit too cutting edge for our taste. We had assumed that breakfast might be a notch better than the mean, but in fact it was run of the mill, albeit with a great view.

  • We visited the pool once; it was not heated despite the advance billing to the contrary.

  • Our accommodation, a superior double, was attractive and had an adjoining balcony. The room was OK, nothing special; the chairs on the balcony were in need of repair. Further note: There is one computer for public use; no internet connections are available for guests' computers. The staff was courteous and helpful. Parking can be tight and tricky . . . or not available if there's an event nearby.

The highspots of our visit to Spello included the Cherry Festival in Capodacqua, our time with Anne Robichaud in Assisi and Spello, and dinner at Taverna San Silvestro in Collepino. We also visited Bevagna, drove to Norcia, and had lunch at Taverna del Pescatore in Pigge.

Cherry Festival

We were alerted to the Cherry Festival by Anne Robichaud. The Cherry Festival is one of many local sagras, which are seasonal celebrations. At the festival, there were very few people from out of the area and at least several thousand altogether.

We bought a kilo of cherries to start with. We were then directed toward the cashier for the "meal center", stood slightly confused for a few moments, and were then assisted by an English-speaking cashier in our ordering. The complete meal (of which most courses included some cherry variation), including beverages, came to 18.50 for two. We took a seat and were served quickly. After dinner, we watched outdoor ballroom dancing and an adjoining soccer game for over an hour. Great evening.

Touring with Anne Robichaud

Due to scheduling problems, we ended up spending two half days, rather than one full day, with Anne Robichaud. The first was in Assisi, definitely one of the gems of the region and certainly our favorite. Following our time with Anne, we popped in to a small piano and violin recital and ended up at La Fortezza for dinner. La Fortezza is one of Michelin's Bib Gourmand ("good value") restaurants. Very pleasant, nice surroundings, and good service.

The afternoon we were with Anne in Spello was the highlight of our trip. We began at Enoteca Properzio for a private wine and olive oil tasting, spent three hours with Roberto, the owner, and Maurizio, the sommelier. Delightful, entertaining, relaxing, and great fun though our conversation was a combination of Roberto's Italian, with occasional interpretation by Maurizio or Anne, and our English with a very limited supply of Italian sprinkled about.

That aside, we learned that Roberto had conducted wine tastings in a number of places, including Woodstock, Vermont and Tel Aviv and could properly be described as a honcho in the world of Italian wines. He is also an excellent salesman, liberal in the use of the word "complimenti" and smooth in his descriptions of wines that would sell for several times more in the States. I bought a case, which arrived promptly the day after we returned. Thank you, Fedex, and a $160 shipping charge.

After the wine tasting, we visited Brother Paul, a monk in his mid 70s who lives alone in the local Franciscan monastery. Brother Paul is a fascinating gentleman who creates art and rosary beads from dried flowers. But for Anne, we would not have met him.

Collepino - La Cacciatore

On our first night in Spello, we had a pleasant meal at La Cacciatore: nice view, tasty food, good service. Far more interesting was the short drive we took to Collepino, which is about five miles up the mountain road from Spello en route to Mount Subasio. We drove in the early evening, aware that a short distance from the side of the road was a steep cliff. We kept toward the middle. Collepino announced itself very quietly. It's a tiny village; three cars were parked outside the entrance. We added a fourth, comforted by a sign for the restaurant, though clueless about how we were to find it.

We walked into the village hoping that among the few lights we'd see some sign of life. A hundred meters up the main street (maybe three meters wide), I noticed the edge of a sign farther ahead, trotted up, and realized that I had arrived at the restaurant. A quick walk to the right, and we found ourselves in a small brick, tunnel-like, but well-lit room with a half dozen tables. Only one was occupied. We spent the next two hours there served by Natasha, whose husband is an English-speaking computer programmer who developed his language skills online. The chef-owner (Francesca) prepared a Pasta Piccante, which was the finest pasta I have ever had. As we sat there, I kept musing about the age of the village and the likelihood of ever coming across this place if we had not known about it.

Drive to Norcia

Having read many postings, my to-do list included the drive to Norcia, lunch at Taverna del Pescatore, and a visit to Bevagna. We did all three. The drive to Norcia was a disappointment compared to the lush countryside around Spello and Bevagna. Much more hilly and far less farmland. While in Norcia, I visited the monastery and church before heading back to Spello.

Taverna del Pescatore

Taverna del Pescatore was our lunch venue for the next day. Lovely, riverside setting best visited during daylight hours. The food is secondary to the setting. We were pleased to have gone there, but would not suggest traveling from a distance to do so.

Bevagna

Our visit to Bevagna was on the Sunday of the archery contest between archers from the four districts of the village. All were dressed in medieval garb, and we enjoyed cheering the ups and downs of these marksmen as they aimed for their targets. Lunch in Bevagna was at Enotecha Piazza Onofri. Very solid, tasty meal.

After leaving Bevagna, we set off in search of Le Case Gialle to get some of Mauro Colonna's olive oil. We had visited their website and got the directions, but were not able to find the place, which appeared to be on a one-way side road that was blocked while we were there. Since we had already bought several bottles of Cipolloni olive oil (reputed to be the selection of Alain Ducasse) we turned around and headed back to Spello.

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