Umbria Part 2 With Hank and Ellen!

OOOOOPS – the berry on the tree fell to the ground a wee bit early!  I hit “publish” on Hank’s story before I realized the rest was flying about cyberspace reading out to me.  Here is the rest of their adventure!

The interrupted Hank continues: Castelluccio is world famous for its lentils. If you go, you must buy some. We had a nice meal on the terrace of the hotel, and called it a day. The next day we tried a nice restaurant called, “Granaro del Monte.” The food was good. When I ordered Linguini Chinghale, Linguini with wild boar sauce, I saw and tasted the difference between Tuscan and Umbrian fare. The pasta in Tuscany had a red wild-boar sauce, while the Umbrian version came in brown, meat gravy. Also, Umbria is famous for truffles, which are in almost everything!!

truffles

Truffles are also harvested in Pontelandolfo!

Ellen and I left Norcia with a resolve to re-visit it someday. The sun had finally become entrenched it the sky and the ride to Monteluco and St Francis’ Convent was gorgeous . We can’t ever pass up Monteluco, where the Convent founded by St. Francis is located, and where he lived, prayed, and held Mass. The place is very primitive, but has a grove of trees that is where St. Francis went to meditate and pray. It is the most peaceful place I’ve ever been. We stayed here for a while just absorbing the peace that radiates out of every rock and tree. If you every go to Spoleto, make this a for-sure stop.

francescano

We were headed to the wonderful Agriturismo Bartoli. It is located on the slopes of Monte Fionchi the mountains that overlook the Spoleto valley. (http://www.agriturismospoleto.net) The village is called Patrico, but it is hard to find on a map. It, too, is a twisty mountain road, much of which is gravel. This place is run by a family and has been a working farm for about 200 years and has been an agriturismo since 1988. Everything in Umbria seems to be uphill!

We walked a lot and were thankful for our walking sticks! This is a place where you can do nothing or everything. Agriturismo Bartoli will take you horseback riding, truffle hunting, and will feed you until you burst. There is also lots of wine!! They drink it with every meal except breakfast. Ellen and I were told, however, that they only drink with meals. This place is a gem! If you want beautiful scenery, wonderful food, peace and quiet, horseback riding, or any of the above, this is a great place.

Heading off to the Lazio region, but that’s a story for another day.

Thanks again Hank!  Love your additions to the “tree”.

Umbria with Hank and Ellen

Erstwhile travelers Hank and Ellen Sinatra have more stories to tell about their Italian adventures. I adore this cousin of mine, Hank’s life would make a great movie and George Clooney should star.  

Hank

Follow the Sinatra’s to Umbria as they “do it there way.”

Hank: We are on the road to Umbria. It is a more mountainous region that has some interesting views and great food and wine. We were both saddened and excited to leave Pienza and hit the highway.  This road trip features areas both old and new – to us that is!  Our first goal was to reach Spello, a picturesque town that is East of Perugia, by nightfall.  Ellen planned a stop along the way –  in Deruta to tour one of its many pottery factories. I’m so glad she did.  It was stunning. When I think of pottery, I think of small plates and such.

Deruta pottery

Although they had some of these standard items, they also specialized in table tops. We loved them, but couldn’t think of a use for them in Texas. Deruta was South of Perugia on the E-45. We were chasing a storm, and finally caught up with it outside of Spello. What a down-pour. We could hardly see through the rain.

We finally got to our hotel, “Nuovo Albergo Il Portonaccio,” which is just outside of the walls of Spello. It was a nice place to stay and had a very large covered patio where we could sit and watch the rain while I had a cigar.

Spello hotel

The rain finally let up a little, and, since the weather was iffy, we didn’t want to get very adventurous about where to eat our evening meal. We opted for the restaurant next door.  The name of this little gem is “Il Vecchio Opificio Osteria-Pizzeria.” Ellen and I had a great meal and some of their award-winning Olive Oil, which was fantastic. Later, we walked up into Spello to see the church “Santa Maria Maggiore.”  And, when I say UP, I mean UP. It was quite a hike, but worth it.

Chiesa_Santa_Maria_Maggiore

Chiesa Santa Maria Maggiore

The hotel had a very nice breakfast to help us on our way. Our next stop was a two-night stay in Norcia. It is South of Spello, then East of Spoleto. We headed to Norcia, a place that specializes in Wild Boar products and truffles. The road from Spoleto to Norcia is a narrow two-lane road that twists and turns. It is also a major thoroughfare used by many trucks, some semis with double trailers. I would not recommend this drive to novices or at night. It rained on us most of the way, but the weather turned on a dime, which is typical of the weather in the Umbrian mountains.

The hotel we stayed in was the “Best Western Hotel Salicone.” It was a clean, comfortable hotel just outside of the Walls of Norcia. It was a nice hotel with an excellent breakfast and is worth another stay.  It did not, however, live up to its advertisement of providing robes and slippers on request. We visited the Piazza Santo Benedetto, which had a statue of their famous son. The Piazza was simple and beautiful, as was the man himself. If you go to Norcia, you have to visit the Grand Piano, which is a great plain area. There is a small town on the mountain just North of the Piano called, Castelluccio. It gives you a wonderful panoramic view.  Can’t wait to go back!

Hank and Ellen – you are terrific travel guides and have shared a ton of wonderful information!  Gracie Tante!

Pienza with Hank and Ellen!

The more I explore my roots in Italy the more I feel a connection to my stateside cousins.  My grandfather, Francesco Guerrera, and his brother, Nicola, came to the Americas together.  I haven’t figured out if brother Giovanni came with them or before them.  Anyway – the three brothers first stopped in South America and then settled in New Jersey!   Eventually Giovanni headed to upstate New York.  Thats why Nicola’s children and grandchildren are the cousins I remember best of all.  They lived in North Jersey and would venture to the “farm” in Flagtown to hang out with the country folk.  

My cousin Hank Sinatra – Nicola’s grandson – now lives in Texas but also enjoys his Italian heritage.  (No, you ask him if he is related to that other Sinatra.)  He is the only other cousin who has ventured alone to Pontelandolfo to meet our Italian family.  Besides being a handsome devil, he is a talented spinner of tales.  We were both in Italy this fall and he was sharing tales of his adventures with me.  I suggested he share them with you! 

Hank

Hank Sinatra My Adventuresome Cousin Shares His Latest Adventure in the Tuscana Town of Pienza:

Pienza by Hank Sinatra

Suddenly it was September First!!!!  Ellen and I quickly packed and were ready to leave on the 2nd. We were having  big-trip-itis. What if we oversleep? What if the flight is canceled?  What if?  What if?  None of that happened. On the 3rd, after a trying stop-over at London’s Heathrow, we landed at Fiumicino Airport.  It was 2:30 PM in Rome.  We raced to rent a car and get on the road – its a long drive to Pienza and I didn’t relish the thought of driving the narrow twisted roads of Tuscany in the dark. 

Ellen and I looked at each other and grinned – we were back in that wonderful little hill town,  Pienza. For our last four trips there, we have stayed in the same little apartment at the Giardino Segreto (Secret Garden).

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Ellen and Rossella

We were met by the lovely Rossella, who manages the property. (www.ilgiardinosegretopienza.it)  The delightful Rossella speaks hardly any English, which makes it hard, since I speak hardly any Italian.  Some how we get by!

Ellen and I tend to visit a lot of small towns around Pienza. Parking is usually difficult in hill towns, and Pienza is no exception. This was the Pienza Cheese Festival week, so parking was especially scarce.

One place we always try to visit in Tuscany is the Abbiazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore. It is a Benedictine monastery. The Mass we attended was done as a Gregorian Chant. Beautiful.  The monastery is located half-way between Asciano and Buonconvento. They make all sorts of homeopathic products and have a great restaurant.

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After returning to Pienza, and finding a place to park, we headed to the Pieve di Corsignano, a church that is no longer in service but is where Pope Pius the 2nd was baptized. He had a love for Pienza, and did much of the work, which has made this little city a Unesco World Heritage Center.  Since this was their Cheese Festival week, we saw something we had only seen in a movie: Flag tossing. It was beautiful.

Hank, I was so excited to hear about the Cheese Festival that I searched for a video.  This one shows the medieval procession  – enjoy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoA1kGXqD-Q

                                                                                                                       Midge

If you go to Pienza, there are a few local places that we love.  One is a bar on the West-side of Pienza called Bar Il Casello. Go close to sundown, you will get to see one of the most picturesque sunsets in the world.  The sun sets over the Val D’Orcia. It is truly a spectacular sight. Then, of course, for a relaxing drink before and after your evening meal, try the little café across from the park, Il Café. It is the place to be to people watch.

Hungry? I recommend la Buca Della Fate. They have a wonderful menu that includes such treats as Bistecca alla Fiorentina, which is a very large and tasty steak that is purchased by the kilogram, and Pici Cinghiale , which is a wild boar tomato sauce over Pici pasta. Pici is a traditional pasta of Tuscany that is made without eggs – half regular flour and half semolina. There is a saying that “In Italy, life happens outside.” Here is what lunch-time looked like, for us, in Pienza.

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This was standard fare. Bread, cheese (Pecorino, since it is, after all, Pienza) tomatoes, processed meat, either a type of salami or, in this case, Porchetta, a smoked pork ham, and, of course, some wine. Then, generally before the evening meal, you take a walk: passaggiata. This trip, we made a special point of following Patrick Kiker’s advice, which has always served us well. He blogs under “For the Love of Italy.” (www.fortheloveofitaly.blogspot.com)

Patrick’s blog suggested that if we went anywhere near Montalcino, that we stop in and see Laura at Il Pallazone just West of Montalcino. Being fans of Brunello wine, and Montalcino being the epicenter of Brunellos, we were going there anyway. Laura gave a tour and we found out a lot about Brunello Wines, grapes, and Olive Oil.  She gave us a sample of her oil and we were blown away. I never knew how olive oil was supposed to taste.  She told us that in the States, a lot of olive oil was actually canola oil which had a little bit of essence of olive added that allowed it to be sold as olive oil. You can join her club which means you get 3 bottles of her own olive oil by Christmas every year. (www.ilpalazzone.com)

Well, that kind of ended our first week in Italy, 2014.  Ellen and I are headed towards Umbria, talk to you about that later.

Hank, grazie mille!