By Karen Wilson
Here I go again reliving my call to Italy. This blog will take you along the final stretch from the heel of the boot in Puglia to Umbria, which is smack center and the only region not bordering the sea or another country. I had to download 3 separate maps, but when I put in the destination it showed us the way (over 7 hour drive ). We chose the shorter route even though it brought us back to the outskirts of Rome. We never had any traffic jams, just tolls and race car drivers startling us every now and then. The landscape changed drastically from flat orchards of olive trees and ocean views to green hills and mountains. The farther north we went the more vineyards, wheat fields and old hilltop villages we saw. Ancient castle towers randomly scattered along the hillsides triggered my imagination to ponder all the history and people that lived in this amazing place! After hours of driving we finally exited the autostrada in Fabro and drove another 45 minutes north to the village of Citta’ della Pieve . You could see the two tall towers among the surrounding ancient red brick walls of the city. We curved around the outside of the town and the GPS took us down a steep, narrow gravel road until we saw the sign “Cimbolello” next to an old wooden wagon and I knew this had to be the place. As we pulled up to the casa, there was an outdoor table full of merry making people laughing and enjoying dinner and drinks together. Francesco and Luisa gave us a warm welcome and introduced us to their American friends from Seattle who were leaving the next day after a five week visit!. This was their third time back and they already booked their next visit for Oct. 2019. Boy, that says a lot, staying a week here was a good choice!. We settled into our adorable accommodation built into the lower part of their living space.We were again surrounded by a stone exterior, plaster interior and high quality beautiful wooden windows and doors. The gardens, ivy walls and sheltered wisteria covered pergola was enchanting! The two dogs and cats made us feel like we were old friends! That night we had a great dinner at a hotel restaurant suggested by the Americans and later settled into our firm all natural bed with all cotton pillows that felt odd but did the trick for rest. That night the dogs barked for quite awhile. Later we learned that the wild boar had been the reason.
We were ready to explore Citta della Pieve first thing in the morning. A 20 minute walk to town led us to narrow roads, open vistas and decent espressos. There was an open market going on where we purchased some gifts,fruit, wild boar sausage, pepperoni and cheeses.This fed us light meals for the week ahead along with some awesome yogurt, wine, beer and other goodies from the little store in the town Centro. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the older Italian men and women. Words can’t quite describe the stories that their faces held. The way their eyes looked and the way they walked spoke volumes of all that their lives had experienced and the contrast to the current generation walking past them almost made me sad in a strange way. Later in the day Francesco showed me his garden and gave me some red lettuce and fava beans which I used for a dinner salad that night along with their homemade olive oil from the farm. We also enjoyed their farm eggs and I loved taking the compost out to the chicken house. It made me so at home. Luisa provided the best lavender soap/shampoo and after a few days there I even learned how to use the bidet! (that topic alone would make for an interesting BLOG) Each morning the cat and dogs would greet us looking to see if were going to spoil them with treats, which we didn’t as requested.
The next day we decided to take a short trip to Chiusi where we went on a tour of the ancient Etruscan tunnels, which was all in Italian and a bit boring, but still amazing to see what this pre Roman culture had created. The village was another beauty to take in like so many as we walked the stone narrow roads and marveled at an amazing church with artistic creations everywhere you looked. There were people scattered in the streets dressed in their Sunday suits meeting with friends for coffee and conversation. The atmosphere was timeless and down to earth. We stopped for a gelato – Eric loved the lemon and I really loved the pistachio! Later that night we went to another place in Citta’ Della Pieve called Brunnos and had another huge meal. This time we brought back enough pasta for a second meal! Our waiter brought us a complimentary digestivo of limoncello -yum!
The following day was our first bike tour that I scheduled quite a while back. We met our guide Daniele (founder of Greenways Italy Tours) in the tiniest old village called Torre Del Cotte just outside of Bevagna. His charisma, big smile and positive vibe was instantly evident. He gave us a tour of the village which has a population of 13 people! He and his girlfriend being two of them. There’s an amazing hostel they just started here along with a communal garden, BBQ area and small pool in a lower terrace. We took off around 10:00 and made our way over to the beautiful village of Borgagne where fabrics were draped across the roads in preparation for their upcoming medieval festival. In the piazza stood a fountain and opera house that we toured. We were told how it had been reduced to rubble in a huge earthquake years before but was rebuilt. There were girls practicing their ballet moves and I thought to myself how cool it would be to see a performance here in this very intimate setting with individual balcony seats layered up about 6 levels high. We continued through the valley on flat ground surrounded by distant mountains and the city of Assisi. Daniele took us up to the top of the village of Spello, another
very beautiful hill town with amazing views! On our way down the steep narrow cobbled streets we stopped at a craft brewery and met a cool guy with long red hair who introduced us to their beer. We bought a bottle and continued to a spot where we met Jennifer and the lunch she had prepared. She is a well known American chef from Philadelphia. She prepared a cold lentil salad, meats and cheese, bread salad with olives and other chopped veggies along with a frittata . The white wine we had was amazing and made for a relaxed ride back to Torre del Cotte until we hit the hill. Danielle set us up for a shower and we hung out in the gardens (in hammocks) and sipped on the beer we got at the brewery. We covered about 50K on mostly flats so it made for a pretty leisurely ride. I asked Danielle about mountain biking and since his business is just getting started he hasn’t invested in the bikes. He did say if people had their own bikes he would take them up in the surrounding hills on all kinds of trails! On our way back, we had to stop in Assisi. Walking into the chapel our ears were adorned as vespers had just begun and the monks were in motion. There was a spiritual energy here that brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it was Francis of Assisi’s spirit and his love of nature and God that I sensed.The outside of the cathedral against the backdrop of the countryside was a favorite piece of beauty like no other.
Still wanting to explore the area we set out for Orvieto, the next day, famous for its HUGE Cathedral full of unbelievable frescos dating back to the1300’s. For fun, we took some back roads getting a little lost on some steep dirt roads and hairpin turns. We parked in an underground parking lot which houses the many tourists that come to visit this place. But before finding the parking lot, our GPS took us on the most crazy goose chase in the old city through streets the car could barely fit through. Inside the cathedral we saw statues, detailed architecture, art and endless reflections of history that were hard to comprehend. We sat down and looked up to a ceiling higher than any I’ve seen and to think that the artists spent hours suspended there to create masterpiece after masterpiece.
That night we joined our airbnb neighbors for a pasta making experience and dinner with Luisa and Francesco. These two sisters raised on Oahu were so fun! One was a filmmaker who just left Dubai looking for her next calling. She had scheduled a meditation retreat in Assisi for one week to help her find her way. The younger one was a playful, childlike sweetie pie loving every minute spent with her sister. We had a great meal of homemade pasta, wine from the farm, cheese from the sheep on the farm and homemade jams made with figs, turmeric, quince and other spices along with bread to soak up the sauce Italian style. Then came the most amazing tiramisu made from their sheep ricotta cheese. I couldn’t turn down a second serving. We finished off the night with another homemade digestivo of walnut liqueur and cognac. Sitting at the long wooden table under the pergola, sharing stories (regardless of the language barrier) with laughter into the evening will be a cherished memory.
Time for bike trip #2. The Tuscan Dream Tour! Another scheduled tour got us out of bed early and on our way to Pienza over in Tuscany about an hour away. The drive was wonderful as we discovered why Tuscany is so popular. After a parking challenge we met our guide Andrea who we had all to ourselves due to others cancelling because of a few clouds in the sky. Once he figured we knew how to ride he took us on the ride of our lives! The e-bikes were heavy mountain bikes with motors that helped on the many hills. The goal was to not use all the battery before the hill back up to Pienza at the end. Our 50K tour turned into about 80K because we flew on the downhills and rode at a speed faster than any group he said he’d had. Okay, the scenery was absolutely out of this world! It really felt like you were in a dream. The beauty was beyond anything I’ve ever seen. This day was the climax of our whole trip. I’m so glad we did this! Riding the e-bike made it so easy to take it all in especially on the many steep uphills. The wildflowers were in full bloom and I was swimming in poppies like I always dreamt of doing. We took a private road at one point up to a castle, the dog warning signs kept us at bay but we could view it from a fresh cut hay field where we took some photos. We stopped in Buonvenetto (?) for lunch. Andrea told us that many American writers and filmmakers come here and have second homes to work on their craft. We had some white wine, melon with ham, and pasta with meat sauce. I’m beginning to get just a little tired of pasta by now and it was a good thing we had more riding to do. Most of the remaining tour was on small gravel roads with stunning views.We cut off to a side road leading to a small church on the hillside. We then proceeded on down a steep single track and up a washed out gully where our bikes got coated with mud. The owner Steffi was a little upset with Andrea but it was rather entertaining to watch her give him a hard time like a big sister. We shared our contact info with Andrea and hope someday we can take him on the kingdom trails! On our way back to our place we had a quick stop in Montepulciano but it was getting late and we were tired and hungry. We stopped for a few groceries and made a nice salad, with cheese, and salami, peppers and scallions and of course amazing olive oil! It was the perfect day in Italy!!!
Our last day of vacation. Feelings a bit sad that it’s all coming to an end but also so grateful for each moment left, we decided to relax and hang out. We meandered up the narrow gravel road to the village like we did on the first day, but this
time spied some wild baby boar! I cherished every moment enjoying a coffee and pastry at an outside cafe, once again watching people stroll through the small piazza. This town had a genuine local vibe that’s not altered by tourism. We set out to look for a few gifts and at the end decided to buy more olive oil, truffle mayo, dried tomatoes and another olive wooden spoon. Walking back, we couldn’t resist the sweet smell of a bakery that drew us in for an afternoon indulgence. Before our last supper in town, we finished the last of our wine, fresh apricots, cheese and pepperoni. We decided to dine at the same place we went the first night and had the same waiter. I had an awesome octopus salad and guinea hen with a local saffron sauce . Eric had a gazpacho soup with saffron cheese balls and slow cooked veal cheek with a balsamic reduction. A bottle of higher grade local white wine made this meal amazing. We had to finish it off with another tiramisu but it didn’t come close to Luisa’s homemade. Before retiring we had one last toast of limoncello. That evening there was a violent thunderstorm and later we learned it even hailed. Hmmm, what was Italy saying? Maybe “you better come back!”
Before our final trek to Rome we made one last side trip into town for a cappuccino and apricot croissant. The outside chairs were wet so we sat inside watching the workers prepare for the day ahead-one dusting off the top of shelves while greeting patrons entering the cafe. Life is rhythmic, calm and timeless here. I admire the warmth and hospitable spirit of this place as we drive through the ancient brick arch exiting Citta’ della Pieve for the last time.. Who knows maybe there will be a return trip someday. Our drive back goes smoothly and dropping off the car is a huge relief! I consider it a miracle from God that we drove over 1200 miles alongside so many crazy drivers on the narrowest roads and sharpest corners one after another without a scratch.
My eyes feel more open to all the places on this planet that I pray we can explore and experience! My ears will be listening to what amazing place will be calling out next! What distant land is calling you?