zaterdag 25 januari 2014

These are a few ofmy favourite Umbria

When I was asked to write this guest post I was very enthousiastic at first and then realized it caused a major problem. How on earth is it possible to pick only ten of the best spots in Umbria? There are at least a thousand worth visiting..
But I gave it a try – and a little cheating now and then by clustering the ones that belong together doesn´t harm anyone. The order is more or less random.

10. Deruta and the Sanctuary of Madonna dei Bagni
Deruta is famous for its maioliche – ceramics. They can be admired (and bought) everywhere in the town. From huge ceramic dogs to the finest handpainted plates, you name it, they have it. For a tableware addict like me it´s a paradise.
A little further, in the hamlet of Casalina, is a lovely little sanctuary, the Madonna dei Bagni, which walls are completely covered with votive tiles. The earliest date from 400 years ago and not only show personal stories, but also the development of the maiolica arts.
(c) Pia van Nieuwenhoven
  1. Spello and its infiorata
Spello is situated in East Umbria and it seems glued against the slopes of the Monte Subasio. Its steep streets lead you to the centre where you can find (among other beautiful things) the Santa Maria Maggiore. Inside, go and see the Baglioni Chapel with its fresco´s from Pinturicchio.

This year in june I was so fortunate as to be able to visit Spello´s famous Infiorata. This annual event on the Sunday after Corpus Domini includes colourful tapestries of flower petals, that regrettably become damaged in the traditional procession. But the flower decorations in the town were equally beautiful.

  1. Umbrian food
    As a cook, I cannot mention ten Umbrian top attractions and leave the food out. Elsewhere you can find my lyrics about olives and oil, but I did not write about strangozzi before, a typical pasta from Umbria. Or about the truffles, that make a great combination with them. Porchetta you will certainly know.
Another typical Umbrian dish are lentils (lenticchie) and the best come from Castelluccio.

As this can take ages – I can go on about Umbrian food for the rest of my life – let´s just recommend the red potatoes from Colfiorito....

…. and last but not least, La torta al Testo. This year I learned how to prepare this flat bread, baked in a special pan, the testo.

7.Norcia, the Piano Grande and Castelluccio
Talking about food means I must talk about Norcia. Food is an important item in Norcia given all the shops selling delicatessen. You could try some of the famous wild boar sausages. Norcia´s Piazza San Benedetto, facing the church by the same name, is pleasant to have a coffee at.

Leaving Norcia you can drive on to the Piano Grande, a plateau that covers over 20 km2. It is most impressive in spring, but irresistable in summer when it is in full flower

It is an experience to watch the herds of sheep, guided by their dogs

And of course, stop at Castelluccio and buy your own lentils.

6. Orvieto and its Duomo
When you visit Orvieto, in the south of Umbria, I am certain you will have a good time. Not only will the road to reach it, along the Corbara lake, provide amazing views but the town itself has real interesting attractions, like the Pozzo di San Patrizio, an underground tour, some well equipped museums and typical picturesque alleys. But of course, the thing not to miss is the Duomo. Its facade is a masterpiece at itself with its splendid colours and it sculpted bronze doors. You could sit at the oppopsite side of the square, watching this facade for hours.

Yet, the interior is as impressive as the outside. I can strongly recommend visiting at least the Capella San Brizio and getting overwhelmed by Luca Signorelli´s fresco´s.

5. The Valnerina
Even though I have only seen a small part of the Valnerina, I have become an addict. The rough nature, the picturesque villages and hamlets and the breathtaking views guarantee an awesome passtime. I visited Scheggino, Vallo di Nera, Ferentillo and its Abbazzia and I can tell you this: I´ll be back!

4. Spoleto
I doubted to mention Spoleto for it is way too beautiful for just a few lines, but as I have spent this year´s summer there it seems not fair not to. 

The upper town is stuffed with beautiful buildings, like the Duomo and the Rocca Albornoz and I can assure you that nothing compares to a walk over the famous bridge, the Ponte delle Torri.

3. The Umbrian countryside
When you roam around the Umbrian countryside, it is like collecting little pearls that all together will form the most precious necklace ever. It can be a lovely corner in a small hamlet, a left alone chapel alongside the road, an amazing view from a hill. 

Meet a hunter that is willing to tell you his secrets and lets you pet his dog, the olive fields or those with sunflowers. I will never ever get enough of it.

2. Everything I couldn´t choose from
You may have noticed that I did not write about some famous cities in Umbria. It is not because I think they´re less worth it, but in the first place I could only name ten, in the second place, others have written about them, and in the third place there´s a chance I am allowed to write a sequel.
So maybe some day, I will tell you about Perugia, Assisi, Gubbio, Trevi, Foligno, Bevagna, Montefalco and so on.......

1. Todi

Though I knew Todi as a lovely medieval hill town, I discovered its real beauty only when I moved there four years ago. More or less accidentally, I rent a place nearby, became impressed by its surroundings and then fell in love desperately. I took a guided hiking tour that turned out to be one of the best ideas ever. 

Besides the wonderful Piazza del Popolo and the Santa Maria della Consolazione, I discovered an amount of valuable spots in town and entered buildings that I would never have found on my own. Of course you should see them yourself. I can tell you that wandering through the streets of Todi, watching its sturdy walls and gates, dreaming on the little piazza´s and admiring the views of the landscape will make you share my biggest desire. Stay forever.

Beautiful Bevagna

Thought every inch of Umbria is worth visiting, this blog is about one of my favorite villages. Bevagna.

It is, to Dutch standards, a small town in the valley of Umbria, in the province of Perugia. Its original name, Mevania, comes from the Roman period, out of which some remains in the higher part of the town testify. I mention the Teatro Romano, the Edificio delle Terme where you can see a beautiful mosaic from the second century, the Tempio, and, of course the city walls, that are built in the Middle Ages on the remains of the original Roman ones. The many entrance gates in the walls also contain the remains from both periods.

Close to the Porta Molini runs the river Clittuno. In the old times it was not only useful for transport but also made the mill work and allowed the public washhouse, a lovely, rustic spot that is still in use.

Many monuments, in fact, the whole town, testify of the Medieval period. The splendid square with its famous buildings, il Palazzo dei Consoli, la Chiesa di San Silvestro and the Chiesa di San Michele can keep you in silent admiration for a full afternoon. Don´t forget to visit the crypt in the San Silvestro.
All churches in Bevagna have something special, but personally I really like the San Francesco in the higher part of the town, mostly for the outside.

Other beautiful things
I can only consider to roam around the town and enjoy the atmosphere of its picturesque streets and alleys. The pinacoteca contains some interesting pieces of which I like the Madonna by Dono Doni the best.
Another very pleasant visit I made was la Casa Medievale. It is a reconstructed Medieval house that is said to have belonged to a rather wealthy merchant. It´s is a guided visit and I can assure you that after a few minutes, you wish you were born in those times.

Mercato delle Gaite
Speaking of the Middle Ages, I cannot leave this blog without mentioning the annual festival, Il Mercato delle Gaite. The whole town turns back to the period of 1250 – 1350 and it´s a spectacle you should not miss..For those who want to learn every detail:

My first time in Bevagna dates from 1992. It wasn´t crowded by tourists at that time and I hardly knew anything about it. Unfortunatly I arrived at lunchtime, with two small children (6 and 4) that were bored, complaining about the heat and yelling about mutant hero turtles in a silent, more or less deserted piazza. I could only think of shutting them up by stuffing them with pasta, so I asked the only other living person I saw about where to find a restaurant. This lady, looking like a battleship, looked at me disapprovingly and then said `Good afternoon` in Dutch....
She happened to live in Bevagna and told me all about the town. Since then, I return at least once a year.  

What´s another year

It´s my job to look back at things and see if there has been anything that could have made a difference. It´s also my job to look forward and calculate the risks in order to avoid them.
So it seems a good idea to practice in life.
(c) Monteolivo
2013 brought a lot of happiness. I am not going to write a top ten again because Pio and olives in Umbria will be nr. 1 and 2 again. A few of my favourite things will do.

(c) Monteolivo
My orto did its job and produced an abundancy of awesome fruit that I still have not used completely. I could even pick 17 kiwis and turned it into marmelade. 

(c) Monteolivo
The best thing is that I was given very nice recipes by people from all over the world so I could make some specialties, like fig-vinegar and pear chutney.

(c) Monteolivo
My own recipe brought me a tasty apple wine that turned out to be a little more effective than one would expect from the tast. I enjoyed it very much though.

(c) Monteolivo
Another groovy experiment was to prepare tea out of the herbs from my garden. It was fun to let the herbs dry, grind them, fill the Monteolivo teabags and end up with a box full of them, all provided with labels I designed myself. The tea tasted ever so nice, my precious roommate drank it all in two weeks. So next year, I will start earlier and produce more.

(c) Monteolivo
I can´t leave Umbria out of this blog because of everything I did, Umbria is still my best experience and my biggest desire. I spent a wonderful summer there, met new people, discovered new spots, visited old friends and places and was completely happy. I sat on the terrace every morning, watched the bird´s nest in my wall, enjoyed sunrise and cried out of fear of having to leave. And then something happened. But I´ll tell you about that later.

(c) Monteolivo
But it made my autumn an experience of pure joy and happiness in every single second of it. Picking olives is, as I said, always a pleasure and so is submerging in countrylife, but this time I was really part of it and it really was MY life. I lived it to the max.

(c) Monteolivo
2013 brought sad things too. I had to say goodbye to my dear doggy Uno and my beloved cat Vito. Rest in peace my best friends. It´s good to know you´re together and I am sure you are in a good and warm place.

So now it is time to say goodbye to 2013 and welcome 2014. You can´t tell future, but I can tell my plans. A bit of a risk for there are 17 days to go, but dreaming is allowed.

(c) Monteolivo
I am up to living in Viepri. Of course I can´t leave Holland yet, but the house is mine, I can make it my home. It felt like home, and now it IS: I can´t describe the feelings I have, but I can show you what it looks like.

(c) Monteolivo
If you want to spend your holiday there, I can tell you good news. You can. I am going to rent it out. Contact me when you´re interested,

A piece of Paradise in Perugia

Without neglecting the many other lovely spots in the city of Perugia, I would like to tell you about one in particular. Hidden behind the San Pietro Church there´s - very well kept by the Agricultural College of the University of Perugia – the Orto Medievale (medieval garden).

Typical for those times, the design of the garden is based upon a lot of symbols. I am not going to reveal all of them, but you can ask for a map 1, available in several languages, that explains them so you can completely understand them and make sure you won´t miss anything.

The first, oval shaped part of the garden represents Paradise. In the oval are three circles, each with a tree. The first tree is the Albero della Vita (tree of life), in the middle, on a `mountain` stands the Albero della Luce e della Scienza (tree of light and knowledge).

Four little wells spring forth from the mountain, called water, wine, milk and honey.

The last circle contains the Albero della Conoscenza del Bene e del Male (tree of knowledge of good and bad). You won´t be suprised that this last tree is a fig.

The centre of this Paradise is divided in twelve equal parts symbolizing the Zodiac. Each part contains the herbal plant that belongs to its zodiac sign.

Outside of Eden, you reach the Dark Forest that represents the Bad, the Sin. Yet, it´s is also the Holy Forest, with a.o. The Tree of Perfection, Tree of Spirit and the Tree of The Cross.

In the tower next to the Dark Forest you can see a reconstruction of an alchemist´s laboratory, before entering the second zone of the holy forest where the Tree of Justice, the Tree of Youth and many many others reign.

Leaving the forest you step into the Garden of Health that hosts many medical herbs, followed by the Holistic garden with its aromatic herbs. There, seven little round basins symbolize the influence of the stars. Below the so called Podium, a small cave contains purifying water running from two little falls.

Descending again you will reach the Theatrum that is built on the remains of an ancient fountain and a patio which is covered by vines and roses.

Passing an ancient sarcophagus you will return to the entrance. I would not be surprised if the only thing on your mind, like it was on mine, will be `I want to walk back in again.`

1 The explanation is based upon `Il Giardino dello Spirito`  (Alessandro Menghini)

I was here....and you can be too - the wonderful Casa Meridiana

When opening my can of extra vergine olive oil my thoughts wandered back to that marvellous day in fall when I went to pick olives at my friends place in Todi, Umbria

I really like picking olives, but it certainly makes a difference to pick them in good company and have a nice picknick outside. Another very relaxing moment occurred after the picking was done. We went inside and had a homemade limoncello – click here when you want to try and make your own.

I felt completely at ease, having finished the work and being in a beautiful countryhouse. And this is exactly what I want to tell you about. The house, called La Meridiana, is situated in the Umbrian countryside, just a few miles from Todi. 

It has a lovely garden, bordering the olive grove, with an ample pool and several cute spots to sit down and relax.

I had already gotten very enthousiastic by being outside, but when I came in I almost became lyrical about the interior. The lounge downstairs, merely used to organize tasting sessions, is decorated in all matching colours and an example of good taste.

Fortunately, my friends agreed to show me the rest of the house. Downstairs, with a view on the pool, was a nice appartment, called Il Forno (the oven) that in the past housed the oven. The oven was still visible and instantly made me feel like having a pizza on its roofed porch. I fell in love once again.

And there was even more. On the first floor I found a gorgeous living room that was serenely decorated which made it very peaceful. 

Further, the first floor consists of two large bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. 

As I was told, both rooms are decorated in the so called `arte povera` style. And it was exactly this simplicity combined to all modern comfort that made it very attractive.

And that was even before I had seen the kitchen

Not only is it fully equiped, but it is large too. When you add its interior to the thought of all the awesome Umbrian dishes, I can imagine you´d like to spend all of your holidays in this kitchen and still enjoy every minute.

Luckily, the large terrace is as appealing as the inside. Sitting there, you have a splendid view of Todi and the stunning Umbrian surroundings. 

Imagine having spent a day in this land, so rich in culture and treasures of art, and after that coming home, sit on this terrace with a drink and enjoy its beauty once again.

But even then it was not finished. 

On the second floor, called La Torre (the tower) is another large, open space suitable for four persons and another bathroom. From the wide terrace the view of Todi is overwhelming.

When writing all this my memories almost make me a bit sad because I am not there. I felt very happy there because I think this place is one of the most wonderful I have ever seen and I am longing to go back there.

But there is good news too, as it can be rented for holidays!!

The smaller one, Il Forno, is separately available as a Bed and Breakfast for 2-3 persons, but especially for families, or groups (it serves to groups from 8-12 persons) that prefer to spend time together but like a little privacy too, renting this paradise would be a great opportunity. Every part of the house can be closed and has its own entrance.

If you want to learn more, just let me know, for there´s a special possibility for the readers of my blog.

I wish everyone to experience this particularly good feeling..