Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Frolicking in the Italian countryside

The Italian countryside is a dream come true. A food lover's paradise. A wine drinker's heaven. A photographer's nirvana. O, when will return to you, Dear Umbria? Or can you come back in my suitcase to Holland?

After the busy day in Rome, I met Corinne back at the hotel and we wandered around Trestevere in search of a pizzeria. It was a bit early for dinner, so we settled on a place that was nearby and would let us sit with a glass of wine while the oven was heating up. We caught up about our days and enjoyed the last bits of warm sun. And then we ate. And ate. And ate some more. All of it was delicious.

It was about 9pm when we decided that the traffic can't  be terrible anymore and we should hit the road to Orvieto. I was a bit afraid of the drive ahead, but at least I had someone else holding the map and helping direct. We got out of Rome fairly easily--only had to circle around a few times at one point--and made it to Orvieto in about 2 hours.

While researching places to stay in Orvieto, advertisements for Monastery hotels came popping up. It did intrigue me and, seeing that it was quite reasonably priced, I went with a monastery in the middle of the old city. The one major downside was the 'very strict' curfew of 11pm. We arrived literally one minute before 11pm. PHEW! I really wanted to avoid any sort of physical or verbal lashing by an Italian nun.

A very nice older lady greeted us at the door. First disappointment was that she was wearing normal clothes. Where was the black garb? Second, I was a little freaked out. It was so quiet and dark. Not many know this, but I'm kind of afraid of the dark. Especially when you can almost see down a hallway except for the last little bit. It took about 27 minutes to get to our small, simple room. The lady showed us all the prayer rooms and breakfast room, and she walked so slow--even slower while we walked past the life-size statue of Jesus hanging from the cross. I'm sure she noticed that neither of us signed the cross nor bowed our heads. Bad girls. Very bad girls.

I didn't sleep all too well that first night. It was almost too quiet. And the church bells went off every 15 minutes. Every 15 minutes! But in the morning, the light made everything better. We opened our window and the view of the hills surrounding us was stunning.

We skipped breakfast at the monastery and went straight to the first cafe we saw. Uno espresso, per favore! And a fresh almond croissant too. So good. Then we checked out the Saturday market. So many fresh fruits and vegetables! In Amsterdam, we get arugula from Italy--but not this arugula! Then we headed to the famous Duomo. What an impressive church. I'd never seen anything like it before, especially the alternating black and white stone. The frescoes on the inside were also incredible. So detailed, a bit gruesome, and very colorful.

From here, we wandered around the town a bit. We found ourselves at another cafe, drinking another espresso and eating another croissant--this one filled with delicious fresh berries. So good. While we sat, we planned the day. It was starting to get busy in Orvieto (usual day-trippers from Rome), so we decided to take the car and head to Civita, another hill town Rick Steves recommended, and then to a winery, and then back for dinner. Note: don't forget to make reservations for dinner in advance, these small hill town restaurants book up quick!

Civita di Bagnoregio was stunning. There are no words for that fairytale view of this small hilltop village. In the picture above, you can see that it's also called 'il paese che muore' or 'the dying town.' It's roots date back 2,500 years and is the birthplace of famous Saint Bonaventure. It used to be much bigger than this, but erosion forced many homes down the hill and residents fled over time; now only about 15 residents remain. The bridge that now connects the 'mainland' to the village was originally a crest of the same volcanic matter the mountain is made of. We ate an incredible meal at the restaurant overlooking Civita. Caramelized pear inside pockets of fresh fagottini pasta, covered with truffled olive oil. The one we tasted was the foglie al tartufo, green basil pasta with truffles. So good.

After exploring the car-free and cat-filled town, we headed back to the car--which was parked a mile away. Our next stop was Custodi family winery, one of Rick's favorites. The youngest Custodi, a woman about our age, took us on a tour of the winery and explained their wine-making process. They produce about 25,000 bottles a year and make wine in the classic Orvieto (Umbrian) style--which I guess means that they blend a lot.  Besides merlot, I didn't recognize any other varietals they grow. After the tour, we tasted 3 wines and their home-grown and -pressed olive oil. I took home a bottle of their Orvieto Classico and the olive oil. Delish!

It was about 6pm when we got back to the monastery. Still 2 hours before dinner, and a nap was in order. For dinner, we went to this small place Rick told us about. He said the 'Nidi' pasta was amazing here, so we ordered that and the 'ombricelli'. Had no idea what was coming, but it was bound to be good! And it was! Insanely good. After we ate all we could, one of the chefs came out and talked to us about the dishes. The nidi is lasagna pasta rolled up with cheese, cheese, and more cheese. I'll have to try it at home!

The next morning, despite my terrible heart burn and general indigestion (I couldn't even stomach an espresso!) we checked out and headed to one last hill town, Orte. It was definitely off the beaten path--not even Rick mentioned it! We were the only tourists there. It was quiet and lovely. We had a quick walk around and a quick bite and then headed to Fiumicino for both our flights. What a weekend, I can't wait to come back to the Italian countryside!

1 comment:

  1. Makes me want to jump on a plane to Italy immediately. -dad


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