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Rivarotta di Pasiano
Vicenza | Padova
Parma | Lucca | Firenze
Lucignano | Spello
Bevagna | Spoleto | Roma


Spello, Bevagna and Spoleto are close, friendly neighbors in Umbria, a compact region. So it was that our host, Francesco, offered to drive us from Spello to Spoleto, saying he’d welcome the opportunity to visit with his friend, Luigi Capobianchi, our host at Villa Milani.

After our freshly squeezed blood orange juice, breakfast buffet treats, and pampering by the sweet staff, we were on our way. Francesco described the sights and points-of-interest along the way. Spoleto - View from Villa Milani

Villa Milani, sits majestically atop a hill 8 km outside of the town with incredible views of the ancient town center, the Assisi valley and forested mountainsides with snow capped peaks. The yellow villa is surrounded by 8 hectares of natural meadows and woods (with trails), including a lovely Italian garden with ruins of from Roman and Renaissance periods, a panoramic terrace adorned by mythological statues and a tempting swimming pool. We were enthralled with our choice and we hadn't even gone inside.
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The villa, built in 1880, later became the country residence of Giovanni Battista Milani, one of the most prominent Roman architects of his time. He enlarged and furnished the villa in classical Renaissance style and enriched it with antique art, which he loved. The ownership of the property has remained with the Milani family. Giovanna Milani and her husband Luigi Capobianchi have transformed the villa into a refined eleven-room lodging, without disturbing the beauty of the original mansion.

Giovanna and Luigi were both on hand to greet us and make us feel welcome and at home. The beauty and comfort we experienced outside carried into the entryway. Surrounded by soft pastel colors, antique pieces, a stunning marble staircase with a graceful wooden railing and a glimpse into the living room we knew this was a special home.

Giovanni Battista Milani's creativity was brought to life when we entered the breathtaking living room. We were greeted by two bearded men supporting the mantel on either side of a huge gorgeous fireplace. The room is filled with an eclectic mix of masterpieces that originated in ancient churches and buildings. Elegant furnishings and rich fabrics of the drapes and upholstered pieces add to the drama. This room, surrounded by the beauty of nature and views of the ancient town below, sets the tone of the villa, comfort and refined style, echoes of its elegant history.

Each of the eleven rooms, different in size, shape, and design, is romantically named for a constellation. Our large corner room, with incredible views, was called Cassiopea. Attractive antique furnishings graced the bedroom. The generously proportioned bathroom with stall shower was supplied with top quality robes, slippers, towels and toiletry amenities.

Since it was the quiet period, Luigi and his assistant Marco offered to drive us to and from town. They and Giovanna are totally committed to the care and well being of their guests.
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It was already mid-afternoon and time for a late lunch. Marco drove us to Ristorante del Mercato, at Piazza del Mercato 29, Tel. 0743-45325. The piazza, originally the Roman Forum, was until the end of the last century the town’s busiest spot. There are several restaurants, cafes and food shops around the perimeter with an attractive fountain, built between 1746 and 1748, in the middle. It is the geographical center of the ancient town.

Even though it was late, the tables were still occupied. Wife and daughter manned the front and Dad the cucina. It's the kind of place that encourages relaxation and an unhurried, leisurely meal. The reasonably-priced menu offered a nice selection of local specialties. After a bit of consultation with the lady of the house in our "menu Italian" we decided to share stringozzi, aglio, olio, peperoncino e pomodoro (this long thick pasta is the local favorite as is this simple preparation), agnello al tartufo and a mixed salad. Rosso di Montefalco, 2001, from Rocca de Fabbri was deliciously fruity with medium body.

The freshly made pasta and the beautifully grilled lamb were exceptional and even the mixed salad deserves special mention for the freshness of the greens and excellence of the olive oil and balsamic. Poached pear, buried in dark chocolate sauce and topped with crushed nuts, was a perfect finish. The portions were more than ample so we were happy we shared. Spoleto is looking (and tasting) very good indeed! Spoleto - L'Antico Frantoio

We were to meet Marco in Piazza della Liberta so we headed in that direction along via Arco di Druso, the ancient "cardo maximus". So what if we just finished a big lunch - the sight and smells of L'Antico Frantoio, via Arco di Druso, 8, invited us in. The shop is owned by Filippo and his mother Sandra Panetti who makes many of the products available in the shop. The local meats, cheeses, oils, wines, condiments, pasta, beans, sauces were so inviting we could not leave empty handed.
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With Filippo's help, assisted by his English speaking friend who luckily dropped-by, we selected jars of Panetti Tartufata (black truffles, mushrooms), Francescana (truffles, black and green olives) and Spoletina (white truffles, artichokes and olives). Since arriving home, we have shared the Tartufata with family and friends and it is amazing. The family has its own olive groves so we included a bottle each of the Panetti extra virgin filtered and unfiltered olive oil. Time to break out the fold-up bags we packed for just such an occasion!

Turning left from the shop we passed through the Arco di Druso, the triumphal entrance to the Roman Forum. A bit further along we came to the Arco di Monterone, the gate in the Roman ring-wall that was the access to town for those coming from Rome.

Spoleto - Teatro RomanoNext we entered the Piazza Fontana with the Palazzo Mauri, the site of the public library, presently under reconstruction, and Piazza della Liberta, home of the Teatro Romano, restored at the end of the 19th century as witness to the Roman period of Spoleto. It is now a part of the National Archaeological Museum.

Thanks to superior bedding we had a marvelous sleep and when we opened the shutters were greeted by a gorgeous blanket of freshly fallen snow. We would have loved to have awakened to this sight in the "Orion" bedroom at the very top of the villa’s tower, with its 360 degree views.

The villa has two gorgeous dining rooms, one of which was being used for breakfast. Surrounded by marvelous antique furnishings and tasteful decorating, we enjoyed fresh squeezed blood orange juice, local cheeses, wonderful rolls and super coffee.

Today we start at the Casa Romana (Roman House) which was excavated beneath the old town hall between 1885 and 1914. It is situated on a terrace immediately above the forum, now Piazza del Mercato. The entrance hall has a basin for collecting rainwater and a cistern from which the water was conveyed through the house. This atrium was the fulcrum of the home with the rooms placed symmetrically around. All the rooms in the living area have mosaic floors. One room has traces of several layers of fresco. This house dates back to the time of Emperor Augustus. There was 2nd century restoration and over the past 10 years more radical reconstruction.

Passing through Piazza del Mercato, to the left of the fountain is the picturesque street of dei Duchi lined with old 15th century shops. Via Aurelio Saffi leads to the Archbishop's Palace inside of which is the Romanesque church of Sant'Eufemia characterized by a rare women's gallery. Spoleto - Duomo
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After passing the imposing Town Hall the Cathedral comes into view. A wide scenic stairway leads to the 12th century Duomo. A great bell tower stands to the left of the broad Romanesque facade. The upper part is decorated by a 1207 mosaic representing Christ with the Madonna and Saint John. The central part has a rosette with the symbols of the Evangelists. The beautiful white and pink marbled Renaissance porch has five arches leading to a remarkable Romanesque portal.

Inside are three naves, a striking apse and a dome that was rebuilt in the 17th century. There are wonderful mosaics on the floor of the central part of the nave. The apse is decorated with frescoes by Filippo Lippi while the work of Pinturicchio is in the Eroli Chapel. Of particular note is Christ Crucified painted on parchment by Alberto Sozio.

The Pinacoteca Comunale houses a wonderful collection of religious and contemporary art. Of note is a crucifix that is elaborately painted on both sides. Another interesting collection is that of ceramic sculptures by Leoncillo Leonari.

We wandered through town to via Cattaneo to have lunch at Trattoria del Quarto. This is a typical “neighborhood” trattoria with the gregarious boss totally in charge. We got a glimpse of the menu to determine the choices were excellent and the prices very reasonable. The boss insisted we leave our fate in his hands. Our experience has been very good in this regard, so away we went.

The waitress soon came over with a platter of two kinds of ham, salami, bruschetta with olive pate, fresh vegetables, pecorino and a bottle of excellent olive oil. The boss kept up a constant chatter with all the patrons around us taking time to make sure we enjoyed the antipasto and to let us know we would love what was to come, which we did. Today's strangozzi had a terrific tartufo (truffle) sauce. We told the waitress to tell the boss we were quite satisfied and full but that did not stop him from personally delivering a mixed grill of lamb, pork and sausage accompanied by fresh baked potato drizzled with olive oil. It looked and smelled awesome and we managed to almost polish it off leaving only the sausage behind. It was a very good meal at very good prices. The problem was the boss; he talks too much and he took advantage of us by deliberately ignoring our wishes.

Spoleto - Rocca AlbornozianaThe Rocca Albornoziana was was built in the second half of the 14th century on the highest part of Sant'Elia hill. The land was leveled to create a platform. The design was based on two courtyards, "d'onore" and "delle armi" and a complex system of six towers linked by high defense walls. The two large rectangular courtyards are joined by a richly decorated passageway. The rooms on the ground floor were used as kitchens, dining halls, laboratories and offices. The second storey rooms were reserved as residences of governors and popes. In the 18th century the governor's residence had to share space with a prison. In 1764 the Apostolic Palace was moved to the center of town and the Rocca became a barracks for military troops. In 1817 the papal government turned it into a penal institution with more than 500 inmates. Recent restorations have recovered much of the original remarkable decoration, especially in the "camera pinto", painted room.
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Spoleto - Ponte delle TorriThe Rocca now hosts temporary exhibitions as well functioning as the European School for the Restoration of Books and the Diagnostic Lab of Cultural Heritage. The Museum of the Dukedom of Spoleto is presently being established.

The Ponte delle Torri is 230 meters long and 80 meters high, formed by ten impressive arcades passing over a deep abyss. It was built in 1350 in order to direct the waters to the fort and to create easy access to Fortilizio dei Mulini at the other end. There are many footpaths from Mulini through the mountains behind for those so inclined.

We were fortunate to meet two wonderful young Umbrians, Cinzia and Massimo, in the tourist office in Piazza della Liberta, who helped us to learn about their town. We told them we were on a mission to learn about olive oil and they made arrangements for us to visit the nearby Paradiso di Pianciano Spoleto, telephone 0743-521251.

The beautiful house and farm dates back to the 1600s. It is surrounded by 1400 hilly hectares of fertile land which favors the production of olives, black truffle and free range cattle breeding. The black truffle of Umbria is one of the finest typical products of Umbria. Between December and mid-March expert researchers and their dogs perform daily reconnaissance to unearth the beauties. The vast pastures and woods allow for the oldest system of cattle breeding - untamed. Four hundred head of cattle of the Chianina breed are grazing from May to December and for the rest of the year their feed is totally made of farm fodder. The Chianina, characteristically lean and tasty, are enhanced by the traditional breeding system in this natural environment.

After our truffle and beef lesson Antonio Bachetoni was very pleased to show us around and teach us about olive oil. Around the year 1600, Count Pianciani planted 90 hectares of new olive groves. There are now 25000 plants, most of which are of the Moraiolo species. Due to the nature of the land, climate, working and collecting methods, the resulting oil has the organic and chemical characteristics to qualify for certification as Umbrian DOC.

Antonio reaffirmed that the olive picking must start no later than October 10th and be crushed within 24 hours of picking. The process is the same as previously described except for the additional precise DOC quality check when the oil is placed in the vats. The oil is not filtered here. Filtered oil must be bottled even more quickly than unfiltered.

We asked some questions. Which is better, filtered (clear) or unfiltered (smoky, showing sediment)? Which is better for cooking? Antonio suggested that unfiltered olive oil is the better choice. Generally, filtered oil is considered to be better for cooking. How do you know the quality? Pray, or buy bottles designated as Umbria DOC for quality assurance. The most important factor is the taste and that is an individual decision. Our conclusion is to go with unfiltered for use directly on food and either type for cooking, as long as you are satisfied with the quality. In either case, taste before buying.
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After our hearty lunch, Luigi's recommendation of La Sacrestia, via Strada Romana 8, for Napoli style pizza sounded good. Spoleto - La Sacrestia - SfogliatelleThe small ristorante e pizzeria has a friendly buzz that made us feel right at home.

Pizza Margherita DOC, mozzarella di bufala and pomodorini (sweet cherry tomato), was pretty authentic and quite wonderful. After all, the owners are from Napoli. The draft beer was also pretty good, but the best was yet to come. We overheard someone asking for sfogliatelle and found out that it was due out of the oven shortly. It was exceptional with a perfect, flaky crust and luscious boiled cream filling. Delicious and priced right – light!

Off to Rome tomorrow, leaving Umbria with wonderful experiences to ponder until we return.

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Rivarotta di Pasiano
Vicenza | Padova
Parma | Lucca | Firenze
Lucignano | Spello
Bevagna | Spoleto | Roma

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