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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 hed 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.
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
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
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
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.
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 towns 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!
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.
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.
Next 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 villas
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
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.
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
The 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.
The 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,
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.
After our hearty lunch, Luigi's
recommendation of La Sacrestia,
via Strada Romana 8, for Napoli style pizza sounded good.
The 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
Rivarotta di Pasiano
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