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Spello would be our first stop in
Umbria, from there we would move on to Bevagna and
Spoleto. Located in the geographical center of the
Italian peninsula Umbria is a compact region rich in
natural beauty. Comprised of 53% mountains, 41% hills and
6% plains and valleys, you find most of its towns perched
on the side of mountains or atop its hills. There are no
big cities here. Perugia with 150,000 is the largest town.
The old town of Spello, with a
population of about 8,000, rests on a vast crag on the
extreme southern slope of Mount Subasio. Viewed from the
distance it's a sight to behold, the pink, white and gray
stone of the ancient town walls and gates, towers,
arches, and homes spilling gracefully down the
mountainside. The beauty of Spellos architecture
and the stone work of the narrow, steep streets, tiny
hidden squares, covered passageways, terraces, stairways
and archways will forever be lodged in my memory.
We had planned to take a taxi from
the train station to our hotel, Palazzo Bocci, via Cavour 17. So much for plans! The tiny
station was closed and no taxis were in sight.
Fortunately we had our cell phone and called Palazzo
Bocci to have them send a taxi. Ah, there are no taxis in
Spello; they come from nearby Foligno! Thankfully our
host, Fabrizio Buono, was at the station in a matter of
minutes to retrieve us. His swift response was indicative
of the kind and gracious hospitality we encountered not
only at Palazzo Bocci but throughout our entire stay in
Palazzo Bocci is right in the
center of town. The original building dates back to the
12th century. It was restored during the 18th and 19th
centuries. It is a splendid house. As we entered through
the tall wooden doors our eyes were drawn to a very
pretty atrium at the end of the reception corridor which
Linda could not wait to photograph. Nor could she be
stopped from moving to the adjacent frescoed and
comfortably-furnished reading room-bar with fireplace.
There are cheerful sitting rooms
behind reception where the breakfast buffet is served and
where an Internet point is available and an adjacent
picturesque garden where breakfast or beverage can be
taken in warm weather.
The full impact of the classic
character of this wonderful villa hit us when we walked
into the main salon on the first floor with its lovely
frescoed ceilings and walls within gorgeous architectural
designs of half columns and arches. Our attractively-furnished
suite, just off the salon, was comprised of a generous-sized
bedroom, a large living room with a fireplace and a
bathroom with a whirlpool tub-shower combo, equipped with
quality bathrobes and towels and a good supply of
grooming goodies. We would be very happy here with lots
of old world comfort and service.
Across from the hotel is one of
Spello's most important churches, Santa Maria Maggiore.
It is said to have been built on the ruins of a temple
dedicated to Juno and Vesta. The original Romanesque plan
was replaced by the present Baroque facade, altars and
stucco work inside. To the left is the imposing
Romanesque bell tower decorated with two Roman columns at
The portal displays Romanesque
friezes saved from the first building. There are
interesting carvings on the wooden doors. Behind the
altar, on the left side of the church is the Baglioni
Chapel (also known as the Beautiful Chapel), completely
covered with frescoes painted by Pinturicchio (real name,
Bernardino Di Betto) in 1501 during the period of the
priorship of Troilo Baglioni. The canopy of the high
altar was the work of Rocco da Vicenza. The elegant
balanced construction rests on four columns connected by
pointed arches and crowned with a caisson dome. Many more
works of art and sculpture make Santa Maria Maggiore an
important part of any visit to Spello.
Across the street from the Palazzo
Bocci, and under the same ownership, is Ristoranti Il
Molino. Molino means "mill" and indeed the
ristorante is in a 13th century building that had been a
mill. The arched brick ceilings running down the stucco
walls create a dramatic environment. A large wood-burning
grill against the rear wall serves as an attractive focal
point. We were warmly greeted by the hostess and staff
who proved to be extremely professional and caring.
The menu was relatively short, but
each item read like a gourmet delight. We gave up and
asked our waiter and the hostess to choose for us, a very
wise decision. We were to share two antipasti, three
pastas and one secondo. The preparation and presentation
of each course was outstanding.
Calamari sfuggenti ripiene di
mousse di patate e gamberi con bisquit di crostacei
appassionati was an assortment of very fresh shrimp,
calamari, squid and artichoke in a sauce prepared with
the head of the shrimp. The freshness and flavor made a
perfect marriage. The very best antipasto to date was
next, cestino brise con pate di fegatini e gelatina di
vin santo su crema di ceci. A magical liver pate was
served in a homemade biscuit cup with an incredible
chickpea sauce and a gelatin of vin santo.
Montefalco Arnaldo-Caprai-2002 was
a very nice medium-body red we enjoyed drinking
throughout the dinner.
The pastas were marvelously creative.
Tagliarini con prosciutto in polvere di pane, pecorino e
pistacchi was long thin homemade noodles blended with ham
and white wine, topped with fennel seeds, pistachios and
sheep cheese. Next, tagliatelle strascinate ai legumi di
castelluccio, narrow ribbons of pasta tossed with a sauce
of chickpeas, lentils, beans, celery, carrot, and onion
boiled together and pureed with olive oil. And lastly
cappellacci ripieni di verza bianca in salsa di guanciale
e scalogno, large ravioli filled with cabbage in a sauce
of dry pork, tomato, white wine and grated cheese.
There was sufficient time between
courses to savor the flavor of each one while looking
forward to the next. Our secondo was coscia di coniglio
farcita di radicchio e zucca gialla con risina di Spello.
Roasted rabbit was stuffed with radicchio, squash and
beans of Spello. As if I needed another way to love
rabbit! We finished with lemon sorbet served in half of a
Spello was already shaping up to be
a return destination.
What a wonderful buffet breakfast!
All the basics were well-represented but what was very
special were the wedges of local cheeses, highlighted by
two pecorini and the selection of local salamis and hams
waiting to be sliced. The moist, dense apple cake and
fresh fruit were delish.
Today was a very lucky day! We went
to the tourist office, a few steps from the hotel where
we met Luana, who has lived in Spello her entire life.
She offered to take us on a tour of the town and
surrounding area. We could not have had a better person
to show us around. She is not only sweet and personable
but also very smart and knowledgeable about her town and
region. In addition, she knows everyone on a first name
We turned left out of the tourist
office to a large terrace that overlooked the countryside
for miles. We could see the rows of olive trees and
vineyards all the way to Foligno and beyond. There are
wonderful views in all directions from the terraces,
streets and homes along the perimeter of town.
Since olive oil and wine are the
two most important agricultural products of the area,
Luana suggested a visit to Frantoio di Spello, societa
cooperative agricola, Voc. Banche 1/B, oleificiodispello.com,
just outside of the town walls. Only olives from Spello
are processed here to ensure the uniqueness of the oil;
thus the production is very limited. This is an artisanal
operation, not industrial. The olives are weighed as they
arrive so that each farmer receives his proportionate
share of the production. The seasons crop had long
since been processed and they were hard at work cleaning
the machinery and vats. The process, in simple terms,
consists of crushing, separating skins, storing oil in
steel vats for a month and then moving progressively to
other vats for bottling. This would be the beginning of
our olive oil learning experience.
On our way to the winery we stopped
at the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre (1st century).
It was believed to have held 15,000 spectators. A few
meters down the road is the 12th century Romanesque
Chiese S. Claudio built near other Roman structures. Just
past the church is the impressive Villa Fidelia. It was
built at the end of 16th century on Roman foundations of
the Tempio di Venere, the Theatre and the Thermal Baths.
The present Villa dates to the 18th century. Of
particular interest is the Italian-style garden, open-air
theatre and chapel of S. Fedele.
winery is located on via Lombardia 1. After a tour of the
modern facility, we enjoyed a wine and olive oil tasting
along with some freshly made bruschetta. The olive oil
was quite nice.
If it wasn't for Luana we would not
have known about Colle Pino (Pine Hill), 4 km from Spello.
This village sits on high with panoramic views of the
valleys below and the surrounding snow-capped mountains.
The air was delicious as Luana directed us thru the
immaculate, narrow, winding stone streets. The homes were
gorgeous and perfectly maintained. Still in place is the
original fountain that was used for washing clothes.
Further up the hill is La Spella, fondly called Spello
Beach, because in summer folks from Spello go up
there to sunbathe.
We took a lunch break back in
Spello at Trattoria Albergo Il Cacciatore, via Guilla 42,
Telephone 0742-651141. The hotel has 21 rooms but we were
here to eat not sleep. The white walls and wood trim and
the panoramic terrace make this a comfortable dining
place for all seasons. It was a happy lunch time scene
with diners ranging from business people to families.
After the rather large breakfast, we were determined not
to overdo it at lunch, but it wasnt easy. The food
and aromas around us were extremely enticing. To start we
settled on an assortment of bruschette, liver pate,
tomato basil, funghi pate and olive oil. The bread was
chewy, crusty and full of flavor. Each topping was
outstanding. The owner insisted we try his homemade
fagioli, as his guest. I loved it.
This family-run trattoria is very
proud of its hand made pasta, as well they should be. The
tagliatelle alla regina was amazing. The noodles were
tossed with funghi, peas and olive oil and sprinkled with
tiny strips of ham and Parmigiano. Excellent biscotti
finished us nicely, after a salad of assorted greens and
radicchio for health and homemade red wine straight from
the barrel for the heart all at a reasonable cost.
The streets of Spello are
captivating. Each turn and sideways glance is another
architectural delight, another smile on our faces. Via
Torri di Properzio, off of Via Cavour, leads to Porta
Venere and the Porperzio Towers.
The imposing structure consists of
two majestic dodecagonal towers on a square base, one on
either side of a triple barrel-vaulted gate (the gate in
the middle being larger than the ones on the sides).
The pretty tree-lined Piazza della
Republica is the heart of the town. On the corner of via
Garibaldi is the Old Town Hall built in 1270. It was
enlarged and transformed during the 16th century. It is
now used for various municipal services, a museum and an
The 17th century Palazzo Urbani on
via Garibaldi serves as the Town Council headquarters.
High above the entrance from via della Catena is a long
gallery, with a roof, pillars and supporting beams all of
wood. Its quite an architectural deviance in this
all stone town.
Nearby on via Garibaldi 13 is a
wonderful craft shop, La Bottega Degli Intrecci, where
old weaving techniques are employed in the creation of
unique household items and clothing. The resulting
textures, colors and shapes are very interesting.
Off via Giulia are via Arco di
Augusto, via Fonte del Mastro, via S. Ercolano and via
Borga della Fortezza, a network of narrow streets and
alleys with marvelous stone archways that gracefully
support the handsome stone buildings on either side.
Potted plants line the ways adding charm and beauty.
The nearby Municipal Theatre
Subasio has been restored and reopened thanks to the Town
Council. It's a jewel of 18th century architecture.
Horseshoe-shaped, it seats sixty-nine on the ground floor
and has three balconies.
The cute 14th century Oratory of S.
Biagio, with some interesting 15th and 16th century
frescoes, is on via Giulia.
Luana was kind enough to take us to
see her parents apartment so that we would be able
to appreciate the lifestyle of the town. We could have
moved right in! The views from the windows and patio were
heavenly - verdant valleys, hills and mountains as far as
the eye could see. The smell of the freshly-picked, wild
herbs on the kitchen counter top was enticing. Luckily
her parents were not at home or we probably would have
made an offer to buy the place on the spot!
Portonaccio is the 14th century
tower-gate through which you enter Spello. A few yards
inside is the Piazza Kennedy in front of which is the
impressive Porta Consolare, to the right of which is a
high tower with an olive tree on the top and a beautiful
mediaeval fountain at the base. Most important is the
popular Caffe Porta Consolare, across from the gate that has fabulous
gelato and outstanding coffee.
After our refreshment Luana took us
over to the studio/gallery of artist Elvio Marchionni,
via Consolare 78, http://www.marchionni.it (website
presently under construction) Work tables, materials,
finished pieces, works in progress, implements, brushes
etc. are scattered about in rooms of stone-vaulted
ceilings on top of Roman ruins.
It's the perfect workshop for Elvio
Marchionni, an artist of considerable talent and
We found his works of religious
art, medieval figurative art and modern abstraction to be
incredible. Elvio prepares the background of his
paintings by following a strict ritual which gives
various and surprising results. He layers plaster, rags,
colors and other assorted elements to create a stratified
surface of different materials which sketch out the
imaginary coordinates of the painting to follow. The
results are paintings rich in color, texture and detail,
a joy to behold.
Enoteca Properzio, Piazza G. Matteotti 8/10, is diagonally
across the street from Palazzo Bocci. This superior
Enoteca is the domain of Roberto Angelini when he is not
off around the world teaching all there is to know about
This ancient medieval building of
stone and vaulted ceilings is the ideal home for
displaying, and selling, local, national and imported
wines. Twenty-two hundred labels grace the shelves along
with other typical Umbrian products like olive oil,
honey, marmalades, sauces, mushrooms, truffles, cheeses
and sausages. In addition to the main tasting room and
bar, there is a rear patio and adjoining tasting room.
The modern design and ancient origins create a
delightfully relaxed atmosphere for enjoying your wine
with wonderful choices from the tasting (degustazione)
We started our adventure with
Berlucchi Cellarius 200, Brut Spumonti. This was followed
by a bowl of lentils cooked in chicken broth, with olive
oil added to taste, accompanied by a 1998 L'Etrusco. This
white, with flavors of vanilla, apricot and peach, from a
farm between Spello and Assisi, is available only here.
Tili Assisi Rosso Sangioviese, a typical local red with a
taste of cherry and chocolate, went nicely with local
sausage and broccoli. Montefalco Rosso, 1999 from
Antonelli was served with a luscious bowl of Spello soup.
Bruschetta of black truffle pate, white truffle pate and
sun dried tomato were married with a rosso from Alois/Rebulanum,
Campagna. We finished with an aged Pecorino cheese that
was marvelous. All the wines and foods were delicious,
the prices quite reasonable and the service very helpful
As we crossed the road to our
villa, we agreed that Spello is on our must-return list.
Tomorrow morning, were off to Bevagna!
Rivarotta di Pasiano
Vicenza | Padova
Parma | Lucca | Firenze
Lucignano | Spello
Bevagna | Spoleto | Roma
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