Alert all the senses: you are in Umbria! A region that is always ready to enchant in any season of the year you decide to visit it, as Francesca Brunelli, who through her page I live Umbria not only deals with the promotion and tourist enhancement of her region, but also helps concrete with valuable advice and suggestions for those like us who want to visit it, points out.
Umbria, a region that enchants
It goes without saying that Umbria enchants. It also struck the young Virginia Woolf who landed here during her trip to Italy at the beginning of the twentieth century and wrote in her notebooks the emotions that this land was able to transmit, noting “that it has its own character and will soon make any other landscape insipid”. To agree with her, one must allow oneself to be led through these territories which have maintained the poetry of the paintings of Perugino and the first Raphael, giving “listening” to the five senses.
Starting from the view of the undulating profiles of the countryside where the hills covered with vineyards run between olive trees and lovingly cultivated fields. And then admiring the blue of the sky, clear and immense as we enjoyed it, which melts into the fiery sunsets. Let yourself be dazzled by the white marble that shines in Spoleto, a town that has conquered our hearts.
Hearing: those who come to Umbria, in Valnerina in particular, must practice silence, to be lulled by the sound of church bells or bells hanging from the necks of cows and horses that graze with sheep and goats on the gentle hills of this territory crossed by the Nera river.
The taste. Each town has its own culinary specialty, but the main points are mushrooms, cured meats, cheeses like caci and caciotte, legumes and black truffles that abound in the areas we visited, between Spoleto and Norcia. How to give up a nice plate of strangozzi, noodles without egg, seasoned with a grated truffle? Or a selection of cheeses and cured meats?
Of course they have never been lacking, but we have tasted some of them directly “at home” in the countryside of Monteleone di Spoleto such as cured meats at the Casale Montebello farmhouse and ricotta “seasoned” with chat and coffee with the Reali family at Il Pastore di Rescia.
Do not miss the lake or river fish, which if well prepared as we tasted it at the restaurant La Casa Rosa of the Castello di Postignano, certainly does not make you regret that of the sea. And every moment of the day is well worth a crescia or pie al testo, based on unleavened dough and cooked on the testo, a red-hot stone disk, excellent with Norcia ham or sausages.
And then the wines. In Umbria they produce very good ones, from the famous Sagrantino di Montefalco, a red with great character, to the very pleasant white Grechetto Doc of the Martani Hills. Until the lesser known Ciliegiolo di Narni, obtained from a unique vine that managed to survive extinction only thanks to the great passion of a small group of producers and that made us “discover” Carla in her Hora Media at Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle. To conclude on a sweet note with Vernaccia di Cannara, a cherished wine that according to tradition is tasted on the morning of Easter day while having a hearty breakfast with cheesecake, capocollo and hard-boiled eggs, as Diletta told us during the tasting at the Cantina Di Filippo.
The touch is stimulated by tracing with the fingers the surfaces of walls and buildings that look like theatrical backdrops so much they are harmoniously wedged into the landscape, although here unfortunately frequent earthquakes do their damage. For example, it was not possible for us to admire the Abbey of Sant’Eutizio, one of the most famous monuments of the Valnerina, because after the devastating earthquake of 2016 that knocked down most of the churches and monastic complexes in the area it is still completely in ruins.
A different and more fortunate fate for the Abbey of Santa Croce di Sassovivo, near Foligno, one of the most evocative places of the spirit in all of Umbria, the land of San Francesco, where certainly the mystical inspiration is present everywhere.
It emerges imposingly among the woods of tall holm oaks perched on Mount Aguzzo and forcefully imposes its millenary history on anyone who approaches it. After ups and downs, this ancient Benedictine complex has since 1979 returned to a place of the spirit thanks to the Little Brothers of Jesus Caritas, a community of religious that goes back to Charles de Foucauld, inspirer and supporter of a frontier monasticism.
Everywhere silence, peace and beauty find their apex in the famous thirteenth-century Romanesque cloister closed by a portico of 128 paired columns with white marble lily capitals, punctuated by 58 arches on which a finely carved and inlaid polychrome cornice stands out.
A staircase leads to the first floor where there are the chapel, the refectory and the Abbot’s apartment, while in the garden there is a cypress genetically identical to the one planted 800 years ago by San Francesco in Verrucchio in the oldest Franciscan building in the Romagna, where, according to legend, the saint stuck a stick in the earth around which roots and leaves grew: the gigantic cypress that is over seven centuries old is still visible there in the cloister.
Another corner of the Middle Ages that has survived the passing of centuries is that of the Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle where we had the great pleasure of staying overnight during our tour in Valnerina. To visit the abbey church commissioned by the Lombard duke Faroaldo II built on the remains of an ancient Roman temple and decorated with frescoes dating back to 1100, a pictorial cycle considered the largest in Umbria until the construction of the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi.
Beautiful scenes from Genesis with Adam among the animals and the Madonna of Loreto painted in 1513 by Giovanni di Girolamo. Very interesting also the magnificent Longobard altar from the eighth century AD, marble sarcophagi in which the Lombard dukes are buried and those placed one on top of the other that housed the relics of the Hermit Saints Lazarus and John around which it is still possible to take a tour today as a sign of devotion and to ask for a grace.
With a single ticket, you can also take the opportunity to visit the Romanesque crypt of the church of Santo Stefano in Ferentillo where some mummies are preserved in crystal cases, discovered in 1805 when a Napoleonic edict ordered the exhumation of the bodies from inside the churches. Scholars argue that the excellent conservation of the bodies is due to the physical and chemical characteristics of the soil. This time we didn’t have time to see them but we reserve the right to return to Ferentillo which, mummies or not mummies, is worth a visit because it is a unique country of its kind as it is divided exactly into two parts by the Nera river which separates it in two smaller villages: Matterella and Precetto.
Finally the sense of smell that is certainly captured by the robust dishes of Umbrian cuisine that never ignore olive oil among the best in Italy, but then turns its attention to the aromas of wood, mushrooms, fruit, must that delighted us walking along the country roads following the invitation that the American writer Henry James addressed to the visitor, that of “walking everywhere very slowly and aimlessly”.
In partnership with iliveumbria.com