Brigolante holiday rentals in Assisi, Umbria

Self-catering apartments in Assisi's town center and nearby countryside.

BLOG

2 comments

From Tours to Tables: Umbria’s Farm Bounty

After our annual August break, we’re back with our monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable! The theme this month is “From Farm to Table”, and we have a new member to welcome…Georgette Jupe from Girl in Florence in one of the most beautiful cities in Italy! Our roundtable has grown, but don’t forget to take a look at posts by Kate Bailward, Jessica Spiegel, Melanie RenzulliAlexandra Korey, Gloria, Laura Thayer, and Michele Fabio. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Welcome back to our long banquet table…come pull up a chair and join in on the conversation!

Italy Blogging Roundtable

Remember in high school when you would go to Blockbuster on Saturday night? You would wander the aisles crowded with hundreds of VHS covers lined up at attention on the shelves for an hour, undecided…maybe I should get all intellectual, you’d think, and rent a French movie. Or retro and grab a Cary Grant classic. Or Film Study and watch “Citizen Kane”. Perhaps now’s the time to see the entire Bond canon, or every movie Jack Nicholson ever made.

And, finally, exhausted with the endless options, you would say, “Fuck it,” grab a copy of “The Princess Bride” for the 14th time, and thoroughly enjoy every minute. Sometimes the obvious solution is also the most satisfying.

That’s what I felt like about this month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable theme. “From farm to table” seems tailor-made for this rural region of Umbria, where pretty much everything on your table has come from a farm…yours or someone else’s. To mix things up a bit, I toyed with a bunch of crazy interpretations of the theme (one discussing my older son’s eye-opening trip to New York City this summer, during which he went from his Umbrian farm diet to sampling more world cuisines in 15 days than he had in his previous 15 years of life), but after wandering the aisles of my mind for hours, I finally came to the conclusion that the obvious solution was also the most satisfying. So, ladies and gentlemen, I offer up “The Princess Bride” of blog posts…a quick guide to how to sample Umbria’s farm bounty during your next visit.

 Umbria farm tour

 

Agriturismo (Farm Holiday)

You can’t get more farm to table than an agriturismo, which is a working farm which also offers accommodations and/or meals to travelers. Umbria has one of the most dense concentrations of agriturismi in Italy, which is hardly surprising given its rural history and culture here and thriving tourist economy.

A caveat, however: the more posh the farm, the less likely you will be sampling anything beyond their olive oil or perhaps wine. An agriturismo can be classified as such as long as it produces at least one agricultural product, which means that alongside the small, traditional family farm (which generally includes stock, an olive grove, a small vineyard, a kitchen garden, an orchard, courtyard animals, cultivated fields, and woods), you also have large, wealthy estates which have hectares of olive trees or vines from which they produce their label of oil or wine, but nothing else. If you are looking for an upscale relais with a spa and paved parking lot, this is where you should head. If you are looking for a mamma in the kitchen who is cooking up hand-rolled tagliatelle with goose sauce featuring a fat lady you heard honking out back just yesterday, choose a simpler, more rustic agriturismo.

Many agriturismi also offer casual cooking lessons with the family, which is a great way to both sample the farm products and learn some tricks for reproducing the simple yet unforgettable flavors of the Umbrian countryside in your kitchen back home. Very few, however, will allow guests to participate in the farm work (they’ll tell you that it’s for insurance reasons, but the truth is that nothing throws a wrench into the works like well-intentioned city folk who don’t know what they’re doing) aside from simple tasks like picking olives or grapes, but most let you pick your own produce from the home garden, gather eggs, and sample the house preserves, charcuterie, cheese, and other goodies.

farm tour umbria

 

Farm Visits

Even if you prefer to stay in town rather than an agriturismo in the countryside, you can work in a farm visit or two to your itinerary. Umbria is blanketed with farms, large and small, though most are not set up for visits…and even those which are open to the public are quite informal, so don’t expect a White House tour. Here are some good options:

Wineries

Remember, a cantina (or winery) is a farm…it’s just specialized in a single product. My favorite area for winery visits is around Montefalco, home of Umbria’s flagship Sagrantino wine. Try the Di Filippo or Scacciadiavoli wineries, which have a good balance between down-home, family hospitality and organized wine tours.

Umbria’s wineries also have two open houses a year: Cantine Aperte in May and Cantine Aperte in Vendemmia in September. Things can get a little crazy during Cantine Aperte, but it’s also a great way to enjoy a day in the vineyards with music, food, tastings, and tours.

Olive Oil Mills

A mill (or frantoio) is really only interesting to visit during the fall and early winter when the harvest is coming in; the rest of the year, things are pretty quiet and your “tour” will consist of standing in a silent mill to gaze at machinery. That said, if you are visiting from October to December, it’s fun to stop by a frantoio buzzing with tractors pulling up to unload bales of olives and local farmers lounging around as their harvest is milled. Most have a small fireplace to grill bruschetta, so the newly-pressed oil can be sampled seconds after it drips out of the press.

For a list of olive oil farms and mills open to the public, take a look here. There is also an annual open house, Frantoi Aperti, each November with tastings and events.

Truffle Reserves

Ok, truffles aren’t really “farmed” in the strict sense, but the precious patches of woods where trufflers and their dogs forage for these buried treasures are certainly cultivated with as much care as fields of grain. A truffle hunt, followed by a cooking lesson and meal, is an unforgettable way to experience Umbria’s rural countryside and cuisine…especially for families with kids.

My favorite truffle producers who organize hunts and meals are Bianconi near Città di Castello and San Pietro a Pettine near Trevi.

Meat Farms

Umbria is the Iowa of Italy, a land where pork reigns supreme and the charcuterie is among the best in the world. I love visiting Peppe Fausti’s farm near Norcia, where he raises his pigs free-range (they come when he whistles…you can see it here at 2m 50s.) For locally-raised Chianina beef, heirloom Cinta Senesi pork, lamb, poultry, and game, there’s no better stop than Fattoria Lucchetti, which raises the stock and sells cuts from their farm butcher shop in Collazzone.

Cheese Farms

Some of Umbria’s best artisan cheeses are made by Rita and Francesco Rossi near Cascia, but I have recently fallen in love with Diego Calcabrina’s goat cheese, made with his tiny herd at the foot of Montefalco. Il Secondo Altopiano outside of Orvieto is also known for its amazing artisan goat cheeses, and Walter Facchini near Sigillo in the Monte Cucco Park has a variety of wonderful pecorino sheep cheeses.

Herbs, Jams, Saffron, and Other Special Things

A special mention to one of my favorite farms in Umbria, Zafferano e Dintorni, in the breathtaking Valnerina along the Nera river. Marta and her family (21m 30s) began with an orchard, then added saffron and medicinal herbs, and now have a number of excellent jams and preserves, herbal teas, and other goodies available to taste and purchase at their family farm right next to the San Felice di Narco church.

 

img_8668

 

Farm Tours

So, yes, you can definitely go commando and just show up at the farms listed above for a walk around and tastings. That said, many of these spots are not easy to find, the hosts speak little if any English, and they don’t have a staff…so if they are busy with chores or simply not home, you may be out of luck.

By far the best way to tour Umbria’s farms are with a local guide on a farm tour. This solves all of the logistical hitches in one fell swoop: you don’t have to worry about navigating the confusing country roads, you have a translator and interpreter by your side, and your visit is arranged in advance, so the family knows you are coming and can spend some time showing you around. You can also often have a farm meal during your visit, or a cooking demonstration or lesson.

Two of the best farm tours around are those offered by Alessandra at Discovering Umbria and Jennifer at Life…Italian Style. I have been sending guests to both for years, and everyone has come away raving about their wonderful experience.

farm tours umbria

Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends – and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

0 comments

Events In & Near Assisi, September 2016

Have you read Adam Grant’s work on procrastination? No? Well, to recap, there is a bell curve relationship between procrastination and creativity. Those who complete tasks immediately aren’t very creative, because they usually go with their first idea which is often not the best. Those who never complete tasks are also not very creative, because they spend their entire lives eating Cheetos and binging on Netflix. But then there’s a big sweet spot in between filled by those who procrastinate just enough to allow the creative juices to flow and the big ideas to take form. These are the “original thinkers”, and this is the magic land where we all want to live.

All this to say that those of you who think that the reason it took me four years from having the idea to throw up a quick monthly post listing events in and around Assisi to executing that idea is because I’m a lazy S.O.B. are wrong. I’m an “original thinker”.

So there.

 

Events In & Near Assisi, September 2016

**A note: there are, of course, dozens more events in addition to those I list below. I selected these based on their interest for those who may not speak Italian, quality, and personal experience. If you think I missed something good, please leave your suggestions in a comment below!

 By Jeffrey Bruno from New York City, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Special Events

Pope Francis – Assisi (September 21)

This may be either a reason to visit or a reason to stay away, depending upon your views and tolerance for crowds. Either way, The Man in the Tall Hat is coming to town to mark the International Day of Peace (or International Day of Prayer for Peace) by meeting with leaders of the world’s most important religions. His Holiness will land by helicopter in Santa Maria degli Angeli, and then proceed by motorcade to the Basilica of Saint Francis. If you are hoping for a peek at the pope, try waiting along the road running from Santa Maria to Assisi between 11 and 11:30 am, or his public address at the ceremony beginning at 5:15 pm in the Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco.

 Photo by Michela Simoncini via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/comunicati/5629169957

Food and Wine

Festa della Cipolla -Cannara (September 1 to 11; closed the 5th)

I have called this the Uber-Sagra in the past, and it remains both the biggest and onioniest food festival around. September is a great month for food in Umbria – the mushrooms are in season, the grapes are picked, and the tomatoes are bottled up – and it’s still warm enough in the evenings to sit outside at a sagra and savor the authentic atmosphere (read: plastic cutlery and loud music). There are a bunch of food festivals around in September, but if you have to do one, do this one. http://www.festadellacipolla.com/

 

Cantine Aperte in Vendemmia – Wineries across Umbria (September 11)

Cantine Aperte is a huge winery festival held in late May during which producers across Italy open their doors to the public with special tastings, meals, concerts, and events. It is, quite frankly, a bit of a madhouse and in recent years rather than just wander from winery to winery – which was the original concept when the event was first created – I have chosen a single cantina to hang out at for the day, usually based on the event they were offering and the price. Cantine Aperte in Vendemmia is its quieter younger sibling, an open winery event held just one day in the fall when the harvest is in. The fewer numbers of wineries that participate and the limited fanfare make this a less of a scene and the perfect way to visit a number of area producers. This year two wineries I like, SAIO and Terre Margaritelli, are both participating, among others. For the full list, check here: http://www.movimentoturismovino.it/it/news/umbria/1/umb/1856/cantine-aperte-in-vendemmia-2016-umbria/

 

Enologico – Montefalco (September 16-18)

Montefalco is one of my favorite hilltowns in Umbria, home to my favorite restaurant and Umbria’s flagship Sagrantino wine. You can enjoy both during this weekend dedicated to Sagrantino, with tastings of both the regular and sweet passito paired with savory dishes, chocolate, and even cigars. There are also concerts, themed meals, events in area wineries, and guided hikes and bikes through the surrounding countryside. You’ll have to wade through the program in Italian, but it’s worth the effort: http://www.enologicamontefalco.it/programma-2016/

sagra musicale

Culture and Music

Sagra Musicale Umbra – Towns across Umbria (September 8 – 18)

This is one of the region’s music festivals that I list among the best, and not only for the concerts. The venues are often just as much of a draw as the music, and many musicians play in churches, abbeys, and palazzi generally closed to the public. The larger orchestral concerts are held in the Perugia’s historic Morlacchi Theater and Saint Francis’ Basilica in Assisi, but check out the soloists in spots like the Museum of Saint Francis in Montefalco or Abbey of San Nicolò in San Gemini. For a full program and ticket prices, you can take a look at the official website here: http://www.perugiamusicaclassica.com/sagra-musicale-umbra/

 

Stagione Lirica Sperimentale – Spoleto and other locations (September 9 – 25)

Spoleto is famed for its Festival dei Due Mondi, a global gathering of music, theater, and dance each July, but its excellent Experimental Opera Company is less known. That’s a shame, because if you like opera (like I secretly do), they put on quality productions that are often just enough off-kilter to be interesting; this year they are staging Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera”. You can see schedules and information on the website at www.tls-belli.it and purchase tickets through Ticket Italia (www.ticketitalia.com).

Photo by Harry Wood via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/harrywood/19204071820

Historic Festivals

Giostra della Quintana – Foligno (September 1 – 18)

Umbria is awash with historic festivals, most set in the Middle Ages around the time the local saints – Francis, Claire, Benedict, and Valentine, to name just a few – put this region on the map. Foligno’s Giostra della Quintana in September instead evokes the Baroque 1600’s, with a jousting tournament done in elaborate period costumes, elegant banquet dinners, pageants, parades, and drum corps, and a parallel Segni Barocchi festival celebrating the music and culture of that period, all of which relatively undiscovered by tourists. The high point of this sumptuous festival is the solemn procession and blessing of the horses the evening before the tournament. Check Quintana events at http://www.quintana.it/ and the Segni Barocchi program here: http://www.comune.foligno.pg.it/categorie/segni-barocchi-festival-xxxvii-2016

Photo by Alex Barrow via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexbarrow/2314061951

Markets

Mercanti in Piazza – Foligno (September 10th)

An antique, artisan, and used market held the 2nd Saturday of each month from sunrise to sunset in the center of Foligno.

 

Mercantino dell’Antico – Perugia (September 11th)

Perugia’s monthly antique market is held the 2nd Sunday of each month in Piazza della Libertà at the far end of the main corso through the historic center. You can find antique furniture and decor, art, clothing, and accessories.

 

L’Antico….. fa Arte – Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi (September 11th)

Assisi’s tiny antique market is worth a stroll if you happen to be in town the second Sunday of the month. There is a small group of tables hawking antique treasures and gewgaws in the piazza along the side of the basilica in Santa Maria degli Angeli, located in the valley below Assisi.

 

City Vintage – Perugia ( September 9 – 11)

I went to this fun vintage market last year, and had a ball. Lots of great fashion and accessories, alongside vinyl, decor, and lots of rockabilly tattooed ladies. It’s held at he Frontone Gardens, so take a stroll along Corso Cavour to check out the great shops and restaurants in this hip neighborhood of Perugia’s centro storico.

 

Pages:1234567...111»