Postcards from Umbria, Rebecca's Ruminations, Things to do and see in Umbria


Postcards from Umbria: Spoleto’s Spectacular Sunset

I like balance and symmetry. It gives me a sense of calm when things come full circle, as if some bigger, universal equilibrium has been restored and the galaxy can once again continue ticking away like a precise cosmic clock.


I am going to be spending the next two weeks in a total culture immersion at the Spoleto Festival, now in its 56th year and, like many who reach middle age, starting to dab its toes into social media. There are a group of travel and culture bloggers who are guests of the festival, and I am one of them….peeking into the corners of Spoleto and behind the curtains of its most important annual event.

Duomo, Spoleto, Umbria, Italy

It seemed especially fitting for me to kick off this experience by stopping by the city’s spectacular Duomo last night at sunset—hands down one of the best spots to enjoy dusk in all of Umbria (other sunset picks: Lake Trasimeno and the Rocca Maggiore in Assisi).

Copyright Armando Lanoce

When the sun lowers over Spoleto, it illuminates the magnificent 12th century Romanesque facade–with its shimmering golden Byzantine-style mosaic of Christ Enthroned with Mary and John the Baptist topping an elegant Renaissance portico—with a pulsating orange glow that makes you stop and wish you had a better camera. The sky deepens to a deep cartoonish azure and the swallows begin to circle the soaring belltower as if sent in by central casting. It is truly one of those magical moments that stops you in your tracks.

Spoleto, Umbria, Italy

And the folks at the Spoleto Festival know it, which is why the traditional closing concert is held dramatically at dusk in the Piazza del Duomo on the last evening of the Festival. I will be there, two weeks from now, on the final night of what promises to be a memorable 15 days, enjoying my last sunset and remembering my first.

Copyright Spoleto Festival

Restoring balance and symmetry to the universe.


Italy Roundtable: Talking the Talk

This edition of the monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable is a hodgepodge, a mishmash, a mélange, a potpourri–a “Grab Bag”, if you will.  Take a look at what my fellow bloggers including travel writing powerhouse Jessica Spiegel (on leave this month),  professional travel writer Melanie Renzulli, art historian and general brainiac Alexandra Korey, Tuscan uber-blogger Gloria the hilariously irreverent Kate Bailward and me throw into the pot. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Please, pull up a chair to our Roundtable, have some assorted chocolates, and join in on the conversation.


Grab Bag

We opened up the topic this month for pretty much anything—I think most of us are limping over the academic year finish line and the creative energy necessary to come up with a compelling topic was just too much to ask—thus shooting ourselves in the foot. Because it turns out that nothing is more paralysing than unlimited choice, as anyone who has ever spent a Saturday evening at Blockbuster Video knows.

As I was ruminating over the topic buffet stretched before me, a recent conversation I had with a fellow expat about fluency came to mind. We had been talking about when, exactly, a person could be considered fluent in a second language; we agreed that the better we spoke Italian, the more we realized how far from fluent we were. And it came to me: perhaps one of the biggest steps towards fluency can be measured not by knowing what a word or phrase means, but by knowing what it doesn’t mean.

Italian is, like many languages, vastly nuanced and often the contextual meaning of a word or phrase and the literal meaning of that word or phrase diverge dramatically. These intricate subtleties are hard to master, and when you reach that magical sweet spot of not only understanding them but employing them to shade your own conversation, it’s a small personal triumph. Here are a few of my favorites, many of which took me years to grasp. Maybe with these helpful explanations, your learning curve will be steeper than mine.

1. una ventina di giorni
What it should mean: around twenty days
What it really means: I have no frigging idea when the spare part I need to repair your deep freezer will arrive-slash-that rash will clear up-slash-your tax returns will be ready for you to come in and sign but it seems either impolite or impolitic to admit it, so I’m just going to throw a random bookmark sort of number out there to appease you, which can either turn out to be tomorrow or turn out to be the 27th of November, 2017. So don’t start calling me on day 19, because that will perplex me. Just assume a zen acceptance of the unknown. And have a glass of wine. Wine helps.
“When will my cell service be active?”
“Una ventina di giorni.”
“Ok, I’ll go have some wine.”

2. una bella signora
What it should mean: a beautiful woman
What it really means: the first Pavlovian qualifier for any human being with two x chromosomes, regardless of any other accomplishments, achievements, talents, crimes, or misdemeanors which they may have racked up over their lifetime. It can also be tacked on to the end of the list of accomplishments, achievements, talents, crimes, or misdemeanors, casting them into the shadow of the overpowering importance of being una bella signora.
“Jane Goodall, una bella signora, is a British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace. Considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, she is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.” Or “Jane Goodall is a British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace. Considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, she is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues. She is also una bella signora.”

3. quanto basta
What it should mean: just enough
What it really means: If you find yourself staring at the page in the cookbook where 90% of the measurements fo ingredients listed in the pollo alla cacciatora recipe have, instead of metric quantities, q.b. next to them and you are scratching your head and asking yourself, “Well, how much is just enough?”and, “If I knew how much was just enough, I wouldn’t need a frigging recipe, would I?”, give up. You are obviously not genetically predisposed to the eyeball method of cooking employed with nonchalance and mastery by most Italian cooks and if you shadow them in the kitchen trying to quantify the handfuls and pinches and Nutella jars of ingredients they are tossing into the pot, you will be good-naturedly mocked. Just get yourself invited to dinner to eat the pollo and stick to bringing brownies (the good ones from your mom’s 1973 Better Homes and Gardens) for dessert. Italians love brownies.
My neighbor’s recipe for crostata:
Flour q.b. (“How much is that?” “Oh, you know, cicca. Enough to make a mound.”)
Eggs q.b. (“How many is that?” “Oh, it depends on how big they are. 2. Or 4. Sometimes I put in 5.”)
Sugar q.b. (“How much is that?” “Oh, not too much. You don’t want it too sweet.”)
Oil q.b. (“How much is that?” “Oh, enough to make a dough.”)

4. Ci vediamo.
What it should mean: See you soon!
What it really means: This is not in any way an allusion to a future meeting, so don’t be whipping out your daytimer to pencil in a chit-chat. This is merely a non-committal, amicable way to part company, and does not denote a particular desire for the declarer to either see or not see you ever again. This neutral nicety is completely devoid of promise, so when weeks pass and no invite for a drink or dinner comes, do not take it personally. On the other hand, a “Prendiamo un caffè!” may indicate a nano-micro-kind-of-committment, so if fates and the winds decree that your paths serendipitously cross over the next twelve months you may actually share an espresso. Or you may not. It could go either way.
“Ci vediamo!”
“Sì, ci vediamo!”
“Who was that?”
“I have no idea.”

5. Spaghettata
What it should mean: a casual dinner among friends at which a simple pot of pasta is served
What it really means: A fabulously prepared meal of at least five courses which rivals what you served at your own wedding, during which the hostess spends the entire evening apologizing because there’s not enough food and explaining that everyone should eat up now, because there are only three desserts. And gelato. Because she makes her husband leave in the middle of the meal to pick up some gelato. And for fruit there are just strawberries. But you can have them with whipped cream or sugar and lemon juice. Unless you want them with balsamic vinegar. Do you want them with balsamic vinegar? Because they’re out of balsamic vinegar but they can just call her mother who lives next door and she probably has some, or wait, her great-aunt always has balsamic vinegar. Who wants strawberries with balsamic vinegar? Because as soon as the husband comes back with the gelato he will be sent out again for balsamic vinegar.
“Listen, Saturday night you want to come around for dinner. Just some friends, nothing special. A spaghettata. There will just be around 30 of us. I started cooking ten days ago. No big deal, really.”


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


Spoleto: A Tale of Forgiveness

Despite having lived in Umbria for the past 20 years, I remain fundamentally American. Thus, I evoke the father of my country when I declare, “I cannot tell a lie.”


I mean, of course, that I can tell a lie, and often do. It’s just that the truth is often much funnier.

And this is the truth: Spoleto is on my black list. Now, this is probably not the best way to go about winning one of the spots in the Spoleto56 Blogger Contest, which is what I am hoping to do so I can spend the duration of their historic and world famous cultural Festival dei 2 Mondi the first two weeks of July hob-nobbing with artists and writers, eating canapés, and getting culturefied. But the nit I have to pick with Spoleto is a large part of the reason behind why I am so hell-bent on participating in a blog trip which takes me to a destination exactly 42 minutes from my house.

The reason is this: I believe in second chances.


Spoleto blew her first chance with me because I got two unfair traffic fines there. Don’t give me that look. One I could have forgiven…but two?!? The first one I received (in the mail) was for an infraction on a date on which both I and my car were in Florence for a conference. I had a receipt from the hotel and my conference tickets and everything, but when I called the police station I was told the only way I could prove I was in Florence the whole time would be by turning over the tape from the hotel CCTV parking lot security camera. Which seemed like a lot of trouble for €87. And if there’s one thing I learned from a couple of seasons of watching CSI, it’s that I don’t have the cleavage for forensic investigatory work.

So, Spoleto was already on thin ice with me when I got a SECOND fine in the mail. To be fair, this one may have been valid, but who the hell remembers where they may or may not have parked in November of 2011?!? What I do know is that the original €76 was now €167.11 because I never paid the fine. What I also know is that I never received the original fine in the mail. I know this because when I do receive a fine in the mail, I spend at least three days stomping and railing and generally making life miserable for everyone around me, which means that I tend to remember when they arrive. And then, on the fourth day, I pay them.

Now, I don’t know about your town, but in my town €87 plus €167.11 is serious coin, and the insult of injustice added to the injury of more than €200 consumed in the fires of bureaucracy led me to solemnly declare, “Spoleto, honey, you are dead to me.”

Spoleto, Umbria, Italy

This break was not painless. I love Umbria and I love writing about Umbria. I have spent most of the past ten years blogging about this region, publishing articles about this region, editing guidebooks about this region, and making an app about this region. If singing the praises of Umbria were an operetta, I would be headlining the Festival dei 2 Mondi. I also happen to like Spoleto. It is home to perhaps my favorite church in Umbria, has one of the prettiest hikes around, hosts one of the region’s most prestigious festivals, and shakes it up with a little contemporary art in this land of stately frescoes and Byzantine icons. I felt the loss.

Spoleto, Umbria, Italy

Which brings me around to why I am enthusiastically throwing my hat into the ring for the Spoleto56 Blogger Contest. It’s not so much because I dig the party vibe that Umbrian towns get when hosting a festival, or because I’ve only made it to the Festival dei 2 Mondi a handful of times over the years and would love to hunker down for the duration, or because it’s always so stimulating to hang with creative and gifted people, or because Umbria and her towns never fail to delight me with new discoveries, or because one of my favorite Italian bloggers evah will be there and I want a little of her lucky mojo to rub off on me…though all of this is true.


It’s because I’ve made mistakes in my life. Big ones. I’ve epically blown it a couple of times along the way. We all have. But I’ve been lucky enough to have been given second chances, and from those second chances new, amazing, unimagined paths taking me in completely unexpected directions have opened up.

This is why I hope to make it to Spoleto at the end of June. I want to give Spoleto the second chance it deserves, and see where the city and its people take us.

But I’m leaving my car at home.

Spoleto, Umbria, Italy

If you think Spoleto deserves a second chance, help me out by tweeting this post using #e20umbria (yeah, the hashtag kind of sucks…) and come and like it on the contest FB page. The karma wheel will come around to you.


Italy Roundtable: In Memoriam

This edition of the monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable touches on a sticky wicket of a topic, but will surely be well played by my fellow bloggers including travel writing powerhouse Jessica Spiegel,  professional travel writer Melanie Renzulli, art historian and general brainiac Alexandra Korey, Tuscan uber-blogger Gloria the hilariously irreverent Kate Bailward and me. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Please, pull up a chair to our Roundtable, have a cuppa, and join in on the conversation.


Women in Italy

On May 5th, 2005 I came home from dinner at a pizzeria in Assisi to find two messages on my home answering machine (remember those?). The first was from my college roommate Susan, living in Asia at the time. “Hi! Listen, give me a call when you get in, okay?” she intoned. “Huh,” I thought happily, “She must be planning a visit. Strange she’d call rather than email, though.” The second message began and I heard the strained voice of my college roommate Pam coming through the line from New York. “Sweetie, call me.”

I didn’t call. I sat and stared at the phone for a good ten minutes, until my husband said, “Well, aren’t you going to call them back?” But I couldn’t pick up that phone–not yet–because there was only one reason that both Susie and Pam would call me. And that reason was our fourth roommate, my dear friend Nina. I knew that once I picked up the phone, once I dialed those numbers, once I heard what I already knew could be only terrible news, nothing would be the same again. So I froze time for those last moments of my girlhood, and then I dialed the phone and became a woman.

I was 22 years old when I moved to Italy, convinced of so many things—first among them my adulthood. I smile now with tender affection at that girl, little more than a child, playing at being a grown-up. So brash and brave and ready to conquer the world, so proud of her adolescent wounds and scars and heartache that she carried like medals of honor into battle, sure that she had weathered the worst and earned her stripes as a woman. So unaware that of all the accoutrements of adulthood—the jobs and marriages, the children and debt—it is, ultimately, loss that pushes us over the threshold.

Nina died at 34. She collapsed on her kitchen floor while making breakfast for her husband and two daughters from a blood clot in her lung. She was one of my closest friends—we lived together for most of college, stood up for each other in our respective weddings, one of her daughters’ middle names is Rebecca—and I would give anything to have her back, all gorgeous 6 feet of her, turning heads with her black hair and red shoes. She was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, spoke several languages (having majored in her first love, Italian), swore like a sailor, wrote the funniest letters in the history of the English language, gave a great manicure, and viscerally loathed cats, spiders, her brothers’ ex-girlfriends, dirty houses, superficiality, and pretence.

Her death has been both my life’s worst trauma and most precious gift. It marked the beginning of my life as an adult woman, because with it came grief, of course, but also a coming of age that only a loss of that measure can bring. Nina herself had told me this, having lost her mother in a tragic car accident shortly before her wedding in 1995. In one of our long talks during those hard first months, she said, “You know, Mom’s death has made me fearless. Once the worst has happened, you suddenly feel like you have the power to face anything. It’s like I’m a grown-up all of the sudden.”

With this adult awareness there comes both power and duty. I feel the responsibility every day to live my life with double the intensity and mindfulness. I try to savor each fairytale sunset twice as long, breathe in the scent of my sons’ hair twice as deep, laugh with my girlfriends twice as loud. I have–for some inscrutable and unjust reason–been granted a life where another’s has been taken, and so mine must count twice to make some sort of sense of the senselessness.

Last week marked eight years since Nina’s death–a moment and a lifetime—and in keeping with women in Italy it seemed fitting to pay homage to her, the friend whose life inspired me to move to Italy and the friend whose death pushed me to grow into a woman. On the 5th of May this year, like each of the past eight, I wore her favorite color (red) and choked down her favorite cocktail (Blue Hawaii, a drink I find so abhorrent that the bottle of Malibu I bought in her honor has lasted eight years) and renewed the pledge I made at her graveside all those years ago: to live my life fearlessly, like a grown-up. Like a woman. Like Nina.


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


Italy Roundtable: Spring in My Step

This edition of the monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable includes the debut of our new blogger (one of my personal favorites), the hilariously irreverent Kate Bailward! Welcome aboard Kate, to this project organized by travel writing powerhouse Jessica Spiegel, and including professional travel writer Melanie Renzulli, art historian and general brainiac Alexandra Korey, Tuscan uber-blogger Gloria, and me. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Please, pull up a chair to our Roundtable, have a power bar, and join in on the conversation.



So, I’d been thinking about spring, because that is our Italy Blogging Roundtable theme this month. I’d also been thinking about women in Italy, for reasons that will become clear to you come the second Wednesday of May. And in the delta of these two streams of consciousness, it had come to me how much I hated the theme of spring and that perhaps I should suggest a substitute to my fellow Roundtablers. Except that one overachiever who shall remain unnamed actually WROTE HER POST three weeks ahead of time, so by the time I got around to suggesting a theme tweak it couldn’t be changed anymore.

I donned my creative cap with the word spring and, though there is a member of the Roundtable who shall remain unnamed who was really hoping for it, I couldn’t come up with any mattress spring-themed post that would be appropriate for a family show. Second on the interpretive list was “spring in my step” and what it is that puts it there when the weather turns warm. Without doubt one of the biggest sources of spring in my step is my annual spring fitness push.

With the thoughts of women in Italy that were already churning in my head, I started ruminating over the differences I’ve noticed over the years between how I (and most of my American girlfriends) approach physical fitness and as opposed to how Umbrian women (in my experience–which is confined to a small set and limited geographical area–so your mileage on my generalizations may vary) of my same age do.

First, a declaimer: I know fit American women and I know fit Umbrian women…and I also know out of shape women in both countries. Though the obesity levels in the US are over-the-top, my social group tends to be in more-or-less acceptable shape. The same is true for my Umbrian friends, who also generally eat much healthier food and have a healthier lifestyle. That said, I’ve found that how the two female cultures view exercise and sports is very different.


What They Do

Americans are more fad-dy. I can say this, because I am firmly in this category. I do not have a particular love of sports, but I do have a very strong love of food. I adore eating but abhor shopping, so to keep me in pants and the zero sum equation balanced, there’s really only one solution.

The reason that I’ve burned through so many different physical activities in the past two decades isn’t due to an ingrained love of sport but a short attention span. I find that I get bored with what I’m doing after about two years. I’ve gone through a plethora of fitness activities–swimming, aerobics, step, spinning, Pilates, kick boxing, salsa, Zumba—and am always ready to try the Next New Thing.

Umbrian women, with a few exceptions, generally concentrate on two activities: walking and “palestra”, and stick with it. I do enjoy walking, but I have come to find that walking for exercise and walking with very chatty Umbrian girlfriends do not mix. Yes, they are there ostensibly to stretch their legs, but they are mostly there to catch up on gossip and swap recipes. When I’m up for a friendly stroll, that’s cool. When I am trying to power walk off a plate of gnocchetti al Sagrantino, I’m hoofing it hard enough to pant. It is not conducive to a lot of chit chat.

Palestra, the Italian word for gym or fitness center, is the most common response when you ask an Umbrian woman what she does for exercise. This is an umbrella term covering anything from walking on the treadmill for an hour to doing a circuit on the weight machines to taking the classes offered, which can range from your standard step aerobics to yoga. Things Umbrian women rarely do in palestra, based upon my two decades of observation: 1. sweat; and 2. lift weights.


How They Do It

They rarely do n. 1 for the same reason that I find I can’t power walk with them. The average female gym-goer here does 3 minutes of actual exercise for every 17 minutes of leaning up against a machine to chit chat. So in an hour or two of “training”, there is really only about 12 minutes of actual exercise going on. They rarely do n. 2 because in the gym, as in life, Umbrian women are well turned out. They wear matching (often ironed) active wear, they come in full hair and makeup, they often take a break to head back into the locker room to pull themselves together, and they tend to choose fitness “light”…the stuff that doesn’t muss and fuss.

This is how I go to the gym: I wear a baggy-ass pair of yoga pants that has lost its drawstring, so I have to roll the top over onto itself to keep them up. I wear a Michelle Shocked concert t-shirt from 1991 that has a rip on the collar and is yellow in the pits. I come with no makeup and generally dirty hair (I figure I’m going to shower afterwards, so why bother.) And when I’m there, I work. Hard. At the weights. Again, not because I am particularly athletic but because I am 1. busy and need to pack as much action into 45 minutes as I can; 2. the biggest tightwad on earth. If I’m paying an effing gym, I’m squeezing them for all they’re worth, and 3. I like to eat. Have I mentioned the eating thing?

When I’m done, my face is beet red. My hair is plastered to my temples and I have sweat dripping from my chin. Even if I were to have the propensity to chat, I would hardly have the breath to do it. I am not attractive at the gym. Not attractive at all.


And Why…

There is a big difference in my experience between the motivations behind exercise for American and Umbrian women. Almost all the Umbrian women I know exercise exclusively for esthetic purposes. To wit, to be thin. Though most American women I know have an element to esthetics in their fitness motivation, I also know many adult women who exercise primarily for sport (marathon runners are thick on the ground), for strength (Crossfitters galore), for peace of mind (meditive movement), and for competition.

I think this may go back to something I’ve talked about before: the fact that most Umbrian women I know spend an enormous amount of time on domestic chores, cooking, and generally GM-ing their families. This doesn’t leave much for activities as self-indulgent as sport for the sake of, you know, fun. It’s mostly about keeping yourself looking good so your husband is less likely to stray. Or, so you are still marketable if he does.

American women tend to put less in their domestic gratification basket and more in their personal gratification basket. My American women friends spend a significantly less amount of time at the mop and ironing board, but read and blog, or train for cross-country bike races, or follow all the subplots in Game of Thrones, or pick up Spanish. This also circles back around to What They Do: if you are only exercising to keep in shape, you’re probably fine power walking or doing aerobics three times a week. If you are coming at it from the goal of sport, competition, or simply to pick up a new skill, you’re more likely to be attracted to trying something new and, at times, trendy.

Now, of course, I’ll need to come up with something interesting to say about women in Italy for May, since I blew my idea already this month. But that’s cool. I’ll give it some thought while sweating away at the gym.


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


Italy Roundtable: The Colfiorito Marshlands

We continue the monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable, a project organized by travel writing powerhouse Jessica Spiegel, and including professional travel writer Melanie Renzulli, art historian and general brainiac Alexandra Korey, Tuscan uber-blogger Gloria, and me. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Please, pull up a chair to our Roundtable, have a some sunflower seeds, and join in on the conversation.



In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence. Robert Lynd

I am large. When I laugh, diners at neighboring tables look up. When I gesticulate, I take out all wine glasses and candles within a three foot range. When I cook, we are eating the leftovers for days. When I am happy or sad or angry, I’m all in; there are no shades of grey. I am often called by my Italian friends “un fuoco di paglia”–a fire fed with straw, quick to flare into bright, hot flames but just a quick to cool down, damaging nothing and leaving behind only traces of cool ash.

Perhaps because of this often oversized personality, I find I am drawn more and more to silence. I spend so much time cranking up the music, and revving the engine, and cracking my kneecaps on table legs, and swimming in—drowning in—rivers and rivers of words that sometimes what I crave is to turn down the volume for a few hours and be still. Be. Still.


Luckily, Umbria is filled with silent places so I rarely have to go far to find a still moment. Recently I discovered a new quiet place to head to when life (myself included) just gets too raucous: the Colfiorito marshland.


By far the smallest of Umbria’s seven regional parks, this postage stamp of a natural reserve is set in the rolling Colfiorito plateau above bustling Foligno in the valley below. The undulating Apennine plain was once covered in seven small lakes, but over the millenia most were drained by nature or man, leaving only one depression which continues to hold water all year round.


This has become the Colfiorito marshland, a tiny basin of standing water teeming with migratory birds and wildlife which take cover in marsh’s thick reeds and acquatic vegetation. Depending upon the season, the spot becomes a faunistic pit stop for a number of wetland fowl, including majestic grey and purple herons, bitterns, little bitterns, mallards, and shovelers. If you’re able to sit still long enough, you may also be treated to a visit by the area’s mammal life—fox, boar, or deer–as well.


My thirst for stillness over the past few years has led to an interest in birdwatching, which–along with a passion for opera and a craving for whole grains–is a sure sign that I have become either a fogie or a hipster, neither of which I find particularly heartening. But given that this turn of events has led a number of interesting new hobbies, I’m not going to lose much sleep over the larger meaning and just put on my Wayfarers, load up my iPod with some arias, throw some organic trail mix into my vintage courier bag, and go.


I’d been thinking a lot about the Colfiorito marshland recently since my previous favorite-place-to-be-quiet-birdwatch-and-generally-hang-out, the Alviano nature reserve in the south of the region near Lake Corbara, was damaged this past fall due to severe flooding that hit much of central Italy. Volunteers have been working to clean it up in time for the spring migration, but for the time being my thirst for stillness must be sated elsewhere.


And so I head up to the hills, winding along the serpentine Val di Chienti country highway to where the road skirts the wetland, past stands along the sides of the road hawking the local potatoes and lentils, lonely farmhouses, and a hell of a lot of cyclists. I pull off and head out on foot; the park has built a number of wooden walkways, pavilions, and bird blinds for passionate birders, though it’s nice just to take a quiet turn along the path which borders the marsh. I wander, taking frequent bench breaks to oversee the take-offs and landings, watch the sun set, and listen to the silence.

And be still.


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


Italy Roundtable: Umbria’s New Brews

We are back with the monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable, a project organized by travel writing powerhouse Jessica Spiegel, and including professional travel writer Melanie Renzulli (on temporary leave), art historian and general brainiac Alexandra Korey, Tuscan uber-blogger Gloria, and me. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Please, pull up a chair to our Roundtable, help yourself to some beer nuts, and join in on the conversation.



Generally it takes a year or two for a big trend to hop the pond from the US and make it to Italy. And then it takes another year or two for the big trend to figure out the right train from Rome and Milan and make it to Umbria. Which is why local craft beers are finally starting to make news after the huge boom in microbrews which began in the US in the late 1980s and continued in Italy in the decade following, spurred on by a 1995 law legalizing home-brewing and streamlining regulations for microbreweries.

Though Italian brewing has a history which reaches back over 2,000 years (the Etruscans produced a fermented malt beverage, as did the Romans), modern times saw the domestic beer production dominated by two or three big commercial breweries which turned out largely unremarkable lagers. In the past decade, however, the number of tiny craft breweries has exploded—going from less than 100 to over 500 in under ten years—and its popularity, especially among younger consumers, has kept pace.

Italians tend to drink beer with the same attention as wine, pairing it care with the right foods and willing to spend more for quality artisinal beers whose small production, top quality ingredients (including rare or heirloom grains and local products), and tiny distribution network make them often as expensive, if not more so, as wine. Be prepared to spend up to €5 a glass or €15 a bottle for a top shelf craft beer in the Bel Paese.

Though the hubs of craft brewing remain the north of Italy (Lombardy and Piedmont, in particular) and Rome, Umbria is starting to come into its own with more than a dozen tiny local breweries which have popped up just in the past few years. Many of these produce quirky brews–the product of a freedom to experiment with ingredients that the heavily regulated wine industry doesn’t enjoy–which can be found only locally, so it’s worth the time and effort to seek them out.

Here are a few that are particularly memorable:

Birra Nursia (

Who can think of microbrews without inevitably having the vision of Trappist monks flash through their mind? Well, they aren’t Trappists, but the Benedictine monks in Norcia began brewing last year (their first batch—put on the market in the summer of 2012—sold out almost immediately) and you can both tour the brewery and taste their Blond and Extra Dark directly at their monastery in the main Piazza San Benedetto.

Birra Camiano (

Only a crazy person would open up a brewery near Montefalco, in the heart of Umbria’s wine country. Or, alternatively, only a foreigner. Thomas Bereiter was born in Canada but it was during his studies in England that he discovered a passion for beer. He and his partner Heidi fell in love with Umbria during a vacation here, and eventually settled here and began brewing in 2010. He produces the fetchingly named Xanthos, Copper4, and MegaPorter, all of which can be sampled and purchased at the brewery.

Birra San Biagio (

They aren’t monks, but they play them in the brewery. Perhaps the poshest of the local breweries—even the bottles are elegant–San Biagio takes both inspiration and techniques from the monastic brewing tradition and is helped along by the fabulous setting in the Mount Subasio Park and the use of the local spring water. Alongside their three basic brews (lager, stout, and amber) they also produce a wheat ale and, at Christmas, a batch infused with bay.

Birra dell’Eremo (

I’m always one to root for the home team, and since just last year Assisi has its own local brewery run by a group of young’uns with a hip vibe and, in my opinion, winning logo (I want a t-shirt). Their three brews can be found at a number of pubs and restaurants in the region (check the contact page).

Other ways to sample local brews:

Take Discovering Umbria’s ( endearingly titled “The Pork and The Beer” tour, during which Alessandra takes you to a local farm which specialized in both pork production and beer brewing.

Stop in at one of these well-stocked pubs or restaurants:

    • Osteria a Priore (Via dei Priori, Perugia)
    • Ansidei Beer Shop (Piazza Ansidei, Perugia)
    • Il Birraio (Via Prome, Perugia)


Curious to hear what Alexandra, Gloria, and Jessica had to say about this month’s topic? Check out their blog posts, and leave your comments.