Lindy Rothenburger one of our agents recently visited the Umbria & Tuscany areas of Italy on an inspection tour for our future clients. – June 1 to 7, 2013 and wrote this wonderful account that will help anyone wanting to visit the area.
This is a fascinating write up on the area, that will give anyone wanting to visit the area a very detailed account of things to see and do and places to stay in the area. For more information or to book at tour please contact Lindy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Lindy Rothenburger after a recent visit.
Gatwick Airport – they have a funny system at Gatwick. Once you are through security, there is a huge waiting area with big screens showing which gates the flights will be leaving from. My flight was at 9:10 and boarding was at 8:40 but the gate number was not displayed until 8:20. Then as soon as your gate number is displayed you make your way to the gate and almost right onto the plane. It is a good 10 minute walk or more so you have to head to the gate as soon as the number is displayed.
EasyJet – They allowed me to check-in online and select my seat a whole month prior to my departure. I had my boarding pass weeks before I left Vancouver. The bag drop at Gatwick Airport was easy. They don’t even offer you water without purchasing it on the flight but the seats were comfortable and the flight attendants were friendly.
Rome Airport – there was no declaration to fill out. You just line up to go through a passport check and your done. They don’t even ask you any questions – just look at your passport and hand it back to you. That was upon arrival. Departing was another story. Getting through security in Rome is a nightmare I’ve never experienced anywhere else in the world.
There was a HUGE mob of 800 or more people pushing from all directions to get to the security check-in. There was no order and if you were too polite, you wound up moving backward instead of forward. I was in the chaos for over an hour and when I got to the gate one Canadian couple told me they were 2-1/2 hours getting through security because whole groups of people kept pushing in front of them.
Airport officials tried to bring some semblance of order to the chaos by setting up poles and ribbons to get people to line up but they were just taking down the barriers and pushing by 20s and 30s in front of the people in line ahead of them. My love of Italy quickly faded as I stood in the midst of that mob hoping I would make my flight. I would never take a group through there. People at the gate were saying that the airports in Florence, Milan or Venice are no better. Maybe the best way to leave Italy is by train!
Very Italian Events – M and C my hosts were wonderful. They are warm and welcoming and have connections all over Italy. M used to manage a large hotel in Rome and together they ran a B&B for several years. They have been operating tours around Italy for 16 years. M guides many of the groups himself but they also have certified guides they use everywhere in Italy. C takes care of all the administration and lines up the itineraries.
They are both extremely knowledgeable and both speak excellent English. Anything our clients could ask for in Italy, M & C will figure out a way to provide it. They are especially good at showing guests the real Italy rather than the tourist stuff. If people want to shop, M takes them to vendors who have quality products rather than junk. He does not get a commission from those vendors but uses them because his reputation is on the line. Depending on the interests of the guests, he can show people places that are not well known by the tourists and don’t have bus loads of people all lining up at the same time.
Spello, Umbria – I left my heart in Spello. It is a small medieval town where M & C own an apartment. They rent the apartment to tourists. It is a 2 bedroom/2bathroom apartment overlooking the valley. It has everything you need. It is a 4th floor walk-up, though, so guests have to be able to carry their bags up the stairs. I stayed there 2 nights. The bed was firm but very comfortable. It is easy to walk around this picturesque town center and the people are very friendly. It is much quieter than Assisi with few tourists.
These medieval towns and cities have festivals all summer long but I was fortunate to view Le Infiorate – a flower festival that takes place in Spello 40 days after Easter. Tourists come to see it but it isn’t put on for the tourists. It is an Italian festival. I got to walk around the city the night before the actual festival and watch families, school groups, and friends, prepare and lay the flower petals.
It was a true Italian experience to watch the grandparents showing the small children their first experience of how to lay the petals. M takes his guests to many true Italian experiences that tourists normally miss. Spello has a train station and is only 1 hour from the center of Rome. From there it is easy to get to all points in Italy. Many attractions in Umbria & Tuscany are only 40 minutes away by car.
Foligno, Umbria – This is where St. Francis came from. It is the town square in Foligno where he stripped naked and told his father he was no longer his son, thus giving up his inheritance, when he returned from the Crusades. Twice a year they host a horse riding competition that is similar to jousting. While I was there they were holding a medieval dinner to fundraise for costumes.
Foligno has won this competition for many years now and the whole town is very proud of the young people who take part. Because M & C know the people personally, they took me upstairs to see the costumes and armor they use during the competition. It was great to see a group of about 20 teenagers all volunteering their time to wait on tables to raise money for their sport.
Assisi, Umbria – There is no denying that the Basilica is spectacular! The frescos covering all the walls of the church depict the life of St. Francis and are stunning. He is buried under the altar. But the place is overrun with tourists. It is hard to move around because everywhere you turn your path is blocked by a large group listening to their tour guide. M took me on up the hill overlooking the townsite to a grotto where St. Francis used to retire to meditate and pray. It is in the woods and very peaceful.
There were only 4 other people there. The Basilica was erected after the death of St. Francis but this grotto was a spot that he loved and went to often. The townsite is full of souvenir shops and restaurants for the tourists.
Castello di Petrata – This is a castle hotel that overlooks the valley and the St. Frances Basilica. It is part of a group of hotels called Silence Hotels. They are located in rural setting with grounds that guarantee relaxation and peace. The original stonework of the castle is evident in all the rooms yet the modern facilities blend in well. They have a swimming pool that overlooks the valley, a tennis court, a working farm where they grow the produce, lamb and chickens used in the restaurant.
There are lots of walking paths on the grounds and a wellness spa. No two rooms are the same. They have both rooms and suites. The family suites have a loft, a separate bedroom, and a small kitchenette. Their average stay is 3 nights.
Malvarina – This is an Agri-Tourism property near Assisi. They have rooms and suites that are basic, furnished with country style antiques, but comfortable and homey. They grow most of the produce and meat used in their dining room. They grow their own olives and process their own olive oil, jams, and deli meats. Staff and guests eat together in a big country style dining room with an open fireplace.
There are lots of walking trails and a swimming pool. Guests can take part in caring for the animals and tending the gardens if they wish. I took a cooking school class here one evening. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the kitchen was a huge basket overflowing with the fresh produce we were going to be using in our preparations. We made soup, appetizers, two different kinds of homemade pasta, and a chicken dish plus dessert.
Then we joined the staff and guests of the resort in the dining room for a 7 course dinner. The owners here are wonderful!
Cortona, Tuscany – We drove out to the villa owned by Frances Mayes of Under the Tuscan Sun fame for a photo. She still owns it and rents it out to tourists but it is very pricey – EUR 10,000 per week! Cortona is also overrun with tourists. I think it is M’s favorite place. He is friends with the mayor and can get anything clients might ask for here. He does a lot of photography workshops in the fortress, which is closed to the public.
The city sits on the top of the mountain and overlooks the most breath-taking scenery. The rolling hills are spectacular! We had dinner at the La Logetta. All the chefs, waiters, and owners of this place came out to greet us with much joking and laughter. They insisted we try some new dishes they were experimenting with and all of it was delicious.
The restaurant is housed in a 13th century palace and they have kept as much of the original ambiance as possible. They have a large terrace that overlooks the valley but it was raining so we didn’t get to sit out there.
Villa Marsili – This hotel is rated 4-Star and is housed in a historical building. C referred to it as, “The hotel that hugs you!” and that is a perfect description of it. It was originally a church, a hospital, and a school. It is now a lovely hotel. The staff are very gracious – like the butlers you see in movies. They attend to your every need but unobtrusively.
No two of the bedrooms are the same. They have standard and deluxe rooms as well as suites. They are all furnished with antiques and yet have modern facilities and some fireplaces. Even the standard rooms have a sitting area. Off the lobby there are two sitting rooms where they serve tea or drinks in the evening.
I saw a price sheet for the different teas and drinks but the tea and the aperitif are included in the price of the room if booked with Very Italian Events. The hotel looks out over the valley and Trasimeno Lake. The breakfast is amazing with a huge selection – the best I have had anywhere I have traveled.
Montepulciano – This city’s claim to fame is that parts of the series Twilight were filmed in its town square. It is the largest hill town in southern Tuscany with a very impressive central square. It is an ancient Etruscan city and would be of interest to those who like art and architecture. It is located in the heart of the classic Chianti wine region.
San Gimignano – All the medieval cities are set up the same way – the streets come out onto a large square with a church and the city hall. San Gimignano is set up that way too. Because it is close to Florence and Siena it is better known than some of the other walled cities.
The World Champion Gelato maker is located here. They serve the creamiest gelato I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Pienza – This is another walled city in the province of Siena, in the Val d”Orcia. This area is protected by UNESCO as an artistic, natural and cultural park. You can walk on the top of the wall and they have benches up there for people to sit and watch the sunset over the valley. It is a popular place for lovers. M provides a picnic for couples here.
Pienza is best known for its pecorino cheese. There are cheese shops all over town.
Cordella Winery in Montalcino – The owner of this vineyard is a personal friend of M’s. She was in China when I visited but she asked her father and aunt to open the winery so M could give me a tour and tasting. They harvest both grapes and olives. I got to taste both the wine and olive oil which are excellent.
When you do a wine tasting in Italy, they provide a dinner plate loaded with meats, cheeses, breads, and olive oil. There is a specific, small area in Umbria where the Sangiovese Grosso grapes are grown and harvested for Brunello wine. They must grow and process the wines in a specific method to get the DOCG certification. It is entirely organic and all the work is done by hand.
Lake Trasimeno – This lake is in Umbria and is equally as beautiful as the lakes in the Lake Como area but is not as well known by tourists. In Tuoro you can camp, rent boats and swim while Passignano is a pretty little village like the waterfront in White Rock, British Columbia.
There is an island not far from shore with great places to walk and picnic. It is a 15 minute ferry ride to get there.
Norcia –This is another medieval city in the southeast corner of Umbria. It is not visited by tourists as much as the other cities. When I walked down the streets I saw a hardware store, a toy shop, sporting goods store, florist, produce store, and clothing stores. I only saw one souvenir shop in town. The merchants definitely catered to the local residents rather than the tourists.
It is a very pretty city and is the birth place of St. Benedict and his twin sister Ste. Scholastica who started the Benedictine Order. There is a church dedicated to St. Benedict erected on the site where they were born. There is another church in the square dedicated to his sister. They sit on each side of the town hall.
Castelluccio di Norcia – this is a small village in Umbria that sits above the mouth of a dormant volcano. The mouth is a flat valley that took us a half hour to drive across. It is completely covered in blooms of red, yellow, white, blue, and purple for 2 weeks every June. The mountains that rise all around the mouth are Italy’s adventure wonderland.
Clients who like to trek, hike, mountain climb, parasail, horseback ride, etc. will find this a paradise! The winds in the valley have great updrafts so as soon as they push off while parasailing, the winds lift them right up to the top of the mountain. There are hostels all along the roads so people who want to trek can walk from village to village.
The town of Castelluccio is very rustic so for day trippers, they would probably prefer to return to Norcia for accommodation.
Spoleto – This medieval city does not allow cars into the center of the city at all. They have an escalator that takes you from the parking lot up to the city center. It is 6 escalators that have been covered with a wooden structure that looks old to make the modern blend in with the ancient. The old wall is intact and completely surrounds the old city.
There is also a very large, modern city outside the city walls. It is a popular city for photography groups, bike tours and trekking tours.
Eremo delle Grazie – This is another castle hotel that M took me to inspect. It sits high up in the hills overlooking Spoleto. The woman who owns it is very wealthy and operates this hotel as a hobby. She is warm and welcoming.
It is a true castle and furnished with wonderful antiques, maybe a little too much furniture and a little dark, but It does have a wonderful terrace and dining room overlooking the valley.
Narni Underground – In the village of Narni they have an amazing underground attraction. It features a church complete with frescoes, a Roman cistern, a prison cell, and an Inquisition chamber from the 13th & 15th centuries. It was discovered in the 1960s by 5 teenage boys looking for adventure and treasure.
For anyone interested in history or archeology, it is a must see.
Castello di Sismano – I was fortunate to spend my last night at Sismano Castle that has been turned into a B&B near Todi. It is owned by the Marchesa Ginevra Sanminiatelli Bruti Liberati. She lives in the castle full time and invited me for drinks before we went down to dinner.
She has used her money to completely restore the castle and provide work for the people of Sismano. There was a festival taking place the night I was there and all the townspeople came to the castle dining hall to have a barbecue style dinner together.
The Marchesa is very gracious and regales her guests with stories of her wealthy family down through the centuries. Her family owned a sailing merchant ship they had built in France called the Fleur de May. When they didn’t need it any longer and tried to sell it in England, no one would buy a ship with a French name. By law, they could not change the name of the ship but they could translate it into English – The Mayflower. As soon as they did so, it was bought and fitted for the voyage that brought the pilgrims to America.
That is just one of her many stories. The rooms maintain the old stonework of the castle but are thoroughly modern inside. The bathrooms are very luxurious and the beds super comfy. They have 600 hectares dedicated to hunting plus there are 1000 hectares to walk or bike and picnic.
If you are interested in visiting this area or for more information please contact
Lindy at email@example.com