I’m thrilled to introduce you to Colleen Simpson, fellow Italian Notebook Contributor and who, along with her husband Tom, is co-proprietor of Antica Vetreria, a charming self catering Villa and apartments in Piegaro, Umbria.
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Oh Umbria, How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways!
We first came to Umbria on our honeymoon 20 years ago and the sweet joy of discovering its beauty, culture, food, wine and wonderful warm welcoming people drew us back to live here permanently.
Beauty: Umbria is called “The Green Heart of Italy” for good reason.
Verdant with trees and rolling hills, every hilltop has a medieval village, castle, watch tower or campanile. Hundreds of ancient towns with a designation of “I Borghi piu Belli d’Italia” , the most beautiful villages of Italy, beckon visitors to explore timeworn cobblestone streets, circle medieval walls and climb historic towers for views that are filled with sublime beauty.
With Lago Trasimeno, the largest lake in the Italian Peninsula, in its center, Umbria is home to some of the grandest natural parks, mountains and the largest waterfall in Europe. Its valleys are a patchwork of crops and are crisscrossed with wandering rivers. The gentle, mystical and verdant landscape with the soft light that emanates through this region nurtured a bumper crop of religious souls that became its saints: Benedict, Scholastica, Valentine, Francis, Clare, Rita, to name just a few.
Culture: The ancient Umbri, Estruscans then Romans, Byantines and Lombards all left their mark in the architecture and art. But it was the Renaissance that endowed every church with frescoes and paintings by renowned artists like Giotto, Perugino, Signorelli, Raphael and Cimabue. After twenty years, I am still discovering magnificent paintings tucked away in obscure little village churches.
Along with Assisi, UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home of St. Francis, Umbria offers a wealth of charm and history including: Spello overflowing with flowers; perfectly preserved Gubbio with its Gothic architecture; Orvieto with its stunning Duomo whose façade is filled with brilliant mosaics; Castiglione del Lago with its fortress guarding Lago Trasimeno, and the many annual festivals featuring cross bow and flag throwing competitions, medieval parades, food, and music, all of which call to the traveler.
Food: Oh the food! Umbria is a gastronomic paradise. The cuisine is called “cucina povera” rustic and simple peasant fare made with only seasonally fresh ingredients.
The tasty little beans of Trasimeno with black eyes, lentils and chickpeas fill soups and top freshly toasted bruschetta. Umbria is home to the best sausage and aged salamis and any menu item named Norcina will alert the diner to heavenly cured pork like prosciutto. Tender Chianina beef and veal steak, the oldest breed of cattle in the world, grilled over a fire and drizzled with olive oil is divine.
Groves of olive trees dot the landscape and produce the finest and healthiest olive oil in the world. Sheep grazing in every valley produce the treasured pecorino cheeses in over twenty varieties. Black and white truffles anoint veal and pastas with the fresh aroma of the forest. Forage for porcini mushrooms, truffles and wild asparagus or purchase from the weekly farmers’ market.
Wine: Umbria has burst onto the scene with new robust blends of reds as well as ancient varietals of whites. Reds include Barbera, Ciliegiolo, Canaiolo, Pinot Nero, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon all bursting with soft tannins and big fruit flavors. Orvieto is famous for its fresh white blends of Trebbiano and Grechetto carrying the flavor of the terra of volcano and limestone.
The area around Torgiano with the alluvial soil of the Tiber river basin offers all of the robust reds including Sangiovese. The noblest and long kept secret by monks as sacred wine is the intensely dry Sagrantino which has deep historic ties to Montefalco. Small and large cantinas offer wine tastings and tours of vineyards.
People: By far the most important reason to visit Umbria is the people. Umbria has long been known as the little sister to big brother, Tuscany, and the Umbrian people have not been jaded by the onslaught of tourists flocking to better known Tuscany. There is genuine welcoming warmth in every town and village.
If the visitor takes time to say “Buongiorno” in the morning and “Buona Sera” in the evening, the locals light up with affection. In every village people go out for the evening passieggiata, a brief social strolling hour before dinner and in every little store and café they visit with each other.
Ladies perch in the piazza each day and make room on their bench for you. When a visitor goes into the local butcher, chances are he will ask how you are preparing your meal and offer advice. In Umbria, daily life is characterized by the sweet joy of simple pleasures and visitors are wise to take the time to settle into “la dolce vita” that is offered so willingly.
I am reminded of the adage of the difference between tourists and travelers: tourists arrive with every minute pre-planned, checklist, guide book and camera in hand while travelers arrive and see what there is to see and do, immersing themselves in the culture of the particular place.
Umbria is that place to be a traveler and the checklist will take care of itself as you stumble around enjoying its beauty, culture, food, wine and gentle warmth of the people. Be forewarned however, you might just want to pack up your goods and move here like we did!
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After searching for many years, Tom and Colleen transformed a vast abandoned glass factory in the little village of Piegaro, Umbria into a beautiful destination for travelers.
They are presently living their dream and sharing their passion with guests from over 26 countries. They moved from Seattle to immerse themselves in village life with all of its timeless rhythms and the surrounding beauty of their beloved Umbria.
Learn more about Antica Vetreria in Piegaro, Umbria. And when you visit, be sure to tell Tom and Colleen that you learned about Antica Vetreria here!
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