What a wonderful 9 days. Silvio and Alessandra are a lovely fun couple who went out of their way to make our stay magic. Helped by the most wonderful dog, Nebbia (fog!) who looks like an unbelievably matted English sheep dog (but is some local breed). He just loves walking and jumping through the bushes on the beautiful hills surrounding the old farmhouse, so the 2 walks we did each day turned into adventures, particularly when we met the 2 donkeys.
Silvio is an escapee from the world of advertising in Milano, so not your average farmer (don't think he does any except feed the donkeys, whose sole purpose seems to be to keep the grass down!).
He created some magic events for us. Firstly, on Good Friday the 2 men in our group (we were 2 couples, sharing one of the 3 very pretty apartments) organised an invitation from his funny and passionate friend Fabio for the 4 of us (men only, our wives had to watch!) to walk in the Church parade in the local hill town of Montone. About 15 of us were carrying flares and the body of the crucified Christ (we are both atheists, but that didn't seem to matter!), led by the village brass band and followed by a choir of women who appeared to be carrying the Virgin.
We were wearing the traditional white hooded robes with just holes for our eyes (shame those animals in the American South adopted the same garb as the penitents of catholic Italy and Spain). And we wended our way through what is, in our opinion, the most beautiful of all the 5 fortified towns in Umbria that we visited (because the architecture is glorious (as in the others), the square is beautiful, but the town is also peaceful, unlike the tourist bun fights of Assisi etc. And don't get us started on the crowds swarming over Tuscany - swore off going there again 4 years ago).
Ian and I both thought it was one of the most magical experiences of our (too long!) lives.
And it all started with a simple dinner in their part of the large farm house, a dinner that they didn't charge us for (but we brought some nice wine to it!).
Silvio also took us to a lovely Wine cellar where he buys his wine - no-one cared that we could only buy 6 bottles because we were soon to leave for Paris. We had a great tour and a long chat and wine tasting with the owners.
Silvio recommended 3 great restaurants in Umbertide, the local town and each was just wonderful. One was amazingly innovative (pasta with chocolate (but savoury) was a real treat). One very classy and more traditional. And one cheap, cheerful and ugly in a modern 2 star hotel with great basic food. And none of the 3 had a foreign tourist in it, which is nice if you can find it (and yes, know we are part of the problem). Town is a bit ordinary in terms of architecture, but surprisingly fun to walk around and sit in its square.
Took us to the local church, Byzantine, not famous, just unbelievably beautiful in the lower half of it (newer church built above it). Look at the photo.
And then the best meal of all: Allessandra organised a dinner in their house with a local farmer's wife cooking a simple 2 course meal that was delicious (the roast duck, wow!). And we got to meet the other 2 lots of guests who were Italian and had one of those wonderful 3 language conversations (most of us had a bit of French which helped) about the meaning of life and travel.
The only downside: it seems the women do all the work, and Silvio and Fabio have all the fun! Alessandra is sent out to work in the local bank, and Fabio's wife is the housekeeper while he chats to the Australian guests. But it is Italy after all!
Thank you guys for a magic holiday, the best part of our 3 week trip, we will be coming back as we always do when we find the magic places.
Toby (and Sarah, Sue and Ian)
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