- Ariana Narins
Wednesday, April 14th - Tuesday, April 20th
Did you go to Umbria? It’s not a question travelers to Italy are often asked - but it should be. If we described Friuli-Venezia Guilia as a secret tucked between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, then Umbria is the hidden gem shining directly from Italy’s center. When it is spoken of at all, it is called Italy’s green heart. It is completely surrounded by land, bordered by Tuscany, Le Marche, and Lazio. Regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Italy, its rolling hills are covered with olive trees and vineyards. Medieval churches, Renaissance frescoes, and winding, ancient roads seduce the traveler with the spiritual and artistic enchantments of its storied past. It is said that 20,000 saints were born in Umbria and something of the spirit still stirs in its mystic landscape. It’s as if the land calls out to the invisible part of us, the part that can only be seen with the heart. Perhaps that’s how it spoke to Francis of Assisi - Umbria’s most famous Saint.
The drive from Florence to Umbria is little over an hour. It’s well worth leaving the throng of Tuscany’s tourists to experience the quiet majesty of Umbria. Rivers and lakes are important for Umbria, as it is the only region in Italy untouched by salt water. It’s Nera river runs across the whole region and pours into the famous Tiber river of Lazio. An old Umbrian saying goes, “There would be no Tiber if the Nera did not give it to drink.” Beyond a simple observation about waterways, the saying alludes to the gifts Umbria bestowed upon Rome, its cultural achievements and ancient treasures. Umbria helped to ignite Rome’s famed greatness, but has been left obscured in Rome’s shadow. Indeed, Umbrian culture was older than Roman, for it was once ruled by the Etruscans. In fact, the Umbrian capital of Perugia was once a powerful Etruscan city. And the Romans, we know, learned their cultural arts from the Etruscans. Even before the arrival of the Etruscans, Umbria was held by an ancient people called Umbrians. It’s safe to say, civilization runs deep in Umbria.
As we enter the heart of Italy and begin to leave the North behind, some stirrings of the South are felt in the cuisine, as butter gives way to the fragrant, green olive oil of Umbria and pasta bids rice addio. Umbrian cuisine dances with flavors and notes that can only be created where North meets South. Without the fame of Florence or Rome, but with all their beauty and truth, Umbria is a hidden gem you’ll want to uncover again and again. So the next time you get back from Italy, we hope you’ll say, “Yes, I’ve been to Umbria.”
There is a snail festival in Lacugnano, Umbria, which might sound silly. The word festival has a medieval ring to it, as if 13th century costumes are a must and minstrels in colorful stripes and tights, holding trumpets, roam about. But at the Snail Festival in late July, you’ll find rows of tables set with gorgeous local foods and more delicious ways to prepare snails than you can imagine, plus strings of sparkling lights strewn over head, friends, family and visitors buzzing about, tasting, laughing and enjoying - it’s really just a modern celebration of the local bounty and food traditions.
Pasta alla Norcina
The town of Norcia is the center of gastronomy in Umbria. Famed for its pork products, it is said to have taught Italy how to create processed pork during the Middle Ages. The traditional dish, Pasta alla Norcina, pays tribute to two of Norcina’s most famous foods, sausages and truffles. Our house made Umbrian sausage is crumbled over a bed of short pasta, cream, garlic and pecorino cheese. And to make it sing with all the notes of Norcia, we’ve mixed in sensuous, earthy black truffles. If you want to indulge, then this is how you do it.
Pork and Impastoiata
Impastoiata is an exquisite Umbrian creation, drawing together creamy polenta (a staple of the North) with the treasures of the south: tomato, garlic, olive oil. Combined with cannellini beans and fragrant herbs, this dish is a sort of doughy soup. It is earthy, warming, and delicious. Impastare means "to knead", and all the elements are perfectly kneaded together to delight your senses. Typically served as a soup or side, we’ve added a mouth-watering berkshire porkchop to this dish to highlight another Umbrian staple, the pig, and to turn the dish into a heartier entree.
This traditional chocolate cake hails from the Spoleta area of Umbria, and you’ll find it at carnivals all throughout the region. The cake batter is mixed with amaretti biscuits, sambuca, and whisked eggs. Its center droops a little after it’s taken out of the oven and the soft inside sets as it cools.