Monday, June 28, 2010

Umbria, Italy- Todi and Spoleto

Todi is a picturesque medieval hill town with storybook charm in the southern part of Umbria, 40 minutes from Spello on the way to Rome. It is near the Tiber River, overlooking the Tiber Valley. It is surrounded by medieval, Roman and Etruscan walls. Although it's a hill town, its center at the top of the hill is flat. The central piazza, originally the Roman forum, has several beautiful medieval buildings. Sights are close together and there are good places to linger, enjoying the views and the ambiance. Todi photographs are bottom three images.

Spoleto, one of the largest towns in southern Umbria, is a hill town in Italy famous for its summer music festival, Festival dei Due Mondi, with interesting Roman, medieval, and modern sights. It was inhabited in prehistoric times and the lower parts of its wall are from the 6th century BC. Spoleto is a walled town built on a hillside with most of the sites in the compact upper town. Above Spoleto is a medieval Rocca and spanning the deep gorge to one side of the Rocca is Spoleto's most famous sight, Ponte delle Torri or Bridge of Towers (Photograph third from top.) Spoleto photographs are top three images.

Photographs are from the web.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Umbria, Italy- Hill Towns of Perugia and Assisi

A 25 minute ride from Spello takes you to a hill town almost in the very center of Italy, capital of an area known as the "Green Heart of italy." Perugia is a lively, medieval, walled hill town with historic buildings, people-filled squares and modern shops. Estruscan ruins are still visible in certain places.

Famous for its chocolate, there is a chocolate festival in October. Otherwise, walking through the narrow streets and along the walls at the edge of town for views of the valley (see bottom photograph taken from Piazza IV Novembre) is the city's top attraction. Corso Vannnucci is the main pedestrian street which is lined with elegant shops, bars and restaurants. There are art exhibits and many points of interest including Roman walls and gates and a 5th century Temple. We loved the feel of this town, great energy!! Lots of charm and interested places to explore. Looked like reasonable hotels were available- not as nice as ours in Spello, though.

Twelve miles east of Perugia is Assisi, best known as the birth place of St Francis. It is a hill town of Roman ruins, medieval streets and sacred shrines. A very popular tourist attraction, there are 3000 inhabitants and 4-5 million visitors annually. We stayed a short time, walked around a bit and then left, overwhelmed by the crowds and not so interested in visiting all the churches.

All three photographs are of Perugia.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Spello, Umbria-The Tastes & Smells of the Region

Spello is a 2000 year old Roman settlement whose nickname is "Jewel of Umbria." Its narrow alleyways and cobble stoned streets are decorated with flowers in the spring and summer. It is surrounded by olive groves, vineyards and sunflower fields. Many culinary adventures start there, especially wine and olive oil tastings. They are known for their excellent olive oil. I got a great recipe that I have used (and changed) so many times, I want to share it with you:

Spaghetti with Zucchini, Raisins and Nuts
(pictured at top)

1 lb spaghetti**
4 T olive oil
2/3 cup chopped walnuts**
5 minced garlic cloves
5-6 small sliced thin zucchinis**(cut in half- moon shape)
2/3 cup raisins
2 oz Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta to and drain. Return to pot.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium flame. Add walnuts until brown, Add garlic until brown. Continue stirring to keep from sticking to pan. Add zucchini with seasoning and continue tossing with other ingredients until tender. (5-7 minutes)
Add pasta and mix well. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top before serving.

**The beauty of this recipe is that you can make many substitutions and it always works- whole wheat pasta or udon noodles are great, yellow squash or a combination of both works, sliced almonds are great. I haven't tried it but you could probably use craisins in place of raisins too!!

The secret is to use fresh ingredients and the best quality olive oil you can afford.
Buon Appetito!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Staying in Spello, Umbria

This map of Italy shows you in red where Umbria is. To the upper left of it is Tuscany. After leaving Florence in a rental car, we drove to Spello. Tiny stone houses that dot the Umbrian countryside form this mesmerizing and charming town. 

Only occasionally do tourists stop in Spello; it’s not part of the "usual" travel itinerary. It’s one of those places that if you happen to drive past, you feel compelled to detour and discover.

Mostly, Spello exists for the locals. There are only 6,000 inhabitants; tiny in a country of over 56 million people. But it’s that small town charm that is the essence of Spello and what the accidental tourist finds endearing.

Spello is a pleasure for those who love walking. Three well-preserved Roman stone arches form the entry points to the town, Porta Venere, with its towers, Porta Urbica and Porta Consolare. Once inside, the cobblestone streets meander in and out of mysterious alleyways that lead to simple, yet elegant stone houses.

The locals will welcome you with a smile as they sit outside their houses, knitting, sewing or simply chatting to one another. If you offer an Italian greeting such as "Buon Giorno," you will almost certainly receive a delighted response.

For the art lover, Spello is well known for its wonderful frescoes by Pinturicchio- depicting scenes from the New Testament - which can be found in the 12th century church of S. Maria Maggiore.

We stayed in a 13th century villa that once belonged to a mercenary. Restorations in the 18th and 19th centuries gave Hotel Palazzo Bocci its charm and loveliness today. Well located for day trips throughout Tuscany and Umbria, we stayed here and traveled throughout the area. The roof top scenes above are from the windows of our room at the hotel. Morning and evening walks were very pleasurable, the hotel was lovely and the people divine, not to mention the food! Especially the olive oil!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Florence- One of my favorite cities

Florence is a glorious city. Walkable, filled with history, amazing art, outstanding food, great shopping, it is a place to return to many times. This time we stayed in a wonderful pension Hotel Pendini founded in 1879, perfectly located between the Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery. We walked and walked, enjoying every minute of our stay. Since we were there during holiday time, we were surprised at many corners- a carousel, street concerts ( including Strauss waltzes on New Year's Eve,) people on stilts- magic everywhere. And the art!! Like nowhere is a site for museums in Florence

But this time we are traveling through Tuscany and Umbria.