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Castello di Monticelli, near Peruga

Umbria, Italy’s gourmet treasure trove

Leave Rome its Colosseum and Paris its Eifel Tower; let Tuscany have its Chianti wines and hordes of visitors. Where I’m going is Italy’s reclusive child, Umbria – Europe’s bona fide slow-food HQ.

A leisurely road trip through the heart of Italy

Leave Rome its Colosseum and Paris its Eifel Tower; let Tuscany have its Chianti wines and hordes of visitors. Where I’m going is Italy’s reclusive child, Umbria – Europe’s bona fide slow-food HQ.

The Norcineria family butchers in Norcia
The Norcineria family butchers in Norcia

After collecting my Maserati from Modena, I take a leisurely road-trip through Umbria’s undulating landscape of quilted fields and steepled villages. The fetching vistas are in every imaginable hue of green and dotted with small farms where geese and chickens loiter along roadsides that seldom see passing cars. Umbria is also one of Italy’s most fertile corners, a region of old-fashioned food traditions, where refined ingredients boom.

Desserts ready for plating at Osteria Baciafemmine
Desserts ready for plating at Osteria Baciafemmine

Castello di Monticelli, near Perugia

Right at the top of my Umbria must-do list is to spend a night in a castle, the grandest of which is Castello di Monticelli, surrounded by two acres of gardens and terraces, six acres of forest, and a large patch of land where organic produce is grown.

Proprietor Ellen Krauser explains, “Castello di Monticelli started life in the 6th century as a fortress, then she was a monastery, which became a hunting lodge and in the last century, she was a prison during the World Wars. My business partner, Prof Giuseppe Tullio, and I spent 18 years reinstating the medieval features of every room.”

Dinner is an al fresco, four-course event with typical local produce; and breakfast, taken in a glass fronted conservatory facing the valley and Perugia in the distance, is a continental indulgence.

Desserts ready for plating at Osteria Baciafemmine

Majolica Ceramics, Deruta

At first I felt certain the beautiful stone town of Deruta is like all the other medieval hamlets in rural Umbria, but walking through its ancient gates I soon see its claim to fame. The streets are lined with ceramic shops, workshops, factories, pottery schools – there’s even a ceramics museum and a place to try your hand at the potter’s wheel and become an artisan’s apprentice for just the day.

I visit Grazia Maioliche Ceramics, a centuries old ceramic factory, and meet with Dr Ubaldo Grazia who speaks of his family’s history in ceramics and the succession of highly sought after master artists who embellish their pottery. Dr Grazia explains that over the past 900 years, the craft has been handed on from father to son, with no changes to the method.

Winebar in Torgiano
Winebar in Torgiano

Lungarotti Winery, Torgiano 

I’m lunching at L’U Winebar on an unfussy gourmet fare with Chiara Lungarotti of the Lungarotti Wine Estate. Over a glass of Rubesco, she explains that Umbria’s balmy climate is ideal for growing wine. Her late father first began planting vines on the 620-acre estate back in 1962 and now Lungarotti exports some 2.5-million bottles annually. A cellar tour reveals the science behind the vinification process, and concludes with a tasting. As I leave the village I pop into the wine museum, designed by Chiara’s mother.
 
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© This article was first published in Oct-Nov 2018 edition of World Travel Magazine.

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