Originally we had planned to spend a couple of days in Rome on our way south. As our plans have totally changed and the weather has been unseasonably hot (like never below 30 deg during the day) we thought Rome would not be pleasant. We spent several days there with the girls 16 years ago so we have at least been there before.
As we have never been to Umbria we thought why not spend a few days at Lake Tresimino in northern Umbria and use it as a base for exploring the countryside. We found a great campsite with a pitch beside the lake – all new facilities and a great swimming pool (very necessary in the heat). From there we visited Montepulciano – one of the only places we have visited before. We both remembered really enjoying our brief stay there with the girls.
Gubbio is a lesser known hill town to the north east of Lake Tresimino which climbs steeply up the hillside.
We also visited Cortona which even though it has become touristy as a result of becoming famous in “Under the Tuscan Sun” is still worth a visit in the late afternoon after most of the tourist hordes have left.
Then Richard suggested we walk through town up to the fortress. Turned out to be a huge climb up steep streets then rough gravel roads and not connected to the town at all – sensible people drove up in the 32 degree heat. The fortress was disappointing and the views were nothing great – it seems to be mainly used for art exhibitions and concerts.
The next day was the highlight of our time in Umbria. Richard had found a day tour that offered truffle hunting and authentic local experiences with a local family from a high mountain village http://www.umbrianculture.com/ It had received excellent reviews and we weren’t disappointed. And to top it off, it was run by a Kiwi called Mac who had lived in Italy for 20 years and married into the local family. The family of Francesca, his wife, had owned the land with other families for 600 years.
First we went truffle hunting with Mac, his wife’s cousins Luca and the 2 truffle dogs up in the forest above the village. The high forest areas are opened to truffle hunting later in the season than other areas and had only just opened. As it had been very dry for the last few months the truffles we found were smaller than normal.
Then we went to visit the family flock of sheep which are milked to make pecorino cheese. They are looked after by a shepherd ( currently Mac’s cousin from NZ) and several very large special Maremma sheep dogs which were so eager for our attention. Mac and Francesca have about 20 dogs in total! This type of small scale enterprise is the norm in Italy – in NZ they would say it was uneconomic – with families making cheese for their own use and to sell. No stringent requirements for pasteurisation and sterile premises here. It is refreshing to see how traditional ways of preparing foods are still widely used.
And a pasta making demonstration by Francesca which we then ate for lunch with the local truffle sauce – grated truffle, garlic and olive oil. The family is about 75% self sufficient in food – making cheese, prosciutto and with a large vegetable garden. They also hunt in winter and use some of the sheep for meat. For lunch we got to try roasted pigeon! Home reared.
Lunch was a true family affair – being Saturday and the start of school holidays Mac and Francesca’s 2 young children joined us as well as Luca. Richard even played ”soccer” with the 7 year old. Lunch was washed down with plenty of wine – apparently drunk with every meal here!
A great day that we would recommend to anyone staying in the area. We learnt so much about their lifestyle in this remote village and the way traditional methods of food preparation and preservation have been carried on through the generations.
We decided to cut short our visit to Umbria/Tuscany after this trip – even though we hadn’t managed to see several of the places we wanted to visit. With a forecast of even higher temperatures in the mid 30’s the thought of wandering around hill towns and Florence was not appealing- the swimming pool at the campground got a lot of use.
It was time to head for the mountains with a stop in Venice on the way.