Bevagna

Hopefully the photos below will speak for the beauty of Bevagna, a village in the heart of the Vale of Umbra dating back to Roman and medieval times (and before, to the ancient Umbri).

The central piazza is a jewel of medieval architecture and the walls encircling the village date back to the medieval period. The Roman washing area is still used by the locals where they wash their clothes in the waters of the Teverone, sharing the latest gossip.

Bevagna is 40 mins by car from Villa Bastiola and well worth a day trip. Take in a couple of local cantinas (vineyards) as well, as this is the heart of the Umbrian wine growing region (Arnaldo Caprai, Antonelli, Schiacciadiavoli to name a few) and pop up to Montefalco for stunning views over the valley.

Monte Santa Maria Tiberina

monte-santa-maria-tiberinaMonte Santa Maria Tiberina has an incredibly long name for one of the tiniest hilltop towns in the Upper Tiber Valley!  The photo to the left is taken from Villa Bastiola (holiday villa for rent in Umbria) and is the peak in the distance with the castle tower silhouetted against the skyline.

It’s worth a visit – just 20 minutes drive from the villa – as it has the most amazing views all over Umbria and Tuscany and there are charming cobbled streets to stroll around and a lovelymonte-santa-maria-festa-autunno restaurant and bar in the centre of the village.

The Monte (as it is locally known!) is the highest peak for miles around – wherever you go in the area you can always get your bearings from the castle which you can always see against the skyline!

Every autumn, the village comes alive when it holds the annual Festa D’Autunno or Autumn Festival.  The Festival runs from around the 14th to 16th October with lots of events taking place.  There are stalls selling local produce and crafts, flagthrowers, medieval processions and traditional Italian music as well as a dinner in the Castle itself (still owned and recently restored by the Bourbons of the Monte) at 9pm on the first evening with original recipes from the 1600s…!!!

It’s a great chance to join with the locals and really get a feel of how they still celebrate and maintain their ancient traditions and customs today.

Montone

villa_rental_umbria_100Montone is a gorgeous, medieval hilltop town, just 15 minutes drive from Villa Bastiola.

Unlike many of the other small villages in the area, Montone’s medieval history is not as turbulent, coming under the control of legendary mercenry, Braccio Fortebraccio di Montone, although it did end up being annexed to the Papal States in the early 1600s like most of the other towns.

 

villa_rental_umbria_102 Follow the winding road up the hillside to the village at the top. There are several car parks and parking along the walls of the town. Definitely best to explore Montone by foot as that way you can get to see the gorgeous cobbled streets and beautiful architecture and really get a feel of life in Montone, plus the views are spectacular.

The central piazza is the hub of Montone and there are a couple of bars perfect for coffee, ice-creams or aperitivo while watching daily life unfold.

villa_rental_umbria_101In Autumn, the streets of Montone come alive with the Festa del Bosco (woodland festival) with stalls and shops selling the best of Umbrian fare including hot roasted chestnuts and vino novello (the new wine!).

In summer, you can enjoy the Umbrian Film Festival when a huge screen is set up in the square and films are shown daily – it’s a wonderful atmosphere!

Stay at Villa Bastiola and enjoy a morning or afternoon trip out to Montone!

Gubbio

the local area 3Gubbio is 30 minutes drive to the east of Villa Bastiola and is well worth a day trip. Steeped in history, this Umbrian town is incredibly old and you can see signs of its Umbri, Roman and medieval history as you walk through the town.

Called Ikuvium, it was home to the ancient Umbri (around the time of the Etruscans in Tuscany) and the ancient Eugubine bronze tablets (the only surviving example of ancient Umbrian text) can be seen in Palazzo dei Consoli on the main square.

 

The local area 2Conquered by the Romans, the town became known as Iguvium (where today’s name of Gubbio originates) and was an incredibly important stop over point for Roman troops travelling across Italy from North to South and East to West. There is a fabulous Roman amphitheater still standing (the second largest in the world) at the foot of Monte Ingino which is worth a visit.

As with most of middle Italy, the medieval times were turbulent with the town falling under control of one mercenary and then another. A lot of the buildings still standing in Gubbio today date back to the middle ages and its worth wandering through the town just to get a feel of the architecture and history.

festa-dei-ceriTake a trip to the top of Monte Ingino in the “cable car”! Hop into one of the giant dustbins and get whisked up to the top of the mountain – the views are breathtaking!!

Each year, the Gubbians celebrate their patron saint, St Ubaldo, in the race of the “Ceri”, 3 giant wooden candlesticks, which are carried by teams from each terziere (quarter) of the town in a race to the top of the mountain and in to the Basilica of St Ubaldo. It’s an incredible event and if you are lucky enough to be visiting Gubbio on 15th May, be prepared for fun!!

Stay at Villa Bastiola and take a day trip out to Gubbio with its amazing history and wonderful eating places!

Citta di Castello

villa_rental_umbria_citta_di_castello_03Citta’ di Castello is a thriving market town in the north of Umbria, in an area known as the Upper Tiber Valley.  Founded by Umbri tribes, the Romans called it Tifernum Tiberinum or Civitas Tiberina (City on the Tiber) which is the river that flows across Italy and down to Rome. During the medieval times, the city was fought over, conquered, lost and conquered several times finally falling under Papal control and becoming known as Civitas Castelli (City of the Castles) or Citta’ di Castello.

villa_rental_umbria_citta_di_castello_01It’s interesting history is reflected in the mix of buildings and architecture throughout the town. Famous for its medieval Town Hall, round bell tower and Palazzo Vitelli (dating back to the 1400s), the town is really worth a visit.

Enjoy wandering through the cobbled streets and really getting a feel of what traditional Italian life is all about.  Local shops, coffee bars, restaurants and trattorias abound and at around 6pm each day, the Corso (main street) comes alive with the locals taking their passeggiata and catching up on the days news with friends and family.

villa_rental_umbria_citta_di_castello_02There is a market every Thursday and Saturday with a covered fruit & vegetable and fish market as well.

Citta’ di Castello is just 15 minutes from Villa Bastiola making it a perfect trip for a morning out, taking in the market and enjoying a coffee in on one of the bars on the central square or head in later for an aperitivo followed by a meal in one of the excellent restaurants.

Vineyards in the Vale of Umbra

So many people have heard of the famous Tuscan wines and super-reds like Chianti Classico DOC, Tignanello and Sassicaia but not so many know of the wonderful Umbrian wines that rival these in quality and taste.  A day trip down to the Vale of Umbra (about 45 minutes drive from Villa Bastiola) is worth doing, not only for the beautiful countryside but to see some of the independent “cantinas” that are producing fantastic wines.

wine-tasting-umbria Wine Tasting Umbria Wine Tasting Umbria
Visit the lovely, family run cantina of Antonelli (photos above) and the wonderfully named Scacciadiavoli (“squash the devil”) followed by Lungarotti and finally Arnaldo Caprai and enjoy tasting the variety of different whites and reds that are produced in this region.

The Vale of Umbra has a microclimate producing perfect conditions for growing grapes on the gentle slopes.

The largest cantina in the area is Arnaldo Caprai producing a delicious Grechetto and the now world famous wine Sagrantino di Montefalco.  Don’t miss tasting a Passito wine – a rich, red dessert wine, perfect with cheese as well.  The photo above on the left shows racks of grapes drying out, prior to being made into passito Sagrantino.

Stay at Villa Bastiola and enjoy a day trip to the Vale of Umbra to taste these wines for yourself! Make sure there is room in the suitcase for a bottle or two!

My favourite things… part 2…

Just as Umbria has gorgeous hand-painted pottery, so it has beautiful linens and none more so than the stunning range in Busatti, master linen makers since 1797. The flagship store is in Anghiari, a beautiful medieval hilltop town, just over the border in Tuscany, about 30 minutes drive from Villa Bastiola.

Busatti 22 July 2011 (5)Busatti 22 July 2011Busatti 22 July 2011 (3)

I first visited the shop in Anghiari just after I moved to Umbria in 2003 and fell in love with the both the town and the gorgeous fabrics in the store.

The owners are part of Tuscan heritage and have carried on the linen tradition since they moved to Anghiari in 1755 with descendants of Niccolò Busatti still continuing the family business. Not many businesses can date their roots back so far and still have such a niche place in the market – Busatti is truly special.

If you are lucky, you can ask to see the looms in action which are in the basement under the store in Anghiari. You can hear them working while you are above in the shop! The photos in this blog are ones that I snapped on my iPhone when I visited, not the best quality but you can see the gorgeous colours they use and know that the items sold in the shops are produced from linen being woven right there.

From table cloths, runners, napkins, tea towels, laundry bags, lavender bags to cushions, bed linen and even sofas there is so much to delight!

I usually buy a tea towel every time I visit – sounds daft I know but when we are in the middle of winter in the UK and I see the tea towel in my kitchen it brings back all those memories and the warmth of the Umbrian sun.

Stay at Villa Bastiola and take a trip to Anghiari & neighbouring Sansepolcro (with its famous painting by Piero della Francesca… but that’s another blog…).

My favourite things to do in Umbria…

I thought I would start a series of posts about the things that I loved to do when I was living at Villa Bastiola in Umbria. There’s so many it’s hard to know where to start. Just enjoying the culture, the history, the traditions, the food, the wine… It’s endless.  But maybe you didn’t know that Umbria is famous for its beautiful majolica pottery and linen industry…

ceramiche-grazia-01 While I was working at a lovely boutique hotel in Umbria, I couldn’t help noticing the beautiful pottery vases, plates and ornaments around the palazzo and I asked the owner about them. They very kindly took me on a trip down to Deruta, to the factory of Ubaldo Grazia, about 45 mins drive from Villa Bastiola so easily do-able in a day.

Deruta is the heart of the Majolica making area in Umbria and Ubaldo is the most well known of all the factories. If you are lucky enough, you can ask for a tour of the factory and workshops where you will learn to understand why this pottery is so special and the care and attention that goes into each piece. The clay is local and only the highest grade is used to form the moulds and hand-thrown shapes for the pottery. After firing and drying the pottery is transferred to the workshop where it is handpainted – beautiful, intricate designs by exceptional artists.

Once painted, the pottery is dipped in glaze and fired again – it can take up to 6 weeks from start to finish of a piece!

At the end you have a beautiful work of art that you can use and appreciate every day! I have gradually been collecting a coffee set with everything from espresso cups to cappuccino cups, sugar pot, milk jug and plates. It’s expensive but when you see how it is made you can understand why. Don’t fall for cheap, mass produced versions, only these will do!

Ubaldo and his team are charming and will take the time to show you around the factory shop afterwards. If you can’t see a piece you like, you can order it and they will ship. Or you can book another trip to Umbria to collect…

Rumour has it that a certain Mr Clooney ordered a whole dinner service for his Laglio villa from Ubaldo – I saw it with my own eyes 🙂 !!

Combine a stay at Villa Bastiola and take time to visit Deruta, it’s very special.