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.


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!

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!

Infiorata at Spello – 28th & 29th May 2016

Spello is truly one of Umbria’s most lovely gems!  Nestling away on the hillside between Assisi and Spoleto, it is an enchanting hilltop town with a wealth of history.  See medieval walls, Roman archways, renaissance painting and enjoy the cafes, ice cream parlours and restaurants that this little town has to offer.


During May and June, Infiorata festivals are held in various Italian towns and are definitely a must see if you are planning to visit one of the many regions where these festivals take place.

The word “infiorata” literally means “decorated with flowers” and this is exactly how the paintings created for the occasion are made, using flower petals, earth, and sometimes even beans or wood cuttings.

Tracing its origins to the 13th century, the Infiorata flower tradition as we know it today, dates back to the seventeenth century. It seems that the first flower carpets were made on the 29th of June 1625 in the Vatican Basilica by Benedetto Drei, head-florist at the Vatican, and his son Peter, who used flower petals like mosaic’s tesserae to decorate the basilica on the day of Saints Peter and Paul’s feast, the patron saints of Rome.

The infiorata artists use flowers with various nuances of colour and their petals to create both simple and elaborate designs on the streets leading up to their churches and abbeys. After months of work on the actual design of the painting, they first sketch them on the floor in chalk and mark each line with soil or coffee grounds. Then comes the job of filling in the marvelous creations with flower petals,using individual petals the way painters use the colours on their palette: broom for yellow, goat’s rue for blue, carnation for red, and wild fennel for green, etc. Some tapestries also use entire flowers and other greenery, making for more three-dimensional scenes.

Spello’s Infiorata began in the 1930’s and takes place every year in the small Umbrian town on the day of the Corpus Domini feast, on the ninth Sunday after Easter. On that night, almost a thousand people work strenuously to create carpets and pictures made of flowers along the narrow town’s streets. The floral creations cover streets throughout the historical centre in preparation to the passage of the Blessed Sacrament carried in procession by the bishop on Sunday morning. As techniques evolved over time, what was once a long uninterrupted carpet of flowers, characterized by a relatively simple design, became more sophisticated sets of bigger compositions. What is so special about Spello’s Infiorata, is that the artists compose their splendid carpets using flowers collected in the wild. While the use of other parts of the plants, like leaves and berries is allowed, the preference is given to the use of petals only, either fresh or dried. The use of wood and any kind of synthetic material is severely prohibited. The gathering and processing of these natural materials starts several months before their actual use, which means that the festival requires a year long effort in order to take full advantage of the variety of seasonal floral species the Umbria’s countryside offers.

Stay for a week in Apartment Quercia at Villa Bastiola and take a trip to Spello to enjoy this unique festival!

Calendimaggio in Assisi 4 – 7 May 2016

So many reasons to visit Umbria…

The stunning celebrations in Assisi at the beginning of May called Calendimaggio is just one!  Combine a stay at Villa Bastiola with a visit to Assisi (45 minutes drive away) and enjoy this fantastic festival.


The origins of the Assisi festival of Calendimaggio go back to Roman times with the celebrations known as the “Fasti di Maggio” and to the medieval tradition of celebrating the arrival of Spring in early May (Kalende di Maggio or Kalenda Maia in the mediaeval latin lyrics) with groups of revelers serenading through the streets of the town.  Over the centuries, gradually an historical element came into the celebrations based on the long-standing rivalry between the “Upper” and the “Lower” parts of Assisi. This can be traced back to the protracted and bloody feuds for supremacy between the Nepis and the Fiumi families who were the leaders of the two warring factions. The feuding began in the 14 C and continued unchecked for over 200 years. So deep were the divisions that towards the middle of the 16 C, the Papal Governor, Giovanni Andrea Cruciani, was obliged to re-organise the town into three districts to keep the factions apart.

Calendimaggio opens with the ceremonial handing over of the Keys of the City to the Master of the Field by the mayor, which confers supreme authority on the Master for the duration of the celebrations. Each side has its own beautiful candidates for Festival Queen and the winner is decided during a contest of medieval games. The champion obtains the privilege of proclaiming his lady to be “Madonna Primavera”. In her honour, the flag-wavers then display their skills and the Minstrels sing Troubadour songs.

After the challenge and acceptance have been read out in the Piazza del Comune, the “Magnificent Parte de Sotto” and the “Right Noble Parte de Sopra” both groups retire to their own neighbourhoods and costumed figures parade through the narrow streets and the squares to the sound of lutes and serenades, illuminated by flaming torches during the evening processon. During the processions, the progress of the nobles alternates with the passage of gangs commoners, along with jesters, minstrels and singers, trumpeting and drumming. The “encounters” between the opposing sides take place in the Piazza del Comune in a spectacle of colour and banners. On the final evening the choirs of the sides compete before the spectators and the judges who award “Palio” to the winning choir.

Don’t miss this spectacular event which is part of Umbria’s cultural heritage.

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Festa dei Ceri – Gubbio, 15 May 2016

More things to experience in Umbria…

Umbria is so culturally rich in tradition that there is always a celebration or re-enactment taking place somewhere.  This time it’s the race of the giant wooden candlesticks in Gubbio in May!!!  Sounds crazy (indeed Gubbio boasts of its “fontana dei matti” – fountain of the madmen – it’s possible to get a certificate!!) but the Gubbians take this race deadly seriously.

Combine a trip to Gubbio with a stay at the beautiful Villa Bastiola and enjoy the best that Umbria has to offer!


The origins of this feast dates back centuries like so many celebrations in Umbria. Some scholars trace it back to pagan ceremonies in honor of the goddess Ceres. Still others speculate on 1154, celebrations after the victory of Gubbio against 11 allied cities. But the most likely idea is to celebrate Ubaldo Badassini, Bishop of Gubbio in the twelfth century, and the city’s Patron Saint, Saint Ubaldo.

St. Ubaldo, beloved by the people, died May 16th of 1160, and all the citizens made a pilgrimage with lit candles. Since then a procession takes place every year on the Eve of his death,  on May 15th, with the offering of votive candles by the Guilds of Arts and Crafts. It is written in the Statum Eugubii of 1338, that the members of the the richest guilds, the Muratori (Masons), Merciai (Haberdashers) and Vetturari (“Taxi Drivers”), “went Iubilantes et gaudentes with three Cereos Magnos of wood, covered with wax”.

The Cereos Magnos of Wood, the Ceri, are the highlight of todays festivities. That is the Corsa dei Ceri, one of the wildest, craziest events in Italy! A minor detail: it is uphill.

The Ceri are three tall, heavy wooden candlesticks topped respectively wtih statues of St. Ubaldo (the patron of the Muratori), St. George (protector of Merciai) and St. Anthony Abbot (Asinari and protector of peasants, students today also). Each weighs about 300/400 kg! The Ceri are fixed on “H” stretchers which the ceraioli (10 for each “manicchia” or shaft) carry on their shoulders running through the streets of the city to the Basilica of St. Ubaldo, on the summit of Mount Ingino behind Gubbio.

Every 70 meters (maximum distance traveled by a man, both for his physical safety than for that of the Cero) there is a “muta”, a relay with a change of carriers.

Celebrations start at 11:45 in Piazza Grande. When the bell in the Palazzo dei Consoli tolls, the Ceri are raised (“Alzata dei Ceri”). The team leader (Capodieci) jumps up on his Cero, fixes it firmly to the stretcher and crowns it with the statue of the saint.

Later, the race begins – the Corsa dei Ceri – over 4km through the narrow streets and ups and downs of Gubbio. The Ceri have to run at maximum possible speed. When they arrive in Piazza Grande they have to circle the Piazza three times and often the Ceri can topple over! It is a mad rush, but it is not a race, as Sant’Ubaldo must always lead and get into the Basilica first with the doors closing behind.

To book Villa Bastiola, please email