Umbria Off the Beaten Path: the Nature, Culture and Cuisine of Central Italy

 

At the International Center for the Arts at Monte Castello di Vibio, we feel we can offer a unique perspective on the arts, cuisine and culture of Italy generated by both the warmth and genuineness of our little village and the expertise and hands on knowledge of our faculty.

 

Our Tour of Umbria

Day 1: Arrive Rome (FCO)

We will meet at the airport and go by private bus marked to Monte Castello.  The ride is about 90 minutes.  When we arrive, we’ll drop off our bags at our accommodations and meet briefly for drinks and antipasti, after which we’ll have a rest and take a brief tour around the village to get everyone oriented.  As part of the tour, we’ll introduce you to our site manager, cook, and staff and then you’ll have the rest of the afternoon to relax, enjoy the views, and wander around the village.  Dinner at will be at 8:00 PM on the terrace overlooking the Tiber valley. After dinner, if you have the energy, we can meet briefly for gelato, drinks and dancing to live traditional music at the local outdoor bar: La Toraccia.

 

Day 2:  Monte Castello, Montefalco, Bastardo

We’ll have a leisurely breakfast followed by a presentation on the area and sites: an introductory talk about the natural history and culture of Umbria, focusing on the history of the ancient pathways of Monte Castello, and the cultures that have walked them.  We will examine the Etruscan and Roman origins of the village and discuss evidence of their residence in the town.  We’ll also look at the Medieval and Renaissance history that gives Monte Castello its present form, with compelling and unexpected historical fragments such as its famous Doors of the Dead, which have obscure origins in Roman times. More contemporary reminders of past events bear witness to the village’s engagement in the Second World War.  We’ll also consider the unique cultural habits of the village, documented in the book: Three Bells of Civilization, by anthropologist, Sydel Silverman.  We will see how concepts of “civilita” and “rispetto,” which she identifies in her book, still inform the ways that residents of the village live their lives and interact with one another.

 

Following the talk we’ll have lunch, followed by a tour of the area by bus, stopping at an olive orchard with a working olive press and vineyard for a hands on description of the entire winemaking process from grape to bottle.  Afterward, we’ll journey to the nearby hamlet of Bastardo, where we will visit the Signae Vinyard, which produces the wonderful, Montefalco Rosso and Grechetto wines of the region (be sure to try the unique, Rossobastardo – Red Bastard) .  After our stop outside Bastardo, we’ll go on to the beautiful medieval city of Montefalco for a snack and for sampling its famous wines. We will visit a number vineyards for wine tasting – among them the famous Arnaldo Caprai , Fongoli, and  Antonelli San Marco  vineyards.  Most unique among the famous wines of this area we’ll sample is the famous Sagrantino di Montefalco, which is made with 100% Sagrantino grapes, and carries the highest ranking of Italian wine denominations, DOCG.  Among other nuances the wine has a wonderful blackberry aroma and flavor.  After our vineyard tour, we’ll return to Monte Castello for dinner at 8:00 PM.

 

Day 3: Orvietto, Titignano

 

After breakfast in Monte Castello, we’ll move to the beautiful city of  Orvietto, famous for its cathedral and its white wine, wild boar, truffles as well as for its ancient Etruscan history and monuments.  En route to Orvieto, we will pass through one of the most picturesque, and least traveled areas of central Umbria. This is a wonderful place surrounded by mountains and picturesque villages, where we can arrange for your group to visit the park outside and castle at Titignano stroll in the nearby National Park or make a  visit to the spa at Fattoria di Vibio.  Additional fees apply, contact us for more information.

 

Once in Orvieto, we will make a tour of the Duomo, focusing in particular on the sculptures on the façade, which feature particularly imaginative depictions of the Book of Genesis and the Last Judgment.  Inside, we will see the famous last Luca Signorelli’s famous Judgment fresco, a tour de force example of his knowledge of human anatomy.  After the duomo, participants will have lunch on their own, with a number of delightful options around the town.  Shopping, as well as a number of tour options the city of Orvieto offers are available for a small admission fee (not included in the group rate) all within a brief and interesting stroll through the ancient city.  For those with the energy, we suggest a tour of the ancient Etruscan underground city, carved from the soft, volcanic rock on which the city is built the fascinating tour explores a maze of underground dwellings and commercial buildings and most people find strolling through the typically wide passages in the cool air, to be a refreshing and interesting experience.  Another below ground option is the famous well of St. Patrick , which can be descended by means of a unique double helical spiral staircase in which those ascending and those descending the stair travel along separate, but intertwining paths.  It is a true architectural wonder, and once again is carved entirely from the soft volcanic rock that underlies the city.  Alternately if you choose to remain above ground, Orvieto has a very good Archeological Museum and as well as an Art Museum, both of which are worth a visit.  However, for those who just want to take in the sites of the town, Orvieto, with its limited vehicular traffic, offers many opportunities for simply strolling.  Here, you’ll find many beautiful, shady and cool tree filled parks and overlooks, which make great spots to just relax and enjoy a bottle of Orvieto’s famous wine and take in the spectacular views of the countryside.

 

At 5:00 PM we depart Orvieto for dinner, again traveling on the old road to Titignano, where we enjoy dining in the courtyard of the castle at Fattorie di Titignano e iSalvno with a spectacular view of the river and lake.  Here you will choose one of four menus, each complete with an anti-pasti, a pasta course, a second course, and of course dessert.  The meal options include: local cheese and honey or toasts with Umbrian delicacies, as an antipasti.  The pasta course includes homemade pasta’s with typical choices of Pappardelle with goose, boar, or rabbit or risotto with truffles, asparagus, or mushrooms, or lasagna with mushrooms.  The second course of the meal includes choices from mixed roast, roast boar, and roast goose.  Finally, for dessert, a beautiful Tiramasu will be offered.

 

Day 4: Todi

After breakfast, you will spend the morning relaxing in Monte Castello.  Here you may simply enjoy strolling through the village and countryside, or if you feel ambitious, a variety of mini course options will be available at an additional fee.  These custom options may include cooking, yoga, oil painting, alternative photographic processes or egg tempera painting. Bicycle rentals are also available.  After, we depart for the nearby village of Todi.  Todi was founded by the Umbra people (often thought to be the indigenous Italians) in the 8th century BC, who used its fortress like location as a defense against the encroaching Etruscans. It has thrived since that time, with a famous study by Richard S. Levine of the University of Kentucky, naming it the world’s most sustainable city and most livable city, due its ability to reinvent itself and remain vital while also staying small and connected to the natural world. Todi’s long history is preserved in its city center and in its handicrafts, where artisan shops feature silver work, wood inlay, glass and ceramics. While there, participants will have the option of wandering the ancient streets or visiting the Olympic size pool at the Todi’s Centro Sportivo. Nestled below the town, this picturesque facility features two water slides, world-class tennis courts, an archery range and a running track. The group will reconvene in the late afternoon for a snack overlooking the valley between Todi and Monte Castello before departure back to Monte Castello.

 

At 7:00 PM, we’ll meet in the Teatro Concordia at the school for a presentation in preparation for tomorrow’s trips to Deruta and Assisi.  The talk will include a preview of the magnificent Giotto frescos in Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi  one of the great monuments in the history of world art (and only 20 minutes away!).  We’ll also consider the church’s other beautiful frescos, which represent the work of some of the most significant Italian painters of the 14th and 15th centuries, including a painting of St. Francis by Cimabue, which is thought to be a likeness of the saint. Dinner will be at 8:00 PM in Monte Castello, followed by film: Flowers of S. Francis, by Roberto Rossellini.  The film gives a wonderful context to tomorrows trip and is considered by many to be one of the great masterpieces of world cinema.

 

Day 5: Assisi, Deruta, Mt Subasio, Marsciano

Breakfast on the terrace in Monte Castello at 8 AM.  Following breakfast, we will begin our tour of the village of Deruta, the world-renowned majolica center of Italy, about 20 minutes drive from Monte Castello.  Here, fantastic quality ceramic majolica work is made with intricately painted designs and patterns that have been used by artisans in this area for hundreds of years. We will begin with the Nulli Mailosche Factory, one of the oldest and most venerable painted ceramics studios in Deruta Here, participants will have the opportunity to get their hands dirty by throwing a pot on the wheel with renowned master potter, Rolando Nulli.  Everyone always enjoys working with Rolando, whose charm and enthusiasm is surpassed only by his absolute mastery of his medium.  After, you will have the opportunity to visit other majolica factories in Deruta, shopping for one-of-a-kind masterpieces of the craft that are unmatched anywhere in the world.  Purchases can be easily shipped home.

 

At 11:00 AM, we’ll move on to Assisi, traveling through picturesque farmland on secondary roads along the way.  The approach to Assisi along this route affords one of the most breathtaking views of the beautiful church of San Francesco.  Sitting resolutely on the side of the mountain, the majestic church stands in sharp contrast to St. Francis’ message of poverty, but is an incredible site nonetheless.

 

We’ll begin our tour at the other end of the village however, at the beautiful and gentle church of Santa Ciarra.  The church, dedicated to St. Clair, is carved from the local pink stone, and – especially in the crypt containing the saint’s remains, features some of the most elegant stone carving in Italy.   From Santa Chiara, we go further up the mountain to the forests above Assisi, to visit the hermitage of S. Francis, the Eremo delle Carceri an area on Mt Subasio dotted with grottos still used as isolated retreats by the Franciscan monks. This is where S Francis first founded the cave like chapel one walks through on the way to the old growth wilderness that surrounds it. Its amazing to consider the fact that this forest was sacred to the Romans many generations before Francis, and fascinating to consider that some of the trees in the forest were the same trees Francis himself walked under. This is a truly spiritual place with numerous spots in the forest commemorated with circles of stones where one can imagine Francis speaking to his disciples. With this in mind, we’ll take a few minutes to stop as a group or linger in one of these spots to consider the history––and natural history––of this remarkable place.  Afterward, you’ll have some time to wander the trails alone or in small groups to appreciate the quiet solitude.

 

After the hermitage, we will travel back down the mountain to the village for lunch, then on for our visit to the church of S. Francesco.  Inside the church, your tour will be accompanied by an art historian who will lecture on the architecture and paintings by headset (remember, silence inside the functional church is required). You’ll have plenty of time for your visit to San Francesco, and in the open area between the Upper and Lower Churches and to ask our resident cultural arts guide any questions you may have about the place or its history.

 

We’ll leave Assisi promptly at 7:00 PM to depart for dinner at a wonderful agritourismo (a working farm with a restaurant and lodging), near Monte Castello.  As we travel along the dirt road that leads to the restaurant, you’ll have a great overview of a working family farm.  At the restaurant, we’ll enjoy individual pizzas from a wood fired pizza oven (everyone will pick their own toppings) accompanied by endless quantities of the family wine. Much of the produce used on the pizza is grown right there on the farm that surrounds the restaurant and the smoked meats and cheeses that they serve are of the region.  Limoncello liquor produced by the family on the premises will follow the dinner and desert.

 

Day 6: Monte Castello: Relaxation, Workshop and Excursion Options

We’ll spend day 6 in Monte Castello enjoying the countryside and preparing for tomorrows trip to the high mountains of Eastern Umbria.  After breakfast, we’ll meet in the public garden for talk and a sampling of the famous cheeses and preserved meets of Norcia and Casteluccio, two of the cities we’ll visit on our tour tomorrow.  Norcia is recognized as the gastronomic capital of the region, and we’ll see to it that you are well prepared for the opportunity to make informed choices when you visit some of the most wonderful food shops in all of Europe on tomorrows tour.

 

After the talk, options will be as offered on Day 4. See Custom Itineraries for offerings at an additional fee.  Alternately, you can choose to explore and stroll as you like on the winding roads that lead down the mountain through olive groves, vineyards and fields of sunflowers.  For the more adventurous walkers, you can hire our driver, Carlo Innocenti to drive a small group to the nearby village of Doglio just outside Mt. Peglia National Park where you can enjoy a coffee before walking back to Monte Castello through forests and fields along a ridge called: “Le Streghe Bocca” or  “The Witches Mouth” because of the unusual winds circling the mountain ridges at this elevation. Bicycle rental can be arranged for you to spend the whole day in the countryside.  The fees for these excursions will include a picnic lunch featuring a bottle of water, a bottle of local wine and some of the wonderful cheese and salami of the region along with fresh fruit from Umbria – and of course the hearty Umbrian bread fresh-baked from the bakery at the bottom of our mountain.

 

Day 7: Norcia, Castelluchio, Monteluco

After an early morning breakfast we will depart for Norcia.  Norcia is recognized as one the true gastronomical capitals of Umbria, famous for is black and white truffles, numerous varieties of mushrooms, and wild game, including the famous and much beloved cinghiali--wild boar.  For vegetarians, the local cuisine is rich and varied as well. Delicacies such as the gourmet red potato and fresh berries are grown in the valley; while the nearby high mountains of Castelluccio produce fine local cheeses and the most prized lentils in Italy. While these wild mountains are still home to eagles, bears and wolves, one also commonly encounters shepherds with their flocks.

 

Norchia sits at the foot of the Sybillini Mountains, the highest mountain range in Umbira. As the legendary home of the Cumaen Sybyll depicted in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Mt. Sibylline has had a special place in the ancient folklore of the region since Roman times.  Throughout history, visitors came to seek wisdom and glimpses into the future from the Sybil.  Necromancers and magicians came in the Middle Ages to the mysterious mountains to practice the black arts at sites like Lago di Pilato––the Lake of Pilate––where the body of Pontius Pilate was said to be dumped after being dragged by wild oxen from Rome.  Stones with occult symbols have been found on the shores of the lake, whose waters are reputed to turn red on occasion, presumably due to the red shrimp one finds only in this lake’s unique ecosystem. Those who are interested in adding a hike or horseback riding to their tour should look at the National Park website   We can arrange a guide and picnic lunch at an extra fee.  It’s easy to arrange a hike in the mountains as a part of your tour.  For groups interested in white-water rafting, an exciting stop can be arranged at Rafting Umbria for a two-hour trip down the Horn River. Additional fees apply.

 

Our tour of the region will begin in at the base of Mount Sibylline, where we will stroll up to a mountain café for a cappuccino and enjoy the views for about an hour.  We’ll then descend to the village of Castelluccio in the valley of the mountains for an extraordinary glimpse into the daily life and culture of an isolated, high mountain village.  On certain days, a visit to the village of about 150 inhabitants is truly like stepping back in time. Inhabitants still practice centuries old cheese-making and produce cured meats as they have done for hundreds and hundreds of years.  In the summer, the blooms of wildflowers in the valley below Castelluccio are among the most spectacular in the world Featured in the film, Brother Son and Sister Moon a fact that makes this one of the top tourist attractions in Italy (for Italians, others rarely come here) . Timing your visit during the flowering can be an unforgettable experience.  We’ll remain is Castelluccio about two hours, time to have a bite and to sample the cheeses – don’t miss out on this, you won’t find them elsewhere!

 

After Castelluccio, we’ll proceed back down the mountain to Norcia.  Upon arrival we will proceed to the central square where participants will have time to explore the village at their leisure, but first, we’ll enjoy a lunch at the oldest and one of the most famous restaurants in Umbria, Granaro del Monte.  Here, the cook will prepare a special lunch for our group, including: an antipasti course that includes cured meats and cheeses of the region, a pasta course that includes choices from Fettuccini with Norcina sauce, or cannelloni with ricotta (local), or pasta with wild boar.  For the main course, the chef will prepare delicious roast local sausages with lamb and roast potatoes. Alternately, for an extra fee, you can choose from a wide menu of dishes containing regional delicacies such as truffles, fresh trout, Chianina beef, freshly made pasta, and fruits from the forest - of course, this will all be accompanied by Umbrian wines and coffee.  After lunch, you’ll have about two hours to wander the streets of the city and to stock up on supplies to enjoy back in Monte Castello.  (Most places also ship or package properly for carry to the U.S.)

 

After Norcia, we’ll begin our return home (about an hour and a half)  En route, we’ll stop outside the city of Spoletto for dinner and a stroll in the enchanting forest and Convent at Monteluco at a restaurant famous for its grilled meats.  As we head up the mountain, we’ll stop briefly at the Romanesque church, the Bassilica di San Pietro.  The carvings on the façade of the church are among the best examples of Romanesque sculpture in Italy, and it’s a beautiful site to stretch our legs before continuing our trip up the mountain.  Once we arrive, about 20 minutes up a winding drive through the forest, and prior to dinner, you will have the opportunity to stroll at sunset through the mysterious, Bosco Sacra of Monteluco surrounding the Convent of St Francis.  In this ancient forest, also sacred to the Romans, you will see impressive specimens of Holm Oak trees, some of which are over 2000 years old and hear the bells of the still working convent. These woods are home of the Cave of S. Anthony of Padua and were visited by S. Francis of Assisi.  Here you’ll be wandering among the same trees that Michelangelo did when he came here on retreat in 1556.  In the summer these woods are often the sites of concerts that are part of the world-famous Festival dei Due Mondi (The Festival of Two-Worlds) music festival in nearby Spoleto.  Our dinner will be cooked over an open fire under the stars and tree canopy at the famous, Ristorante Ferretti. After dinner, we’ll head back to Monte Castello for a much-deserved rest!

 

Day 8: Monte Castello: Relaxation, Workshops and Excursion Options

Day 8 will be spent in Monte Castello.  Options for today will be as in day 6.  Prior to dinner, you could stroll in Monte Castello, audit one of the studio school art classes, take a cooking class at at Grottino Zio di Toto, or a mini-course in Italian line dancing to prepare for after dinner dancing to live music at La Torraccia

 

Day 9: Terni, Marmore Falls, Ferentillo, Farwell Dinner in Monte Castello

After breakfast, we’ll proceed to an area southeast of the town of Terni, where we will find one of the most spectacular sites in Umbria––and the tallest waterfall in Europe: Marmore Falls. What is truly amazing about the falls, which Lord Byron called the most beautiful in Europe, is that they are entirely man-made.  In the year 271 BC, the Roman consul, Curio Dentato, drained the swamps in the pain of Reti and re-routed the water to this spot where it is sent tumbling down a cliff of 541feet. This is truly one of the wonders of Roman engineering!  Today, the water flow is controlled to generate hydroelectric power and the water to the falls is turned on and off periodically.  We will time our visit to see the water turned on and the spectacular sight of the water spilling down the forested mountainside.  Walking on the trails alongside the falls is an unforgettable, refreshing experience. At the base, strolling through the mist from the crashing water, one sees rainbows reflected throughout the valley.  We’ll spend about 2 hours at the falls.

 

After the falls, we’ll continue to the village of Ferentillo, picturesquely located in the cleft of a sheer mountain valley.  Here we will have lunch at the wonderful, Hora Media Restaurant located in the 12th c. Benedictine Abbey of San Pietro in Valle.   We’ll have time here to wander through the grounds and have a leisurely late lunch before returning to Monte Castello.  Upon return to Monte Castello, we’ll have time to relax for a few hours, then we’ll meet at the school for drinks on the terrace, followed by a farewell dinner at Grottino Zio di Toto.  Chef Massimo will prepare a special departure meal for our group accompanied by wines and by our entertaining chef himself.

 

Day 10: Departure

On the departure day, we will make an early breakfast followed by the departure of the group.  For the trip to Fumiccino, we regret that we cannot accommodate arrival for flights departing earlier than 11:00 AM.  For those whose flights leave earlier than 11:00 AM, we can arrange transport with our driver Carlo Innocenti at an extra cost.

 

Tour Cost  $4500. This exclusive luxury tour of Umbria is based in the lovely hill town village of  Monte Castello di Vibio. All inculsive trip includes: double occupancy accommodations in restored medieval town home settings, three meals per day, private bus ground transportation, cultural guides, evening presentations, wine tasting tours, sightseeing and mini course workshops except where specified. Small, intimate groups only. 9 participants minimum required for trip. All expenses are included for one group leader. To reserve your trip, send us an email at icarts.info@gmail.com

 

Final Note: groups wishing to spend extra days in Umbria before departing or prior to their excursion can participate in our Week in Monte Castello option, using your extra time to visit the ancient Etruscan city of Perugia or the charming medieval town of Spello, 15-20 minutes away. For those who are interested in touring Rome, Florence, or Venice as part of their visit to Italy, please email us at icarts.info@gmail.com and see our Custom Options pages. We are happy to arrange trips and tours to those cities, upon request, as an addition to this itinerary.

 

 

International Centre for the Arts - Monte Castello di Vibio     last modified May 2015

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