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The taste of Italy

Sleep, eat and drink
La Palazzetta del Vescovo
Hotel Emilia
Romantikhotel Seefischer

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the taste of italy     long, lazy summer days in umbria & le marche

Josefina & Wolfgang Bleier
Austria, October 2015

By the time you read this we are back to Vienna from our summer holiday in Italy, more exactly in Umbria and the Marches where tourism comes in smaller portions. Both provinces are a little bit off the beaten tourist tracks and do not borrow clichés as much as the neighbouring Tuscany does. Even so, there are some stereotypes. Slow food or slow life for example are common talk these days when the conversation of food aficionados is about Umbria, Tuscany or Italy in general. What does it mean? The slow food movement started in Italy in the 1980s as a reaction to the arrival of fast food in Rome and has since spread around the globe, mainly in western societies. Finally it became trendy gourmet buzzwords, but trends on everything come and go. What these words try to express is inherent to many rural regions like Umbria or Le Marche one way or another, but in the countryside this is kind of normality, artless and not contrived. It has always been like that, thus grounded countrymen don't need to borrow such new-fashioned expressions.

Umbria - the quintessence of Italy

We stayed at La Palazzetta del Vescovo, a small luxury boutique hotel located right in the center of Umbria, which makes it a perfect location to comfortably reach most destinations on a day trip. But wait, there's more, it isn't a perfect place only for that reason. The hotel's concept is amazing and the hospitality offered by its owners Paola and Stefano can hardly be matched. With just nine spacious, lovely furnished rooms in an ancient, elegantly renovated house on a hilltop near to Fratta Todina it is probably the most homely boutique hotel we've ever stayed. The site is exquisite because of a stunningly beautiful garden and marvellous views. Paola and Stefano take care of their guests with class, warmth and humour and so does their sweet, charming staff. All of them were so pleasant and responsive. Paola is the chef and a passionate cook. Her delicious dishes keep all the flavours of local produce and are assembled with the minimum of fuss. Everything she creates, Stefano, who is an accomplished sommelier, blends with excellent wines from the region. Guests of this wonderful hotel do not just see each other - they meet each other at the latest when Stefano rings the bell calling for the aperitif before dinner. Dinner on the hotel’s terrace was very pleasant. It’s a cozy place to enjoy Paola’s "cucina italiana" and dream the day away with a glass of wine, while enjoying splendid views on the calm valley and the twinkling lights of Perugia on the horizon.
Coming back from a long day trip in Umbria we felt like being home from home, last but not least also because Chiaretta was around. Chiaretta is a friendly Labrador Retriever, she is very well-behaved and knows exactly where in the hotel area she is (or is not) allowed to go. We could use a variety of adjectives to emphasize the character of the La Palazzetta del Vescovo - such ones like exceptional, great, outstanding or gorgeous - and none of them were an overstatement.

The home village of the La Palazzetta del Vescovo is Spineta di Fratta Todina. Amidst impressive scenery it is surrounded by farmland and vineyards in a calm area of central Umbria, where we could listen to the sounds and silence of nature. The scents of the fresh morning air, moistened by low clouds in the valleys, excellent wines and delicious food made from local produce are elements of life in this rural region. Unexpected small roads hide alternatives to the beaten path and have slowed down our pace more than anywhere else. Even the measure of time seemed to have changed. Our tours took us to tourist spots like Todi, Orvieto, Perugia and Assisi, and to smaller, tranquil towns like Montecastello di Vibio, Spoleto, Collelungo and Bevagna.
While "must go" places like Orvieto and Assisi are exposed to streams of visitors, some of the smaller towns are rarely visited by tourists, even though each one is nicer than the next. Monte Castello di Vibio is such a neat ancient gem where tourists can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It accommodates the Teatro della Concordia, which, with ninety-nine seats only, is the smallest Italian-style theater in the world. Very cute. Those who get hungry in Monte Castello di Vibio should ask for Massimo's restaurant. It is a family-run tavern located not far from the town's entrance gate. Massimo’s wife cooks delicious Umbrian dishes, and he himself is a very pleasant, entertaining host. Massimo doesn't need a menu card, he passionately explains to his guests what they should know. If there is a true and genuine Italian character, it could be Massimo.

Since the Tuscany is not very far away from Fratta Todina we have also made a detour via Lago Trasimeno to Montepulciano, the home of the widely appreciated Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. It is indeed an impressive town mightily sitting on a hilltop, but unfortunately it is also flooded by tourists. Well, ok, we know - it's a real dilemma if travellers like us have difficulties with large numbers of tourists.

Le Marche - Riviera del Conero revisited

After a week or so it was about time to say good bye to Umbria, Paola and Stefano and continue our journey to Le Marche. En route we passed by Perugia, Spello and Nocera Umbra and crossed the Apennin mountains, from where we approached the gentle rolling hills of Le Marche. The Apennine mountains form a natural border between Umbria and Le Marche and provide a home for some of Italy's most fascinating wildlife. In the Marches, compared to its central Italian sisters, cultural heritage comes in smaller portions, but quality and purity is often at the very best.

Just as Umbria, the heartland of Le Marche is the rural Italy, unspoilt and much less touched by tourism. In contrast to Umbria, however, people can easily soak up the sun on the Adriatic coast within an hour by car. While the Adriatic seaside north of Ancona and south of Numana is the mecca for sun & sand holiday makers, the Riviera del Conero hides tiny secrets unknown to mass tourism, places to experience the genuine Italian way of life.
Le Marche combines a little bit of everything. Mountains, picturesque hills, vineyards, fields of olive trees and lavender form a landscape tinted in a variety of colours. Inland of Marche one can find places where time has really stood still. In late summer, when vineyards announce the harvest of good wine, the landscape shows a wide range of artistic colours, which turns into a breathtaking scenery of the Mont Conero seacoast, flavoured by the scents of fresh breezes coming from the sea.
In the Marches food is a passion, keeping all the flavours from local produce of this fertile land. Ripe tomatoes, herbs, olive oil, mushrooms and truffles, tiny sliced prosciutto, sheep cheese, fresh seafood and fish are some of the delicious ingredients assembled with the minimum of fuss. Cooking in the Marche is deeply related to its tradition and each local area has its cucina tipica.

The real glory of Italy lies in its people. Italians are noted for their passionate and relaxed way life, they are indeed among the most generous and hospitable people in the world. The following nice episode, that happened to us in the Enoteca Azzurra in Numana, highlights the outsize heart and vitality of typical Italians - and their passion for food of course. We were recommended Enoteca Azzurra for buying olive oil, wine and other regional delicacies. When we looked around in the store and asked for some high-grade olive oil, Signore Oliviero immediately arranged for an extensive olive oil tasting. On a bar in front of us he placed well ten bottles of different oils and plates with diced white bred on which he sprinkled a variety of non-blended oil. He also added some wine for tasting and competently explained to us character and flavours of the various sorts of oil. It was brilliant! We’ve spent well two amusing hours in the shop before we left with some boxes of different high-grade olive oil, excellent wine and, last but not least, a little bit smarter in respect of olive oil. Grazie!

After eight years we finally returned to Portonovo to enjoy the mediterranean sea and to meet again some pleasant people in the Ristorante Emilia, whose way we came across many years ago. We stayed at Hotel Emilia, a 30 room hotel that is owned by members of the same family who runs the wonderful Ristorante Emilia down at the "Baia di Portonovo". To stay in the Hotel Emilia was an excellent choice. It is perfectly located in a unique, calm setting up in the Conero mountain, where we’ve been rewarded with wonderful views of Portonovo and the turquoise-coloured sea. Since in the last years we’ve turned into early birds we could marvel from the hotel’s garden at breathtaking golden sunrises over Portonovo.

From the moment we arrived we were looking forward for a delicious meal in the Ristorante Emilia at the Baia di Portonovo, to enjoy fresh seafood harvested in the Riviera del Conero sea, accomplished by a light and crisp Verdicchio white wine. So it was about time to take the steep road that winds down from the Monte Conero to Portonovo. We were happy to see again Franco and his wife Marisina still active in the restaurant, which meanwhile is run by their daughter Federica. To see Franco, full of energy at an advanced age, serving and entertaining guests with stories and little fruity gifts until late night was just amazing. We think there is no such thing like "principles" behind this, it is simply: passione. And Franco’s big heart.

Baia di Portonovo is a unique bay with a small peninsula at the Riviera del Conero. The region is a natural park (Regional Natural Park of Conero) of rare beauty extending across the municipalities of Ancona, Camerano, Numana and Sirolo. It lies on a stretch of coastline and over an extensive hillside, offering unique scenic views. Mount Conero, at an altitude of 572 meters, rises directly from the sea in a region of unspoilt nature, where the the colours of the bay change with the season in a magnificent blend with the impressive Conero rocks that embrace the turquoise sea.

Millstättersee - a jewel in Carinthia

We have let fade away our blissful holiday in the Romantikhotel Seefischer at the Millstättersee in Carinthia - a marvellous place to relax in Austria. Lake Millstatt is a region in Austria, which unfortunately we did not pay attention to before - what a mistake. The lake is a gem nestling between mountain peaks in the north reaching 2000 m and a stretched crest in the south, in a picturesque scenery at an altitude of 588 m.

The hotel’s overall concept and its fantastic location on the lake’s east side, superb dishes created by Christian Gölles and his team and the fabulous service of very pleasant, competent staff makes this cozy hotel a class of its own. To eat dinner at the hotel’s lovely lakeside terrace was wonderfully beautiful, while enjoying the gorgeous view of small fisherman boats smoothly floating on the purple-tinted lake.

Later in the evening we liked to chat with the sommelier about this and that. The mountains surrounding the lake, softly lit by golden sunsets, were the canvas for our meditation about this idyll, two glasses of Kracher Scheurebe the accompaniment . . .

Ciao bella Italia,
"Griaß di" Carinthia

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