Day 11: Arezzo with friends!

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Best friends outside the Cathedral!

This was one of my favorite days in Italy!  I woke up, ran the 5K loop, ate breakfast, and then it was off to Arezzo!  SMS and I had plans to meet our friends John and Grace.  John was the best man in our wedding and Grace is his super-cool wife.  If you ever need Instagram-magic advice, she’s your woman!

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Power up!

We drove into town and met them on their train platform. It worked out perfectly, timing-wise.  We stopped for an espresso and caught up.  Then we went to La Bottega Del Cuoio, a cool leather shop, where I bought a handbag which was influenced by (unwanted but apparently needed) crowd-sourcing of the others’ opinion that my first bag selection was “too old lady.”  Pony rude (the origin of this phrase comes later in the trip)!

We walked up to Duomo and went inside to check out a few of the frescos.   Afterwards, we walked in the park behind the cathedral and took in the views over the old wall.

We started to get hungry so we walked to the Grand Piazza.  We chose Ristorante Logge Vasari after scouting around and being won over by the fact that there was a woman making the “fat spaghetti” right there outside of the restaurant.

It was delightful.  We ordered three Aperol sprtiz and one white wine to start.   Next, we were given amazing bread and bread dough sticks, followed by an appetizer of veery cheesy zucchini blossoms.  Then, we shared four main orders: two spaghetti with tomato sauce, one boar with amazing crispy puffy polenta and one gnocchi.  The boar was exceptional but really, all of the food was incredible.  It was a perfect meal: delicious food, great friends, perfect weather, and outdoor seating in a gorgeous setting.

After lunch, we walked towards the Basilica of San Francesco to see the famous Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross frescoes.  We had to buy timed entrance tickets into the Bacci chapel.  While we waited, we walked through the museum next door.  The exhibit featured stereoscopic photos and viewers from the late 1800s-early 1900s of the main stops of the European Grand Tour.  There were old pictures of Paris, Florence, Venice, Rome,  Athens and even a few of Cairo and the Great Pyramids and Sphinx.  I learned that even in the late 1800s, a young man would pose in the triumphant, arms-over-head posture that I thought was more modern.  Wrong!

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Left side, Bacci chapel

After 45 minutes, it was our turn to enter the Bacci chapel.  Only 30 people are allowed in and although there is an incredible amount to take in, I lasted about 15 minutes of the allotted 30.  The artistry was amazing and each panel had rich detail.  Of course, my immature mind noted the unfortunate example of “One Nut Chuck” whose wardrobe mishap of shorty shorts and a not-long-enough tunic is immortalized in one of the scenes.  Don’t worry, I pointed it out to the other three.

After the Bacci chapel, we headed over to Casa Vaseri, owned by the artist and decorated with his frescos.  We stopped for an espresso and the shop had a cute charging station for phones.  The house museum had beautifully preserved frescos.  The rooms were mostly empty of furniture but the artwork was pretty awesome.

Afterwards, Grace social-media’d us to the best gelato place in town- Gelateria Cremi.  SMS wasn’t hungry but the rest of us ordered delicious cones that we ate as we walked down the street.

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John’s face sort of says it all…

SMS and John took the car for a spin in the parking lot (and fortunately, not into the parking lot’s brick wall).  We parted ways.  Back at the villa, we had a chill family dinner- thin fillets of chicken with pasta at the house.  It was a delicious meal.  Afterwards, we packed up since it was our last full day at the villa (boo hoo!).

 

Day 10: Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

The prayer of St Francis was a special one to me as a child.  Since we were close to Assisi, I really wanted to go during this trip.  SMS and I drove and parked at Parcheggio Poste, the highest parking lot near the old city.  This turned out to be a good idea because it meant through the day, we meandered downhill through the sights then power walked uphill for the return.  Since I find it hard to “meander” when walking uphill, I thought this was the way to go.

First, though, we walked a little more uphill to the Rocca Maggiore, built in the 1100s.  From the top, there are beautiful views of Assisi and the surrounding valley.

Next, walked to Piazza San Rufino and went inside the cathedral.  Afterwards, we went to Osteria Pozzo Della Mensa for an early lunch.  We had gotten the rec from the rest of the family and we were eager to try the boar ragu.  It did not disappoint!

We had bought a combo ticket to explore the archeology/buried ruins of the temple of Minerva, which is the best preserved Roman temple front in Italy although it has been repurposed as a church.  We went to the archeology museum, walked through the buried ruins and went into the church.  It was very interesting.  We bought a gelato afterwards to keep up our strength.

Next, we went to St Francis basilica, which we ended up approaching from below.  There was fairly tight security at perimeter.  We  started in lower chapel where we saw pilgrims in fervent prayer at the tomb/crypt of St. Francis.  It is definitely a moving spiritual journey/destination for many visitors.  Next, we went to the upper chapel which was far less crowded.  We read the pamphlets to get a better idea about the art and architecture but it is such a vast, rich place that a tour would be the best way to see it, I think.

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We walked back towards the car, stopping at a cafe along the way for some postcard writing.  I’m not totally sure my cards ever made it- the stamps were for some alternative postal service, which seems sketchy.

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The house gardens at sunset.

We went back to the house.  The family went to the nearby La Pieve Vecchia for dinner.  We shared good pizza and salad although the winning dish was delicious pasta with shaved truffles.  It never gets old!

Day 9: Lake Tragasmio, Perugia, Montone

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On Day 9, the group decided to split up to take separate day trips.  SMS and I headed down to Perugia area, roughly following several suggestions in the 36 Hours in Perugia articles (2011 and 2017).

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Snach shack by the Sailing School, Monte del Lago

First, we drove to Lake Tragasmio, which was pretty and quiet.  It was a little less happening than the guidebooks would indicate- maybe due to the shoulder season?  We parked and walked on a path along the lake near Monte del Lago.  Renting a bike would be pretty awesome since the paths were in great shape.  Alas, the town was pretty dead so we grabbed a snack, sat for a bit and then headed out.  The lakeside outdoor cafe was tranquil and an awesome spot.  I’m glad we went but, again, a littler quieter than I was expecting.

Next, we headed to Perugia, which I apparently am completely unable to pronounce correctly since everyone kept correcting me.  We parked down the hill from the old city and took the mini-tram up.

We used the two 36 Hours in… articles to guide our city walking.  The 2011 article is good for the tourist basics.  The 2017 articles is a little too cool for school but did help me find the gelato place Lick so all was forgiven.  We found out about the Rocco Paolina, the 14th century fort with intact foundation walls that underlay and support the city above.  There are even escalators inside as it serves as an underground passage from a parking garage up to one of the main streets.

Aboveground, we walked through some beautiful piazzas and visited the Etruscan well, which we saw from the outside and from within the well itself.  The arch and support beams within the well were an engineering marvel!  We also saw a fountain at one of the old Etruscan walls, which date from 6th-3rd century B.C.

After touring the old city, we went back to our car and drove to Montone to admire the cute city during daylight hours.  The recommended restaurant was still closed but we stopped in at Bar Aries.  We ordered two Aperol Spritz and sat in the square for a bit.  Guess how much for two spritzes?  SIX Euros!  Amazing!  It even included bar snacks (potato chips but still, what a deal!).

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We headed back to the villa for dinner.  The rest of the group had gone to Assisi after their initial destination was a bit of a bust.  Due to a leisurely morning of hot breakfasts, workouts and showers, they had arrived during the (very) extended lunchtime of (approximately) noon-4.  Since SMS and I still wanted to go to Assisi, we decided to go the next day.

Day 8: Anghiari & Montone

The morning started with an in-law run.  SMS stayed home while I ran with his sister and her husband.  The scenery was gorgeous and we did the 5K loop highlighted in the house guide.  It was quite hilly and makes me wish that my home runs were not quite so flat.  Hills mean built-in intervals which are useful when I’m feeling too lazy to intrinsically push myself.

After showers and breakfast, the whole group went to Anghiari.  It’s a small town on top of a hill with incredible views from the walls.  We had espresso, gelato, and food from the farmer’s market including a to-go order of pancetta.  The younger son (mid20s) was very interested in talking about American crime show directors, which is not something I know a lot (anything) about.  But he and his father were so nice and it was really fun to have an Italian mini-shopping experience.

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Just a woman with her owl…and owl impression!
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Lunch!

We stopped in Sansculprano for lunch.  A restaurant I was hoping to go to was closed so Rip found another alternative and we had a pasta/truffle heavy lunch.  Yum.  Afterwards, we went back home and relaxed by the pool.  SMS rested because he wasn’t feeling well.

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Excellent wine!

We went to Montone for dinner, as we got a stellar recommendation for L’Antica Osteria from the woman and cashier at the grocery store we went to a few days earlier.  Unfortunately, it was closed for the week but we were lucky in that we found an EXCELLENT second-choice, Restorante Bel Verziere.  I ordered a sweet sauce ravioli that was slightly weird but good to try, especially since I could sample others’ meals. SMS’ was the winner that night: a truffle ravioli that was exceptional- super rich but so good.  There were loads of shaved truffles and it was awesome.  Prior to this trip, I’ve only ever had a small amount of truffles or “truffle” oil so the generous thin slices were a new experience.

Day 7: Gusto Wine Tour

Terre Dei Nappi

Hooray, wine tour day!  Linda had arranged for a wine tour with Gusto, a tour outfit that specializes in Umbria Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG wineries.  Our house was on the border of Tuscany and Umbria, so we were picked up by Carlo to drive us further into Umbria to meet up with our tour guide Mark (are you still with me?).  Carlo was a very good, fast driver who, quite honestly, looked more like a Bruno to me.  I would not want to be on the receiving end of a punch by that guy!  Not that he was menacing- in fact, he was quite nice.  He just looked like a bruiser!

Terre Dei Nappi

Mark was our British tour guide/driver who has lived in the area for quite awhile.  Honestly, he seemed to be in a bit of a mood when he first picked us up but things improved as the day went on.  I thought he was more caustic than funny.  Fortunately, the wineries were quite nice and the tour overall was quite good.

Terre Dei Nappi

So, yes, we went to three wineries highlighting the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG.  We went to Terre Dei Nappi, Fongoli and Romanelli.   Lunch was offered at an old farmhouse dating back to the 14th century and owned by the same family!

Terre Dei Nappi featured a talk and a tasting with the owner/winemaker.  They had lovely wines and paired nicely with a cheese and salami platter. We walked in the vineyard and saw their wine making apparatus.  It was pretty amazing to see a professional winery but on a family farm-scale rather than a Napa or Sonoma-sized place.  I feel that family farms are easy to romanticize but it’s clear that a lot of hard work goes into staying open while producing a quality product.

 

Fongoli

Fongoli was my favorite because I enjoyed the method tinkering that the winemaker employed. He experimented with different barrels and even aged some wine in huge Terra Cotta amphora.  The wine there was delicious and they had a beautiful view from their farm.

Neroni & me!

Then we had lunch followed by our last stop at Romanelli where I met my new Italian boyfriend.  It was Neroni, my new favorite doggie in the entire world!  I really, really wished that Neroni could be my dog but alas, he already had loving owners.  He was such a cute, energetic dog with a touch of rakish daredevil (stupidity?) in how he liked to chase cars.  I would like to find a Neroni in the US- fingers crossed!

The family with Neroni!

After Romanelli, we met back up with Carlo and drove back to the house.  I took a nap and then walked the 5 km loop, coming back after dark.  It was a great day and a wonderful tour to take.

 

Day 6: Citta d’Castello

Tower in Citta di Castello

After an amazing dinner the night before, I slept pretty well.  SMS and I were in the third floor bedroom with a beautiful view over the valley.  The entire family woke up early because we thought we were going on a wine tour that day.  It turned out that it was the next day, which made a lot more sense since it was planned to give us a day to settle in.  Since we were all awake, we decided to go to the nearby Citta d’Castello.

Citta di Castello

We took two cars and took a few minutes to meet up.  Then we walked along the town streets.  It was pretty quiet, but we found a coffee bar that was open.  Success!  The coffee (aka, espresso and cappachino) was delicious and amazingly inexpensive.

City Hall Building, Citta di Castello

Then we walked around some of the older buildings.  We browsed through an indoor farmers market and bought some nice produce.  On another street, we found a cute gourmet market filled with delicious items. There were some other nice stores but it seemed that many were closed on Mondays.

The run loop!

We headed back to the house, where we had a mellow afternoon.  Lunch and dinner consisted of leftovers from the night before.  I took a nap, which was delightful.  I also ran the recommended walking loop that was a hilly 5 km jog- my heart rate was definitely high on those hills.  There was a reward though- the beautiful view!

View from the ridgeline of the loop!

 

Where to go?

Day 5: Veracazza, Lucca and the Umbrian Villa

SMS and I woke up and even though I was feeling slightly down about yesterday’s driving misadventures, SMS convinced me to make the most of being on the Cinque Terre trail.  So, we hiked down to Veracazza and grabbed a coffee.  It was a nice walk and beautiful in the early morning.  We saw the train tracks running right along the water and I’m sure that is a beautiful ride through the five towns.

We hit the road and stopped at Bar Sbarbaro for breakfast.  It was near Sarzana, slightly past Le Spezia.  They had delicious pastries, small sandwiches and a cute candy counter in the back.  We sat on the patio and celebrated SMS’ amazing driving through the back roads of Cinque Terre!

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Lucca

Check in at the villa was at 4 so we decided to stop in Lucca for the late morning/early afternoon.  What a beautiful city with a beautifully preserved old town.  We parked outside the old city walls and walked through the gate and stopped in the tourist office. We walked through the streets without a specific destination- just wandering and taking in the sights.  Until our stomachs told us to get lunch.  SMS was craving pizza so we went to Pizzeria Mara Meo, which totally hit the spot.  We split a pizza and salad.  I was so hungry that I had a few pieces of pizza bread that was served after ordering- it was so good.

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On the castle wall

After lunch, we walked up onto the city walls and sat on one of the wider, park-like areas.  It was such a pretty day with a moderate wind.  I was so happy- full belly, beautiful place, being with SMS- all great things!

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Piazza dell’Anfiteatro

On our way back through town, we walked through the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, a circular open area surrounded by a ring of buildings, mostly restaurants and cafes.  It was interesting architecturally but since we weren’t eating there, it wasn’t really a place to linger.  I think we were spoiled by our time on the castle wall!

We got back in our car and headed to La Buia Villa, our home for the next week.  We arrived at 5:50.  SMS’ family was already there and it was so great to be all together.  SMS’ Mom had arranged for a welcome meal to be cooked by visiting chefs. It was a multi-course meal that started at 7:30.   It included bruschetta, pasta, carpaccio, carbonara, ribs and pork fillets.  Dessert was a delicious torte that the ants found the next day, boo hoo!  It was so much food and we had leftovers for the next few days.  It was an excellent way to start our family Italian vacation!