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!

Day 4: Bellinzona, Cinque Terre and Driving Misadventures

Square at the Farmer’s Market

Day 4 was another big driving day.  A few weeks earlier, we figured out there was an “extra” day before we were expected at the villa.  I thought the check-in was Saturday but it was Sunday.  I thought that it would be cool to check out Cinque Terre so I booked an Airbnb without doing the level of research I had done for the other places.  All I knew is that the total drive time to Umbria would be about the same and, in fact, a stop in Cinque Terre would be a nice way to break up the trip.

Castelgrande

On the way down, we decided to stop in Bellinzona.  I love Bellinzona or rather, I love the Amerena gelato at Gelateria Venata in Bellinzona!  SMS drove over a mountain pass from Trun- there was even a brief snow flurry!  We arrived a little early so we walked around Bellinzona.  We thought we would be gone before the gelateria opened but we came across a farmer’s market (with a delicious risotto and polenta “samosa”).  We also walked around the Castelgrande.  It was a great morning and finished with ice cream!

Looking down from the Castelgrande wall

So, look at the following map.  Doesn’t it look easy?

Such cute, squiggly Microsoft Paint lines.  What could be more simple, more cute?  OMG.  It was a pretty nightmare drive on backroads that ranged from 1.5-1 lanes but with two-way traffic the entire way.  What I thought would be a quick drive off the road was a 45 minute slog in the best conditions, about 75 minutes due to poor directions.  I realized later that the map was made by a guy who lived and drove there all the time and was not very helpful to someone unfamiliar to the area.  There were a LOT more turns than indicated on the map and it was a really stressful drive.  SMS was a living saint and didn’t snap at any point, which is really admirable.  I am almost certain that I would not have been as understanding.

Looking North…

Once we got to Cinque Terre, the place was beautiful but very basic.  There was nowhere to eat or drink nearby and I hadn’t thought to stock up or bring a picnic-style dinner.  Ugh, this was such a bomb of a side trip.

Looking towards Corniglia

Other than the fact that we were in a beautiful place.  That made me feel a little better.  We drove down to Corniglia and ate at a restaurant overlooking the little cove and larger Ligurian Sea.  The food was fine but the view was spectacular.

We went back to the AirBnb and went to bed.  Would I recommend it?  Sort of.  As SMS said, it was more of a stay-a-few-nights type of place rather than a one night.  Plus, compared to some other places we went on the trip, I preferred those to the super-touristy Cinque Terre.  The towns were pretty much only tourist-driven (it seemed).  Although we went to some other places that attracted tourists, it always seemed that tourism was part of the city’s lifeblood, not the entire existence.  I’m sure there would be plenty of people who disagree and don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful place- I just have other places higher on my favorites list.  In fairness, I think the drive really took a lot out of my enjoyment and if we had taken the train in and actually been in a town rather than between two, it may have been a lot better experience.