Tastes & Textiles: Woad & Wool
Woad was the indigo of Renaissance Italy (and long before). It’s fun to imagine Duke Federico relaxing in his woad-dyed jeans, but a more likely portrait is the Montefeltro’s, ruling family of Urbino in Le Marche, posing stiffly in blue silks and linens. At the opposite end of the social spectrum, shepherds of the Casentino were wearing woollen cloaks, fulled and napped to make them warmer. It’s gone upmarket since then. Remember that scrumptious orange coat Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? (This is text from Erika Jarman's website).
So, last May and October, I went on research trips to the Casentino, which is mostly in Tuscany, but extends into Umbria and Le Marche. I discovered wonderful, tiny villages of maybe 140 people who were so proud of their heritage they created tiny museums of the artisan industries they had inherited. I learned how they made coal from the forests, dyes from the plants for the textiles they culled, sheep to loom. It was not just eye-opening but inspiring! Along the way I stayed in a few wonderful and some not as wonderful places.
The review today is of a castle/village called Porciano. This is an enclave in Stia, which I believe to be an incorporated town in the Casentino. https://www.castellodiporciano.com/cms/en/. The castle sits on the highest part of the land overlooking a beautiful valley and other small villages. The castle history is fascinating as you can see here by reading the website. I was fortunate to meet the owner and her assistant, Federico, on my first visit but we did not stay there at that time. The castle actually looks like a tower but it has 8 ensuite rooms filled with antiques and tasteful artifacts. Luckily there is an elevator to go up and down if you aren't interested in climbing the many stairs. The family who have owned the castle for generations also have a lovely cemetery in one of the fields below.
When I returned in October, Federica was a most gracious hostess. She was prompt in answering my inquiries and helped me navigate some of the exploration I needed to complete my research. She stocked the apartment I rented in the village of 14 residents with all of the right starting foods and drinks to feel at home upon arrival. There was wood for the fireplace in a chest just outside the front door as well as wifi. The large one bedroom apartment (I chose the one on the upper floor) had windows overlooking the entire valley. There was heat, hot water, a kitchen full of all the utensils for cooking that one needed, a good sized bathroom and the beds were just the right firmness. The bathroom was spacious, had a hair dryer and plenty of towels.
I picked grapes from the arbor outside my door, and Federica had left me newly harvested walnuts from the adjacent tree. She directed me to all of the best local eateries, markets and museums. And the cost nightly was more than reasonable; 60 euro, if I remember correctly. There are several apartments available besides the castle itself, which is closed except for the high seasons. But the apartments are charming and there are just a handful of residents living there year 'round as I mentioned. This is certainly a place I would not just recommend but return to again. I've not been a fan of the more touristed Tuscany areas but this is very quiet with few travelers or tourists.
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