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Le Marche & Umbria: Three Women, Truffle Dogs and an Uncooperative GPS

#1
By Pokey from MA, Spring 2011
April 28-May 13, 2011. Another adventure with Colleenk! We visit Le Marche, Ascoli Piceno and a few hill towns in Umbria.

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.

The Adventure Begins in Bologna

Not knowing whether I would even be able to go on this trip, I am finally ready to hop in the cab and be on my way to Logan. My first time flying Iberia Airlines. I luck out and have two seats to myself. Flight crew very nice; handsome men with fabulous accents. Arrive in Milan and am impressed with the architecture of the huge airport. Very modern in design with easy to read signs. The ceiling is covered in curvy slats, reminding me of deck chairs on a luxury liner only hanging upside down.

I would allow at least an hour to get through security, get the tram to connecting gates, grab a coffee and use the bathroom. My connection to Bologna is Gate K. Full flight on a small plane to Bologna. My luggage arrives (whew!) and Marcello is there to welcome me with a huge smile and un grande abbraccio! As only Marcello can, he mentions the crazy bureaucracy of the Italian government. He has a new credit card with a chip but it won't work at the airport parking lot! He has to go back inside and pay then get a paper ticket stub to insert at the exit gate. He cracks me up!

The drive to Alloro Suite Hotel in Bologna takes about 25 minutes (although not in historic center of Bologna, a very nice hotel, reasonably priced for our two night stay; Via Ferrarese, 161, Tel 051 37 2960). Marcello and I discuss the upcoming tour in Le Marche. I am looking forward to meeting Colleen’s friend Michele and the two guys from Delaware who would be with us also. Marcello checks me into my room and after dropping off my luggage we go across the street for my first cappuccino of the trip!

It is now about 3:30pm and Colleen calls me from the Rome airport to say her flight from Boston was delayed and she’ll be arriving in Bologna in a few hours (by train).

I say, "Ciao, ciao," to Marcello (we will all meet up with him “domani”) and return to my room for a shower. I relax and watch The Royal Wedding on TV. I want to check out the WiFi situation so go to the front desk. The gentleman is so nice and gets me on board with WiFi. I notice there is a nice bar area so ask for a glass of white wine. I am introduced to Falanghina (Feudi San Gregorio 2010) and I love this wine! I will say now that it was my favorite wine of the trip!

I have a lovely chat with a young gal who is on a solo trip to Italy. She lives in South Africa! Soon, Colleen and Michele arrive and we hug and I quickly order them each a glass of vino. We sit out on the patio and babble on and on about our upcoming adventure. Colleen and Michele check into their rooms.

Our first gastronomic meal in Bologna is at Da Nello (Via Montegrappa 2 Tel. 051 236 6331). I enjoy every bite of my Lasagna Verdi Bolognese while C&M both love the Tagliatelle Bolognese. We inhale the zucchini flowers. The bread served are works of art! I have a glass of Trebbiano.

Afterward, we waddle over to Gelateria Gianni (one of the best) where I savor every lick of my Nutella and pistachio cone!

Taxi back to our hotel and a good night’s sleep!

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Mindy, Michele, and Colleenk begin our adventure at da Nello, Bologna
 
#2
Bologna, Hiking up to San Luca, a Bucket List Item Done!

After a delightful sleep, the three of us meet downstairs for breakfast. We are advised to go a little later in the morning as a huge group of Polish tourists is eating earlier and then boarding their bus for Rome. They are in Italy for the beatification of Pope John Paul II.

Advice well taken as I watch from my window as they board their bus.

Nothing too exciting about breakfast but my main focus is strong coffee!

Although the weather is a tad on the rainy/gloomy side we know that we only have today to walk under the 666 Portico arches to San Luca ... a “bucket list” check off for myself and Colleen. We grab a taxi to Portico di San Luca, and walk up over 500 steps to the church. The three of us all are active physically but it is quite a workout for us “over 50” hot mamacitas! I am sweatin’ like a pig and keep lunch at Meloncello (Via Saragozza, 240a) afterward as my focus. The view from the top, although cloudy, is well worth the calories burned off! Our trek back down is a *snap* and we are ready to enjoy a delicious lunch.

The high recommendations of Meloncello did not disappoint. Eccellente! No menu to look at, you’re told of the different selections for that day. You can’t go wrong, I’m sure, with any of the choices. Super friendly and fun staff! Colleen and I both order the Gnocchi with burro and salvia (aka sage). Mmmm mmmmm good! Michele has the pasta with sausage ragu, we all agreed hers is the best!

We take a taxi back to Centro where we walk through the outdoor market stalls and tell Michele about our tour here with Rafaella in May, 2009. Michele is having trouble using her Visa card and rental phone, so I help her call the bank and get things in order so she can shop! Even though she alerted her bank of her travel dates, they still mucked it up...

Many stores are closed for the afternoon, so we stop into a cute cafe for coffee. Afterward we go inside San Petronio Basilica. There is a tour group standing near the chapel where the famous 15th-century fresco, painted by Giovanni da Modena, shows a scene from Dante Alighieri's Inferno, and depicts Muhammad in Hell being devoured by demons. We remembered, from our tour in 2009, that terrorists were arrested for plotting to blow up the church because of this fresco.

We want to see the fresco “lit up” so Colleen puts in her 20 cent coin and bam! The huge tour group of Germans bolts for the steps to peer inside! We have to elbow our way up so we could see the fresco! Seriously, they couldn’t afford a 20 cent piece? We are flashin’ the evil eye as quickly as we can to each of them! Ach! I may have accidentally tripped a few of them. *wink wink*

Taxi back to hotel. Marcello calls to say there has been a change of plans. Rob and Jeff (aka Carmine) were to join us for dinner but they only arrived in Bologna that day from the States and are too jet lagged. Lucky for us, we are now invited to a delicious meal at the home of Marcello and Raffaella! It is great to see Raffa again and she tells us the fantastic news that she will be joining us on the Le Marche tour! We also get to see again, their sweet daughter Francesca (an excellent pasta maker) and their son Tommaso. Francesca fills us in on her job and exciting life. For dinner, the best homemade tortellini in brodo, grilled veggies and (of course) parmigiano reggiano cheese. Homemade gelato with strawberries for dessert ... lots of vino and laughs!

We leave tomorrow for Senigallia, Le Marche. Day one of our "Food and Fish Lover’s Tour!"

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Colleen and Pokey ready to walk up the many steps to San Luca
 
#3
It's Going to be a Bumpy Ride to Senigallia!

The sun is here!!

We have the whole breakfast room to ourselves, along with the gal from South Africa. Quite a difference from yesterday's crowd!

Marcello dropped off our van the night before. He picked up Rob and Carmine and brought them to our hotel where we all introduce ourselves. We know right from the start we are going to love these guys!

Marcello borrowed this van from a friend of Francesca's ... let's just say the shocks were "a disaster."

Off we go to Senigallia, about 1.5 - 2 hours drive. Chatting away with our new friends and before you know it we could smell the salt in the air as we arrive! We stop first at a Tabacchi where I buy a €5,00 phone card and also put money in my Italian cell phone. We grab bottles of water and a few snacks (hello Ferrero Duplo chocolates).

Our hotel for the next five nights is lovely! Duchi Della Rovere Hotel, Via Corridoni, 3, Senigallia. We are only one block from the Lungomare Marconi and the Adriatic Sea! We all have our own rooms, each with a terrace and view of the sea (okay, you had to squint a bit to see it between the trees and condo’s). Beautiful rooms! My bathroom has both a shower and a bathtub!! We have “free time” until dinner so Colleen, Michele, and I walk along the Lungomare in search of pizza! We stumble upon a great place, right on the water. We have a margarita pizza, salad and beer. It hits the spot! The sun is out and we enjoy a nice walk on the beach, putting our toes in the (cold) Adriatic. We see a lot of beach cabana’s, although a bit early for summer tourists, we can imagine how crowded this beach would be in the hot days of August.

We meet in the lobby to walk to Raffaella’s favorite restaurant in Le Marche, Risorante La Tartana. Raffa is sad because she cannot find her favorite scarf! I tell her not to worry that I know exactly where it is! Ha ha! I noticed it in the van, stuffed into a little storage area above her sun visor. When we walk to the van and I present the scarf to her, she is so happy! To this day, when we correspond, we joke about where to find her scarf.

Marcello and Raffa have known the chef of La Tartana for years. We leave it to them to order for us and the fish feast begins. We enjoy tuna, baccala with balsamico, grilled shrimp on top of polenta with olive oil and balsamico drizzle (freakin’ amazing!)seafood salad, mussels, and seafood risotto. The presentation of all our courses is “eye candy” for sure! The wine flows, Verdicchio, the most important wine from this region. Prosecco of course also ... dessert is white chocolate sorbet with blood orange mousse and ice cold limoncello. Michele orders a strawberry gelato dessert with fresh whipped cream. We all have lust in our eyes.

It is a lovely evening and after dinner, we stroll along the Lungomare up to the Rotunda where a musical concert has just let out. We walk inside to see the interior.

Back to the hotel where we all can’t wait to get into our comfy PJs! We all enjoyed very much our first day of the tour!

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The beach and Rotunda Senigallia
 
#4
Corinaldo, Cartoceto, Cantucci and Smelly-Man

The breakfast room at our hotel is spacious and there is a lot of great food to choose from! Excellent coffee which is most important. Today we are driving to Corinaldo; the town of the “crazy people” according to our guide Filippo who grew up there! Corinaldo has some of the best-preserved 14th century defensive walls in the Marche.

Our guide, Filippo is adorable and very entertaining. He walks us around Corinaldo, telling us about the “polenta well” and the polenta festival held in July to commemorate the time when the town's people successfully resisted a siege thanks to gobs of the stuff which oozed up through the well and down the 100 plus steps of the town! Fact or fiction? You decide!

He also takes us to see the “famous” canon made of the branches of a fig tree ... crazy people indeed to think they could fend off the invading marauders with a canon made out of a fig tree! Filippo then brings us to a “house” which is really only the front facade of a house with a gorgeous view of the valley. Story goes, a young man from Corinaldo went to America and sent his father money to build a house in Corinaldo. Unbeknown to the son, the father spent the money on alcohol! The son got suspicious and asked for a photo of the “house” so the father built only the facade, thinking he’d fool his son. The money stopped coming from America shortly there after. The “house” is along a main street and even has a legitimate house number address tile! More crazy people!

We say our “ciaos” to Filippo; we will meet up with him again later in the week.

From here we head for Cartoceto (getting lost along the way and giving Marcello a hard time). We finally arrive at Cantina Bianchini and meet owner Dominic. He has a tasting table all set for us to sample his award winning olive oil! Rafaella translates and translates and translates. Oh my can the man talk! We are all hungry and wine-thirsty. Basta!

We are laughing at Michele because she sits “downwind” from Dominic.

We have delicious cheeses and salume ... along with plenty of wine. The dessert he serves is gone in a flash because it is so delicious!

After, everyone buys their wine and olive oil (and take a visit to one of the snazziest outhouses I've seen) we climb back into the bumpy-van and start to sing “Smelly-man” to the tune of “Smelly-cat” (think Phoebe from Friends).

From there we stop for a brief visit to the small town of Mondavio which is located about 45km from Ancona. The main attraction is the medieval castle which is the work of the Tuscan architect Francesco Giorgio di Martini. (I'll drink to that). It is one of the very few castles anywhere to have remained entirely intact. The five story main tower in the shape of an octagon dominates the castle. We have fun walking among the various medieval catapults and not a one of them seems to be made from fig trees!

Since we got lost going to Cartocento we have about 15 minutes to freshen up in our hotel rooms before we head out again ... this time to cook with a lovely and fun family in San Lorenzo in Campo.

Simonetta, her daughter Michela and son Marco invite us into their home and kitchen. We don our aprons and begin to cook! We help with Crostata Marmellata, Cantucci (small biscotti), Farro Salad, Strozzopreti con Radicchio, Chard con Cannellini, Roasted Potatoes, chicken breast stuffed with carrots and zucchini, smothered with caramelized sliced onions (to. die. for). We make bruschetta with the remaining caramelized onions topped with grated parmigiano and paprika. Simonetta is a single mom and the love and bond between her and her two kids make my heart happy. Michela works as a chef in the cafeteria of a large business and Marco (16 years old) goes to cooking school! Their enormous cat has recently been shaved because of matted fur ... she looks humiliated. I get my cat-fix.

Another wonderful day with Marcello and Raffaella.

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Colleen and Polenta well in Corinaldo
 
#5
Bye Bye Bin Laden - Hello Truffles!

I awake to the news that Osama bin Laden has been killed. The staff in the breakfast room and front desk are commenting on how “this is good, no?”

Partly sunny as we head off for Aqualagna, the most important area of Le Marche for truffles. This area has the specific flora for truffles.

We meet Giorgio, our truffle man (not to be confused with the muffin man). His father and son are also truffle hunters. We have a coffee at the Hosteria dal Vigno . The front of the newspaper (Il Resto del Carlino) shows Bin Laden with target hairs on his face and our new favorite word eliminato. We shout eliminato for anything; from killing a mosquito(eliminato-splat)! to finishing off a bottle of wine! “Eliminato!" (said with the power and conviction of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley when casting a spell)!

We follow Giorgio to a picturesque spot where he points out the baby truffle producing oak trees, all in perfect alignment. We then go to his home where we meet his son Matteo who will accompany us on our hunt for black truffles.

They have many wonderful happy dogs but only two go with us today. Miss Lilla and Mr. Fido. Lilla is a rescue dog that Giorgio found abandoned in a garbage dumpster. She is now one of his best truffle hunters. She loves him so much! You can see in her eyes how grateful she is to him for giving her this wonderful life! The other dog, Fido, has been with Giorgio for many years. His fur is longer which is best for truffles, which are located near or underneath thorny and thicker brush.
We are told it takes about one year to train a dog to hunt for truffles. They begin by giving the dog a large piece of prosciutto wrapped around a tiny bit of truffle and eventually less and less prosciutto and more truffle. It takes about two weeks for them to understand the taste for the truffle. They have to train each dog and cancel from the dog his or her natural instincts; to be focused only with finding truffles.

The dogs are so happy when they find a truffle! Giorgio explains that he puts a young dog with a more experienced dog and this causes a competition between the two dogs. The young dog wants to please the older dog and say, “Hey look at me! I’m one smart truffle-huntin'-doggie!” The dogs are given tasty treats after finding a truffle.

After our hunt, we meet Giorgio’s father who has been in the business for many, many years. The three men are so kind and gracious. We are happy to hear that Giorgio and Matteo will join us for our “lite lunch” back at the Hosteria, each course made with the truffles gathered that morning.
We drive back to the Hosteria (fabulous bathroom by the way) and begin our food fest! I enjoy quite a few glasses of Bianchello wine. Our first course is crostini with truffle gravy. Followed by the best frittata I think I’ve ever tasted. Heaps of freshly shaved truffle on top of bright yellow eggs. Oh wait, now the pasta course with truffles!! So much for our “lite” lunch. We could not possibly eat more, but wait!

Now it is vitello scaloppine con tartufo! Raffaella says the best line at this point, “Nobody wants but no one refuses.” How true!

For dessert we all manage to devour marscapone with shaved chocolate, along with biscotti and walnut honey coffee cake. Espresso and (digestivo) Brugnolo, dated 12-12-09.

We say our goodbyes and exchange hugs with Matteo and Giorgio. I will add here that not only is Giorgio a truffle hunter, he also works for the local police and organizes the truffle feste, which is held in September/October each year.

By the way, I asked him what happens when the dogs get too old to hunt any longer. He said they are part of his family for life and when they pass away everyone grieves because they are family. He has donated a few of his older dogs to a drug rehab program for young adults. He said is it good therapy for the kids to feel the love these dogs have to give them.

Off we go again, now with only a 15 minute "riposa" when we get back to our hotel. We moan and groan that we need more time to relax after such a wonderful time and meal. Marcello laughs and says, "There should be a new Olympic Sport ... complaining! You would win gold medals." We all held our sides because it hurts too much to laugh!

After a very quick freshen-up, we waddle back to the van and drive to Loretello where we meet the very kind and knowledgeable Giuditta. We are there to taste her wine, honey, and olive oil.
(I'll add here that she also owns The Agriturismo Montefiore Cantine Politi. We peaked inside a few of her rooms and they all looked lovely).

Giuditta has four varieties of olives which she produces, each with its own characteristics. Her olives are Leccino, Frantoio, Raggia and Mignola (I think, I can barely read my own writing ... too much vino).

We learn a lot about the olive oil making process and enjoy the different types. We also do a tasting of acacia and chestnut honey along with "young" and "old" pecorino cheeses. All of us agree that we like best the combination of aged percorino, acacia honey and her 2009 Verdicchio white wine. Seriously folks this is why God invented elastic waistbands!

After our visit, we drive to the small hamlet of Loretello. We visit its medieval castle and feast our bulging eyeballs on the absolutely amazing view. Sadly, for me, my camera battery dies a slow death so I don't have many photos but rest assured I can hear the clicking of cameras around me so not to worry ... I'll get copies!

Since we are with Marcello and Rafaella, they, of course want us to now eat more food and drink more wine! We do not want to complain, si si?

We drive to the very small village of Nidastore di arcevia (Ancona). If I remember correctly, Marcello mentioned that this little village is very popular with the Dutch. Go figure. Anyway, we are all quite full from the previous meals of the day, but manage to drink more wine. I share a grilled vegetable plate with Raffaella and also vegetable soup. (Osteria Nido dell'Astore).

Back at the hotel, we buona notte each other and I call my sister back in New Hampshire. I wish she was with me!

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The beauty of Aqualagna
 
#6
Fish Dinner and the Hokey Pokey

Today is cloudy and cool. After a few cups of very strong coffee and not much for breakfast (I am still full from yesterday), we meet in the lobby and are happy to see our guide Filippo who will join us again today. We drive south along the seacoast to Ancona. The train tracks follow along the seacoast as well. Filippo points out to us the harbor which includes the Arch of Trajan, atop the harbor walls.

There are a lot of buses in the Piazza, dropping worshipers in front of the beautiful San Ciriaco di Ancona. Evidently there is a special event in honor of the Beatification of Pope John Paul II.
We visit the remains of a Roman amphitheater. At one time, it held over 6,000 people, the largest in the Le Marche region.

We are all in need of coffee and I enjoy a marrochino coffee for .80 cents. We pass the Fontana del Calamo, where there are 13 faucets with faces which we find amusing. Filippo tells us that in Italy 13 is a lucky number! Seven is unlucky.

We walk to one of the local beaches, Passetto. There is a carnival and market but it is raining so there aren’t many waiting in line for the rides. At Passetto is the war memorial that commemorates the fallen of the First World War. The entire structure, including stairways, when viewed from the sea resembles a flying eagle, the symbol of Fascism.

(I must have been asking Raffaella a few phrases in Italian because in my journal on this day I’ve written “ non credo” (I don’t understand) and “grazie a voi” (thank you all).

Next on the agenda is a wonderful visit to the Moroder winery. The estate is located at Montacuto, a small outlying district of Ancona in the heart of the Conero Park. Our very handsome guide is the son of the owner. (Yes, Colleen, he would be the perfect son-in-law). We enjoy a delicious “lite lunch” with wine tastings. Everyone buys bottles of wine and agrees that this area would be a great place to stay as a “base” for exploring this part of Le Marche.

Next we drive to the charming and secluded bay of Portonovo. We walk along the beach and imagine how popular this area must be during the hot summer months. I pick up a few orange colored rocks to take as a reminder of my brief visit. We laugh when Marcello calls out to us “come on sheeps, vai vai” to get us all back into the van. Too funny. We are sheep.

Our next stop is Scapezzano where we meet the wonderful Roncarati family who own and operate a small, independent farina mill. Nino shows us the different equipment and how it separates the farina into different types of flour. He has the most gorgeous blue eyes I have ever seen. Is there a Mrs. Nino? Yes, damn it! Later we will return for a fabulous fish dinner, all prepared by Nino. We hop in the old van and drive to a bakery where we get a tour and make our own bread. The loaf I made could be used as a medieval weapon, right up there with the canon made of fig trees!

When we go back to Nino’s mill, his family is there and we set up the table for our meal. At first everyone is a bit shy, they speak very little English, so Marcello, Rafaella, and Filippo have their work cut out for them in translating. This is the first time Marcello has brought a group to Nino’s mill.
Nino has put so much love into this meal! He worked all day preparing our meal which consists of local fish from the Adriatic. As we consume more wine, we all loosen up a bit and soon are laughing and taking photos. Nino first serves a delicious fish pasta, followed by a gigantic bowl of mussels (moscioli). Oh. My. God. These are the best mussels I have ever eaten in my entire life. I ask Raffaella to please tell Nino how fabulous they taste. Also to explain to him that where I live, mussels are often seen on menus, but by far his are the best ever! I watch his face (and those blue eyes) as she tells him this. His face lights up and you can tell how appreciative he is that I’ve complimented him. He then serves up a plate of cannello (?), stuffed razor clams. He has tied each one up individually with string so when it’s untied, the shell opens up as if lowering venetian blinds. Amazing!

More wine, more fish! We are all having the best time with this wonderful family. Michele thinks it would be fun to show them how to do the Hokey Pokey! We are pretty much wasted at this point of the evening so we "shook it all about"! Gualtiero (I’m guessing he’s in his mid 60’s) takes a liking to me and wants us to pose together for a few photos. When we first met “Walter” earlier that day at the farina mill, he was very serious, didn’t smile much ... well, ha ha, he has now become the life of the party. Even his daughter, Roberta, says to Colleen “I don’t know my father like this!”

We exchange hugs. Nino gives us each a box of his homemade dried Fettuccine. I doubt they will ever have such a fun group as ours again!

**side note** After I got home, I had prints made of the photos I took that evening and mailed them in a thank you card to the Roncarati family. I received a lovely email from Roberta, thanking me so much for the card and photos. She said they all had a wonderful evening and they consider us friends and we are welcome there at any time. Along with the truffle hunt, this was one of the best days of my life!

All we talked about on our ride back to the hotel was what a lovely and generous family we had just spent the evening with. Marcello knows only the best people!

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Raffaella Marcello Portonovo
 
#7
Are You Kidding Me? Up Early for Fish?

This would have been a great day to sleep in but no, up early to see the fishermen in Senigallia bring in their daily catch. I am grumpy and tired! Marcello comments “Mindy in the morning is a disaster!” Ha ha! We are to meet Stefano, the chef at our hotel. He will pick up fish for the meal we will cook with him later that evening.

Afterward, we walk along the newly restored port of Senigallia. It really is lovely! The sun is shining but we are sad because we must say goodbye to Raffaella today. She has to return to Bologna for one of her fantastic market tours and cooking class. It has been a treasure to have her along with us on our tour of Le Marche. It is one of her favorite areas of Italy and we lucked out having her along!
Colleen, Michele, and I do a little shopping at the stalls but I am very tired and go back to the hotel. I meet up with them later and we return to La Tartana for lunch. The three of us split a huge fried fish platter. It is delicious! The owner remembers us as being friends of Marcello and Rafaella. For dessert we ask for the same strawberries and cream which Michele had our first evening of the tour. He said of course, and we all enjoyed it once again.

We walk along the lungomare to burn off a few calories. It is a beautiful day and there are many people and many dogs! Our hotel has a beautiful rooftop so I sit outside and read for a little while and check my email. (I had my iPod Touch).

At 5pm we all meet in the lobby and say our goodbyes to Rafaella. She has helped us arrange for a driver who will take us three gals to Ascoli Piceno in the morning. We were going to take the train but decided it would be much less hectic and more comfortable to get a driver. It was well worth the money! We hug and cry a bit saying goodbye but we know that one day we will see her again!
We meet Stefano and his girlfriend Gloria in the kitchen. I get shrimp duty and clean a few dozen shrimp while the others clean the fish (ewww, fish guts). We make fish soup, panzanella, Rob and Michele painstakingly trim the scales off of cannochi (a small type of lobster I think; only found in the Adriatic). We are all having a great time, laughing about the week we’ve had together and we vow to keep in touch with Rob and Jeff. I say to Marcello, “If you’re going to use that van again you ought to get the shocks replaced.” He replies (as only he can), “It is nice to suffer a bit.” We all crack up!

We meet later in the dining room where Gloria brings us our fish dinner, which we all helped make. Linguine with clams, garlic, peperoncini, parsley and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and the fish soup. For dessert, sorbetto: lemon ice cream, vodka and prosecco! We find out it is Gloria’s 21st birthday, so we sing her happy birthday! Another perfect day!

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Senigallia Harbor
 
#8
For the Love of Olives, Ascoli Piceno

We enjoy one last breakfast with Marcello, Rob, and Carmine. It is a very sad time because we have grown so fond of both Rob and Carmine, and of course we love Marcello! I know in my heart that one day I will share laughter, food and vino with them all again! They take off in the little VWNS (van with no shocks) and head back to Bologna.

Our driver, Lucio Paolini, arrives promptly, loads our luggage into his very luxurious Mercedes and we are off to Ascoli Piceno (AP). The drive is very pleasant and picturesque; Lucio is a delight and I would recommend him for any driving needs in the Le Marche area. His contact numbers: (339) 815-6774 or (346) 243-7622.

The drive to AP takes about 1 1/2 hours from Senigallia. No traffic at all which delights Lucio. We each pay him €70.00. As I mentioned, well worth the money! He drops us off as closely as possible to the Albergo Piceno. Our rooms are ready (I have Room 107 which is lovely; very spacious, comfy queen size bed, a safe in the closet and small refrigerator. Huge bathtub with hand held shower doo-hicky. No shower curtain). Both Colleen and Michele’s rooms have separate shower stalls. I pay €70.00 per night. I would definitely stay here again!

After settling into our rooms and a glass of vino, we go out to eat! Right across the piazza is Trattoria dell'Arengo. Colleen researched places to eat and this is on the list so we think, andiamo! We’d heard so many wonderful things about the local dish Olives all’Ascolana, we have to order a plateful (yum!). Added to this we order the antipasti of lentils, and not exactly sure what else, rutabega? turnips? Not a drop left on the plate so whatever we were served, we love! I order the ravioli with sausage topped with a cream sauce. We each have a glass of wine. Colleen and Michele also order a pasta dish. The total for our entire meal is €43.50. Afterward, we walk around and know that we will love our time here.

For €6.00 we bought a combined ticket which allows us to visit Pinacoteca Civia, Galleria D’Arte Contemporanea, and the Museo Dell’Arte Ceramica.

Around 3:30 in the afternoon we stop for a cafe in the stunning Piazza Popolo.

We head back to our hotel to get in a “riposa” and plan to meet in Michele’s room (Casa Michele) for a glass of vino before heading out to eat ... again.

We trust Colleen’s suggestion and have dinner at Cantina dell Arte, Via della Lupa 5. Of course we have to compare their Olive All’Ascolana with the ones we enjoyed at lunch. I ask our waiter what goes inside the olives and said a mixture of beef, pork, and either chicken or turkey. These are also delicious. We also try another typical dish from the region, Cremini (Ripieni di Crema Fritta tipici ascolani). These are more like a dessert, almost like eating fried cream cheese frosting! Mama Mia!!
We sacrifice our full bellies and also enjoy Pennette all arrabbiata along with grilled steak over arugula and pomodorini. The owner is very kind and his face lights up when we mention our Slow Travel friend Valerie who used to live in Ascoli Piceno!

Another walk through the beautiful Piazza on our way back to the hotel and dreaming of what tomorrow will bring!

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Piazza Ascoli Piceno
 
#9
Walking with Valerie, Kind of

I wake up with a sore throat so decide to lay low while Colleen and Michele go to get the rental car. I wish that I had gone along because, of course, they had quite an adventure getting the car to the nearby parking lot. Although we aren’t leaving until Sunday, the rental car agency isn’t open so we had to get the car on Saturday.

After a while, I begin to feel better. God forbid I miss out on a meal. For lunch we eat at Kursaal Via Mercantini Luigi, 66. The pollo diavolo is quite tasty although there are so many chicken bones it is hard to get a decent sized mouthful. The risotto with asparagus is creamy with a perfect texture. Of course we have olives ... and vino!

Colleen wisely printed out Valerie’s walking guide (see resources page) and off we go! It is a very useful guide and when you visit Ascoli Piceno I highly recommend printing a copy and following along with Valerie! I notice that people say “Salve” as a greeting as you enter a store or hotel. I find a candy shop and stock up on my favorite frizzante candies. We stop into a bar for an espresso and to use the bathroom. (I found Colleen’s camera in the bathroom)! I buy the most decadent ice cream bar, dark chocolate and more chocolate. Can you imagine my delight when I discover I can buy the exact same ice cream bar at my local grocery-store! Magnum double chocolate.
We all love AP. The setting is so picturesque and the people are very very friendly. I can see why so many love this town!

After drinks at Casa Michele, we return again to Trattoria dell’Arengo for dinner. We show our photo of the lentils (from our lunch yesterday) to our waitress and asked for a big plate of it! She took the camera back to the chef to show him exactly what we want. Brava!

We want one last stroll at night through Piazza dell Popolo and for evening photos. It is very cold so we walk a bit faster to indulge in gelato from Yoghi Cioccolateria (conveniently located only minutes from our hotel).

Another glorious day!

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Got vino?
 
#10
Piano Grande, Catelluccio, Norcia and Letizia!

Although we would love to stay for at least another week, we are ready to leave Ascoli Piceno. Michele and Colleen get the car while I get the luggage in the lobby. We have a heck of a time fitting all of our luggage into the car and succeed with the help of strangers. We end up having to remove the luggage cover so I have it straddled across my legs for a while until I can’t stand it any longer. We pull over and rearrange things so I can at least have some leg room. Colleen is the navigator so she gets dibs on the front passenger seat.

On our way to Castellucio we pass through towns such as Mozzano-SS4-Aquasana Terme-Arquata-Piedilama-Pretare. Wisteria is in bloom and looks lovely! We are driving now through the National Park, no flowers in bloom in Piano Grande, but still awe inspiring. On the hillside we see evergreen trees in the shape of Italy. Cute. snap snap photo, photo ... There are families (no doubt celebrating Mother’s Day), having picnics and flying kites.

Once we reach Castellucio we park the car and then stumble into the very small Hosteria Ciorrio il Gualdes where they make room for us and start bringing food. Fresh ricotta, lentils galore. After all, this area is known for their lentils! Sausage, polenta with tomato sauce, more sausage, a crazy amount of food for only €15,00. (338) 572-6617. Pokey found a friend, Tigger, in the parking lot.
We head off for Norcia, passing a few riffugios on the way. The drive takes us along “long and winding roads” with motorcycles galore. It is a beautiful day for a ride on a motorcycle. We notice locals selling red potatoes along the side of the roads.

We drive through a very, very long tunnel, I started feeling a bit panicky it was so long! We are headed for Letizia’s B&B: Madonna Del Piatto. Of course, we get all turned around trying to find her place; we cannot find our way out of a brown paper bag (nor can "Maria" our GPS)! We call Letizia and finally(!) arrive

What. A. View! To quote our friend Sandrac, we are "gobsmacked!" We are thrilled to see Letizia! As luck would have it, Gail Hecko is there sitting on the terrace with wine in hand. She is joined by two ladies who are part of Gail’s Great Escape Tour.

For our first night Colleen, Michele and I share a triple room. We move to our single rooms on Monday when Gail’s group leaves.

After we settle into our room, we join Gail, Laura and Nancy for dinner at Il Pioppo. The owner's son is celebrating his confirmation so there is a huge party going on outside. We dine in the restaurant part of this agriturismo. I have the best roasted pork ever! Back to Letizia’s, we all pop an Ambien and have a good night’s sleep.

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Castellucio Motorcycles
 
#11
Ciao Montefalco & Bevagna; Hello Spello

Breakfast at Letizia’s is delizioso! Homemade jams, bread, excellent and a plentiful amounts of coffee, perfect for Pokey! We say our goodbyes to Gail. She’s a hoot and I think the world of her!!
Although we are given explicit directions to S.M. Angeli and to the highway, of course we get lost. Maria the GPS is fired! (No Maria, I doubt we turn left into a field of farina). It’s another lovely day and we arrive in the hill town of Montefalco. Here we visit the Church-Museum of St. Francis. The central apse, frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli depicts the life of St.Francis. The town is picturesque and the views of the surrounding area is, of course, breath taking.

From here we drive to Bevagna and find parking right away. Letizia has recommended we eat at Osteria Il Podesta. (Corso Matteotti,67). She is spot on in her recommendation! The owner is so happy when we tell her Signora Letizia sent us here. We are the only ones in the place and hope that it was only an “off” day. We share bruschetta misto, tagiolini with asparagus, pork pillows (picchiarelli with red wine, onion, cheese and pillow pork). We also love the grilled pork fillet with sausage. For dolce Michele and I inhale panna cotta with chocolate and Colleen had the panna cotta with fragola. Total, including wine, €71.50.

We are now on our way to the charming and colorful town of Spello. I would love to stay here for at least five days or more. Flowers everywhere! I don’t know if the town is preparing for the famous Infiorata, but I was in awe of all the flowers; in pots on the ground, hanging from the walls, from windows ... a glorious sight for our eyes!

As we are walking about, Michele takes a tumble and twists her ankle! No ice to be found but we are able to find a Farmacia where she buys a few ice packs. Fortunately Michele is a tough cookie and is able to drive ... it is her right ankle so she could still clutch with her left! Suck it up Michele, you're the driver!

Colleen and I buy some olive oil (in tins which I love) from Enoteca Hispellum, Via Cavour, 13-35. We also buy gorgeous olive oil utensils (cheese knives, salad tongs, cooking spoons) from Arte Legno, Di Passeri Roberto Via Giulia 1. Highly Recommend!

We made it back to Letizia’s where we help Michele drink wine and feel no pain. What are friend’s for?

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Flowers in Spello
 
#12
We Find Rebecca in Assisi and Get Lost in Spoleto

Today, after another scrumptious breakfast and coffee, we take a tour of Letizia’s property and see the space for her new cooking class. Very spacious and the view of the Umbrian valley is perfetto! The elderberry trees are in bloom which Letizia makes into jam.

We have planned to visit Assisi today. Letizia gives us perfect directions for where to park once we reach the walled city. Park in Porto Nuovo and then take the escalator “Strada Mobili” to the historic center ... couldn’t have been easier!

I spent five days in Assisi back in 2004 and I love being back in this peaceful and mystical town. I feel so at peace here, even with the throngs of tourists. I do recommend staying here for a few days to get the feel of Assisi once the tour buses have left. Walking around at night is truly a magical experience.

I had been in contact with the hysterical and gifted writer, Rebecca Winke, who owns and runs Brigolante Guest Apartments. We planned to meet her at the fountain in Piazza Comune. Meeting her is the “cream cheese icing on the cake!” The best kind of icing as far as I’m concerned! We enjoy coffee and laughs at a bar right opposite the fountain. It is great to meet her in person. I am in need of a new memory card for my camera and she takes me to a shop and I have new card in hand! Grazie Rebecca.

After saying goodbye to Rebecca, we visit the spectacular Basilica of St. Frances. We also stop in the church of Santa Chiara which houses the cross which spoke to St. Frances.

Rebecca recommended we eat at Trattoria degli Umbri which we did at 2:30pm. It is filled with locals which is always a great sign. I enjoy a delicious farro salad, Michele had ravioli with sage, butter and ricotta. Brava! (Piazza del Comune, 40 Tel. 075 812455).

Back in our car (a Lancia diesel), we drive South on 75 to Spoleto. The church here is gorgeous! Frescoes by Filippo Lippi among other paintings and churchy-type stuff. We walk up and up to the Ponte delle Torri, built just a few years before I graduated high school, ha, ha. 1350 AD actually. It spans a deep gorge. We walk to the halfway point where we take photos. By now the three of us are very tired and want to get "home." Well, we cannot find the car! We descend a covered escalator for what seems like hours! I have a feeling that this is not where we were supposed to be ... back up we go and finally find our car. We buy a few “to go” pizzas at a place across from S.M. Angeli. It is a delight to get back to Letizia’s and relax. It really was too much to do in one day.

Note: we filled the car with 26.20 liters of diesel and it cost €36.50.

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Rebecca In Assisi
 
#13
Goo-Goo Gubbio

Today we are scheduled to meet Marco Bellanca for a guided tour of Gubbio. Once again Letizia gives us perfect directions for driving and parking in Gubbio.

We meet Marco as scheduled in front of the statue in Piazza Quaranta Martiri. He gives us an overview of the city and then we begin our informative tour of Gubbio. I love the medieval feel of this town! Marco tells us that the town is getting ready for the famous Corsa dei Ceri, the Candle Race which is held every May 15th. Saint Ubaldo, Saint George and Saint Anthony are each represented by different colored flags. They’re everywhere! Marco explains how the three large wooden “ceri” are carried way up the hill, through the narrow streets of Monte Ingino, until they reach the Basilica of Sant’Ubaldo. They always run in the same order and, of course, Sant’Ubaldo first, followed by Saint George and then Saint Anthony. Thousands of people attend this well known and popular celebration every year. Also, during Christmas time there is a giant Christmas tree formed with lights and occupies the whole of Mount Ingino. Marco tells us that the Coca Cola company wanted to buy the rights to the tree from the town but Gubbio said “no way!” Take that corporate America.

The ceramics of this area are quite lovely and we stop into a shop where Marco knows the owner. Michele and Colleen buy a few things, I choose to "opt out" and not buy anything.

We stop at the Fontana dei Matti. Marco explains that if we run around it three times we become honorary citizens of Gubbio. Who can pass up such an opportunity and maybe even burn off a few calories! We even get (buy) a certificate proving we are "fools!"

Marco takes us up and up through the narrow streets and we make our way to the Piazzaa dei Consoli and the magnificent Palazzo dei Consoli. The view of the valley from this high up is gorgeous, stunning, spectacular, etc. etc.! Impossible to take a bad photo!

Marco is a great guide, he brings Gubbio alive for us. I would recommend him as a guide for any of the hill towns in the area. Besides Assisi and Spello, Gubbio is a place where I would consider staying when visiting Umbria.

We say our goodbyes to Marco and head over to Locanda del Cantiniere Ristorante (Via Dante, 30). Another great recommendation from Letizia. We are seated next to a large table of very handsome young men, maybe soccer players(?), and we try to behave and not drool. We share Mozzarella di Bufala (with “rocket” and tomato), Michele has Trofie pasta with zucchini and shrimp, insalata mista, Colleen has Pappardelle with duck sauce and I order the pappardelle with beef tenderloin and green pepper. I am thirsty for beer and enjoy my ice cold Beck’s. All together the bill is €65.00.

There had been some discussion of driving to Perugia, but Michele and I say basta, enough for one day. All I want to do is sit on the terrace at Letizia’s with a glass of vino and my camera. So, we head back up the hill to our “home” without getting lost. We make a casual meal from the leftover cheese, sausage, and bread as we are leaving the next morning for Rome. Letizia brings us each a shot glass filled with her wild rose petals liquor! Whoa!! It sounds so sweet and innocent, right? I about fell off the patio chair!

I head back up to my room and stare out my window. The view of the Basilica of St. Francis, the valley below, the stars, the moon ... I am so blessed and thankful for my health so I can travel to such a beautiful part of the world. I call my friends at Residenze Il Carmine in Florence; seems so strange to be in Italy and not visit Florence. I will visit them in the Fall of 2012!

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Gubbio
 
#14
Dove Foligno? Rome and Home

The bed and blankets in my room are so comfortable it is very hard to get up extra early for our departure to “F”-town....Foligno. Letizia was kind enough to set out breakfast early today for us! We said our goodbyes and hated to leave the comfort and familiarity of Madonna del Piatto B&B. I hope one day in the future to take a cooking class in her new cucina!

We need gas and head down to S.M. Angeli and fill up the car. You’d think by now we’d know how to get on the highway. Nope. We are hopeless. We follow signs to Foligno, thinking we are going to the highway, but no, we are on the back roads and ask “Foligno?” pointing in the direction we are headed. No no no ... the other way! "Foligno?" Poor Colleen is freaking out because she really wants us to get on the nine-oh-something train to Rome. We have to return the rental car too! It was very stressful, but we did manage to find the rental car place (I had returned a car here back in 2004 and was familiar with the office). Colleen ran in and secured our train tickets. No problems with returning the car. Easy.

We had time to spare and hopped on the Rome bound train. It was very crowded! Once we arrived in Rome, we found our way to the taxi line and we're happy to get a cheerful driver who got us to Campo di Fiori (where our apartment is located) in record time with a cost around €8.00!
We called our contact and had to wait about 20 minutes until a representative from the rental company met us with the key. The apartment was located right near Campo Di Fiori. Excellent location. Apartment Capellari 27. While I’m not a huge lover of Rome, I loved this apartment and wished I was staying longer than only one night.

Colleen had been hungry for the Caprese salad at Cul De Sac (Piazza Pasquino, 73) so off we went. The weather was crazy hot! We sat outside but under a canvas canopy. I ordered the Caprese salad as well, it was eccellente! One of the best I’ve ever eaten. I also ordered and loved pasta Amatriciana. Just the perfect amount of spiciness. A fun group of Italians are sitting at the table next to us. One of the men reminds us all of a young Al Pacino.

After lunch we walk over to the Pantheon, you could not get in the place it was so crowded! Colleen knew of a place to buy jewelry (no surprise) so we head over to check it out. I didn’t see anything I “had to have” except for an “Io “heart” Italia” bumper sticker for my car. Michele was looking at Pandora-type bracelet beads for a while and decided not to buy anything. Well, the owner of the place went off on she and Colleen. Oh my God, it was intense! Colleen gave it back to her and vowed to never set foot in that store again! Crazy!

We are getting ready to head out for dinner when Michele realizes that she cannot find her passport! We tear her luggage and purse apart but it is no where to be found. Can you imagine? We find a Rick Steves book in the apartment and find the number to the US Consulate in Rome. Thank you Rick Steves! Fortunately Michele has a copy of her passport so when she calls she has the information ready. Colleen has her cell phone turned off and when she turns it on there are messages from Letizia; the cleaning lady found Michele’s passport and Ascoli Piceno “deal of the trip” scarf in her room! Oy! Michele thought of going by train back to Assisi the next day but decides she'll go to the Embassy in Rome and get a new passport issued (which she did).
We go out for my last meal in Italy (at least until 2012)! We eat at Baffetto 2 which we just happened upon. It is okay, not great.

We walk around Rome and then head back to the apartment. I have to finish packing.
My driver, Roberto Ugolini, is prompt and very kind (tel: 39+338 4021564). No problems at the airport, security no problem. Layover in Heathrow ... lots of security. My luggage arrives in Boston and I fly through Customs with no problems. Okay, I'm wrapping this up now...

It is great to get home but of course I am planning my next trip on the flight back to Boston.
While this trip almost didn’t happen because of my mom’s hip surgery, I am so glad I went. It was one of the most wonderful trips I’ve ever had to Italy. I’m looking forward to my eighth (or is it ninth) visit in 2012.

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Caprese Salad
 
#15
Resources
 
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Pauline

Forums Admin
#16
She said they all had a wonderful evening and they consider us friends and we are welcome there at any time. Along with the truffle hunt, this was one of the best days of my life!
:)

Colleen wisely printed out Valerie’s walking guide (see resources page) and off we go! It is a very useful guide and when you visit Ascoli Piceno I highly recommend printing a copy and following along with Valerie!
We have @Valerie 's Ascoli Piceno notes on Slow Europe now! And Letizia's Assisi notes.
 

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