Italy in Nine Parts- Umbria and Montefalco

Visiting Bevagna, Montefalco and Villa Zuccari


My last email had me in Montepulciano, enjoying the wine, and the view. It really is a wonderful view, high above the rolling fog with other hilltop villages in the distance. Enchanting. Unfortunately the time comes when one must leave Montepulciano on high, and continue on one’s way. Which in my case lead to additional wineries, and a drive through some of the most disconcerting weather one can imagine. Fog as thick as the proverbial pea soup.

Fortunately my days in November were at least a little sunny, so much of the fog would burn off late in the day, when I was finished with my winery visits. Unfortunately it was dark by then. Dark and driving in Italy are somewhat like dancing in high heels, so I’ve been told. It’s not easy, or comfortable, but it can be done. I guess what really matters is one’s motivation.

My motivation was the Villa Zuccari near Montefalco in Umbria.

Travel Tip - Porchetta

The Porchetta trucks that are common throughout Italy are one of the world’s great sources of street food. Frequently full of tasty treats; such as French fries, fried polenta, roast chickens, and hot dogs, the true allure of the Porchetta truck is the whole roasted pig: the Porchetta. Grab a few slices for dinner or a snack, or have a sandwich made for a true Italian treat.
Related Imagery

A slice of Porchetta is a slice of the whole, de-boned and rolled, pig. There may be a lot of skin, fat and organ meat in any particular slice.

The theatre is in the Piazza Silvestri that forms the heart of the town.

Il Verziere is a solid option in Montefalco for honest cooking and is worth a visit if you are in the area. It is nothing fancy, but for those days when that’s what you’re looking for it may be a perfect fit.

Related link
You can find Porchetta in many roadside trucks, but it's also offered as a stapel from many restaurant windows as well. It's so rich that a little can go a long way, though be prepared.

Umbria is Rich with Archeological Gems

Montefalco is another one of Italy’s wonderfully preserved, medieval hilltop towns. Passing under the ancient main gate, the Porta di S. Agostino, takes you directly to the main thoroughfare leading you to the round Piazza that forms the heart of Montefalco.

Dining in Umbria
The way I select a restaurant is often similar to the way I select a winery to explore. Usually, but not always, wineries and restaurants that are relatively inexpensive, and slightly messy, turn out to be gems in the rough. F

Moving on to Umbia

So far on this trip I had been quite frugal, living as I were on the company dime. I was now headed to participate in a conference on the proposal to classify the wines of Montefalco. I was now the guest of the Consorzio of Montefalco, and that meant a big room, luxurious bed, and lots, and lots of hot water. Let me tell you, I was motivated by my looming visit to the Villa Zuccari!

Every so often, during my drive from Montepulciano to San Luca di Montefalco, where my motivation lay in wait, I was thrust up and over the fog, but most of the time I was either driving in that fog, or even worse, in the dark. My last visit in Montepulciano that day happened to be at the Tre Rose estate, a fine producer of Vino Nobile. The estate lies right up on the border separating Tuscany from Umbria, so at least I was trying to prepare myself for what was to come.

My journey from Tuscany to Umbria started out exceptionally well. In fact I arrived in Umbria several minutes after leaving Tuscany. Things were looking up I tell you. I headed off towards the Autostrada that would bring me past the City of Perugia, and into the heart of Umbria without incident.

I did not realize that that Autostrada was blessed with several tunnels, and that I was driving through Perugia during the evening rush hour, and that Perugians are archetypical Italian drivers. But ok, I can remain calm, even while inching along through bumper-to-bumper traffic for the better part of an hour. I should not have been in a rush, and in fact I was not, though there was a certain, well uncertainty that hung over me that evening.

I knew I was venturing into a particularly rural part of Umbria, but the autostrada was moving me towards my destination nicely. I had done all my research, bought the maps, reviewed my route on Google, everything one is supposed to do when entering uncharted lands, short of getting a GPS> I’ve heard of horror stories when it comes to GPS, particularly in Italy, and prefer to reap all the blame for getting lost. In fact I pride myself on my uncanny sense of direction. In fact I have always made it to my destination, eventually.

Down the autstrada I went, finding the exit for Bevagna, my first waypoint, easily, then seeing a sign for Montefalco, I was really making progress. Bevagna to Montefalco is not far, depending on the route you take. It looks like about 5 miles on the map. I still don’t understand why it took me a good 30 or 40 minutes to find it. Perhaps it was the unmarked roads. Roads that seem entirely likely to lead to nowhere. Roads that seem suspiciously to circle around back on themselves. But roads that, nonetheless, lead to the medieval city of Montefalco.

Now medieval really means: city with tiny signs to your destination and roads designed for horses, slim horse, travelling in single file. I was actually able to find the proper road that would lead me to my final destination, I was getting more and more motivated by the moment in fact. I drove on, out of Montefalco and right into a sign that curtly informed me that the road I wanted, so desperately needed, was, in fact, closed due to construction.

Well I am always doubtful about such things, and there was plenty of space to drive around the sign, so on I went, only to come to another, more emphatically placed sign that convinced me that the open pit I saw beyond this sign was indeed “under construction” or perhaps repair. In any even my road was not passable.

This was not right, this was bad. Reverse, reverse, reverse, back to the fork where my only viable option was decidedly not in the direction I wanted to go. But there I was, forced to take a left when all I wanted to do was go straight. I continued on, knowing that somewhere I would be able to cut back to my right and find my final destination. I was sure of it. Never be sure in Italy.

On I drove, off the edge of my carefully prepared map, onto empty space, pretty space, and narrow space, but as far as I was concerned it was empty space, and I didn’t want to be in this empty space. I drove on until I came to a traffic light, in a small town, but rather in the middle of nowhere. Well it wasn’t exactly nowhee, it was by the beautifully illuminate Church of the Madonna della Stella, which evidently is also home to the local farmacia, which seems to be always open, and the local bar, which claims to always be open but appears to in fact always be closed.

I sat at that light for what seemed like eons, 3 or 4 minute long eons. And then, finally, it turned green, before immediately turning red again.  What the? Ok, another eon, this time there was no stopping me, on green I floored my little car, speeding to 5 miles an hour in well under 5 seconds, and put-putted right through town, which was basically two buildings separated by some 20 feet with a road running between them, and a stop light.

In my frenzy to flee the evil stop light I failed to notice the sign for Villa Zuccari that was applied parallel to my line of vision, against the wall that I was trying to avoid.  I’m not sure but I think sign posting is controlled by the criminally insane in Italy. Somehow they manage to make even the most perfectly placed sign virtually useless. So on I went, I had been so close, but I was undeterred, after less than a mile I came to a right! Oh sweet right, how I took you, carefully, lovingly, longingly. Soon I was back on the map and even poorly placed signs were not to prevent me from reaching my Villa. A quick left into San Luca, several moments squinting at the walls as I rolled by, then another quick left and I was arrived. Safe, sound, 2 hours behind schedule, and happy to see the dinner buffet set up in the lovely dining room of Villa Zuccari.

After taking advantage of the buffet I set off to my room, ready to put in a little work, and enjoy an amazing night’s sleep. I awoke refreshed in the morning, to another wall of blanketing fog. Not that I would have been able to use it, but I knew there was a lovely pool just beyond by enshrouded view, with the rolling hills of Umbria beyond, but all that would have to wait for another day and another time.

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