Umbria! A feast for all the senses.

    Leaving Rome we are ready to spend some relaxing time in the Umbrian countryside.
The drive and in fact the whole tour, would not be complete without experiencing the mayhem of a truckstop for our coffee break.  Confidence and small change are necessary to get a timely coffee amongst the gaggle of motorists dashing in for a fast caffeine hit.

Those of us who had researched our new home were wondering if Chiesa Del Carmine would live up to the hype of the website

Many days later we were still awestruck by the age, beauty, tranquility and comforts of living in a renovated 16 century farmhouse complete with enormous ensuites and plenty of room for 12 friends.

Our kitchen and dining room are located just metres away in the 12th century church again beautifully restored and with all the comforts of home plus our very own personal chef and housekeeper.

We are surrounded by perfectly manicured gardens, an enormous heated pool and are situated on a working vineyard and olive grove.  The truffle wood will be in full production in a couple of years.

This is our home for 7 nights and everyone is excited!  I have heard some whispering about organising a syndicate to buy a rundown Umbrian farmhouse for renovation!


On our first evening in Umbria saw us travel to a small town called Pietralunga for the annual Truffle and Potato Festival.  It was our first opportunity to see the locals singing and dancing in the streets.  In the small square we tasted salami, cheeses, potato marmalade, potato liqueurs and all things truffle. The roasted chestnuts were divine and it took plenty of willpower to walk past the porchetta because our personal chef was at home preparing our four course Umbrian Welcome Dinner.

Our next day we left Umbria to spend a day Under the Tuscan Sun. We travelled to Avignonesi Vineyards in the region of Montepulciano,  for a cooking class, a wine tasting , winery tour and degustation lunch including estate grown wines Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Merlot (Desidero) and Cabernet.
Today was the day that this fully biodynamic vineyard was stuffing cow horns with compost to bury in the vineyard.   The manager and winemaker at Avignonesi are a young Australian couple, living the dream in Tuscany.

We made Pici Pasta (hand rolled into long thin rolls, made from a peasants pasta recipe) and Torta Di Nonna a custard filled flaky pastry tart.  The amazing pici pasta sauce was simply made from garlic, oil, blended tomatoes, salt and chilli flakes.

Our Avignonesi degustation lunch consisted of bean soup, Pici Pasta with duck Ragu, Stuffed Rolled Rabbit and a magnificent plate of desserts matched with a bottle of their infamous Occhio di Pernice Vin Santo di Montepulciano DOC 2000.
The Sangiovese grapes for this Vin Santo are picked and air dried to lose 70-80 percent of their volume.  Then put in 50 litre barrels and aged for 15 years until each barrel reduces to 10 litres.  The consistency is that of maple syrup with flavours of caramel, licorice and orange peel. At $360 per half bottle, this lucky group of Italian Cousins didn't leave a drop behind.!

We were lucky to spend the rest of the afternoon in the beautiful town of Cortona.  Famous for the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, Cortona has plenty of unique shops to browse and always beautiful views from this town over Lake Trasimeno and the Tuscan countryside. 

The following day, the weather closed in and put a stop to our organised truffle hunt.  Plan B, as always, was a shopping trip.  This shopping event was but a couple of hundred metres from the home that was featured in the movie 'Under the Tuscan Sun - Casa Bramasole'.    It was the tiniest plate on an ancient wall that indicated we had arrived at a local designer Rocco Ragni specialising in Cashmere.  With a generous discount received as guests of Chiesa Del Carmine, these Australians purchased plenty of stunning  'Made in Italy' garments.

Lunch today was extra special!  A truffle degustation at an age-old family owned restaurant in the hilltop town of Montone.  L'Antica Osteria.  Truffle with scrambled eggs, truffle bruschetta, truffle fettuccine and agnolotti with Guinea fowl and truffle sauce.  Followed  by dessert, coffee and cantucci.
A short afternoon rest to catch up on reading, relaxing and facebook in our luxurious home was followed by a  'light' dinner at a local trattoria.  Antipasto meats, fried pizza bread and a mixture of pizzas ended the day.  Phew!

Two more local town on the itinerary today!  The morning was spent in Umbertide just a few kilometres from Chiesa Del Carmine.  Prior to meeting up with Alessandra our chef in the local food market, Julia suggested a wander through the weekly pop-up market.  This is where Julia revealed one of her Crave Italy Secrets!... the cotton underwear found in small markets all over Italy is some of the best you can buy!  No convincing needed, plenty of underwear was purchased that morning.

After purchasing 'the best porchetta in Umbria' for our picnic lunch, we headed to the medieval town of Gubbio to meet up with our guide.  Gubbio is know as the town of mad people and each of us had the opportunity to become an honorary citizen and 'licenced mad person' by doing 3 laps of the fountain of sixteenth-century Fontana dei Matti.  Again, it was the art, architecture, history and legends which make each of these beautiful old town unique.
Back home for the afternoon and our cooking class with Alessandra.  Fresh porcini from the markets made our risotto extra special.   The tiramisu was, as always divine and the lemon panacotta was put in the fridge for tomorrows lunch.

We have been in Umbria a few days now and the morning walkers have made friends with some locals and children waiting for the school bus.
Every morning we arrived home to a cooked breakfast and a table laden with yoghurt and pastries.
The intermittent rain didn't stop our tractor/ute tour of the estate , olives trees hundreds of years old and plenty of grapes.  Vintage is almost finished and the leaves are changing colours.

Today, our private chef cooked us a decadent BBQ of  Umbrian porchetta, sausages, pork chops and pork ribs.  The pleasure is certainly all ours to be spoiled in such a manner over the last week.

For some, the afternoon was spent enjoying our villa while our one gentleman played a round of golf on the Antognollo golf course and the remainder of us took a well deserved trip back into Tuscany to the Rapolano Terme hot spring, close to Siena.  A lazy few hours in the hot, calcium pools was well earned and weirdly changed the colour of our jewellery!

A quiet dinner turned into another 4 course meal at the Antognollo Golf Estate where we met up with friends of Ballandean Estate. Rod and Goldie Watters organise a fantastic festival in Grafton called Gate to Plate and own a spectacular villa on the golf estate.   It was great to meet up with them and see their villa.  Truffle fondue, bean soup, rare beef and chocolate fondant cake filled our tummies to bursting.

We woke up the next morning full from the night before but knowing we needed to line our stomachs for the Eurochoc festival in Perugia.
The first couple of hours in Perugia were filled with medieval stories and wandering about with our architectural historian guide.  The original Etruscan city was incredibly turned into a subterranean city!   Definitely a history lesson we won't forget. 

We ended our time in Perugia in a chocolate daze.  Hundreds of chocolate stalls lined the streets, a feast for the eyes and tastebuds.

This day was 2 festivals in one day.  We arrived in the hilltop town of Preggio for the Chestnut Festival.  We were definitely early for the party so found a bar and drank numerous bottles of 5 Euro wines while waiting for the festivities to begin.  During this 3 day festival the town locals open their backyards and homes to festival goers who are invited in to eat homemade regional specialties.  It was freezing cold on this night and the roasted chestnuts and one Euro glasses of 'new' wine kept the frostbite away.

Our last full day as Umbrians, and Julia our Crave Italy tour organiser has left the best till last, Assisi, a city of history, beauty and shops! After our 2 hour guided tour was over, we were ready to wander aimlessly into shops of all kinds interspersed with ancient churches and a bite to eat...pasta of course!

On our return home, Mauritzio took us via the lovely town of Spello for a coffee and gelato break.

A double celebration tonight.  Farewell to Umbria and Happy birthday Julie!  A light pumpkin and ricotta tart, spinach ravioli, beef and decadent birthday cake.
Our Umbrian escape has almost come to an end.  It was time to depart for the Amalfi Coast.  Before we left Julia had two more experiences for these Italian Cousins.  The enchanting town of Orvieto has one of the most beautiful cathedrals in all of Italy.  Today the beautiful front was encased in scaffolding.  The shopping avenue was one of the prettiest we have been to in Umbria.
Our final stop in Umbria was Palazzone Winery, home of Orvieto classico.  Most famous for using the grape varieties Trebbiano and Grechetto.  It was the last day of vintage, they were picking Cabernet Sauvignon.

Thank you Umbria for a wonderful week, Thanks to our private drivers Mauritzio and his wife Katiuscia who have been the most thoughtful and tolerant chauffeurs. Thanks to Chrissy, Alessandra and Lilliana for your attention to detail making our stay flawless.