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VivreManger

Umbria Restaurants: Reviews & Recommendations

94 posts in this topic

Good friends of mine are off to Italy in August. They have rented places for a week or two each in Umbria and in the Padua region. They are adventurous -- the stop in Italy is en route to a year in Asmara in Eritrea on the Horn of Africa. They enjoy good food and wine, though they don't have the budget for the very fanciest places. Any recommendations for classic local cooking and good value in local wines would be very much appreciated. They asked me to post the following:

We would welcome advice on good eating and nice places to walk/hike in the

region of Bevagna, which is in the Spoleto Valley of Umbria. We will also

be staying south of Padua near Abano Terme, and would welcome similar tips

on Padua and that locality.

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When we were in Spello, we walked into the hills up above the town, and I seem to remember reading that it was possible to walk along the same ridge (which would be the eastern edge of the val d'Umbria) all the way to Assisi.

It will be hot in August, so a trip up to Norcia and Casteluccio would provide some elevation and maybe a little cooler weather. The area around Casteluccio is a wide-open mountain valley with lots of hiking potential. Norcia has great food (renowned for pork products).

Montefalco isn't too far from Bevagna, and a visit there to sample the wines made from sangrantino grapes (only grown in and around Montefalco) would be worth it. We visited the very small Paola Bea winery (a neighbor to one of of my olive oil suppliers) and brought home a few bottles of the unusual red dessert wine called sangratino passito.

Jim


olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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Here are some good places to eat:

Pallotta - Assisi

Da Nina and Enoteca di Piazza Onofri - Bavagna

Perbacco - Cannara (excellent)

Il Baco Felice - Foligno

La Volpe e L'Uva - Orvieto

Il Gatto Mammone - Terni

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One of my close friends did a Butterfield and Robinson bike trip in Umbria a couple of years ago. They thought the area was beautiful for biking and hiking, especially Assisi and Spello. For ideas on itinerary, you could check our the B&R website, or Vermont Bike Tours or any of the other outfits. The intineraries may include dining information, and B&R usually goes for the Relais and Chateaux and Michelin one* level type establishments.

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In Padua, you can see St. Anthony's tongue in the cathedral. Don't know if it was preserved due to gourmet activities on his part.


I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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I had a wonderful lunch at a place in Perugia called Il Falchetto, just a little ways off the main square. The braised lamb with truffles was one of the most memorable single dishes I had in Italy. Perugia is a worthwhile place to visit and has some incredible chocolate shops as well.


Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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OK, since Mr. Camp's recs are straying outside of the immediate Bevagna vicinity, I'll toss in two recommendations.

I Sette Consoli in Orvieto, a jewel of a place, whose chef/owner is a talented young woman. They had a * last fall, but appear to have lost it this year. Food was terrific, delicately sauced, simply presented. Nice, affordable Orvietan wines, too. Bill for 2: ca. US$120. Also, we ate late, and since Orvieto closes down early and cabbies don't work late, they kindly had one of their kitchen help drive us back to our hotel, La Badia, located outside the city walls (and down the usual hill), an 8th century monastery reputed to be Italy's oldest hotel and offering a beautiful view of the duomo through the ruined walls.

Also, on the road between Orvieto and Todi is Vissani, a **. Now I know a lot of the intl. eGulleters probably are used to this, but I wasn't. No sign. No building visible from the road. No nothing. We drove past it three times. Finally, we pulled into a little gated drive and pushed the intercom buzzer. After a query about reservations, the gate swung open. We were there for lunch, and frankly the experience was a bit over-the-top. All the waitstaff were wearing some sort of tweed-like, I dunno, frocks. Two rooms. We're escorted through the first room, quite airy, into the one adjoining the kitchen. We were seated, and they brought a little stool for my wife's purse. The room features two windows fitted with picture frames. One looks into the pastry kitchen; the other, into the proper kitchen. The only other party in the room was a group of 8 or so Asians celebrating a wedding. Anyhoo, the food. We did the smaller tasting menu, 6 courses I believe. The dishes were all quite elaborate, far removed from cucina tipica and my limited Italian. In all, the meal was very good, though in direction more French than Italian (shades of the Plotnicki/Camp/Moore battles). Interesting is his use of sauces: fish-based with quail; beef with fish. Ordered wine by the bottle. Bill was ca. US$300. We also got to meet Sr. Vissani, who, as we left, was accepting an award from a food critics' organization, which was being filmed for TV.

I must say that this Italian board is terrific. I learn so much, and I also have learned that there's much more to learn. Thanks, Craig, and all the other knowledgable contributors, for the invaluable information.

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We are in the process of planning a trip to Tuscany and Umbria for 2 weeks, the first half of June next year. I am trying to decide where to headquarter ouselves for the 2 weeks, as we plan to rent a villa/farmhouse for the entire time and do daytrips from there. The last time we were there we stayed east of Arezzo and visited Arezzo, Siena, San Gimignano, Gubbio, Cortona, Assisi, Firenze as well as many smaller lesser known towns near us or on the way to and from other destinations. I loved the smaller lesser known towns, I also really liked Siena, Cortona and Gubbio. San Gimignano and Assisi seemed too touristy (at least when we were there, July). Firenze is great, but I think that will wait for another trip.

The question of where to stay, although food is always important to us, is not going to be driven by where the best restaurants are. We will seek out the best available lunch restaurants on our travels, but that is a separate question (which is probably researchable from previous posts). We will cook at our temporary home for dinner more often than not.

What I am looking for is advice on what areas in Tuscany and Umbria are beautiful places to stay, and not too out of the way as far as access to lots of various daytrip options.

The Niccone Valley, on either side of the Tuscan/Umbrian border is one option we are considering. But we have not visited anything west of Firenze at all. What are Lucca, Volterra and Pisa like? Are there other nice towns in that region? Is the countryside as beautiful as it is around Siena?

What other suggestions do you have?


Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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Pisa, Lucca and Volterra are all great. Around Lucca is good to stay. Pietrasanta, above La Spezia, is very nice and you would be near the sea, the Cinque Terre, Portofino, Santa Margharita, and Camogli. Genoa would be an easy drive as well (75 minutes I would guess), not to mention Firenze where one never gets bored regardless of the number of visits. Of course a lot of these places are in Liguria, and it's a somewhat different feeling. Otherwise around Montelcino is very beautiful, not to mention the Chianti region. I imagine, though, that you hit those areas as they were close to where you already have been. No shortage of good restaurants, either.

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Norcia is close to Spoleto, Todi, Orvieto correct? What are those towns like? Are they similar in size to Cortona or larger, more like Siena? That area sounds interesting to me and also puts us within a fairly short train trip of Roma which would be nice.

Robert, what is Liguria like? I imagine less hilly, is it farmland, I'm guessing it isn't predominately olive trees and grape vines, or is it. We have been in Emilia Romagna which is much wider open farmland than further south as I recall. You're right, of course, Firenze being close would be something we would take advantage of if we were in the Lucca area. I am not familiar with any of the other towns that you mention except Genoa, I am going to check them out a little.


Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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Norcia is a tiny little jewel of a place. The restaurants and hotels are only so-so, so you might want to daytrip it and stay elsewhere. It is, however, the pork and black truffle capital of Italy, and has more great salumerie per capita than any place on earth! Go around lunchtime, buy some bread, and load up on the local pork products. "Nostrano" is the only assurance of quality that you will need. In 1997, we were based in Lucca, but bored with our area, so we took a circular road trip through Tuscany and Umbria, hitting all of the Tuscan hill towns, Orvieto, Asissi, Norcia, Lake Trasimeno and a host of other places. A gluttonous friend and I hit the butchers in Norcia, and bought about a hundred pounds of stuff, forgetting that we were going to be living out of hotels for five days. I can still recall one butcher shop where they had a glass-enclosed room behind the counter that resembled nothing so much as an operating room in a hospital. In the distance, three butchers could be seen in clean white coats, consulting over a piece of pork. We bought so much stuff that the owner came out of surgery to see us off personally. I remember my friend extending his hand, which was politely refused by the butcher, since he had been touching meat. He did, however, make a fist, and brush my friend's hand with the back of it, in a kind of Italian "soul" handshake. We still refer to it as the butcher's handshake. Last thing-Norcia is so famous that the best pork butchers throughout Italy are referred to (or refer to themselves) as "norcini", indicating a level of mastery many levels above the norm. That being said, since you have already done Tuscany, I suggest that you consider Piemonte and Liguria, rather than doing the Tuscan villa thing a second time. The food and wine are a whole hell of a lot better, and if you enjoy exploring small towns, both have much to offer, plus Torino and Genova, Italy's two greatest unsung towns! You can camp out among the vineyards of Barolo or Barbaresco, and daytrip or overnight to places like Portofino, Santa Margherita, Rappallo, Ravenna, Camogli, the list goes on and on. And even Pisa and Firenze, with Roma a 5 1/2-hour Eurostar ride away. The cheese focaccia of Recco alone will justify the entire trip! Likewise, you can drive an hour east to the French Alps, or two hours north to Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn or Lake Orta (the smallest and most beautiful of the Italian lakes). Egg him on, Robert! You know I'm right!


Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I think Orvieto is wonderful, beautiful, and splendidly central to just about everything. I would stay there in a heartbeat upon returning to Italy. It has a much more open feeling than Siena (I don't mean the people, I mean the sky), and it's not too big. Additionally, it is one of the "slow cities" in Italy who are attempting to limit traffic into the city by having tourists park elsewhere and shuttle in.

A friend stayed in Orvieto to avoid staying in Rome (so expensive and loud!). They took the train in every morning, planned their day on the train, and then came back to a cheap, quiet hotel every night. The train ride is about an hour, she said.

Umbria intrigues me as well.

Get a free (gorgeous, huge) catalog from Parker Villas, and read up. Mine just came in the mail, and I'm already looking into it for next year.

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What are Lucca, Volterra and Pisa like?

I've never been to Volterra.

Lucca is pleasant. No single thing in the city is spectacular, but the combination of various nice things adds up. And it's known for good food.

Pisa has one spectacular piazza (the Campo dei Miracoli, with the Camposanto, the Duomo, the Baptistery, and - last and least among that bunch!!! - the Tower) and at least one other beautiful building (Santa Maria della Spina, which I've seen only from a passing bus), but it's otherwise a rather drab and kind of ugly town. It was heavily damaged in WW II and had to be substantially rebuilt.

(Caveat: I haven't been to either Lucca or Pisa since 1991.)

I found Spoleto pleasant when I was there in August of 1994, but that's high season for Italian tourists, and it's actually pretty hot then (though bearable compared to Florence and Rome, where most of the tourists come from). I visited some mountains near Nocera Umbra, I think, which were downright cool.

One idea no-one's mentioned yet is the area of the Marche near Gubbio (ergo, near Umbria). The cave at Frascassi (I think that's the right spelling) is one of the most spectacular I've ever seen, and the landscape near there is full of striking mountains with caves.

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My girlfriend and I stayed in Lucca in July and fell in love with it. (Probably the fact that we got engaged there had something to do with that, but still...) Although there are tourists around, you do get a sense of local people going about their daily business. It's a small city and you could probably "do" it all in two or three days--if you walk slowly--but it also has some great restaurants. (I'd recommend the Buca di Sant'Antonio for dinner and taking a big picnic up onto the city walls for lunch.) It's also a great base for exploring places to the north like Barga and the Garfagnana and it's a fairly short train ride to Pisa, the coast and Firenze, if that takes your fancy.

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Seeing the tower of Pisa was an awesome experience—in context (Campo dei Miracoli), it's just staggeringly beautiful. It's definitely worth a visit.

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Bill, you sure do know how I share your love of Piemonte. For these folks, I would think they would have to rent there since anyone who rents a house for two weeks doesn't want to take a double hit of paying for both a house and a hotel on the same day. I also find Piemonte very long on gastronomy, but short on art and culture once you have explored Torino there is not a lot of major sites to see. (Great for discount shopping, however). I still like my suggesstion of around Lucca/Viareggio (I mistakenly put Pietrasanta in the wrong place; it's above Forte dei Marmi). They would also be near the great Gambero Rosso in San Vincenzo and Porto Ercole, which is fun to bum around in.

By the way, how are the truffles shaping up?

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No good news on the truffles. Local wisdom holds that significant rain, very soon, could change the outcome, but otherwise, a few puny and very expensive truffles is the prognosis...


Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I am narrowing it down. I think that either a place in the Orvieto-Todi-Spoleto area is one option. Norcia sounds great, and I remember that story about all pork butchers being called Norcini now that you bring it up. I think we would be close enough to daytrip it from Todi area, and we would have a house and wouldn't have to haul our salame throughout Italy with us.

The other choice would be in the Lucca area, and be close enough to Cinque Terre to go up there, but also be able to hit Firenze, Volterra etc.

I would love to spend more time in Piemonte, but I think it isn't this trip. We actually went through there very briefly on our first trip to Europe in 1984. We stayed one night, I think in Alba, and had one of the most wonderful and memorable meals of my life at Da Guido. We were young with almost no Italian, and we had been in Italy long enough to know that we hadn't gotten to the Primi Piatti until we had had a pasta course. Course after course of incredible food kept coming out of the kitchen, but still no pasta yet. Finally, about the 8th course was a great ravioli dish, and we still had about 3 more courses after that! My other memory of that meal was a sorbet course with a flavor that both my wife and I recognized, but couldn't place. Papa was desperately trying to answer our question about the flavor, with little language overlap between us, until he finally came out of the kitchen with a huge handful of fresh sage.

It was an experience I won't forget, I've been following the thread on the Alciati family with fond memories and anticipation of a new meal sometime in the future.


Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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We spent a few days in Norcia on our last trip, and while we loved it and will return, it’s not the best place for making day trips to the rest of Umbria. Norcia is up in the mountains, and the drive, while not particularly long, involves many kilometers of narrow, winding road. I think one of the smaller towns in the Val d’Umbria would be a better choice if you choose to be in this part of Italy. We also stayed in Spello and liked it very much.

We have business connections in western Tuscany (about 30 kms SE of Pisa) and spend a lot of time there. It’s not as overrun with tourists as the area around Siena, but close enough to most of Tuscany to make a nice base. We’ll drive to Volterra or San Gimignano, over to the coast (it’s about 90 minutes to Cinque Terra), or north to Lucca. For day trips into Florence, we park in Pontedera and take the train so we can avoid the hassles of driving in the city.

You can also take longer excursions into the Maremma, the area of southwestern Tuscany around Grossetto. There are some nice natural areas around there, including a strip of sandy beach that’s been called “the only unspoiled beach in Italy.”

Jim


olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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I would second Jim's observation about Norcia. If you're lucky enough to get a sunny day, the drive to Norcia is beautiful, but long because of the limited access roads. It's worth one night. I'll get back to you with the name of the very good place where we stayed and dined.

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I'd give it more than a day...maybe 2-3. That gives you time to drive up Castelluccio, home of the world's best lentils and called, in one guidebook, the only town in Umbria with no pretense to charm. The inhabitants have a tradition of publicly airing disputes by whitewashing insults on the walls of their homes. A quick google found this siteewith some photos. It's definitely worth a day.

The hotel of choice in Norcia is the Grotta Azzurra. The best rooms are on the top floor with balconies that look out over the piazza. The hotel restaurant is quite good with lots of Umbrian style grilled meats and, of course, salumi.

Jim


olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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Seeing the tower of Pisa was an awesome experience—in context (Campo dei Miracoli), it's just staggeringly beautiful. It's definitely worth a visit.

Plus you get to take the picture of your SO holding up the Tower (or pushing it over).


I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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