Cancel anytime. Beautifully situated in the medieval heart of Umbria, Assisi is one of the most popular sightseeing and pilgrimage destinations in Italy. Not only does it have a historical center of distinguished monuments, collections of art, and breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside but it sits on the doorstep of the Parco Regionale Monte Subasio Mt.
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Subasio Regional Park. It is also tied with the legacy of its best-known son, St. With its dramatic and diverse coastline—powdery white sands to the north and pebbly, windswept shores to the south—the island of Sicily makes for the perfect road trip for beach lovers. Stay the night in the nearby seaside village of San Vito Lo Capo, then head south towards Trapani the next morning, before cutting an eastbound trail along the coast until you reach Noto.
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Though you can knock the trip out in three days or less, take at least a week to enjoy the journey. Where to stop: Cala Tonnarella in the Zingaro Nature Reserve for its bone-white sand and Bermuda-blue water; the walled medieval town of Erice, for its sweeping birds-eye panoramas over the island; Scala dei Turchi , for its chalk-white cliffs and fiery bronze sands; and Noto , for its breezy seaside charm and Sicilian Baroque architecture.
We especially like the handmade tagliatelle egg pasta, often served with local truffles, or the classic Umbrian meat dishes featuring lamb, rabbit, and squab. Il Vicoletto Via Macelli Vecchi 1 This is a new place which opened up about a year ago and has gained a loyal following pretty quickly among locals and visitors, despite being tucked into a nearly hidden pedestrian back alley just off the main Piazza del Comune.
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The decor is a little fussy for my taste, and the service slightly formal for the space with its exposed stone walls and vaulted ceilings. That said, they do serve fish and seafood, which is not common in this landlocked region, and the location guarantees a quiet respite when the crowds take over restaurants with more foot traffic.
If Piazzetta is booked and you want something more gourmet than Terra Chiama, this is a good option. Our meals here cost about the same as La Piazzetta, though the fish and seafood dishes are a bit more expensive. There is a small deck with a few tables in the summer, which is perfect for a meal overlooking the fountain and the bustling piazza, or cool off indoors in the air-conditioned dining room.
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About a 5 minute walk from Piazza del Comune, I Monaci is informal and family-friendly; they also serve pasta and meat dishes, though we only order pizza when we dine here. Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends — and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic! Welcome back to our long banquet table…come pull up a chair and join in on the conversation! Or retro and grab a Cary Grant classic. Sometimes the obvious solution is also the most satisfying.
A caveat, however: the more posh the farm, the less likely you will be sampling anything beyond their olive oil or perhaps wine.
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If you are looking for an upscale relais with a spa and paved parking lot, this is where you should head. Many agriturismi also offer casual cooking lessons with the family, which is a great way to both sample the farm products and learn some tricks for reproducing the simple yet unforgettable flavors of the Umbrian countryside in your kitchen back home. Even if you prefer to stay in town rather than an agriturismo in the countryside, you can work in a farm visit or two to your itinerary. Here are some good options:. Try the Di Filippo or Scacciadiavoli wineries, which have a good balance between down-home, family hospitality and organized wine tours.
Most have a small fireplace to grill bruschetta, so the newly-pressed oil can be sampled seconds after it drips out of the press. For a list of olive oil farms and mills open to the public, take a look here. There is also an annual open house, Frantoi Aperti , each November with tastings and events. Umbria is the Iowa of Italy, a land where pork reigns supreme and the charcuterie is among the best in the world. Il Secondo Altopiano outside of Orvieto is also known for its amazing artisan goat cheeses, and Walter Facchini near Sigillo in the Monte Cucco Park has a variety of wonderful pecorino sheep cheeses.
A special mention to one of my favorite farms in Umbria, Zafferano e Dintorni , in the breathtaking Valnerina along the Nera river. So, yes, you can definitely go commando and just show up at the farms listed above for a walk around and tastings. You can also often have a farm meal during your visit, or a cooking demonstration or lesson.
I have been sending guests to both for years, and everyone has come away raving about their wonderful experience. Welcome back to our table…come pull up a chair and join in on the conversation. I did my first turn around the block in the US, growing up in the Midwest. Side note: the Weber Dairy building had a big cement milk bottle out front, which was huge when I was three years old. It towered at least 2 stories above my head. Two years ago, I happened to pass the building, now an office complex called The Dairy Center. The milk bottle is still there, but I had to laugh at how small it had become over 40 years.
Even the larger stores were local chains. Our grocery store of choice was Honiotis Bros. We loved The Boston Store, because the name conjured up that sophisticated and exotic city on the East Coast. And then things started to change, and we all know how.
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First it was large supermarket chains that offered unbeatable prices during the recession, then it was newfangled malls that replaced the main streets for teenagers and adults alike. Not long after, the first big-box stores appeared, funneling business from the locally owned shops, and the vacant storefronts were replaced by national franchises.
None of the businesses I remember from my elementary school years are still around. Franchises and big-box superstores were virtually unknown, and the retail sector was almost exclusively small, family-run businesses. Grocery shopping was divided between the local outdoor market for produce, the dry goods store, the butcher, and the bread shop. Buying a pair of black pants meant stopping in at one or two central emporiums, announcing that you needed black pants, and trying on whatever they brought you from the shelves.
It was more time consuming and less efficient, but also more human and kept residents living in the otherwise inconvenient confines of the town centers. Unfortunately, the same process that tore the fabric of American downtowns twenty years before began taking hold in Italy shortly after my first trip. The convenience and competitive pricing of supermarkets began to squeeze out the tiny markets and food shops, the novelty of the mall trumped the fustiness of historic clothing stores for younger customers, and the powerhouse marketing of national and international franchises crushed local shops.
Though, in my heart of hearts, I long for an Ikea, I also have seen twice! I try to limit my excursions to the mall and the sprawling grocery stores along the highway to dire emergencies, and spend my time and money in the admittedly more expensive but also charmingly timeless shops in the center of Assisi. Case in point: the Piazzetta delle Erbe. I would wake to the friendly squawking of the local ladies bargaining for everything from potatoes and tulips each morning, mixed in with local gossip and good natured ribbing.
The Piazzetta delle Erbe was both market and meeting place, and the small space was crammed with makeshift stands and tables, three-wheeled Apes, or simply stacked crates holding towers of seasonal fruit, vegetables, fresh eggs, ricotta, honey, and anything else these farmwives from the surrounding countryside had to sell that morning. Today, just Novella remains. With enough energy and warmth to fill a piazza, but with just one lone stand of goodies she and her sweet husband Bruno bring in from their farm plot outside of town each morning, Novella holds court from dawn to lunchtime each day.
She is almost never alone, as the local ladies take turns resting on her guest stool to swap news while she tirelessly rearranges buckets of fresh flowers, piles of greens, and crates of fruit. She holds the scales in her hand to weigh purchases, and then always throws in something extra after declaring an often seemingly arbitrary price. It makes be both sad and joyful to see Novella still out there every morning. She knows what each of my sons prefer, and will spend a good five minutes picking the radicchio leaves out of my mixed greens to please them. She will scoff at my selection of tomatoes, tossing them back into the pile and choosing others.
She will pick out a melon with all the gravity of a Antwerp diamantaire, after inquiring about the exact time I plan on serving it. I know it takes me twice as long to buy from Novella, but I love the familiarity of it. I love being grilled by a group of housewives about my menu for the day, and then standing back as they argue amongst themselves about recipes and ingredients. I nod and smile, often feigning exaggerated ignorance just to revel in their animated conversation.
The vast Coop supermarket will be there for years into the future, but one morning soon Novella will be gone, and with her the Piazzetta delle Erbe market. The latter sophisticated and worldly, perennially the star and largely deserving it , but often overwhelming and cold. The former gritty and modest, perennially the second-fiddle and largely resenting it , but often welcoming and warm. Over two centuries ago, Mastro Tommaso di Filippo Muzzi the family still respects the quaint tradition of naming their first-born sons Tommaso or Filippo alternatively by generation set up a small shop in the center of Foligno, producing anise-laced minuta candy, a local specialty since the 15th century.
Thus began years give or take—there was a brief period in the 19th century during which the family dipped their toes in the wine business, but quickly returned to their first love of an un-uninterrupted chain of Tommasos, Filippos, and their extended family, which has gradually expanded the Muzzi line to include cookies and cakes, candy, and—most importantly—a vast array of high quality chocolate. At Muzzi, you drive out to their small factory on the outskirts of Foligno and head into the pretty shop at the front.
You wander through a warren of hallways and offices, each one leading you further into the depths of the building until you find yourself standing in front of the desk of a grandmotherly, soft-spoken, genteel woman who invites you to sit down and spends the next half an hour talking about her three sons and nine grandchildren.
Quotes mine. Only when you look around and notice all the certificates of knighthood and merit, pictures of Popes and presidents, and the benign chaos of stacks upon stacks of papers and documents covering every flat surface do you realize that the Signora Loredana is, in fact, the acting head of the family widow to Tommaso and mother to Filippo and company, and a damn formidable businesswoman, to boot.