Summer #Wanderlust in Italy: Day 4 from Umbrian Hills to Abruzzo's Quaint Towns - Spoleto, Passo San Leonardo, and Pacentro
Oh hello again you! It's Thursday and that's exciting because that means the weekend is almost here and I'm in need of it after a bumpy start to my birthday week with the middle-of-nowhere breakdown of my car! It really made me wish I was still here, perusing the market in Gubbio the morning before we left for Abruzzo. I'm a bit of a lover of markets thanks to my mother who, from when I was really young, took us to the International Marketplace in Honolulu, Hawaii every single night of our two-week-long annual family vacations. I love the theatricality of markets- the chaos, smells of porchetta on a bun mixed with fake leather, the yelling, laughter, and inevitable screams of children wanting something they can't have. Love it all. But Spoleto was waiting for us and we had to make haste in hopes that the weather would hold up.
So here we are in Spoleto, in the province of Perugia where we arrived in time to eat the panini we had bought at the market in Gubbio (because we're thrifty travellers when we need to be!). We had our makeshift picnic in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria dell'Assunta while eavesdropping on our fellow bench-goers who were reciting the history of Spoleto from a guidebook. Being completely un-researched and unprepared, it was a welcome lunchtime treat to hear about the church we were munching in front of! Spoleto, like Gubbio, is another one of those towns that you could spend a couple of days in and never see everything- I counted almost fifteen churches listed on trusty Wikipedia, as well as another fifteen notable historical buildings. Being good tourists, naturally Massi and I focused on the important stuff like taking photos with this female torso sculpture and thinking up comedic captions to go with it (you can imagine some other male tourists had some fun taking lewd photographs, though this is no Nicki Minaj wax figure...).
We spent a great deal of our time in Spoleto at the Rocca Albornoziana fortress which was worth touring- not for the ancient artifacts housed inside, but for the photo-ops around her exterior (the two previous photographs above were taken there). We didn't have long in this town as we needed to make it to Pacentro (Abruzzo) in time for dinner with the rest of Massi's immediate and extended family. Since food trumps everything, we set out on route to Pacentro. Unfortunately, following our GPS and changing the settings to avoid the autostrada (freeway), we ended up doing an impromptu tour through the mountains and coming into Pacentro from above rather than below, if that makes sense. The usual 45 minute journey ended up taking over 2 hours...! However, it afforded us a fleeting sunset in the mountains as we zoomed through Passo San Leonardo 1282 meters above sea level. Between the horses roaming the roads and the "remnants" they left behind, we had to be extra cautious on the motorcycle. It was worth it however, in the end, to be greeted by a steaming hot plate of pasta with fresh tomato sauce when we finally reached Pacentro "slightly" after the dinner hour.
The third day is when we crossed over from the region of Tuscany to the region of Umbria and the scenery became lush green hills and valleys as far as the eye can see. Our first stop of the day was Castiglione del Lago that has been given the distinction as one of the borghi più belli d'Italia. We surprisingly were not overly impressed by this one, having seen villages more deserving in Abruzzo (but Massi might be biased seeing as his mum is from Pacentro). The village is situated within stone walls overlooking Lake Trasimeno; the photograph above is of me sitting in an olive grove in front of the Fortress of the Lion, probably the most notable sight to pay a visit to in the town. We didn't stay too long, just enough to take a few pictures (like this one below where I was so tempted to stop for lunch, the restaurants in Italy are just too darn cute!).
Our next stop would be Cortona, the town made famous by Frances Mayes and her novel (life story)-turned-Hollywood movie: Under the Tuscan Sun. Like all italophiles, I love that movie (and Marcello aka Raoul Bova in his younger, more good-looking days). The town of Cortona also just happens to be the stomping ground of current students in the Faculty of Art from my alma mater, the University of Alberta. My former university has a campus in Cortona and it was neat to wander around and reflect on how many students from my hometown have walked the same streets over the years, lived out the much-idealized summer abroad; how many of them fell in love with Italy right there?
Unfortunately the afternoon started to get hazy and by lunchtime, we knew we were in for a full-blown storm. We did what any reasonable person would do in this situation- ducked into the nearest trattoria to bunker down for a Tuscan lunch and wait out the rain. The area is known for an 'abundance' of truffles, so I indulged in fettucine sprinkled with black truffles while Massi took on a modest 1.3kg of fiorentina steak. Needless to say, by the time he finished, the storm had subsided and we bid arrivederci to Cortona, leaving her beauty in the distance.
We arrived in Gubbio before dinnertime, a distinctly medieval town located at the bottom of Mount Ingino. I feel like I keep repeating the term 'medieval' to describe everything but out of all the towns so far, Gubbio is the most deserving of the description- it has a certain darkness to it, likely due to the presence of dark, grey stone used in most of the buildings, casting shadows on the narrow alleyways and numerous sets of stairs climbing up and down through the town. The architecture is Gothic and we saw only a few of the main sights such as the Roman theater and the Palazzo dei Consoli, both pictured below. Having been chilled by the rain on the back of the motorcycle for most of our journey, I was feeling slightly under the weather for our evening in Gubbio, my insatiable appetite not even making her usual dinnertime appearance. I think you would need a couple of days here to really see all the town has to offer, it's organized very well for tourists, with maps and walking itineraries dotted throughout the historic center. Be prepared to work up a sweat as many of the more popular sights are higher up in the town, as well you can trek up to the church which overlooks Gubbio (seen in the photo below) for a wonderful panorama.
Summer #Wanderlust: Day 2 in Tuscany- Monteriggioni, Montalcino, Montechiello, and Chianciano Terme...
After a prompt wake-up at our camp site due to hoards of children splashing in the pool at 8am, we readied the bike for yet another day touring Tuscany. Our morning stops included Monteriggioni and Montalcino, the latter which I had visited previously about two years ago. Monteriggioni was recommended to us by locals of the area during a bar stop, described enthusiastically as a hilltop medieval town not to be missed. And right they were. It is quite a sight to behold as you drive up being completely flanked on all sides by tall, intimidating, stone walls like something out of a fairy tale. You can pay a small entrance fee to climb up and walk the passageway along the walls which once guarded this city, money well spent as the view of the Tuscan countryside is priceless and you can even test your eyesight to find Siena on the horizon.
Around mid-day we picked up two panini from a little shop in Siena, threw them in our backpack and headed out in search of the perfect picnic spot. We drove a dirt road until we found a clearing lined with cypress trees that just felt like Tuscany should. I could've stayed there all day, soaking up the sun and the sweet aroma of those trees if it were not for our impending next stop of Montalcino.
Personally, I was most excited to head over to Montalcino- knowing that it is the home of my favorite wine (Brunello di Montalcino) and the frequent rival of world renowned Bordeaux. I was just itching for the moment those drops of ruby red would reach my lips, having had quite the memorable introductory experience to this particular wine on a vineyard tour with my mother. By a stoke of luck, we happened to stop there the day the four contrade (quarters) were coming together to take part in an archery contest in the Fortezza which is done in full Medieval costume, opening with a parade through the city. This apparently occurs just twice a year in Montalcino, so traveller's luck really does exist! The first photo below is me with my first glass of a 2010 Brunello (the earliest year available since a true Brunello can only be sold 5 years after the year of harvest, 6 years for it to be called a Riserva).
A glass of Brunello and several cheeses later, it was late afternoon and the air was starting to change. We could smell a storm brewing and the dark grey skies were telling us to get a move on. We decked out in rain gear and directed the bike to Montichiello, a town that literally IS a postcard of Tuscany. You know the postcards with the winding roads lined by cypress trees that immediately come to mind when one thinks of Italy? That photograph was probably taken in and around Montichiello. We had initially wanted to stay in the town but every B&B we knocked on was either full or the owners away on their own vacation. So, only feeling slightly dejected, we spent the night in Chianciano Terme. The best way I can describe this town is as Italy's version of Atlantic City, a once vibrant and booming resort town that has since gone out of fashion, hence the cheap hotel rates. We actually had a very enjoyable evening, having dinner in our hotel with all of the (now 'older') regulars that had started coming to the terme when it was all the rage and never stopped. Check out the photographs below of the roads leading up to and away from Montichiello. Even in the rain, it was simply gorgeous.
Summer #Wanderlust: Day 1 in Tuscany - La Strada del Chianti, San Gimignano, Colle Valle d'Elsa, and Siena...
I'm back "home" in Bergamo, Italy after a whirlwind of a summer vacation around central Italy by motorcycle and then Ireland. I haven't posted anything on the blog the entire trip due to time restrictions (and lack of wi-fi), so I am slowly going to be writing a post for each day or two. I'm not enthused about having to scourge through the 500 photographs we took over the past 14 days, oh how I loathe picking and choosing for the blog! So we left Bergamo in the late morning two Saturdays ago- the sun was scalding and I was not impressed with having to wear a leather jacket and motorcycle gloves, although I was more than pleased with my footwear choice (to the dismay of Massi). The first leg of the trip was not exactly ideal as we basically flew down the autostrada until we reached Florence. For those of you experienced on a motorcycle, highways are not fun- all your effort goes into keeping your head from whipping side-to-side in the wind, so much so that your neck starts killing you after the first fifteen minutes. You can barely look at your surroundings because the slightest deviation of your helmet from parallel to the acceleration of the bike results in bad news bears. Our first stop was for lunch on the Strada del Chianti. We devoured a panino made on the spot with fresh bread and freshly-cut mortadella with pistachios (my favourite), cruised a little more, and then took this shot that you see above, distinctly Tuscany wouldn't you say?
By this time, it was already getting to be late afternoon so we decided to take the obligatory gelato stop at San Gimignano (called the Manhattan of the Medieval times due to the abundance of towers). I had never been before, however had heard of it's famed gelateria located its main piazza after having read about it numerous times at Cows Ice Cream in Banff, Alberta. Most recently, the gelateria hasn't won back its coveted "best gelato in the world' title, but its claim to fame is the awards it won in 2006/2007 and 2008/2009. A highly recommended pit-stop for anyone doing a tour of Tuscany, I enjoyed walking through the town as much as I enjoyed the gelato. We left about after an hour or so meandering up and down and around San Gimignano. The ride through the Tuscan countryside as the sun started setting was magical, honestly, you haven't lived until you've experienced these winding backroads through vineyards at dusk. The light is golden and it casts a spell on the entire Tuscan landscape, the air is warm and sweet, as only it can be during an Italian summer. I've tried to capture it for you in third photograph above, however, I think I've tried in vain. We were making our way to Siena where we were to spend the night when we passed Colle Valle d'Elsa (pictured below) and were compelled to stop for dinner. It is a town much like Bergamo, albeit smaller, surrounded by medieval stone walls. It was here that we had a wonderful stroke of traveller's luck when we found ourselves walking through ancient underground passageways that eventually took us to dinner. Again, definitely worth a stop if you're in the area. There's also an insanely quaint restaurant atop the gates leading into the city, although we opted to venture inside the walls for our meal of pizza and beer. Another 30 minutes later, our heads were hitting the pillows in a camping site just outside of Siena, in total and utter exhaustion (being a bit virginal at this touring on a motorcycle thing!). And so concluded our first day on the road, on our way to Abruzzo.
Ciao a tutti! First off, today is the last day before unofficial summer vacation for practically all of Italy. Not sure if you knew this, but in August, the majority of Italian companies shut down to allow for their employees to head out to the sea and basically live the dolce vita that Italy is so famous for. In the past, this used to be even a month long, nowadays, the standard is usually 2 to 3 weeks but hey, who can complain about that?! This whole concept has evolved around this time of year as August 15th is Ferragosto, an Italian and Sammarinese public holiday coinciding with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary (yup, that's straight from Wikipedia but let's pretend I knew it off the top of my head). We are so stoked to be headed off on the motorcycle starting tomorrow so make sure to follow the Instagram feed (@questadolcevita) for immediate updates on where we are. First stop>>>SIENA!
Second thing on my agenda today is to share with you a new blog that suggests wanderlust might just run in the family. My cousin Allison and her boyfriend Chris are both born-and-raised Edmontonians (actually I'm not 100% sure about the boyfriend but meh!) just like me and attended the University of Alberta, graduating with degrees in something that requires you to be exceptionally smart. They then behaved like most normal, logical human beings, working and saving until they decided to quit their jobs and head out on the open road for an EPIC AROUND THE WORLD trip which will eventually see them to Australia. I can't help but be overly enthused about this because of 2 reasons. First reason is that is means I'm not the only crazy person in my family and second reason because they are visiting places I've never been which means I get to indulge in that 'living vicariously' thing through their blog. The blog is called 2Peas, find it here. I will now leave ya'll a little blurb from their "About Us" page:
Hey! This is our blog! It’s called 2peas.ca because we’re from Canada and also a little bit attached at the hip (that is, until one of us murders the other for being too annoying). I’m not going to write anything whimsical here about “leaving the daily grind” or “discovering yourself” because I think you’ve heard it all before. I do enjoy cheesy couple photos though, so here are a bunch. I’m sorry about that. But not really.
Anyways, I’m Allison and I like to program things. Christopher doesn’t know what he likes to do. If you’re here you probably already know that since we’re not cool enough to have readers that aren’t our friends or family (YET). We’re on the road and writing this blog to document stuff so people (Hi Mom!) know we haven’t died. Enjoy!
Drop us a line at email@example.com
BUONE FERIE A TUTTI!!!
See you in Siena, then Montalcino, then Montepulciano, then Gubbio....and the rest is to be announced. (Notice how all these places have amazing wine? Strategy friends, strategy).
My good friend Sunmi created this video three years ago based on three weeks spent studying abroad on the Italian island of Ischia, in the town of Forio. At my alma mater, the University of Alberta, the Faculty of Pharmacy offers a course taught in Italy to its third year pharmacy students. This little film was used as a promotional video for upcoming years after us but I thought I'd share it here on the blog since it gives a cute, "interactive" view of an island that is normally overlooked in favor of more well-known names such as Capri. The commentary is by Sunmi.
As you know, I've been lamenting about the fact that we are drowning in vegetables from our garden because we can't seem to eat them fast enough! So this is not exactly a typical recipe post in the sense that I just wanted to use it to explain how you can improvise pasta dishes in the blink of an eye with just a few ingredients. In the photo above, I had three key ingredients that I needed to "get rid" of- cherry tomatoes (or pomodorini, little tomatoes, in Italian), zucchini, and homemade pancetta. To make a sauce, I threw some chopped garlic in olive oil, cut the cherry tomatoes and threw those, added about a handful of pancetta and a swirl of white wine. After a couple minutes when everything was nice and soft and the juices had left the cherry tomatoes, I added the zucchini. If you prefer a thicker sauce, you can add a dusting of flour, stir it in, and it will thicken. And voilà...you have a lovely, summery sauce to put on your pasta.
I had never heard of Wayn (Where Are You Now?) when I was contacted to be part of their Persona Programme which aims to profile awesome, travel junkies (I'm evidently a very awesome junkie) in order to inspire the entire social network community which is made up of travellers and wannabe travellers. It's a networking site much like a Pinterest/Facebook hybrid, however with travel and wanderlust being the primary focus. The idea was born when a couple of guys were backpacking and essentially imagined a way in which like-minded people could connect based on location and as such, share tips and travel experiences along the way. Anyways, it's a neat initiative and according to recent stats, the website boasts over 22 million users worldwide.
Check out my profile here: http://www.wayn.com/profiles/Jasmine-Mah.
I've also uploaded a myriad of globe-trotting photos, some from when I had blonde hair (yikes!), as well, you can see videos of one of my all-time favourite travel moments- when I went bungee jumping on the border of Tibet and Nepal at the longest natural free-fall site in the world!
Want to be part of the Persona Programme crew?
Head over to the website and Tell them about the amazing things you are doing by completing THIS SHORT SURVEY, and you could be next.
International love stories are way more common than I would have ever imagined. I think this is because in Italy, I've been acutely more "in-touch" with the expat community and the inevitable reasons why they are here (the overwhelming response is per amore). Isn't that lovely? Just the thought immediately warms my heart. I wish I could recount all the amazing stories I've heard since moving to Italy, they all belong in books to be read by future generations in those rare instances when you lose faith in love.
I admit that I always dreamed of a love without borders, the kind that you read about in the travel literature section. Forged between two countries and two languages, a sophisticated, wrenching kind of jet-set relationship emerges whether you wanted it or not. Happy moments captured all over the world also fail to convey the hardships of leaving...leaving each other, leaving family and friends, leaving jobs, leaving home to build another. It's the crazy, stupid love that does it you know. Massi and I have been living our crazy, stupid love story for 7 years now (as Facebook reminded me) and so here are some of our very worldly moments- can you guess where we are in each of them? Also, if you have an international love story to share, please do! Leave it in the comments or e-mail yours truly! x
Last Saturday, Massi and I took the morning and good part of the afternoon to do a whirlwind trip around Lake Como, passing through Lecco, Varenna, and eventually scaling up the mountainside back to Passo San Marco and returning to Bergamo through San Pellegrino. I'm not actually going to list various reasons George Clooney (and now Amal) can be found gallivanting around the Lake Como area in the summers, I think it's pretty obvious- it's gorgeous. As well, being by the lake takes away some of the intense heat due to the cool breeze coming off the water, so the temperature is just perfect. On the way to Varenna, we stopped at a lakeside bar with the most darling terrace, characteristically covered in vines and furnished with wrought iron tables and chairs. It was the perfect pit-stop to enjoy the lake and indulge in my newest obsession- Lugana white wine (am I late on this bandwagon? It's the ideal summer white wine, not too sweet, not too dry...so refreshing!). Lunch was had, instead, up in the mountains at Osteria Ortesida. We had the pizzoccheri, perhaps the most famous dish from that area of the valley which is basically like an extremely sophisticated version of mac&cheese in the sense that it's a pasta dish with melted local cheeses, potatoes, and this time there was also cabbage. On the way up to Passo San Marco, we decided to take a little afternoon snooze on the mountainside. I felt like I was somewhere in Middle Earth, or Ireland. Ok, I've never been to Ireland but for some reason I imagine it to be like the photos you'll see below...Lots coming up in questa dolce vita since starting August 8th, all of Italy, including yours truly, goes on vacation for the famed Ferragosto "holiday" and Massi and I will be taking you all on a motorcycle tour of Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo, and Le Marche before we head out to Ireland for a fabulous Canadian/Irish wedding where I will be sure to Instagram (the venue is a CASTLE!)....Where are ya'll headed for summer vacation?
Search the blog:
(I suggest "Italian Men" or "wine" but that's just me!)
Jasmine is a former pharmacist turned writer and wine drinker from Alberta, Canada living "the sweet life" in Bergamo, Italy.
Read the fan-favorites
(click and scroll down):