Umbria

This is Castelluccio di Norcia

IMG_1259I tell ya.  There are some beautiful places on this planet.  Some of which look like belong to another planet.  I can think of some parts in south Utah like Lake Powell, and Horseshoe Bend in Arizona that look like something you may see in science fiction movies.  The common theme is usually color.  And if you come at the right time to this part of Umbria you might just see every color imaginable.  If you come at the wrong time as we did, its spectacular, still.

Castelluccio is where beautiful mother nature meets cruel mother nature.  It is perched dramatically on a hill in the middle of a large plateau surrounded by the Sibillini mountains.  On October 30, 2016 Castelluccio was the epicenter of a 6.6 earthquake that decimated the village.  Eight months later the famous wild flowers that surround the village were back.  And once the roads opened about a year after that, the tourists started to come back as well.IMG_1276

So when is the best time you ask?  Sometime between end of May and beginning of July.  Its something that is not possible to time properly.  We came in the second week of June and the colors were not quite as robust as the pictures we’ve seen.  Notice the before and after of Castelluccio (Google it).  Although destroyed, its still stunning due to its position.  Today you can drive up, enjoy a meal, or do what we did.  A picnic of Salami e Pecorino overlooking the mesmerizing back plateau, following the herd of sheep.  The feeling of being in the middle of the devastation you heard about years ago, while surrounded by this landscape is indescribable.

You will most likely pass Norcia on the way, which also got severely damaged during the earthquake.  One of its main attractions, the Basilica of St. Benedict, totally destroyed.  What remain is the facade facing the statue of St. Benedict, still standing, all defiant in the middle of the square.  The city was a ghost town when we popped in.  Many stores, and restaurants closed, or relocated after the quake. IMG_1296

The Norcia pork butchers are so famous, they are called Norcino across Italy, and their shops are Norcinerias.  They are the Culatello of Pork butchers.  Inside a typical Norcineria you’ll find cured meats galore including Grandpas balls, Palle del Nonno.  The Italians call them like they see em, although Grandpas balls seem a lot larger than mules balls, Coglioni di Mulo for some reason.  Be careful when slicing them.

On the way to the flower fields, pass by Antica Norcineria F.lli Ansuini for some picnic supplies including bread.  Or better yet get it from the store with the same name inside Norcia.  Although same name, they dont seem related somehow.  Like twins that are not in speaking terms.  Then stop by at Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia di Arianna Verucci for your chocolate needs and perhaps a tour of their facility as we did.  But if you prefer to sit down for lunch, reliable sources told me to head to Agriturismo il Casale degli Amici just outside Norcia.  A day trip to this area in the summer is memorable to say the least.

 

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Antiche Sere (Bevagna) – Sons of Anarchy

Antiche Sere chickpea soupIf you walk around the village of Bevagna in Umbria looking for a place to eat, Antiche Sere might be the last place you’ll pick.  Sort of like picking Thai food in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.  I think my group was hoping I made a mistake when we finally reached it.  “Are you positive this is it?  From the parking lot we passed more inviting places.  Like, all of them.  And there are about 10 spots higher on Trip Advisor in a town with 11 restaurants”.  They said none of this out loud of course.  They trust me and learned to follow me like the sheep in the anarchist logo surrounding the “A” in Antiche.

The software engineer in me looks at it with the following logic.  The people of Umbria (Umbri? Umbrianos?  I like Umbrianos) I’m told rarely go out to eat.  Holidays, special occasions, thats just about it.  Thats because most of the restaurants mostly serve the same traditional dishes that that residents make at home.  So the restaurants in little villages like Bevagna have to rely on us tourists to a large extent.  And like in a Las Vegas bunny ranch, they need to look attractive, and positioned properly to attract customers.  And then you have places like Antiche Sere that just dont give a hoot.  The type that know what they are and gained a following.  They type you target, and not bump into by accident.

Antiche Sere

Antiche Sere LogoThis being my first Umbria post means the end result was quite positive.  One of the most complete meals of a two week trip in fact.  As soon as you walk in, you feel more at ease once you see the funky space.  You walk by a small kitchen where you see the proud anarchist owner washing dishes, so at least you know the dishes will be clean.  And while the anarchist doesnt speak much English it seams, there’s a young friendly Indian waiter that does.

The menu is small.  The first sign that this is gonna be good.  The second sign was that the Porchetta Rabbit I heard about from Wendy from Antonelli winery is on it.  I now have a very warm and fuzzy feeling about this.  The young Anarchist in training told us the specials and we pretty much ordered all of them along with the all important rabbit.

Antiche Sere mushroomStarted with a delicious Chickpeas and clams soup.  Clams from Ancora and local  chickpeas much sturdier and more flavorful than what we are used to (Goya).  This is one of the lone places we encountered in Umbria that gets fresh seafood on occasion.  Panzanella salad with soaked bread, tomato, celery and some very good vinegar was refreshing on a hot day.  Simply grilled beefy local mushrooms.  Eggplant parmigiana was another winner.  And an exceptional oversized cappelletti pasta with cheese and tomato sauce.

But the shining star and best dish of the trip nominee was the rabbit rolled Porchetta style – aka “I cant believe its not Porchetta”.  A dish more common in pricey French joints.  Its incredibly tender and packed with flavor.  One of those signature dishes that may not come up from researching, but from a local.  All washed down with delicious local beer.

Antiche Sere RavioliAntiche Sere Porchetta rabbiit

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