Saturday, July 9, 2016

A room with a view 1 (Montefalco, Umbria: June 2016)

25.6 Montefalco

Trains are running and we are so anxious to get to Montefalco that we share a taxi from Foligno with a German backpacker, rather than wait an hour for a bus that may not even run on a Saturday …

Casa Caterini is lovely! A cool, spacious apartment on the edge of the old town, with a fabulous view from the kitchen/living room. There is a giant crane in the middle just now, but it still looks fine! Montefalco is small, neat and charming, just a bit of the tourist ‘theme park’ about its medieval prettiness, but the main industries are olive oil and wine – represented by a plethora of olio e vino shops, and almost as many as churches!

My cold is really bad now, so we chill out in the apartment until afternoon, then check out the town. A beautiful central piazza with roads radiating like spokes to the edge of the old town, just a few minutes walk in any direction. Each road has a gate, and at least two churches. We get provisions at the local alimentare artisanale (bread, olives, anchovies, mozzarella bufala, pork fillet, veggies and fruit. And local wine at the enoteca next door – Montefalco Rosso and Montefalco Bianco. At the ‘tourist office’ aka wine promotion bureau, there is no good news re weekend buses (most buses run only on school days), so we won’t be visiting any nearby villages. But the advisor tells us that there will be a festa with wine-tasting in the piazza tonight!

View from our apartment - crane dangling
Montefalco laneway
Montefalco laneway 2
As we wander, the weather turns blustery, and there is thunder – from the high vantage point we can see the rain blowing in. The party being set up on the piazza, as well as the umbrellas of the cafes and restaurants, are dragged under cover or covered with tarps, and the decorations dance madly in the wind. We escape to the Church/Museum, where apparently we are just in time for a presentation of an artistic nature. Seems that they are desperate for an audience so we are herded in! We explore the underground museum, set in a medieval basement winecellar, and filled with archeological artefacts and medieval winemaking machinery that resembles torture equipment. But as the presentation (which will be entirely in Italian) is about to begin we make our escape … to the Chiesa di San Francisco, to see the Gozzoli frescoes and the Perugino Nativity. It’s full of chairs – another performance about to begin. It’s a three-piece string ensemble playing classical music interspersed with poetry reading (in Italian of course!). A beautiful way to wait out the rain as I snuffle into my tissues.

Home then, for a brief rest, and cook a fabulous dinner of pan-fried pork fillet topped with eggplant and white anchovy, with olive and white wine sauce. The eggplant is light purple and round, and has a firm, meaty texture. Yum! Then back to town for (hopefully) the festa.

So the Aperitiva and Candlelight dinner parts of the festa may have been slightly washed out, but when we arrive back just after nine, a few dozen hardy souls are sitting in the piazza, some sipping wine, and the band is playing some fairly tasteful rock covers. We buy a ticket to the wine-tasting and settle in. (The wine-tasting works out well – at 7 euros for 4 tastes it sounds pricy, but I get to have 6 tastes, including four expensive sagrantinos, and share them with Chris. They are delicious!).

Windblown decorations in the piazza
String ensemble in St Francis church
Band playing for the festa, and display of classic Italian scooters
Poster for the Festa
 Meanwhile, the crowd builds – by 10 o’clock it is a beautiful evening and all seats are full. By 11 it’s packed with people of all ages, from young children to great grandmothers. Very few are smoking, a few more are drinking in the restaurants, or wine-tasting, but mostly – just being there. The piazza is becoming covered in chalk messages, one of the festa activities. What a treat this is! Home late, in spite of my cold, and fall into bed.
[We find out later, from seeing a poster, about the festa theme: The Night of Desires’, all about love. The music we saw was a performance of the Umbria Ensemble (plus a reader) of Beethoven’s music and love letters. The chalk is for writing messages of love. The finale at midnight was the release of balloons, and couples all sharing a kiss. Italian speakers amongst you can translate the poster!]

26.6 Montefalco

Still feeling awful, shouldn’t have had a late night, but how could I not! Travel is full of missed opportunities, and occasionally a serendipitous hit. Our host comes by for payment, and when he finds out that the pharmacy is closed, brings me paracetamol and cold medication – what an angel!
Today, I thought I might walk to Bevagna (7km only), in the absence of buses, but am not well enough, so we meander slowly around the town to see if we can manage to see ALL the churches. If I must be ill, it’s not a bad place to be, we can wander for an hour or two, then go home to nap. The town itself, and the churches, are lovely, and (the churches) very individual, from large and elaborately decorated (St Francis) to very plain and modest. All are living churches. Home for lunch, we have grilled veg with mozzarella, and a glass of wine.

Perugino nativity at St Francis church
A modest chapel
Relic - body of a Spanish pilgrim
The local restaurant menus look enticing (rabbit! pigeon!), so we decide to eat out for dinner. We book at L’Alchemista on the piazza, then wander to ‘the edge’ with a bottle of wine for an informal ‘aperitivo’. Again a storm blows in! it reminds me of Sydney summer – hot, humid day, then brief thundery change clearing the air. It actually hails as we shelter under a large pine tree.

At L’Alchemista the food is very good, but service lacking. Gnocchi with sagrantino sauce is plain but tasty, pigeon served four ways (roast leg, stuffed breast, sausage and pate) is delicious and exactly the kind of laborious dish that one eats out for. Grilled veg accompaniment is fine (I especially like the charred fennel) but – no condiments, water is forgotten, we have to ask twice for the bill.

On the edge ... of town
Storm blowing in 

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