Thursday, September 21, 2017

Perugia: Gallerie Nazionale & Al Mangiar Bene

The capital of Umbria, Perugia is a spectacular and enchanting hilltop town with a compact historic centre and rambling maze of charming medieval streets, exceptional museums and unique archeological treasures. Overlooking the verdant Tiber Valley, the city was originally founded by the Etruscans, but walking through the city one also feels the strong imprint of Roman, Medieval and Renaissance influences, testimony to the historical, artistic and cultural wealth of Perugia's unique rich and colourful past. At the centre of Perugia is Piazza IV Novembre, considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. Surrounded by the Palazzo dei Priori and the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, the heart of Piazza IV Novembre is actually Fontana Maggiore, a beautiful medieval fountain that was built in the 12th century, which brought water to the town from Mount Pacciano through an extensive aqueduct, an astounding feat of its time. The fountain is composed of two marble polygonal basins, representing biblical, secular and mythological motifs, and one of the best examples of Gothic art found anywhere in Italy. On the other side of the square is the Palazzo dei Priori, which houses the National Gallery of Umbria, the most richest and most important art collections in Umbria, including masterpieces from the Middle Ages and Renaissance with works by Arnolfo di Cambio, Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Duccio di Boninsegna, Gentile da Fabriano, Beato Angelico, and Piero della Francesca, with considerable amount of space dedicated to the Umbrian artists Benedetto Bonfigli, Bartolomeo Caporali, Fiorenzo di Lorenzo and especially renowned paintings by local favourite Perugino, who famously taught Raphael.

Statue Of Pope Julius III by Vincenzo Danti dating from 1555 outside Perugia's Duomo, 
the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo

Overlooking Piazza IV Novembre is Perugia's stark Medieval cathedral with handsome Baroque portal by Pietro Carattoli, although the main facade was never completed

The interior however is late Gothic and lavishly ornate, contrary to the humble exterior

The altarpiece by Signorelli 

The sacristy with a cycle of paintings of the Martirio di San Lorenzo by Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi (1573-76), an extraordinary example of illusionist baroque painting

Fontana Maggiore, the beautiful medieval fountain that was built in the 12th century, and brought water to the town from Mount Pacciano through an extensive aqueduct

Sandri Pasticceria on Corso Vannucci has been around since 1860

The servers still wear formal attire and make the best cappuccinos in Perugia

My cappuccino breakfast before heading into the Gallerie Nazionale

Entrance to the National Gallery of Umbria with the richest and most important 
art collections in Umbria, housed in the Palazzo dei Priori

Painted wood Medieval processional cross from 1272 by Maestro di San Francesco

Politico di Sant'Antonio from 1467 by Piero della Francesca

Pala di Santa Maria dei Servi by Perugino from 1473

Pala Opistografa di Monteripido by Perugino from 1502

Sant'Agata by Lello da Velletri from 1427

Scomparti di Trittico by Maestro di Paciano from 1330

Nativita della Vergine by Pietro Berrettini from 1643

Detail of Presentazione della Vergine al Tempio by Luigi Pellegrino Scaramuccia from 1680

Saint Gilles du Gard by Pierre Subleyras from 1700

Special exhibition of paintings at the exquisite Collegio del Cambio, next door to the National Gallery

The sumptuous interior of the Audience Hall of the Cambio College in Perugia was the main salon of the local exchange office with a cycle of frescoes painted by Pietro Perugino at the apex of his career

Perugino's gorgeous frescoes adorn the walls and the ceilings of the Cambio

Cafés and outdoor restaurants along Corso Vannucci

Emerging from a a full morning feasting on the artistic and cultural treasures of the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria and Collegio di Cambio, it was time to nurture our other senses and made our way to Al Mangiar Bene. Tucked down a narrow alley, this subterranean restaurant sources nearly all its ingredients locally from organic suppliers, from its pasta flour to the tender cuts of beef, thinly sliced and served with rocket or truffle. Pizza and calzone are baked in a hearth-like brick oven. Even the beer and wines are organic. Just a couple of minutes walk west of the main Corso, Al Mangiar Bene occupies part of an historic medieval building, with old stone walls and impressive brick vaulted ceiling. The décor is charming with simple wooden tables and chairs, but the food is carefully and skillfully prepared. They’re proud of their local wines and microbrewery beers and of their locally sourced ingredients, listed on the back of each menu. Dishes are mostly Umbrian, with the odd regional excursion such as their version of Rome’s cacio e pepe pasta, and in the evening one can order pizza from the wood-fired oven. 

Entrance to Ristorane al Mangiar Bene through the Medieval archway of Via della Luna

Tucked away down a steep walkway through old covered archways leads to Al Mangiar Bene

The Medieval-era entrance to the restaurant

With with old stone walls and impressive brick vaulted ceiling, the décor is charming with simple wooden tables and chairs, but the food is known for its traditional Umbrian cuisine

The menu features local charcuterie, handmade pasta and locally sourced produce,
with a list of suppliers highlighted on each page

Lovely squishy fresh baked bread

A carafe of Sagrantino di Montefalco

Insalate di Caprese

Insalata Mista

Umbricelli al Sugo di Cinghiale 

Rigatoni alla Norcina with homemade pasta, sausage, and salsa tartufata

Braciola di Maiale con patate fritte e chiccoria

Tagliata con Rosmarino e sale


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Todi: Piazza del Popolo & Ristorante Umbria

One of Umbria's most beautiful hill towns, Todi is perched high up in the mountains with spectacular views in every direction. Reached by an exciting drive through winding roads and hairpin turns, this ancient city is a true delight. Described as one of the 'most liveable towns in the world', Todi has retained much of the original features and charming character of the town's diverse historical periods in the face of passing time. Like rings around a tree, Todi's history can be read in layers. With a rich history dating back to around 1300 BC, Todi was settled by the Umbri, an ancient pre-Etruscan people who gave it the name Tudere. According to legend, one night the new conquerors were eating their meal which was placed on a red cloth, when suddenly an eagle descended upon them, seized the cloth with its talons and flew away, dropping it high up in the hills. This was interpreted as a divine sign, and the new town was built exactly where the eagle had shown. Tudere later became absorbed by the Romans in the 1st century BC, expelling the Etruscans from their new land, and the town became known as Todi. 

Roman rule is still evident in many of Todi's architectural features, as are many of the town's Mediaeval buildings that were developed during the 13th century, such as The Piazza del Popolo, one of Italy 's most beautiful medieval squares and Todi's Duomo, the 12th century Cathedral of Santa Annunziata, which sits at one end of the square built on the ruins an ancient pagan temple. The simple facade is approached by a broad sweep of stairs that lead up to magnificent wood carved doors. Looking back, the Duomo commands an impressive view over the sunny Piazza, which is where we enjoyed an early morning cappuccino and pastry at a lovely Gran Caffé Serrani as we watched the town setting up for the annual 'White Night Festival' in the Piazza del Popolo. We then visited the Pinacoteca Civic Museum on the top floor of the Palazzo del Capitano, and is organised into into various sections recounting the thousand-year history of the city of Todi. 

Parking at the foot of Todi, we took advantage of the funicular 
that took us up very close to the historic centre

View of Todi from a park where the funicular dropped us 

The 12th century Cathedral of Santa Annunziata sits at one end of the Piazza del Popolo, 
and was built on the ruins an ancient pagan temple

The central portal in wood has a double door made by Antonio Bencivenni in 1521

Fresco by Ferraù Fenzoni in 1596 depicting the Last Judgment, 
inspired by Michelangelo's treatment of the same subject in the Sistine Chapel

This is the end of time, the beginning of eternity when some are taken to heaven and others cast into the unending torments of hell!

On the eve of Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida, I lit a candle at this shrine and prayed in my little way for my parent's home on Longboat Key to escape the storms wrath

Beautiful chandelier in the Duomo representing the symbol of Todi - the eagle 

View from the Duomo over the Piazza with many tables being set up for Todi's 'White Night' event in front of the Palazzo del Priore, Palazzo del Popolo and Palazzo del Capitano

The Palazzo del Popolo and Palazzo del Capitano houses the Pinacoteca Civic Museum which tells the thousand-year history of the city of Todi

Antique map of Todi

Madonna col Bambino e i Santi Cassiano, Fortunato, Bernardino da Siena, Callisto e Sebastiano by Andrea Polinori from Todi (1586-1648)

Antique bronze balls used to cast secret votes for clergy in Todi

Etruscan elongated bronze votive figures about 4th-century BC

Entrance to Ristorante Umbria

A symbol of culinary excellence and custodian of the traditions of the real tuderte cuisine, Michelin-starred Ristorante Umbria is the finest restaurant in Todi, and the oldest. After visiting the Duomo and San Fortunate, we wandered through the steeply winding streets that lead to small hidden entrance of Ristorante Umbria. With reservations made months earlier, we had a beautiful table waiting on the gorgeous outdoor terrace with spectacular views over the Tiber valley. Started by Sabatino Todini and his wife Ida over 60 years ago on a small farm located on the site of the restaurant where they used to sell wine in bulk, the property was slowly transformed into the beautiful gastronomic paradise we enjoy today. With a menu highlighting regional recipes and traditional Tuderte cuisine, we enjoyed a glorious lunch of local delicacies beginning with a glass of Prosecco and finishing with a bottle of dark and delicious Sagrantino di Montefalco. Fortified with a sumptuous lunch and hot frothy macchiato, we wound our way back on the hairpin turns of SS448 through Parco Fluviale del Tevere towards Orvieto and then home to our villa for a nap before dinner — "la vita è bella".

View from the restaurant

The outdoor terrace of Ristorante Umbria with open window to the kitchen

The menu of traditional Tuderte dishes

Basket of bread with local olive oil

Glass of Prosecco as a bubbly start to our lunch

Selezione di formaggi e salumi tipici umbri

Zuppa di Lenticchie di Castelluccio di Norcia

Insalata di Caprese con mozzarella di bufalo

Our server uncorking our bottle of 2008 Sagrantino di Montefalco Adanti

Sagrantino di Montefalco by Adanti is a robust, complex wine, aged in oak barrels for 30 months 

 Italy's iconic beer, Peroni, officially became Japanese last year after over year of negotiations

Bracioline di Maialine ai ferri: Wood fire grilled pork chops

Salsicce di Maiale con polenta: Grilled Pork Sausages with Polenta

Carré di Cinghiale aromatizzato con alloro e ginepro: Grilled wild boar with laurel and juniper

Castolette di Agnello aromatizzato con rosmarino: Lamb Chops with Rosemary