Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Casa del Lauro: Our House in Umbria

Through a combination of tenacity and good fortune, we stumbled upon our Umbrian farmhouse, Casa del Lauro, by scouring the internet week after week, searching for distinctive properties to rent in Italy. Owned by a charming couple from Britain, Peter and Victoria Hobday, Casa del Lauro is a typical Italian farmhouse that has been sympathetically restored over the years, retaining many of the structure's original features such as traditional tiled floors, charming archways and classic Italian red roof tiles. Approached by a winding road, or strada bianca, that rolls through gorgeous Umbrian countryside, the house is nestled on five glorious acres of lovely landscaped lawns with chestnuts, figs, lavender, oleander, herbs, begonias, Cypress trees, and its own olive grove, complete with cinghiale — wild boar!

Looking from the house through to the freshly trimmed olive grove, framed by 
cypress trees with beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding Umbrian hills

With breathtaking panoramic views over its own olive grove and the hilltop town of Montepuliciano in the distance, Casa del Lauro is located in the cultural centre of Italy, perched between Perugia and Chiusi, in the Valley of the Fireflies — named for the myriad of living lanterns that come out at dusk during the spring and summer months, creating a magical and memorable sight. 

Peter Hobday's book In the Valley of the Fireflies - and account of his 
Victoria's adventures restoring Casa del Lauro

In 1995, the owner of the farmhouse, Peter Hobday, wrote a book called "In the Valley of the Fireflies" about his and his wife Victoria's experiences of restoring beautiful Casa del Lauro and their discovery of Umbria's saintly and sinful past. Peter, a well-known BBC broadcaster, gives a glowing description of rustic life in Umbria, especially meal after delectable meal, with a sampling of their favourite recipes. Peter's book became the perfect bedtime reading during our two week rental of the Hobday's spectacular property.

Piccolina, the resident pussycat who appears to have adopted Casa del Lauro

We were soon introduced to a friendly young black pussycat, Kitty, who appears to have adopted Casa del Lauro as her own, as well as Silvio the gardener, and his wife Franca, who care for the olive groves and surrounding property of Casa del Lauro. Absolutely charming, Silvio and Franca knew as much english as I knew Italian, yet we still managed to communicate quite well, smiling and gesticulating much of the time.

Silvio pruning the olive grove and collecting the cuttings for burning later in the week

Cherry blossoms bursting into bloom with the gorgeous 20° weather

The warm and comfortable second floor living room, complete with double doors 
leading outside to  a traditional stone staircase

The master bedroom — one of three bedrooms at Casa del Lauro

It's easy to fall in love with everything about Umbria — the gorgeous scenery, the traditional Umbrian hill towns, and of course the warmth of its people. What also drew us to Umbria was its cuisine. Umbrian cuisine is very rustic, often called cucina povera, or peasant cooking, which simply means it is built on traditional dishes created with minimal ingredients and methods of preparation that rely heavily on local products such as grains, vegetables, fresh herbs, and of course olive oil, Umbria’s liquid gold. The traditional dishes of Umbria have been handed down through generations and even today maintain those same principles of simplicity and freshness that originated in Etruscan times, relying heavily on seasonal ingredients that can be found growing in its rich soil, swimming in the region’s lakes, raised on local farms, or discovered in the lush forests that cover much of the region. 

The traditional shuttered doors leading to the kitchen and main room

One of the most fantastic regions in Italy for food and wine lovers, Umbria is an unspoiled, beautiful part of the country, full of medieval hamlets, stunning cities, artistic treasures and gourmet goldmines. Famed for its black truffles, fabulous extra virgin Olive Oils, artisanal cured meats and of course wines from Orvieto, Torgiano and Montefalco, our two weeks in Umbria promise to be a delicious culinary journey, which we start tomorrow with an early departure to Pienza for it's gastronomic specialty, their famously delicious pecorino cheese. But with our early departure from Heathrow this morning, landing in Rome, picking up our car and driving to Casa del Lauro — we're exhausted. So until then — buona notte tutti!

Buona notte piccolino

Casa del Lauro at sunset