Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Todi: Umbria's Stunning Hilltop Aerie

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 an unexpected 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. With a rich history that dates back to around 1300 BC, Todi was settled by the Umbri, an ancient pre-Etruscan people who gave it the name Tudere. 

Bronze eagle perched at the top of the Palazzo dei Priori

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 — this was the origin of Tudere. 

Fresco from the Pinacoteca Museum in Palazzo del Capitano

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, as well as the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo. A striking building, the Palace was built in 1291 and features a lofty loggia supported by a central pillar on its ground level, and a series of dramatic Gothic windows which define the unique character of its first floor. Connected by a single flight of steps, the Palazzo is connected with the next door Palazzo del Popolo, one of the oldest buildings of its era.

Todi's Duomo of Santa Annunziata simple Romanesque facade and lovely carved wood doors

The interior of the Duomo

Todi's Duomo, the 12th century Cathedral of Santa Annunziata, which sits at one end of the square, was built on the ruins an ancient pagan temple, but was never been finished although additions were made over the centuries. 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 local café — caloric compensation for making such an early start from Casa del Lauro, first thing that morning.

Cappuccino and pastries at Todi's Gran Caffé Serrano on the main square

Piazza del Popolo with the Café and Duomo at one end of the square

The Piazza with Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo (L) and crenellated Palazzo dei Priori (R)

Palazzo del Capitano, next to Palazzo del Popolo, is a grand building with elaborate windows built over a portico, and houses Todi's famous Etruscan-Roman Museum and the Pinacoteca Art Museum. A wonderful museum, with many fabulous archeological finds from the Roman and Etruscan eras, the Museo Etrusco-Romano on the first floor of the Palazzo del Capitano, was a comprehensive overview of Todi's colourful history since its very beginning. The Pinacoteca Art Museum on the third floor, contains detached frescoes of the 14th and 15th century, as well as some church furnishings and 12th to 15th century and exhibits of majolica, ceramics and a fabulous collection of Roman coins. There are also some interesting paintings including work by a local artist of the 16th Century, Pietro Paolo Sensini, commonly known as Lo Spagna.

The impressive steps of the Palazzo del Capitano that lead up to Todi's impressive 
Roman-Etruscan Museum and Pinotecca

Todi has no less than five patron saints, but her most famous spiritual resident wasn't a saint at all, he was a writer — Jacopo de' Benedetti, universally known as Jacopone da Todi. A prosperous merchant, Jacopone turned to God after the death of his devout wife, dedicated his life to a higher calling by serving others in the Franciscan Order of Spirituals. When he died in the 16th century, Bishop Angelo Cesi had Jacopone's relics preserved in the church of San Fortunato, high on the hilltop of Todi.

The Franciscan Church of San Fortunato, site of the tomb of Jacapone

View over Todi from Church

It seemed fitting that we should have lunch at one of Todi's oldest restaurants Ristorante Jacopone, tucked away on the main floor of an old Roman house and just around the corner from San Fortunato. Jacpone's cuisine is typically Umbrian and uses only local produce from the neighbouring countryside. As we looked over the menu, the owner Peppino, brought us a small platter of local salumi.

Ristorante Jacopone's wood inlay menu

Jacopone's owner Peppino brought us a complimentary plate of local salumi

We ordered a selection of primi and secondi which featured local specialties including Strigoli alla Norcoria, a unique locally handmade pasta that is firm to the bite, and arrived with the deliciously fragrant sausage, cream and black tuffle sauce, and a Hunter's Stew of Braised Chinghiale, Umbria's famous dish of wild boar.

 Crostini al Paté di Fegato Casareccia

Delicious 'Strigoli alla Norcoria' with sausage, cream and black truffles

Porchetta Etrusco

Chinghiale, Wild Boar Hunters Stew

Arrosto Mista Brace, a mixed grill of local lamb, sausage, pork and chicken

Ristorante Jacopone was a wonderful little restaurant with delicious local cuisine, which we will definitely return to again, next time we're in Todi. The drive to this beautiful hilltown high up in the hills south of Perugia, is also a town of such charm, character and historical wealth, that it should not be missed on any trip to Umbria.