Friday, September 29, 2017

Trevi: The Ancient Tradition of Olive Oil in Umbria

Surrounded by olive trees, the historic centre of Trevi unwinds around the steep conical hill of Monte Serano, which dominates the plain of Spoleto. One of the the 'Most Beautiful Villages of Italy' —  "I Borghi più Belli d’Italia" — this small medieval town is famous throughout Italy for its ancient olive oil tradition, produced in the Trevi hillsides for over 2,000 years. Old stone houses still dot the hillside dating back to the 16th century, where olive growers used to stay during the harvest. Production techniques are still not much different from those used by the Etruscans at that time. Olives are hand picked in the field and carried the same day over rough terrain to the mill, where they are crushed by two great granite stones and made into a paste, pressed, and after a few months of mellowing, the oil is subsequently stored. Olive oil, the reigning product of Trevi, is also the focus of The Museo della Civiltà dell’Ulivo, which opened in 1997 on the ground floor of the former St. Francesco monastery, annexed to the church of St. Francesco, which dates from the 14th century. The church and the Art Gallery, along with the Museum and the Archaeological Collection form the art collection of St Francis, is the first public museum in Italy and Europe dedicated to olive oil and the olive tree. It's been often quipped that "trying to snap a picture of Trevi without an olive tree getting in the way is much like trying to photograph an elephant without the trunk getting in the way." 

The beautiful  historic centre of Trevi with a network of narrow streets and lovely architecture

The ancient Convento di San Bartolomeo with 15th century fresco

Beautifully preserved, Roman and Medieval architecture abound in every corner of Trevi

Palazzo della Prepositura Valenti built in 1650 and now a hotel and elegant restaurant
on Piazza della Rocca

Cobblestone pathway to a provate residence with ancient campanile

Chiesa di Sant'Emiliano was built over the Roman Temple of Diana

A beautiful private Palazzo with sunny terrace garden and elegant wooden entry

Flowers were in bloom throughout the historic centre

Museo della Civiltà dell’Ulivo and Raccolta d'Arte di S. Francesco, located in the former convent of San Francesco, built in the 13th century, and the only museum dedicated to the olive in Europe

Roman terracotta olive oil urns

Scale model showing the the extent of olive groves in Roman Trebia

 The Church of St. Francesco, which dates from the 14th century, is attached to the Museum

14th century frescoes 

Special Antonio Valenti exhibition in the museum 

Of particular interest were the small sketches and watercolours Valenti made in his 2"x3" notebook

Small but potent drawings

A lovely small charcoal drawing

View from Trevi just outside the Museum, with groves on olive trees

Old wooden door protected the entrance to a noble Palazzo

Archway of the old 14th century Medieval house

14th century intact Medieval House overhanging the lane below

Ancient stone and brick cobble streets of Trevi

Ancient wooden door in the Jewish quarter of Trevi

17th century Borghetto Del Mostaccio, just one of a handful of small charming hotels in Trevi

Each home has its own mailbox with key — some snazzier than others

Palazzo Valenti was the Palace of the Counts Valenti di Riosecco, 
and the most beautiful Renaissance palace in Trevi

Inset into the enormous arched portal are carvings of the noble Valenti family

Ristorante Maggiolini on Via San Francesco, is adjacent to the Palazzo Valenti

The brick arched interior of Maggiolini

The menu with traditional Umbrian dishes using local Trevi produce

A delicious bottle of 2016 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi from Le Marche

An elegant, soft, fresh and fruity wine with aromas of melon, citrus and grapefruit

Bruschetta con Pesto di Sedano: Bruschetta with Celery Pesto

Strapazzata  al Tartufo: Scrambled Eggs with Truffle

Risotto ai Gamberi di Fiume: Risotto with River Prawns

Spaghetoni alla Carbonara di Pesce con Tonno e Gamberi

Macchiato con latte caldo

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Narni and Amelia: Ancient Umbria on the Via Flaminia

This small town in southern Umbria is often called the heart of Italy as it is the closest town to the geographic centre of Italy. Its origins date back to the Umbri who founded Nequinium, but was renamed Narnia by the Romans in 299 BC after the nearby river. It has also been rumoured that Irish author C. S. Lewis named his fictitious kingdom after the ancient Roman town he read about while studying Latin authors, namely his classic children's series The Chronicles of Narnia. The birthplace of Emperor Nervi in 32 AD, Narni was also a stopping point on the Via Flaminia from Rome to Rimini. In the 12th and 14th century Narni became part of the Papal State and developed an important school of painting and goldsmiths. Narnia's Ponte d'Augusto was one of the famous views of classical ruins in Italy, sketched and painted by travellers, artists and poets while on the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Turner, Corot and Byron.

Walking up into the historic centre of Narni, having taken a modern funicular up from the valley below

Loggia dei Priori sign above the arches of the old Town Hall

The wealth enjoyed by Narni in the early 14th century led to building a town hall and a palace which had a large loggia where the merchants met in case of bad weather

Original fresco in the loggia

Carved stone balcony of the 13th century Torre die Loggia

14th century fountain in Piazza dei Priori built in 1303

A happy Umbrian pigeon cooling off in the fountain

Old sign for the Italian Socialist Party

Medieval arched walkway leading to a private residence

Bronze sign outside Chiesa S. Franceso

14th century Church of San Francesco where St Francis is reputed to have stayed during his sojourn to Narnia in 1213

Entrance to the little Romanesque church of Santa Maria Impensole, built around 1175

Stone carved portico with classical motifs

One of two stone carved lions who protected the entrance

Fresco of Madonna col Bambino

Exterior of Cattedrale di San Giovenale, the Cattedrale di Narni was built in 1087

Mausoleum of the Bishops of Narni

Beautifully detailed ceiling of the Duomo

Fresco of  Madonna col Bambino

Original 11th century stone and mosaic floor

Walking down Via Giuseppe Garibaldi to Piazza Garibaldi

The Duomo facing onto Piazza Garibaldi

An animated discussion by local Italians on the steps of the Duomo

The bellower and clock of the Duomo

The fountain in Piazza Garibaldi 

A thirsty pigeon in Piazza Garibaldi 

The Bridge at Narni, an 1826 painting by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

Nearby Amelia is also one of Italy's most ancient hill towns, in fact according to some scholars, Amelia is the oldest town in Umbria. It was supposedly founded by a legendary Umbrian king, King Ameroe, who gave the city the name America, however according to Pliny, it was restored more than 900 years before the war against Perseus, that is in 1134 B.C. The city was later occupied by the Etruscans, and later still by the Romans. Amelia is especially known for its walls, parts of which date to Amelia's earliest days, built in the 5th century BC but which were further fortified and enlarged during Roman times and at various times during the Middle Ages. Today, old Amelia inside the walls, is most accessible through the Porta Romana, and thanks to its beautiful location high on a hill in the beautiful valley of the Tiber and Nera, Amelia is surrounded by fertile countryside known since ancient times for its "therapeutic", apples, pears and willows. At the top of Amelia's exhausting hilly climb is the Piazza del Duomo where the cathedral, 30-meter-high Torre Civica and small leafy park can be found, with fabulous views of the Tiber Valley. The Cathedral, which was built originally in 872, was totally rebuilt in the Baroque style after a fire in 1629, however it's iconic façade of pink stucco was completed only in the 19th century. A welcome surprise after our climb up to the Duomo in the hot sun was finding the delightful il Baronetto nestled in the beautiful gardens of an old Palazzo, with sensational views of the Tiber Valley. 

The ancient Umbrian town of Amelia, entirely surrounded by 7th century polygonal walls, 
boasts spectacular views over the Tiber and Nera Rivers  

The imposing Porta Romana dates back to the 2nd century, with much of it rebuilt in the 16th century

Climbing up Amelia's steep winding streets

Continuing our climb from via Garibaldi

Commemorative plaque to Garibaldi on the exterior of the old Post Office

The streets got steeper and steeper

Stopping to catch my breath for a moment, this property caught my attention 
— amazingly it was for sale!

La Cattedrale di Santa Fermina at the top of Amelia built originally in 872, but was totally rebuilt in the Baroque style after a fire in 1629, but it's iconic pink façade was only done in the 19th century

The ornate Baroque interior of Santa Fermina 

The opulence of the church seemed quite at odds with the Medieval character of Amelia

View over the Tiber Valley from the top of Amelia

Walking down from the Duomo through Amelia

14th century Palazzo Nacci with its interior courtyard and upper loggia

Typical cobbled stone and brick walkway in Amelia

A welcoming sign directing us to Il Baronetto, 
the only restaurant that was open the day we visited Amelia

The vine covered trellis of Ristorante il Baronetta, set in the beautiful Renaissance garden of an old Palazzo

Ripe grapes hanging from the trellis vines

The Palazzo gardens and upper terrace offer spectacular views over Amelia and the Tiber Valley

The view from our garden table

Set under the trees in the garden, our table offered a reprieve from the hot sun

Il Baronetto paper menu logo

The menu was entirely handwritten featuring traditional Umbrian dishes

Our server going back into the Palazzo kitchens with our menu order

Our bottle of cold aqua frizzante

A cold bottle of Ichnusa Beer from Sardinia

A mysterious paper bag sealed with twine arrives — it was our napkin and cutlery!

A pretty basket of fresh crusty bread

 Frantoio di Suatoni olive oil from Amelia, a blend of Frantoio, Moraiolo, Leccino and Rajo olives

Caprese Salad with tiny perfect mozzarella di bufaline and handpicked basil from the kitchen garden

Pollo Arrosto con patate e spinaci

Lasagna al Forno con ragù

As we were leaving il Baronetto, we tasted the sweet grapes hanging from the vine 

With a long drive back to the villa, we left il Baronetto having enjoyed the beautiful garden setting and lovely lunch

Walking downhill through the Medieval streets of Amelia

9th century Porta Leone