I'm one of those people that when I travel, I go far away, I go to the end of the world, sometimes I'm away for months. I love to live the place, and I like to capture the essence and assimilate the customs and traditions. It's great to travel this way, it is not a holiday, it is a way of life, yet often, going so far away, we lose the best of what our nation has to offer us. We know that the next region is beautiful and full of natural and artistic wonders, and we swear that sooner or later we'll go and visit it, but in the end, we never do.
Yet, this small, short trip was the exception that proves the rule. A friend of mine asked me to accompany her in Umbria, in the middle of nowhere, in the countryside near Todi. It is about one hour drive from my house and I would probably never have thought of going there if it had not been for this opportunity. And what a great mistake not to travel more often inside one's own country!
Endless stretches of sunflowers ting the horizon yellow, framing Todi in the distance. The Umbrian hills are a play of curves that unroll opening into long valleys and then run up changing the profile of the hills and blending into roofs and bell towers.
There is a sense of peace in observing the various shades of colour that stretch out into the horizon. Olive groves and vineyards fill the fields and just watching this landscape brings to mind the good wholesome food, nature has to offer. Without forgetting, it is a land of great wines! Rosso di Montefalco, at the moment, is one of my favourite wines. Even my friend, that before this trip was a non drinker, now enjoys a good glass of wine. The beauty of this place is not just in the picturesque untouched countryside, but is also reflected in the simple architecture. Typical local stones fit together perfectly, creating beautiful houses and farms, but they are also the primary element in the construction of delightful towns that appear following winding roads.
The navigator is set to take us to Carsulae, an ancient Roman city, but instead, we find ourselves at the entrance of a tiny village, Portaria. Probably the village has no more than 200 inhabitants and develops almost all on a small square with a delightful open-air restaurant in the shade of an ivy-covered porch. The sound of cicadas emphasizes the hellish heat that the shade of the porch is trying to soothe. Many little birds chirp madly in the streets, probably looking for a bit of water to cool themselves.
Finally, after getting the right information, we arrive at Carsulae, a site still largely to be excavated but emanating an aura of peace and solemnity that makes you want to study every rock. Two beautiful arches built with huge stones stand as witness of an ancient history. The first one is located in the forum, the other, is at the end on an ancient Roman road, bordered by trees that create a natural arch. Carsulae is indeed a beautiful and unexpected surprise.
Todi, certainly the most famous town in the area, is to be discovered, with its underground cisterns, its museum and its little cobbled streets full of craft shops and local products. It makes you want to stop and taste everything this land has to offer. For lunch in fact, I could not but try the typical torta al testo, a kind of high plain pizza stuffed with various different fillings. In the evening, we had dinner in a small restaurant next to the church of San Fortunato and to say we ate well would be an understatement. Exceptional prices for both the quantity and quality of the dishes.
What makes this place even more alluring are the many hotels, castles or houses converted into relais or B&Bs complete with SPA. A great place for a romantic weekend or a trip with friends, but also to regenerate oneself in solitude. It's amazing how grass always seems greener on the other side and we go who-knows-where to visit new places, while all we need to do is get in the car at the weekend, choose a direction and set off to explore our beautiful country!
For the moment, I don't think I'll be taking long trips abroad, I still have Italy to discover! The journey continues...