Fall Trip Planning: Umbria and Le Marche
My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy next fall with a few couples. We will only be there for a week, but will rent a house together and stay quite close to whatever town we choose. So, it's imperative that the town have plenty of excellent restaurants, which is, of course, a subjective term. We're looking for unpretentious restaurants serving simple food traditional to the town, the kind that make it easy to spend hours having dinner without even noticing.
We'd like to go somewhere in Umbria or Le Marche. I was in Umbria in August and really loved the green, gray aspects of the scenery. I was in Gubbio and the area immediately around it and know little else about Umbria except from Michael Tucker's recent book. I haven't been to Le Marche, but have heard that it's not exceedingly touristy and has excellent food. A town that would make it easy to enjoy whatever mushrooms are in season would be fantastic. Proximity to wineries would also be great.
Please advise on some towns--and restaurants--we should consider. Thanks!
I stayed in Umbria with my family for a week in 2005.
We rented a Villa just outside of Spoleto.
While I would not say that Spoleto is "full" of great restaurants, they certainly have several very good ones and are within a short drive of many other small villages that have great places to eat too.
We had memorable meals in Montefalco (20KM), Spello (35KM), Deruta (48KM), Norcia (42KM) and Spoleto. These all worked out well with our touring schedule.
We planned to be in certain places and researched the meals to coordinate with the travels.
My husband and I stumbled across this charming 'Marchan' hotel and restaurant a couple of years ago and had one of the finest meals of our lives. I highly endorse Hotel (and Ristorante) Il Giardino, San Lorenzo en Campo in Le Marche. The room was restful and charming, but it was the food that was truly amazing. I had papparedelle with a rabbit ragu that was beyond delicious.
I have a plate at home from this meal because it is on the list of Buon Riccardo (?sp?) fine dining places. The service was superb, too. Not too far from Perugia as I recall.
I haven't been for a while, but I always think of Gubbio as the quintessential Umbrian town. The names of several restaurants there have surfaced on this board. It's close enough to get to Perugia and Assisi as well to cross over into Le Marche - I actually hiked from Fabbriano to Gubbio - many years ago!
There are not enough superlatives to describe the small, walled town of Norcia. Its claim to fame is for everything pork and truffles. I would not, however, recommend the black truffle liqueur.
One feels as if one is in a movie set to view monks almost constantly walking the town's streets.
I agree that Norcia is a great place to stay in Umbria. It is famous for truffles, salamis and cheeses, plus there is excellent walking in the Monte Sibillini national park. I was actually in Norcia yesterday checking out a newly opened hotel (Palazzo Seneca which looks incredibly nice). The only two things about Norcia is firstly, that it is a little far away from wineries and vineyards and secondly, although the restaurants are good, the selection isn’t huge. I would probably recommend somewhere in the area of Montefalco, Bevagna or Spoleto above Norcia for the kind of trip you are looking to organize. They all have great restaurants, are very near to or smack in the middle of Sagrantino wine country and you would have no problem finding a nice villa or holiday property to rent in that area. BTW You find mushrooms all over Umbria in fall time (provided that it has rained) –another fun thing you might want to think about doing in Umbria in fall which is a little out-of-the ordinary is a truffle hunt.
Just came back from Norcia in October 2008 and loved it and agree the ride to it is wonderful. We were disappointed with the Grotto Azzuro restaurant. Stunning place, spaghetti with truffles sublime, wild boar sausages salty and they got the order wrong so my husband ended up with a small solitary pork chop on his plate, but it's a beautiful hotel.
Da Francese was hailed as the place to eat, but it was empty when we got there and I had food poisoning and couldn't face much.
However we found a great unexpected gem- CANTINA NURSINA. A tiny restaurant although it has a basement, with a small outside place with chunky wooden tables and a charming Romanian Waitress. We ordered a plate of three tiny bruschetta, one with olive oil, one with black truffle and one with tomato. Very tasty. I had a bowl of the famous local lentil soup with a wild boar sausage in it. Very tasty. The lentils harvested nearby reminded me of Greek Fakes, but much smaller. We also had three small pieces of wild boar perfectly grilled and a jug of red one - all for 17 euros. We went back that night where the place was buzzing and although we had to wait for ages as my husband ordered pizza, it was great. I ordered sphagetti with truffle sauce (again) delicious, but ask them to bring everything together if you've ordered a pizza. For starters they brought pile of what they called focaccia but were thin crispy breads and served with a silky thin mound of delicious smoky prosciutto sliced and served beautifully on a wooden tranch. The pizza was on this thin crispy base like the focaccia and was quatre formaggio and laden with cheese. It was unbelievably good. You could order it with a mountain of arugula on top, which is surprisingly refreshing. It was 28 euros and totally tasty together with a nice atmosphere.
Try to go to St. Benedict's church nearby for Vespers in the evening in the crypt, and get there half an hour before it begins. It's a very spiritual experience indeed.
If you're crossing the Apennines into Le Marche from northern Umbria along the main highway from Gubbio, you'll find yourself in central Marche. This route will take you past Fabriano, but, contrary to the above poster, it is flat as a pancake, located as it is along the Esino river valley. One of the earliest cities in Europe to make paper, it does feature the Paper and Watermark Museum (www.museodellacarta.com/ing/home_page.html) but is otherwise somewhat boring (for dinner (and/or lodging), try the excellent Marchese del Grillo and its outstanding wine cellar -- www.marchesedelgrillo.com)
For central Marche hill towns, try instead Cingoli (the "balcony of Marche") or, somewhat larger, Jesi, home to the Regional Enoteca for Le Marche (www.assivip.it/eng/enoteca.htm). For dinner in Jesi, try Hostaria Santa Lucia for very fresh, creatively prepared fish and housemade olive oil.
If you take the northern route via Gubbio into Marche, you'll go past pretty Cagli in the heart of Aqualagna truffle country. I've eaten at Il Tartuffo; others recommend Le Fontane. From Cagli, it's not far to Urbino, birthplace of Raphael. The Palazzo Ducale and the associated National Gallery of Le Marche aren't to be missed. I've not dined much in Urbino, so I've nothing to recommend here.
If you're crossing into Marche via Foligno, follow the river valley road to Macerata, a beautiful walled university town and home to the Sferisterio, the most important outdoor opera in Italy after Verona. Try dining at Osteria dei Fiori; I just had lunch there, and the food is excellent and affordable. Or try Da Secondo, though I haven't been in several years. Further south, you'll find the lovely Ascoli Picenco. Don't miss having an anisette or amaro at Caffé Meletti (www.caffestoricomeletti.it/eng/index.html) or snacking on olive all'ascolana at Migliori (www.miglioriolive.it).
The seaside doesn't have much to offer in the fall. The above poster recommends Senigallia. If money isn't an issue, try Uliassi for its incredible fish (www.uliassi.it). I've not eaten at Madonnina del Pescatore, but it also has a Michelin * (www.madonninadelpescatore.it). I much prefer the seaside towns south of Ancona: Portonovo, SIrolo, Numana. If you find yourself in the area, I highly recommend Il Saraghino (http://www.saraghino.it/home.asp).