Our time in Italy was running out, and there was still so much to do. In June, we hit the road for an extended tour through the regions that shared our part of central Italy. Both Umbria and Le Marche are less-travelled and lesser-known than Tuscany, yet both regions feature similar rolling and lush landscapes as well as many fortified cities and charming villages.
To make our adventure more culturally rewarding, we would forego the tourist-friendly, English-speaking hotels located through Italy and stay in rustic “Agriturismi.” In the 80s the Italian government, in attempt to keep struggling rural farms in business while simultaneously encouraging city dwellers to explore the countryside, gave birth to the “agriturismo” – a working farm converted into accommodations for tourists (agriculture + tourists = agriturismo). Such lodging is also incredibly affordable and complete each day with breakfast and a large communal dinner made from the bounty of the farm, so the lamb you see wandering around the property in the morning could very well be on your plate that night (we didn’t mention this to Sophia – oh, and check her out rocking the two-piece poolside at the agriturismo “La Campana” in Le Marche).
Our first stop, located in the high countryside beyond the Umbrian city of Spoleto, was called Agri-Tivoli. This place was rustic, a dozen miles down a winding dirt road that led to a sprawling farm nearly overrun with chickens and pigs and sheep. Thanks to a modern upgrade, the fenced in pool area overlooked a view of valleys and surrounding hills, providing a nice respite from the bustling farm life. During the days we toured the nearby cities of Orvieto, Spoleto, and Montefalco, returning in the late afternoon for a swim followed by dinners in the farmhouse that would last until the silent night was rung with stars.
Our drive to Le Marche required a steep climb over Mount Sibillini, a subrange of the Appennines. In a plain at the crest of the mountain was the Comune di Norcia, a small village known for its devotion to the abundant wild boar that roam the surrounding hills and hollows. So many storefronts were adorned with stuffed beasts at the entrance, backed by rounds of Pecorino, rows of Prosciutto legs, and ceilings hung with salumi, it kind of made me desire a salad as we descended the mountain into the region of Le Marche where an elegant agriturismo awaited.
La Campana had been recently renovated into a modern accommodation. Their farming venture was separated from the residential grounds dotted with brick quarters for guests and an administrative area complete with a cozy room for fine dining. The far reaches of the property led to a play area for children and a glamorous pool bordered by verdant valleys than leaned towards the nearby Adriatic Sea. We spent our days in the salty Adriatic waters, taking plates of briny crustaceans and fresh fish at the seafood shacks posited on the sand.
On our way back towards Tuscany, we stayed at an agriturismo that was neither as rustic nor elegant as our previous two stops. Fattoria del Cerretino felt more like a village than a farm. We stayed in a cabin near the main building, where there were tenants and a restaurant. We mingled with town’s people who resided there or just came by to eat. Everybody seemed to know each other, and we found ourselves in pleasant conversations with both locals and other guests (all of whom were quite curious about the Americani in their midst).
And from this location, we were able to visit the amazing cities of Gubbio and Assisi. The latter is the tourist-laden hometown of Saint Francis, and we got in line with the throngs of pilgrims who came to pay homage to the much venerated Christian figure at his namesake church. Alas, we were not properly dressed to enter the grand establishment, so we returned to our simple agriturismo in the countryside for another long evening immersed in the affairs of everyday Italians, which was fitting since it was their lives we sought to encounter and honor during our journey away from home.