Q&A with Michael LaPlaca, Owner/Innkeeper at Palazzo Fiumi-LaPlaca
Jane: Hi Michael. I’d like you to tell us a little bit about yourself and what guests can expect once they get to your place in Italy.
Michael: Hi, I’m Michael LaPlaca, the owner of aWeekinUmbria.com based at Palazzo Fiumi-LaPlaca in the Umbrian hill town of Bettona. I grew up in Blauvelt, went to school and lived in New York and Nyack for over 30 years and then decided I wanted to do something different.
Jane: How long has Italy been your passion?
Michael: My love affair with Italy began with my first visit in my early 20’s. It was nurtured over the years with annual visits for vacation and seeing family and then for work. In the back of my mind, I always had the idea of opening a Bed & Breakfast but thought it would be something I might do when I retired — not at 50. This, I might add, is not retirement but rather a new life where I get to combine many of my skill sets into one occupation.
Jane: How did you start this business?
Michael: Back in 2004, a chance dinner conversation with a friend visiting from Italy changed my life. He told me about an abandoned palazzo in an Umbrian hill town and I was immediately intrigued. At that time it was possible to buy a round trip ticket for $450 so I decided to go to Italy for weekend to look at a palazzo. I didn’t expect to fall in love with what I found.
Jane: You’ve told me the palazzo was in pretty bad shape. How long did it take you to restore it?
Michael: The palazzo had been unoccupied for over 45 years. It was amazing to see such a wreck in the historic center of a town like this. It took three and a half years from purchase (on April Fool’s Day, 2005) until I welcomed my first guests. And in the process, we pretty much rebuilt the over 6000 square foot building.
Jane: How long have you been doing tours?
Michael: From the very beginning I enjoyed taking people who stayed with me around. They were usually groups of 4 people who needed more help finding places and wanting good recommendations on what to see and do. It was fun sharing what I had discovered with them. But I really started doing full out tours, like this year’s knitting tour, in 2012. Since then I’ve done about 25 tours on a variety of topics. Food and culinary tours are what I’m asked to do most but I have done several photography tours, many general art and culture tours, and several book club tours, which are a lot of fun. Tour sizes have ranged from one or two couples up to 32 people. But from 8 to 12 person tours are the norm.
Jane: What can guests expect at Palazzo Fiumi-LaPlaca?
Michael: First off, guests get to experience the pace of living in a small Italian town. At the palazzo, furnished with a mixture of antiques and mission style furniture, they’ll find comfy beds and soft towels, and great food and wine. I’ve gotten to be a pretty decent cook and guests love sitting around the kitchen getting to taste things piping hot.
There are three apartments and two B&B rooms. The apartments each have a living room/dining area, separate bedrooms, a full kitchen, and bath. In addition to your private accommodations, there are public rooms and three terraces in the palazzo which guests can enjoy. The ground floor (piano terra) is where we will usually gather as a group — either in the palazzo’s grand dining hall or living room. Dinners at home are served there as well and breakfasts are usually on the terrace off the palazzo’s beautiful kitchen.
The palazzo is within the historic walls of Bettona, a two minute stroll to the main piazza with it’s charming bar serving the most delicious cappuccinos. The bar is where most of my mornings in Bettona begin. There’s also a very lovely garden a few minutes walk from the palazzo where guests can relax. One evening we’ll even have a cookout there.
Jane: Tell me about the food.
Michael: The food in Umbria, well Italy in general, is just one of the things we do best. Some of the meals will be at the palazzo and others will be in local restaurants so you will get to sample a variety of our specialties. I’ve had comments from guests who have been on other “all inclusive” tours who’ve told me they’ve never eaten better on any other tour. Some of the food at the palazzo will be prepared by me or other local cooks who are very good friends. You’ll taste our local dishes like fresh Umbricelli with goose sauce, and pappardelle with wild boar. Not to mention fresh mozzarella that is a game changer, farm fresh produce, and pizza you won’t easily forget. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Oh, maybe we’ll even go on a truffle hunt in the mountains above Spoleto. That’s lots of fun.
Jane: And the wine?
Michael: You’ll fall in love with our wonderful wines from the vineyards all around Bettona. You’ll discover our Sagrantinos — for which we are justifiably famous — in both their deep, dry forms and in their most delicious sweet variations. We’ll go on a wonderful wine tasting at a nearby cantina with spectacular views.
Jane: What else?
Michael: Well, you’ll also have me around to offer advice and smooth the way. I’m here to help however I can with directions, recommendations, and even reservations. It really is a pleasure to be your host and guide on your wonderful Umbrian adventure.