Last time I was in New York, I was talking to someone at a party and, when I said I lived in Umbria, he asked. “Is that in Duchess or Columbia County?

How does one respond? (I said it was in Westchester, waved to a non-existent friend across the room, and excused myself.)

Why is it that so many people still haven’t heard of Umbria?

Say ‘Tuscany’ and their eyes light up and they start talking about two days they spent in Florence sometime in the distant past. Or worse, that semester abroad they can barely remember.

Living in the heart of Tuscany’s stepsister, I often have to qualify my choice of region by saying it’s every bit as beautiful here and actually affordable.

I have to confess I really didn’t know that much about Umbria before I moved here either, but I knew where it was and had driven through it many times. Yes, I’ll admit it, on my way to Florence. On my first trip to Umbria, in 1999, I hit a few of the ‘must sees’ — Perugia for Perugino (the artist, not the chocolate), Assisi for St. Francis, and Deruta for majolica. Every time I ate off my Derutaware I remembered a beautiful region and wanted to come back.

Then, completely unexpectedly, I was having dinner with a friend of a friend who told me about a palazzo that had stood empty for 50 years. To make a long story short, I ended up going to see the palazzo, fell in love with it and four years later am helping guests discover an Italy they have only read about.

A perfect week in Umbria includes trips to Assisi, Spello, Perugia, and Orvieto to set the stage; Pinturicchio, Perugino, Benozzo Gozzoli, and Lucca Signorelli to stimulate and inspire; fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzerella and anchiovies, strongozzi with tartufo, and lamb chops cooked to perfection to satisfy a mounting hunger; and sagrantinos, and passitos to blend it all together.

While running my version of an Umbrian inn — cooking meals for from 2 to 20, teaching guests how to make gnocchi, taking them to a winery or showing them the best ceramic shops — I have discovered that sharing the bounty of Italy has been my calling and what my guests can’t get enough of it.

 

 

July 25, 2010

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