Friday, May 29, 2009

Last Day

Coming to Italy has been spectacular. We saw Sienna and Perugia to get a sense of the larger cities but spent most of our days in the small Etruscan hill towns, some just miles from Piegaro. Though there are similarities to them all, each of these villages has it's own character and style.

Today, we decided to get out into nature and visit the largest waterfall in all of Europe, Cascata delle Marmore at the southern tip of Umbria. Not only is this waterfall the largest, but it was originally built by the Romans in 290 B.C. Designed to control the water in the valley above, it's gone through many variations since it's beginnings and today, is controlled by opening and closing pathways and is only "on" for a couple of hours each day. It's used as a power generation system during this time.

We timed our visit to see it run at noon, then we hiked up to the top (150m) and explored the town of Marmore a bit, as well as the park that runs all along the edge of the hill. The views were stunning, looking out in all directions at hillsides and valleys framing the surrounding villages.

We decided we needed to see the falls in action again and waited (not so patiently) for the second run at 4pm. It was well worth it, and the mist cooled us down, especially when we visited the lookout right below the falls. Dan was soaked from head to foot.

These photos can't really give a sense of all that's happening. as the falls drop several hundred feet, then split out into many separate falls that also drop in many directions. Some out towards the major walkways and some along the forest trails that we walked also. The layout of the park is ingenious and with the mist and shade, it was very comfortable to hang out there all day, even though the temperature was well into the 80s.

We leave early in the morning to catch our plane in Rome and head back to New York, then on to Seattle. I can't believe how quickly two weeks has flown by. I think I'll have my head in Italian clouds for some time and I know I can't wait to get home and try some of the recipes we've been enjoying learning over here.

Back to reality . . . Ardel

View of a section of Cascata delle Marmore, the largest waterfall in all of Europe.

This amazing waterfall was originally engineered by the Romans in about 290 B.C.

It flows over several hundred feet and splits out into several smaller waterfalls.

The water is controlled in the town of Marmone above the falls and is only "turned on" for an hour twice a day on weekdays.

The water flows along many wooded pathways that we hiked through while enjoying it's mist and roar.

Since it only flows for a small time each day, there is much established vegetation in it's path.

Dan and Ardel catching the mist of the falls at one of the lower viewpoints.

Lori in front of the falls.

These water plants were very large and beautiful.

Ardel and Dan standing in front of one of the many caves that we came across. The rock is all travertine and quite impressive.

Another cave of the travertine stone.

Dan in the lead as we walked up hundreds of stairs to get to the top of the waterfall.

There was a very long tunnel through the side of the mountain we climbed and on the other side of this, we were able to stand just below the waterfall. It was too wet to photograph, but here are Ardel and Dan heading in. Lori followed closely behind.

This rock was so unusual, seeming to drip down the hillside to create these eerie caves.

Dan sitting on what looks like a lava trail. It was smooth as glass and extended back into this cave several feet.

Our pets of the day . . . a rooster and a cat were resting during the heat of the day while we walked through the park at Marmore, the town that sits at the top of the waterfall.

Our view while we waited for the 4:00pm waterfall to begin. A watched waterfall never flows doesn't sound right, but that's how we felt as we watched and watched and the trickle never seemed to get any larger. Then we finally gave up and headed down to the next platform and by the time we arrived, maybe 5 minutes later, the flow was HUGE.

Second pet of the day. We saw several chameleons during our visit to Italy. Most were too quick to photograph. This one was fighting with another (he's got it's tail in his mouth) and was in one spot long enough for Lori to grab this shot.

Heading back to our car after several hours exploring and hiking. Then home to L'Antica Vetreria where we needed to pack to return to Seattle.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Another great day today. We set out trying to locate Castillo Vibiano Vecchio because we'd read about their green, carbon neutral ways and wanted to take a closer look. Colleen is friends with friends of the owner's brother and thought we might get to see inside the estate. But alas, we just peaked through the gates at the amazing castle that sits on a hill above Mercatello. And even that was impressive. Driving back down the hill, we saw holding tanks and a solar panel and drove over to investigate. As luck would have it, one of the owners of the winery took pity on us. Even though the tasting room and sales area was closed for the day, he had an employee open it to sell us some wine. We bought enough to tuck into our suitcases and also to enjoy with dinner. Organic and sulfite-free . . . my kind of wine. Here's a link to an article about the facility's green nature:
And their website:

We picked up a few additional groceries for dinner and headed home. Dan, Lori and I decided we needed a short adventure before our party tonight, so we headed a few miles down the road to Paciano. This is a well-kept village with beautiful stone and ironwork details on many of the homes. As shops were already closed for the day (they close at 1pm on Thursdays), we ended up exploring empty streets and looking through windows. Still great fun! We ate a gelato in the piazza before heading back to Piegaro.

The Mencarelli family arrived and grandmother Lea showed us how to make gnocchi. It's such a simple recipe and looks really easy to do. We'll see if we can duplicate it at home. We boiled potatoes and ran them through a ricer. Sprinkling a little olive oil and salt on them, we then added flour and eggs and began working the dough. Once enough flour was added, the dough was soft and spongy and we were able to roll out long tubes to cut into pieces. These were then pushed against the back side of a cheese grater and ended up as beautiful little gnocchi. Repeat this process 8,000 times.

While Alessandra and I were rolling the gnocchi, Lea was working on the 4 cheese sauce. She melted butter in a HUGE pan and then set it on top of a large pot of salted water that we'd later cook the pasta in. This created a double boiler to melt the cheese without worry about burning it. Along with the butter and olive oil, we added gruyere, ementhal, gouda and fontina cheeses and after all was melted together and well mixed, she poured in a small amount of cream, salt and pepper. When the sauce was ready and the water boiling hard, we added the gnocchi and cooked it for about 6-8 minutes. We added it to the sauce, along with a small amount of the pasta water and the end result was a delicious first course.

For our second course, we had roasted potatoes and veggies and grilled steaks with rosemary. All were very good, but our grill wasn't hot enough and we ended up finishing them on the broiler. No worries, they ended up tasting great, even if we did have a longer than normal break between courses.

Third course was capresi salad, with lovely local tomatoes and basil and fresh mozzerela. Yum.

Alessandra is a wonderful pastry chef and brought two desserts, a beautiful fruit and creme cake and coconut chocolate squares. Even though the language barrier was a challenge at times, everyone had a great evening and we all were able to share this special birthday dinner, sitting poolside at L'Antica Vetreria at sunset. The upstairs guests (we lovingly call them The Brits) even sang happy birthday to Dan and Eleda over the balcony.

Lisa was excited because she had Don Agusto bless the jewelry she'd purchased. Lori and I loved watching the cooking lesson and can't wait to make gnocchi at home and Dan got to eat one of his favorites . . . four cheese gnocchi with fresh parmegiano.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Italy before heading home. We're planning on visiting delle Marmore Falls in Terni, the largest falls in all of Europe. We'll fill you all in after.


Castillo Monte Vibiano Vecchio is a green carbon neutral wine and olive oil company. We drove up to the castle for a closer look.

The Monte Vibiano winery has solar panels and wind power to run their operation. They are a carbon-neutral, green, organic winery in Central Umbria.

The bell tower in Paciano was simply elegant.

We just came for an hour in the afternoon to see this village and were patiently waiting for 4pm to look into the shops for a few minutes. Sadly we realized that it was Thursday, the day during the week that the shops do not reopen. Italians seem to work about 30 hours a week, to our 45 or more.

Ardel and Lori in front of a beautiful front door and flowers on one of the village streets in Paciano.

The church tower . . .

Our pet of the day was a small cat sleeping the afternoon away under a stone bench on a side street in Paciano.

In the early evening, we met up with Colleen's adopted Italian family to learn to make gnocchi, Italian style. Here, Grandma Lea runs the cooked potatoes through a ricer to break them apart.

Lea kneads the dough for several minutes. It's hard work and she's got the muscles to prove it.

After rolling out some of the dough into long strands, we cut these into pieces.

Then, Allesandra (Lea's daughter and Carlotta's mother), rolled them quickly across the inside of the grater to make the pattern and flatten them out a bit.

We rolled and cut and pressed a few . . .

Meanwhile, Lea started the four cheese sauce.

I rolled for a while, and then switched to pressing. We got pretty fast at it.

This is Carlotta, who works for Tom and Colleen helping guests make arrangements, and her great-grandmother, Elida, who was also celebrating her birthday along with Dan.

The gnocchi is plated and we all look for places to sit.

Deliciouso! But gnocchi was only to be the first course. We also grilled steak, roasted potatoes and vegetables and had a caprese salad.

Here is Maya Mencarelli, the family dog, wishing for more scraps from the steak at dinner.

Maya sits on Don Agusto's lap. He is the village priest, invited to dinner since Elida cooks for him every evening.

Maya looks like a possessed puppy. Maybe Don Agusto can exorcise her instead of feeding her table scraps.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Our day in Orvieto

Our plan today was to go to Orvieto -- and to arrive there before all of the shops close at one in the afternoon for lunch. Somehow, getting 4 adults dressed and ready to go has been difficult to pull together before noon. So we just get to where we're going and everything is closed until 4 or 5pm. Makes touring kind of hard.

We did get ready and out the door early enough and then decided to take rural roads to Orvieto, which is only about 40 miles from Piegaro. We loved all of the charming small villages we passed through, and ended up at the walls of Orvieto by 10:30. Lisa's had her fill of churches and went off on her own to shop (since she never has her fill of that). Lori, Dan and I headed off to the Duomo, the gothic cathedral that Orvieto is famous for.

It was so gorgeous, with all of the glass mosaics on the facade, our photos don't do it justice. The interior wasn't as intricate as some, but beautiful in proportions and it did have a wonderful organ with pipes that were suspended several feet in the air.

After viewing the Duomo, we decided to tour through the museum next door, with many artifacts from the same era (14th century) and also a great deal of Etruscan art, as Orvieto is another of the original Etruscan cities in Italy.

We shopped for a bit and then picked out a trattoria for lunch. Again we shared many different plates to get samples of all of the fare and two hours later we were back walking around the village and once again the shops were closed. This is a reoccuring theme with us. We're not used to 3-hour lunches . . . so Lori and I decided to get lost in the residential area of Orvieto and we walked and walked until 4pm and we could start shopping our way back to our car. Dan had gone down to meet Lisa and check out the stunning walls of the village, which are hundreds of feet tall.

This was a quaint and well-kept village with so much to see that we didn't even skim the surface. But loved it, nonetheless. Once home, we were forced indoors because of a downpoor and thunderstorm. After it had died down, we headed to our local favorite place for Tartufi (truffles) and pasta. THAT will be one thing that all of us will miss when we leave Italy!


This is the view from Orvieto's steep fortress walls.

Lisa, Ardel and Dan standing on the parapet at the base of the village.

The walls of Orvieto were literally tied to the stone hillside. Looking over the edge is NOT recommended (but we all did it just to see how scary it was)

This sidewall was our first view of the Duomo in Orvieto. This cathedral is famous for it's lovely gothic facade.

So tall it couldn't fit in a single image . . . Orvieto features many mosaics and the glass tiles are from our own Vetreria (glass factory) in Piegaro.

Detail of the mosaics. We saw close-ups of these in the museum and each piece of glass is about 1/4" wide. The skill and patience to build these is phenomenal.

The rose window at Orvieto. Stunning from inside and out.

Dan and Ardel in front of the Etruscan bronze doors at the cathedral.

Lori, inside the cathedral, in front of a baptismal font.

The organ pipes were suspended 40' up from the floor. The sound in this cathedral must be something else.

Our first pet of the day. Too cute.

Our second pet of the day. This violinist was playing in the piazza and the sound was like something from a movie, as he played and the music echoed from building to building. The cat decided to watch him play and Lori couldn't resist the shot.

We loved these sculptures and door frames that were displayed along an alleyway. Ardel and Dan liked the bench with a Roman soldier watching over.

Lori liked the horse best . . .

Could we really have three pets of the day? This wild boar was just stepping out of a small pasta shop in Orvieto's shopping district. We decided some pets were ok to be stuffed . . .

A small fountain in an apartment lobby. We were drawn to this simple courtyard in our after-lunch walk. Even the simplest objects have elegance and detail that we often seem to overlook in the US.

Another beautiful entryway. Flowers were in bloom and everywhere in the city.

We only have two more days before we have to head home. It's hard to decide what we don't want to miss this trip and what we'll have to come back for. I think tomorrow we'll head to Gubbio and then have Colleen's Italian family over for dinner. We're trying to arrange a winery and olive oil company tour for Friday at a unique (all green, off-grid) company that's just a few miles from us. Check back to see what happens. AJC