Day 5 began quietly. After all of the excitement from yesterday's adventures everyone was moving a bit slower on this morning and some were not moving at all!
Those of us that were coherent, started the morning with a little coffee on the porch and enjoyed our ritual of watching the fog burn off in the Niccone valley below. Once we were loaded with caffeine we were ready to start our Monday tour of Umbria. I love it as the trip progresses and everyone starts to get comfortable with being in the country and since everyone has their own car, the agenda is there but you don't have to follow it. Most of the group stayed behind and slept in! I had 7 with me and 7 were sawing logs.
Off we went down the hill, through the valley then up and over the big hill, the great view of Lake Trasimeno and then down the hill. We jumped on the freeway which is interrupted by numerous tunnels but with just two cars in our Umbrian convey today was a breeze. We passed Perugia, which is a great town, and proceeded down the Tiber river valley to Deruta. Deruta is most recognized for its excellent ceramics which are exported throughout the world. The fine clay from the Tiber River provides the unique medium for this craft which has been perfected over the centuries.
We stopped at my favorite studio and shop, CAMA, which I have been visiting for nearly 10 years now. The Niccacci family has been operating CAMA for over 60 years and every time I visit Mamma and Pappa are there to welcome me with kisses and a personal tour for my guests of their studio. Uncle Luigi throws the clay and his hands magically, precisely, and repeatedly produce the myriad of pieces they produce. He is a a master and it is simply mesmerizing to watch him on the wheel. Then to watch the speed and precision of the stenciling and painting of each piece, one by one....it truly gives you an appreciation of the love, passion, craftsmanship and history that goes into each piece. Needless to say, once everyone experienced the tour and the spirit of this place - including pictures of the family presenting pieces to Pope John Paul II next to biking and soccer photos of Pappa when he was much younger - the purchasing was in full fervor. Let's just say the Niccacci's are always happy when I come to town and make what is probably a slow Monday into a nice little uptick in their sales for the month! This trip was no different.
After the ordering was done, Roberta Niccacci escorted us through town to a great little country house in the farmland of the Tiber valley for lunch. I love these little bed and breakfast places. Pappa or Mamma cooks and the other serves. Other than perhaps the mayor of town, we were the only other diners on the patio overlooking the tobacco and sunflower fields. We ordered antipasti for 7 and of course instead received 7 individual antipasti platters....ahhh dining in Umbria was on! A little vino, and the sound of thunder and lighting from an approaching thunderstorm and you couldn't ask for any better ambiance for a Monday afternoon lunch in Umbria. I enjoyed the Tagliatelle con Chingale (pasta with wild boar sauce), whose order was confirmed by the waitress giving a pig snort sound, and of course a glass of chianti. A myriad of dishes were ordered by the group and the sampling began! Delicious!
As we were dining in Deruta, our late sleepers had risen and were off on their own adventure and stopped along the Lake Trasimeno for their lunch which apparently was also equally amazing. Pasta with white truffe sauce along the shore of the lake....sounds pretty good to me. We closed out our purchases at CAMA and we were off to Assisi to all rendezvous.
Assisi is always a favorite on the trip and this time proved no different. Parking is always an adventure in these hilltowns but we all seemed to find a spot and eventually all meet at the main piazza. Touring churches and shops, grabbing a gelato to top off the pasta and enjoying the passing thunderstorm all added to a relaxing afternoon in this beautiful Umbrian hilltown. Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis, who founded the religious order of the Franciscan monks in this town in 1208 and shares honor with Saint Catherine of Siena as the patron saints of Italy. You can definitely feel this aura as you stroll the streets and occasionally pass a monk or nun on their way to mass. The streets are tight and medieval in character and you always catch a glimpse of the quilted patchwork of farm fields below as you glance down the streets. Its really a beautiful and spiritual place.
Both groups arrived at the Basilica di San Francesco which was damaged in a quake in 1997 but was restored and reopened just two years later. This church is amazing and one of the best on our tour. Three levels make up this marvelous structure capped off with the tomb of Saint Francis at the bottom level which acts as the emanating core of this church. Everyone was moved by this remarkable place. We sat in the middle church and watched all of our travelers emerge from the tomb just shaking their heads in awe as mass was being said in the adjoining chapel. Talk about mood....wow. We then all gathered and proceeded outdoors to the sun peaking through following the rainstorm.....again amazing. Fantastic light and the cameras were in full motion. We made our way back through town, did a little shopping along the way, and capped our conquering of Assisi with a gelato and/or cappuccino at the Piazza San Rufino at the top of the town.
We then proceeded to all make our ways back to our cars....some had an adventure in that task but we all eventually made it and drove down the hill and back to our little dark and quiet Niccone valley. Along the way we stopped in our favorite pizzeria in Lisciono Niccone and grabbed six pies, panna cotta for desert, and of course a couple jugs of the local house wine for reinforcements!
Back to the houses, a little dinner, a quick swim under the Umbrian stars, and then it was back onto the porch for recollections of the day's adventures, laughs and then eventually some more swimming at 2 am.... what fun!