Today was our quiet day at the Umbrian Farmhouse. The decrescendo of our journey. A day to just enjoy the countryside and the beautiful home and grounds capped off with our cooking class at the end of the day.
Of course I woke up before anyone and being we were out of coffee at the houses, I thought I would head to town early and grab some provisions to start the day for my travelers. Of course it was only 6:30 am so all was quiet in Mercatale. I made my way into the local coffee stop, Sheila's, and asked what time the local market opened. Well of course that wasn't until 8 am so I grabbed a couple cappuccinos and kicked back and watched the news, in Italian of course. I enjoyed watching the locals stumble their way in to start their days - mostly farmers and construction workers, all who likely engaged in this ritual every day. And even though I stuck out like a sour thumb, all were friendly with a gruff, but non-threatening, buon giorno and a nod of the head.
At 8 am I was off to the market where I was the first patron of the day. The proprietor was kind and tolerated my hand gestures and sketches on paper to describe a bag of coffee, sugar, and cream. Grabbed some croissants, a little fruit and I was out the door. As I drove back to the houses the light through the wafting fog dancing on the hills over the sunlit tobacco and sunflower fields was captivating. So what should have been a 15 min drive home quickly became a 45 minute drive with stops here and there along the way to snap vignettes of this quiet and picturesque landscape. You realize that men and women have been farming this valley for years - thousands of years. What spirits were dancing in the fog???? I can only imagine.
Life was stirring at the house when I returned. Coffee was quickly on the stove and the day now really began. With no agenda, everyone started to set their own course for the the day. I had a group that wanted to go to the old antique stoneyard, Lacole, for a quick tour of their treasures and finds. Seven travelers chose to check this out so we were off in two cars.
We made our way north of our home, past the small walled city of Citta di Castello, and up the valley toward Arezzo. Finally we found the old stoneyard and we pulled in and parked. Not two minutes later a gentleman pulled up ascertaining our purpose. I quickly aksed for Giacomo who is the son of the family who runs this amazing operation. He quickly called him and in minutes I was speaking with Giacomo and he was excited to hear I was back for a visit. He was finishing lunch (always a priority) and would join us in about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, we would walk the yard and see what treasures were on the grounds. In the past, this was their only location and all of their inventory was in this open air yard. Walking around it became quiet apparent that this was no longer the case. The yard was filled strictly with building materials, pavers, tiles, beams, and a few old fireplace fronts, basins and fountains - all probably not good enough to make the grade of their new location. With a huge thunderstorm approaching we quickly toured the yard and made our way to the cover and safety of our cars. No sooner did we get inside than the rain came down - big time. Of course that is when Giacomo arrived and jumping out of the car to chat was just enough time to get totally soaked! He asked we follow him to their new showroom.....
After a short drive through the farm valley we made our way to the new Lacole facility.....WOW. The new showroom is simply mindblowing! A huge 2 story showroom is only augmented by a huge outdoor yard where all the pieces from the old stoneyard that were randomly strewn about are now organized in beautiful vignettes and rows making the treasure hunting experience for the patron very pleasurable. Everything from the antiques to the snails on the ground are beautiful in true Italian style! It is very gratifying to see how far this family's operation has come in the ten years I have been visiting them. I have purchased roof tiles, doors, fireplace fronts, and many other elements for projects in Phoenix from Lacole and so its always great to visit them. Mamma who runs the antique side of the business is always great to see - she never ages and is a beautiful woman. I could sit and just listen to her speak for hours.... They gave us a nice tour and after two hours of wandering around we said our goodbyes and we were on our way back to the Umbrian Farmhouses.
With a stop at a farm to see the chickens, turkeys, pigs and ducks all race to greet us (by the way a chicken is faster than a turkey) we made our way home to the laughter and commotion of the house. Several of our travelers all had made their way on their own adventures and explorations of the area so we all arrived with our stories of the day. Elizabeth and her crew were getting things ready for our cooking class which starts around 4pm and runs until 8 pm whereupon we all sit down to savor our gastronomic creations! The cooking class is always a great time - relaxing, fun and with vino flowing, always full of laughter. People jump in and out of the various activities involved in the production of the various dishes. Along the way we are all savoring the tastes as the light from the day slowly descends on the Umbrian hills. Its a very memorable way to spend the day at the Country Houses.
With dinner behind us and a fire in the fireplace it was time to unwind. As we did a group started to strategize about branching off and heading to the Amalfi Coast for a little side adventure over the next three days. After enjoying another glass of vino or two, we all had our game plans for Day 8 and it was time to call it a night......let's just say at about 2am ....again.