Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Todi: Piazza del Popolo & Ristorante Umbria

One of Umbria's most beautiful hill towns, Todi is perched high up in the mountains with spectacular views in every direction. Reached by an exciting drive through winding roads and hairpin turns, this ancient city is a true delight. Described as one of the 'most liveable towns in the world', Todi has retained much of the original features and charming character of the town's diverse historical periods in the face of passing time. Like rings around a tree, Todi's history can be read in layers. With a rich history dating back to around 1300 BC, Todi was settled by the Umbri, an ancient pre-Etruscan people who gave it the name Tudere. According to legend, one night the new conquerors were eating their meal which was placed on a red cloth, when suddenly an eagle descended upon them, seized the cloth with its talons and flew away, dropping it high up in the hills. This was interpreted as a divine sign, and the new town was built exactly where the eagle had shown. Tudere later became absorbed by the Romans in the 1st century BC, expelling the Etruscans from their new land, and the town became known as Todi. 

Roman rule is still evident in many of Todi's architectural features, as are many of the town's Mediaeval buildings that were developed during the 13th century, such as The Piazza del Popolo, one of Italy 's most beautiful medieval squares and Todi's Duomo, the 12th century Cathedral of Santa Annunziata, which sits at one end of the square built on the ruins an ancient pagan temple. The simple facade is approached by a broad sweep of stairs that lead up to magnificent wood carved doors. Looking back, the Duomo commands an impressive view over the sunny Piazza, which is where we enjoyed an early morning cappuccino and pastry at a lovely Gran Caffé Serrani as we watched the town setting up for the annual 'White Night Festival' in the Piazza del Popolo. We then visited the Pinacoteca Civic Museum on the top floor of the Palazzo del Capitano, and is organised into into various sections recounting the thousand-year history of the city of Todi. 

Parking at the foot of Todi, we took advantage of the funicular 
that took us up very close to the historic centre

View of Todi from a park where the funicular dropped us 

The 12th century Cathedral of Santa Annunziata sits at one end of the Piazza del Popolo, 
and was built on the ruins an ancient pagan temple

The central portal in wood has a double door made by Antonio Bencivenni in 1521

Fresco by Ferraù Fenzoni in 1596 depicting the Last Judgment, 
inspired by Michelangelo's treatment of the same subject in the Sistine Chapel

This is the end of time, the beginning of eternity when some are taken to heaven and others cast into the unending torments of hell!

On the eve of Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida, I lit a candle at this shrine and prayed in my little way for my parent's home on Longboat Key to escape the storms wrath

Beautiful chandelier in the Duomo representing the symbol of Todi - the eagle 

View from the Duomo over the Piazza with many tables being set up for Todi's 'White Night' event in front of the Palazzo del Priore, Palazzo del Popolo and Palazzo del Capitano

The Palazzo del Popolo and Palazzo del Capitano houses the Pinacoteca Civic Museum which tells the thousand-year history of the city of Todi

Antique map of Todi

Madonna col Bambino e i Santi Cassiano, Fortunato, Bernardino da Siena, Callisto e Sebastiano by Andrea Polinori from Todi (1586-1648)

Antique bronze balls used to cast secret votes for clergy in Todi

Etruscan elongated bronze votive figures about 4th-century BC

Entrance to Ristorante Umbria

A symbol of culinary excellence and custodian of the traditions of the real tuderte cuisine, Michelin-starred Ristorante Umbria is the finest restaurant in Todi, and the oldest. After visiting the Duomo and San Fortunate, we wandered through the steeply winding streets that lead to small hidden entrance of Ristorante Umbria. With reservations made months earlier, we had a beautiful table waiting on the gorgeous outdoor terrace with spectacular views over the Tiber valley. Started by Sabatino Todini and his wife Ida over 60 years ago on a small farm located on the site of the restaurant where they used to sell wine in bulk, the property was slowly transformed into the beautiful gastronomic paradise we enjoy today. With a menu highlighting regional recipes and traditional Tuderte cuisine, we enjoyed a glorious lunch of local delicacies beginning with a glass of Prosecco and finishing with a bottle of dark and delicious Sagrantino di Montefalco. Fortified with a sumptuous lunch and hot frothy macchiato, we wound our way back on the hairpin turns of SS448 through Parco Fluviale del Tevere towards Orvieto and then home to our villa for a nap before dinner — "la vita è bella".

View from the restaurant

The outdoor terrace of Ristorante Umbria with open window to the kitchen

The menu of traditional Tuderte dishes

Basket of bread with local olive oil

Glass of Prosecco as a bubbly start to our lunch

Selezione di formaggi e salumi tipici umbri

Zuppa di Lenticchie di Castelluccio di Norcia

Insalata di Caprese con mozzarella di bufalo

Our server uncorking our bottle of 2008 Sagrantino di Montefalco Adanti

Sagrantino di Montefalco by Adanti is a robust, complex wine, aged in oak barrels for 30 months 

 Italy's iconic beer, Peroni, officially became Japanese last year after over year of negotiations

Bracioline di Maialine ai ferri: Wood fire grilled pork chops

Salsicce di Maiale con polenta: Grilled Pork Sausages with Polenta

Carré di Cinghiale aromatizzato con alloro e ginepro: Grilled wild boar with laurel and juniper

Castolette di Agnello aromatizzato con rosmarino: Lamb Chops with Rosemary

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Panicale: Perugino, San Sebastiano & Lillo Tatini

One of the most beautiful towns in Italy, Panicale has been crowned 'I Borghi piu belli d'Italia', a selection of small villages throughout Italy that are considered to be the most beautiful. While Panicale has probably been inhabited since Etruscan times, it was a medieval castle built on the peak of the hill that formed the village we see today. One of the Italy's famous painters, Pietro Vannuci, known as Il Perugino, was born in Panicale and the local Church of San Sebastiano is home to one of his celebrated frescoes — The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. Chiesa di San Sebastiano was built between the 14th and 15th-centuries, and later remodelled in 1623. The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, a fresco painted by Perugino in 1505, is considered to be one of the artist's most important works in Umbria. Designed to decorate the back wall of the Oratory of San Sebastiano, the martyrdom was conceived as an abstract composition of geometrical figures. The central pyramid depicts four archers that seem to dance around the saint, who appear calm as he is pierced by the arrows. In the background is a bucolic landscape of gentle rolling hills, which was actually modelled on the view from outside the church looking towards Lago Trasimeno and the Valdichiana valley. 
In the same church there is also the breathtaking fresco depicting the 'Madonna in trono con Angeli musicanti', which has only recently been attributed to Raphael. It was taken from the St. Augustine Church in 1884, and is now being preserved in the Church of Saint Sebastian. Painted by students of Perugino, one of the startling revelations has been that four of the figures in the fresco, the Musical Angels, were all painted by Raphael, at age 12. It was an extraordinary experience to be able to get so close to these works of art, in private, and in total quiet. 

The main gate into Panicale

Ceramic map of the village under the arch of the main gate

The Fountain at Piazza Umberto built in travertine in 1473 was once the village well

One of the beautiful Medieval walkways in Panicale

Overlooking Lago Trasimeno from the top of the village

A Panicale pooch!

Bronze statue of the Archangel Michael outside the Collegiata di San Sebastiano in Piazza San Michele

Interior of the 11th-century Collegiata di San Sebastiano

Above the altar is the 15th-centry "Annunciation of the Virgin" by Masolino da Panicale

Although blessed with a humble exterior, Chiesa di San Sebastiano is home to The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, a gorgeous fresco painted by Perugino in 1505, and considered to be one of the artist's most important works in Umbria

The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian by Perugino 

Fresco detail of one of the archers preparing his bow

Another archer is poised to launch an arrow at St Sebastian

Unlike most depictions of The Martyrdom of St Sebastian, Perugino's fresco show the saint with just 2 arrows in his leg and well before being riddled with them

The detached fresco "Madonna in Trono", or Madonna and Musical Angels, by Raphael, 
who was originally a student of Perugino

One of the angels in the fresco playing a lute

Another angel looking heavenward playing a voila

Detail of one the double-wing cherubs

Fortified with the art of Perugino, it was time to fortify our bodies with the special Umbian cuisine of Lillo Tatini, our favourite restaurant in the main square of Panicale on Piazza Umberto I. A gracious host, Patrizia Spadoni always greets us with a warm smile and glass of prosecco as we return each year to enjoy a magical lunch. Named after Patrizia’s husband Vittorio's grandfather, a shopkeeper in Panicle who occupied the same space, Lillo Tatini is a culinary paradise. Opened in 1999, the dishes are based on traditional Umbrian cuisine using historic recipes and a network of treasured suppliers, the sophisticated menu features local charcuterie, fresh pasta, truffles, fish from Lago Trasimeno and game from the surrounding hills. The management of the kitchen, supervised and guided as always by Patrizia, is in the hands of chef Ardjent, and the cuisine is always exceptional. The afternoon we arrived for lunch, Patrizia was away with her grandchildren and we were graciously taken care of by Vittorio. Starting with a lovely glass of Prosecco, we looked over Lillo's menu swooning over many of the dishes we had enjoyed before. Dishes such as Carbonara del Perugino - Ravioli stuffed with quail eggs sautéed with bacon from Siena "Cinta" and special sheep milk ricotta from Norcia, Quel Ghiottone del Fattore - Handmade tagliatella dressed with Cintasenese pork and Chianina beef sauce, and Spuntino al Poggio - Deboned Rabbit with fagiolina del Trasimeno embrace the flavours and aromas of Panicale — our little corner of paradise.

Walking from the Chiesa di San Sebastiano back towards the main square of Panicale,
and lunch at Lillo Tatini

Lillo Tatini viewed from on Piazza Umberto I

Our favourite restaurant in Umbria, the weathered metal sign of Lillo Tatini 
is like a familiar greeting by an old friend

The charming and inviting interior of Lillo Tatini

Wrapped in suede, the menu features traditional Umbrian cuisine using historic recipes 

The attention to detail is found from the table settings and glassware to the unique ambiance, outstanding menu and gracious personalized service

Beautiful water glasses grace the table

Our host Vittorio pouring a lovely bottle of Prosecco

Hot fresh baked olive and cheese panini

Lillo Tatini's spectacular anchovy butter, which combined with the hot rolls is simply the best

Insalata Caprese with burata and pesto

Zuppa di Ceci e Costagna con pane tostata

Marinated Coregone lake fish with citrus pesto and rocket

Vittorio decanting our bottle of Sagrantino di Montepulciano

The Umbrian wine with soul

Il Preferito del Podesta: “Peposo” typical beef braised in Sangiovese wine and pepper in grains served with mashed potatoes

Carbonara del Perugino: Ravioli ripini con uovo quaglia saltati in padella con pancetta 
di Cinta Sense e ricotta stagionata di Norcia

Quel Ghiottone del Fattore: Handmade Tagliatelle with ragu of Cintasenese pork and Chianina beef, and absolutely delicious — the best pasta of our trip!

Tiny mason jar of freshly grated pecorino for my pasta

Vittoria Geletaria by Lillo Tatini, named after the granddaughter of Patrizia and Vittorio

The delectable selection of gelato was too tempting to pass by after our sensational lunch

Piccola ciotola di gelato di nocciole