All the roads lead to…Umbria!

I’m really very happy to host on our blog a new guest post with beautiful photos about Umbria by Elisabeth (Lies) and Peter Bijleveld. 

Lies and Peter live in the Netherlands and I had the real pleasure to meet them in Todi during their amazing 6-months road trip through Italy and Southern Europe.
Here the memories of their “life changing experience”...

Hi! My name is Elisabeth Schot, I am an artist and teacher of ceramics from Delft, Holland.

Delft is, as well, our home-town and it is famous for its Blue majolica, a glazed white earthenware decorated with blue floral patterns. I got interested in the history: how these ceramics arrived from Persia to Holland, so this became our travelling theme during our half year sabbatical journey
My husband Peter is a business analist at TUD; Delft Technical University and semi-prof photographer. 
We drove our blue Renault Kangoo to the South of Europe, visiting cities, museums and factories throughout Italy, Spain and Portugal and it turned out to be a life changing experience.

Our Italy experience was limited to a few days sightseeiing Florence, Venice and Rome, before having the luxury to travel from north to south for ten weeks!
After a visit to overcrowded Florence and Siena we arrived in Umbria to spent the month of November 2011 in a charming apartment, within walking distance to the medieval center of Todi. 

Todi , View – copyright  Peter Bijleveld
Sunset from Todi – copyright  Peter Bijleveld

Piero and Silvana at their trattoria in Todi 

Professional local guides showed us around the steep, narrow streets, pittoresque shops and fine restaurants (home-made tiramisu at Piero and Silvana’s!), telling us all the details from Roman and even Etruscan times. We saw churches, cloisters and cistern cellars, as well as the striking modern interior of “The Painted House”. All of them unexpected surprises, you really have to look behind walls and doors to complete the Todi picture. 

As we only knew the tiniest bit of Italia, we were happy to find the youngest people speaking very well English, among them a sweet English couple who invited us over for a Sunday “roast beef” lunch. We met them again at San Martino’s fair (every year on the 11th November) downtown Todi’s marketplace and I can still smell the roasted chestnuts.

Special Todi tip: check your shoes and put on a flat pair, you will walk hundreds of antique cobbles, going up and down the hills!

Narrow streets in Todi – copyright  Peter Bijleveld
Piazza del Popolo in Todi –  copyright  Peter Bijleveld

As the weather continued to be steady,- foggy in the morning but warm and sunny in the afternoon – we saw a lot of Todi’s region; the Duomo of Orvieto, Umbria’s capital city Perugia – a bookshop full of jazz cd’s -, and also the unique sunset at Lago di Bolsena. We admired the frescoes in Assisi ‘s basilica but our favorites were in Montefalco:  San Francesco, the saint life story painted on the wall by Benozzo Gozzoli

We loved the most simple dark church with the sole window in Bevagna, a real francescan lesson in “Less is More”. I’ll never forget the visit to the small wine museum in Torgiano, and last but not least the ceramic museums in Gubbio and Deruta

Gubbio –  copyright  Peter Bijleveld
Perugia –  copyright  Peter Bijleveld

In between you can’t get enough of the green hills, red vineyards and the blue sky above.

We found Umbria to be a beautiful and well kept secret, a hidden gem, full of friendly people taking the time to seduce your sense of taste with regional “slow food”.
 I loved painting ceramics at Ubaldo Grazia‘s factory in Deruta and its spectacular private collection of majolica, where we could take all the pictures we wanted. 
My teacher Riccardo was also a Della Robbia “afficionado”; he hardly spoke any English but it was no problem when we discovered our shared passion, Grazia was a real Walhalla ceramic experience.

Lies and Riccardo share their love for Della Robbia

A special tip is the small Madonna dei Bagni chapel, nearby the motorway to Deruta.

The walls are covered by ceramic “ex voto” plates, they show accidents of local people – rescued just in time from cars, bulls, horses or angry goats- expressing their gratitude in this moving and funny way. Entering the place we thought to see a watch dog but it turned out to be a cheerful hopping sheep following the gardener!

Santuario Madonna Dei Bagni  – copyright  Peter Bijleveld
Ex voto at Santuario Madonna dei Bagni  copyright  Peter Bijleveld
Ex voto at Santuario Madonna dei Bagni  copyright  Peter Bijleveld

We especially loved the day trip offered by our guide Alessandra, we went to see Bevagna and surroundings in the sunny Assisi valley, she showed us the process of wine making and pressing olive oil, Umbria’s “green gold”, I’ll never forget we must always buy “Extra Vergine”!

Vines of Sagrantino in Fall – copyright  Peter Bijleveld
Visiting an oil mill in November   – copyright  Peter Bijleveld
Typical pork cold cuts and flat bread  –  copyright  Peter Bijleveld
Peter chooses his  Sagrantino wine

Our most impressive wine tasting event was getting to know the Montefalco Sagrantino red wine, forget about the rest, you better be warned!

We had a simple but delicious lunch at Spello’s oenotheca near Assisi and bought a special bottle there which we managed to save to celebrate a safe return in Holland.
After tasting it made us want to return to Umbria immediately..

Mille grazie again Alessandra and folks, we’ll be back for more and it will feel like coming home.

Arrivederci a tutti !

See related Guest Writers and their love for Umbria:

The everlasting true love of my life: Umbria – Yo Harff  (The Netherlands)

 A Portrait of a Lady [Umbria]– Jenny Smith (England/USA)
Posted in GUEST POSTS.