A weekend with Pat Hanna—and Cantine Aperte!

(May 30-31, 2015) Before my trip was about to finish, Pat drove to Spello for one of my last weekends here, and we had an adventure-filled couple of days. She had recently been hiking with friends, and managed to fit in another trip to Spello to see me before I left.

On Saturday, we took a drive to the Villa Fidelia, one of the principal landmarks on the outskirts of Spello. It is a luxurious villa built in the seventeenth century, and now is a public park, used for art exhibitions and special events. Over the years, the formal Italian gardens have suffered from less than ideal care, but the Villa has outstanding baroque and neoclassical architecture, and a rich history. In 1930, King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy chose the villa for the wedding reception of his daughter, Giovanna, after she married the King of Bulgaria at the basilica in Assisi. Later, during WWII, the Villa Fidelia served as the official headquarters of the occupying forces of the German army in this region.

The Rose Exhibition, at the Villa Fidelia gardens

The Rose Exhibition, at the Villa Fidelia gardens

Pat finds a new clematis

Pat finds a new clematis

For Pat and me, it was visiting the annual rose exhibition that took us to the Villa. The grounds are taken over by nurseries exhibiting their new varieties of roses, and all of the plants are offered for sale. It is a common site to see the husbands carrying plants to the car, as their wives continue shopping around the extensive grounds of the Villa. Pat and I toured through the grounds, with a wide variety of flowers, garden furniture, and flower-themed crafts for sale, but neither of us was there for purchasing—only observing the rare new varieties of many plants, both of us interested in gardening and appreciating the diversity of all that was on display.

Many flowers other than roses are available

Many flowers other than roses are available

A new variety of hydrangea

A new variety of hydrangea

The next day, however, was our target day for the weekend. We set out in Pat’s car for the annual “Cantine Aperte” event, with the wineries all over the region open for tours and wine tasting. Our first stop was off the “beaten path” of the big wine producers in the valley, toward Terni. Pat had a particular type of wine that she wanted to taste (she is a certified sommelier, and I love to come along for the lessons I learn at her elbow)—the wines of the ciliegiolo grape, with a cherry-like aroma and taste, often blended into other wines. She brings her huge sommelier books, reviewing each cantina and their wines and doing extensive homework before we set out, and so we headed for the region where many cantine feature these wines.

A reception from a small family winery--with antipasti

A reception from a small family winery–with antipasti

We were almost alone at the first cantina, where we tried several wines, served with antipasti prepared by the family, and we did buy a few bottles of very reasonably priced wines. Then, heading out for the next targeted winery on Pat’s list, we passed some beautiful countryside. First, we passed a villa down a long, straight white gravel road lined with cypress trees—just the sort of sight we often imagine in Tuscany, especially.

A stunning villa along the way

A stunning villa along the way

We soon arrived at the Cantina Zanchi, one with a particular wine that Pat was seeking. There were many people inside the cantina, and many workers pouring wines and telling the stories of each variety—but they were not pouring the wine that Pat had come to taste. It would be available for a fee at a tasting in 2 hours—but we did not have time to wait for so long. Pat convinced them of her intentions, coming to the winery solely for that one wine, and they arranged a private tasting for the two of us (for the same fee as the afternoon tasting, but for just the two of us—including antipasti, cheeses, and salami). Both of us bought bottles of that particular wine, and we headed off to our next stop, served well by the son of the owner, who provided our private experience for Pat.

Zanchi Cantina, and their event poster

Zanchi Cantina, and their event poster

Our private wine tasting in a back room

Our private wine tasting in a back room

"Wine-colored glasses"

“Wine-colored glasses” (a good way to see the world, I say!)

Zanchi stainless steel vats for wine production

Zanchi stainless steel tanks for wine production

A few minutes later, we continued driving along a rural highway that was located over the original roadbed of the Via Flaminia, originally a principal roadway between Rome and Ravenna, built in 220 B.C. No obvious traces of the original roadway were evident, and it was only in reading historical markers that we understood that we were following an ancient Roman path. We stopped at the Church of Santa Maria in Pantano, built in the seventh century and the second oldest church in Umbria, and took a look inside. The tourist notes on the building explained that it had been “widely rehashed,” perhaps meaning “restored.” Old Roman capitals and cornices were reused inside, on some of the pillars, most likely coming from earlier structures. In addition, some of the mosaic floors remained intact. This church represented the town of Todi along the roadway in Roman times, although only a few remnants of the original church remain.

Marker--Santa Maria in Pantano church, VII century

Marker–Santa Maria in Pantano church, VII century

The church building complex and tower

The church building complex and tower

Santa Maria in Pantano, tower detail

Santa Maria in Pantano, tower detail

Inside the sanctuary

Inside the sanctuary

Frescos, and old Roman capitals included in the pillars

Altar frescos, and old Roman capitals included in the pillars

The carved wooden crucifix in the church

The carved wooden crucifix in the church

As we got into the valley, we were dropped fully into the crazy crowds that come out for the Cantine Aperte event—including many young people on scooters and motorcycles, cutting through the congested traffic while we sat still on the roadway, and wearing the tasting glass in a cloth holder around their necks. Some of the wineries on our list to visit were so crowded that we just kept on going—inching by in thick traffic, blocked by both parked autos and pedestrians walking long distances from where they had to leave their cars. We stopped at a few more wineries, but all were crowded and none had wines of particular interest to Pat.

What MOST roads look like during Cantine Aperte weekend

What MOST roads look like during Cantine Aperte weekend

Our last destination was the town of Amelia, the source of the “fichi Girotti,” a very particular and delicious dried fig confection found only there, at the Bar Leonardo. Pat had found these figs at a fig festival in Tuscany, and had sent me a box by mail that took nearly four months to get to me. She had been trying to find where they were manufactured, and it was Leonardo, our friend here in Spello, who knew exactly where to send us: to Amelia, and to Bar Leonardo. This family makes the figs—soaked in flavors of orange peel and chocolate, and stuffed with nuts—and presses them in special wooden molds to form a small patty from four figs, which are dried and then individually sealed. Each one costs €2, so they are an expensive hand-made treat, but are famous and can only be purchased at the family bar in Amelia.

Sign outside Bar Leonardo, in Amelia

Sign outside Bar Leonardo, in Amelia

The small display of the figs for which we were searching

The small display of the figs for which we were searching

Fichi Girotti--bingo!

Fichi Girotti–we hit the jackpot!

We crossed the valley heading back toward Spello, through vineyard-covered hills, some with views of Montefalco in the background. The new bunches of grapes for the 2015 vendemmia (grape harvest) were just forming, as the pollinated flowers were drying up revealing the new fruit.

View through a vineyard to Montefalco

View through a vineyard to Montefalco

Montefalco in the distance, mature winter wheat making a yellow stripe

Montefalco in the distance, mature winter wheat making a yellow stripe

Una "grappola," a bunch of newly-pollinated grapes

Una “grappola,” a bunch of newly-pollinated grapes

Pat had to leave after we returned to Spello, but we both had new bottles of wine to remind us of our day together, and she was soon off in her car for the trip back to Santa Brigida, her small rural village in the mountains above Florence, in Tuscany.

As Pat departs, the view south of the Val di Chiona--Spello's rural side

As Pat departs, the view south toward the Val di Chiona–Spello’s rural side

 

 

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