It’s Sunday in Bella Italia and The Palladian Traveler, motoring around Umbria and Tuscany as a guest of Insight Vacations, is going to do what most fun-loving Italians do on this day: eat, drink and be merry for as long as it takes. He files his ninth dispatch in the Country Roads series from a restaurant in Spello. Buon Appetito!
With the crumbs from the crunchy bruschetta, a simple centuries-old antipasto in this part of La Penisula, still dotting coats and jackets, our just-concluded visit to an Umbrian olive mill turned out to be literally and figuratively the appetizer for what’s to come: a long, lazy afternoon-into-evening lunch seated at la tavola with knife and fork in hand.
It’s Sunday around the Bel Paese, and our group of international media, guests of Insight Vacations’ (Insight) Country Roads journey around Umbria and Tuscany, are going to do what most fun-loving Italians do on this day: eat, drink and be merry for as long as it takes.
A bit late for lunch, a tad early for dinner, we’re calling it “linnertime” as our motorcoach pulls into Spello, a picturesque little town in the Umbria.
The hilly streets are too narrow for our chariot to negotiate, so we stop just outside the walls of the centro storico (historic center) and we’ll hoof it the rest of the way. We don’t mind at all. Linner awaits!
Lead by Marco, Insight’s Umbria expert, we begin to make our way into ancient Hispellum, where Umbri tribesmen, the original Italics — the people, not the font — built this town around 9 B.C. only to see sandal-clad Romans colonize it around 1 B.C. until it finally settled in as a classic medieval community where about 8,500 residents now hang their hats.
Walking alongside blocks of stone mortared together long ago, we duck inside a narrow opening and climb up and through the Porta Venere (Venus Gate), an ancient Roman arch, into the heart of the town. Squeezing through tight cobblestone streets, we cross open courtyards that double as parking lots for cars of the smallest dimensions as we gain altitude. A cascade of hanging flower pots brighten the way as our forced march to linner takes us past some of the more than two dozen churches that seem to sanctify every street corner.
We make the final push, climbing ever upward on the cobble and reach our destination: Ristorante Il Molino (The Mill).
Standing like a nondescript row house along Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, Il Molino is quite a different sight inside: bright white stucco walls accent the barreled, vaulted brick ceilings above, giving the elegant dining room an airy, wine cellar feel.
Francesca Buono, the owner-chef, has planned out our five-course linner to perfection with her creative take on the traditional Umbrian kitchen. A quick glance at the menu has us salivating. Glasses filled with chilled vino bianco, the appetizer arrives and our long, lazy afternoon-into-evening feast gets underway.
Three-plus hours later, our group of merry media bids an arrivederci to super chef Francesca and waddles out of Il Molino into the twilight, down the winding cobble to the awaiting motorcoach.
Tucked into our business class legroom seats, fully reclined for extra comfort, Belinda announces tomorrow’s plan: We’ll be under the Tuscan sun in Cortona. Have your luggage packed for pick up outside your doors at 7:00 a.m. How does that sound? Anybody listening? Hello?
Bellies quite heavy, there’s nary a peep from the peanut gallery. Heavy eyes struggle to stay open; we surrender and fall fast asleep unaware of the nighttime drive back to Perugia and the Hotel Sangallo Palace.
To learn more about traveling in style on one of Insight Vacations’ 12 Italian premium and luxury escorted itineraries — where you’ll meet great local personalities like The Etruscan Chef along the way — or one of its 100 other journeys around Europe, visit insightvacations.com, or call toll-free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
Buonanotte e sogni d’oro.