As mentioned there really are still a few Italian provinces that are untrammeled by tourists. Two of them are Le Marche on the Adriatic coast and Umbria just west of it. It may also surprise you to know that there’s an array of pristine historic towns waiting to be discovered. Some of the high points of this adventure –
Two nights are in little Norcia, hidden in the Apennine Mountains and home to some of Italy’s top makers of salami and its various relatives. One morning you’ll get to know more about the area’s most prized sausage.
Then, Recanati, not far from the Adriatic, and probably also not on many people’s list of must-sees. Here you’ll have a pasta-making lesson with Miranda of Italian TV’s “La Prova del Cuoco.” She speaks no English, but no matter, it’s definitely not a problem. One night there’s a wine tasting and dinner at a vineyard and another dinner at the hotel with matching wines.
From Recanati it’s up the coast near Urbino, but first a stop to explore the magnificent Frasassi Caves, only discovered in the ‘70s. There are huge, high ceiling galleries totally unspoiled, luminescent stalagmites and stalactites and a small emerald-colored lake.
The next three nights are at Villa Tombolina, a farm managed by two sisters-in-law and overseen by their young children. The farm also raises pigs (you can visit them) for its gold-medal winning salami. This farm though is not typical of those here: the historic Villa Tombolina has olive groves, a vineyard, two swimming pools, a tennis court, lovely comfy, country-style accommodations, and, yes, the pigs not too far away.
One day you visit the small city of Urbino and your palace guide (who happens to be a professor of medieval history) explains why Urbino’s beloved duke was always painted from the left. Another day you wander the hills and history of San Marino, one of Europe’s tiniest countries. Then perhaps a pièce-de-résistance is the day you spend the morning learning about and hunting for truffles, those terribly expensive Italian and French delicacies, and the afternoon cooking your luncheon with a Michelin starred chef.
Leaving the villa, you stop off at the picturesque hill town of Gubbio on the way to a castle hotel outside Perugia. The impeccably restored Castello di Monterone which goes back to Etruscan times, is your home for the next few nights. From there, of course, you have a must-see day trip to beautiful Assisi, Pope Francis’ namesake-hero’s basilica and hometown. Then there’s solving the mystery of Perugia’s unsalted breads and its underground city, and its chocolate. Yes, spend a morning at Perugina playing with that luscious liquid, making your own truffles and touring the factory to learn the company’s fascinating history.
The last two days in Umbria are spent discovering two of Italy’s geological wonders: Orvieto and Civita di Bagnoregio. You may’ve heard of one. Both are located atop tufa. Orvieto draws visitors to its famous cathedral and thriving city life. The other, Civita di Bagnoregio and barely known, a tiny jewel on a hill, goes back 2,500 years. But the constant erosion of its clay foundation endangers its very existence. It’s not uncommon for homes to slide down the precipice. Today only a dozen people live there in winter and maybe 100 in summer. Then, before heading home, it’s on to Rome for a night or two, always one of my favorites!
PRACTICAL TRIP INFO
- Length: 13 days best in the cooler months of April/May and late August/September
- Included transportation: Private transfer throughout
- Hotels: Four & five-star superior plus an Agri-tourism farm
- Also Includes: Daily breakfast, 5 lunches, 3 wine tastings, 7 dinners, & 9 culinary adventures; and 6 guided tours
- Estimated land package price based on double occupancy & at $.88/€: $5,700.00/person based on 8 travelers