Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TTITIM #1: Andrew and Marianne

Today, our pre-tirement ends, as we leave the Niccone Valley with the dogs, some new art, some jam and snacks, some wine, some knicks and knacks, a huge host of lovely and memorable memories, and a ten-pack of fazzoletti (or tissue) for the ride to Milan (which happens first, then the drive to Frankfurt, from where we fly back to Seattle). We would have none of the above (except the dogs, who came with us naturally) without the #1 thing of the list of Top Ten Italian Things I’ll Miss: Andrew and Marianne. If you’ve never seen the blog until this post, then where have you been? If you have seen it, you’ve heard me mention Andrew and Marianne before, because they’ve been an integral and amazing part of our Italian experience, starting with the fact that they made it possible by letting us live at Cielo Chiara (which they own) for an incredibly reasonable price (hey, you can stay there, too, by the way--just head over to Amici Villas) and put up a fence around a giant part of the yard for the dogs, and ending with the fact that they’re having coffee with us as we head out of town. But between that starting and ending has been the best part, as we were able to hang out with them tons. At one point, I referred to them as our British/Italian (since they are British, but have lived in Italy for 20 odd years) Auntie and Uncle, but then stopped, cause I don’t think many people like their relatives nearly as well as we like Andrew and Marianne. They’ve been wonderfully welcoming, fun, and helpful, keeping us sane when we were having problems getting acclimatized near the beginning, helping us feel like locals by taking us to Maestro Dante (read up on my Maestro Dante blogs if you haven’t—it’s the Italian trucker restaurant extraordinaire) many times, introducing us to a big bunch of new pals here (folks like Roger and Rhiannon and Andrew’s brother Richard), and making us feel like family by having us over for many memorable meals at Cucina la Marianne. I’m just rambling, but really, if you want a dreamy Italian country vacation or pre-tirement (and who doesn’t? Only bad people I believe), then you have to get in touch with Andrew and Marianne. Thank you both, tons, for everything, every story, every meal, every beer and glass of wine, every laugh and every helping hand, and every meal on your deck:
We’ll miss you both terribly. Wait! I almost forgot the third member of the Andrew and Marianne Italian family, who we’ll also miss tons, bubbly boy Oscar (here in a rare sleepy moment):
And now, before I get too teary-eyed, it’s time to hit the road.

Monday, April 25, 2011

TTITIM #2: Bar Fizz

It’s the night before we leave our pre-tirement and the Niccone Valley and our house on the hill, and we, naturally, had dinner at Bar Fizz. We tried to remember exactly what we had the first time we went to Fizz, and I have to admit, couldn’t remember. We know it was wonderful, though, because (and this may be one reason why we don’t remember exactly which Fizz meal was our first) after that first meal we never stopped stopping at Fizz, either stopping in or getting take out pizza once every week or week-and-a-half. If you’ve read this blog even a little, you’ve probably read at least one Fizz blog post, because I’ve written tons. Not only because the food is fantastic, but also cause it’s our local here (sitting right in the center of Liscione Niccone), and also (even more important) cause the owner, Guiliano and the other couple of folks that work there (his wife, her sister—at least that’s our guess on the latter, and occassionally his son, who reminds me tons of my nephew Kaiser) are darn friendly, and you can tell have fun most of the time, but still the food and the restaurant seriously, while being local and low key and without a breath of snootiness. Our favorite pizza is at Fizz (Nat’s own off-menu creation, Quattro Formaggi con Cipolla), as well as the best lasagna we had while here, delish pesto, fresh and fine frizzante bianco vino, and (when stopping at it as a café in the morning) great coffee and pastries .Okay, I’m going on and on, and will stop (cause you can read the old Fizz posts), but only after a few pics of our last meal there (and last dinner here). We started by sharing a recent obsession, the penne Quattro Formaggi (not sure why we started with it so late, but it’s darn tasty):
Then we went for pizzas, with a pick as you might expect of the above-mentioned “pizza Natalie.” Look how happy she is:
And finally, our dolce of choice (which I’ve talked about before), the tartufo al brandy:
Really, I’m not going on and on anymore. I suppose the fact that we were eating there the night before leaving really says more than I could, anyway, darnit.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

TTITIM #3: Ristorante Calagrana

Recently, Umbertide has started hosting a Saturday Farmer’s (and More) Market. Not to be confused with the larger Wednesday market (which is a more regular Italian town market), the Saturday markets are really food and artisan-y focused. And, Calagrana has a truck there, at which they sell bread, pastries, and other delights (yesterday, we picked up: three-grain bread, cheese sticks, hot cross buns, two kinds of cookies, and jam. Oh, and some scones, too). This means that now yet one more delicious notecan be added to the Calagrana legend, to go along with: fantastic restaurant, extraordinary cooking classes, and wonderful people. I know I’ve done a host of Calagrana blogs on the Six Months blog, covering our meals there, the Calagrana cooking class we took, and even some pics of the family that makes the place special: Albie, Ely, Sophia (well, I don’t know that I’ve had a pic of her, but I should have), and Oli. So, I probably don’t need to go over every dish again. Instead, here are a couple delish items I think I’ve missed posting about in the past, starting with the diamond (I think) in the Calagrana veggie crown, their risotto (here, it’s artichoke risotto):
Sometimes, it’s a lovely simplicity, like crostini with peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and love:
And sometimes more adventuresome fare, like tagliatelle with porcini, cream, and curry:
Finally, for the brunch inclined, Calagrana recently started up a Sunday brunching, so I was able to get perfect scrambled eggs, onion seed pancakes with spicy pepper jam, and patate frittes:
One final Calagrana word: if you’re in this area and don’t stop at least for one meal, well, you’ve missed out, and your taste buds will curse you the rest of your life (and you’ll have lost out on a pleasurable evening). While I don’t want Calagrana to leave this area (it’d be a huge loss), I certainly wouldn’t cry at all if all-of-a-sudden there was a new spot in Seattle with the same name, same food, and same family running things. The rest of our Northwest American home would be pretty happy, too, I’ll bet.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

TTITIM #4: Diego and Donini Wines

The last few hits (coming in the next few days) in my Top Ten Italian Things I’ll Miss list (you can see all TTITIM here, and catch up more on the reasons and explanation behind the list) are ones that I’ve mentioned a few times at least already on the blog (unlike a couple below that I missed posting up on earlier), and ones that were central to our pre-tirement in Italy. Starting with our now-friend Diego, the owner, vintner, and driving force behind Donini wines. I’ve talked a lot about both the wine-maker and the winery (read another Donini blog here, or read some on my cocktail blog), with good reason: the wine-maker has been incredibly welcoming to us, and the wines are delicious and have been a perfect liquid accompaniment to many meals and snacks. We’ve stopped at the winery, say, 20 times, and have taken most visitors there, too. Each time, Diego has taken us around the winery (different rooms every time it seems--it’s a good-sized place), and we’ve gotten to take many tastes straight off the casks (once even tasting a certain wine three times--once a version aged a year, then the same aged two years, and then bottled and aged longer), as you can see in this pic of Diego and Nat:
Diego, as you can tell if you take the time to talk a bit (he loves to talk, and has English skills that are much better than he thinks), loves making wine, and loves making wine that people can drink enjoyably (there’s no snootiness at Donini, unlike most wineries, and no hard sell, either, which is refreshing), daily. I just wish some importer on the west coast would start bringing in Donini wines for more people in the US to have--or just for us to have. One final Donini pic I don’t believe I’ve posted before, the room way in the back, the original room of the winery, where the big wood casks are:
Here’s a final toast, Diego, thanks for keeping us in good wine and being a good friend.


TTITIM #5: Doris, Neighbor, Dog-Sitter, Caretaker, Pal

Like many things here, in Italy, that have been important to us, I haven’t mentioned Doris on the blog nearly enough—if at all. The problem is, sadly, I probably mentioned the buildings, the food, and the more tourist-y stuff, while missing the daily things that made our life here possible and wonderful. Well, here, at least, I can catch up on Doris. She’s our German neighbor up the road (where she lives with two dogs of her own, and a pony—she’s lived in Italy for years), the caretaker-of-sorts of Cielo Chiara (when the high season is here, she helps Marianne and Andrew ensure everything runs properly between and during guest visits), the person who helped us get internet, called the Italian plumber when we had a leaky radiator, ordered us more wood for the fire when we ran out mid-winter, and much more. And she did everything with a smile, and a warm and friendly way. Look how smiley she is:
However, the way Doris helped us the most, I think, was with her friendship with Sookie and Rory. See, here (and in the States, I suppose) people get a little scared of Sookie and Rory, cause they’re large, Rottweiler-y dogs, super active and sometimes overly excitable when meeting people. So, folks aren’t always friendly to the dogs. Doris, however, was ready to meet and greet the pups from the first, and became incredibly close to them (I think she’s the closest person to them, outside of Nat and I, of course, and maybe my sister Holly, and for Sookie pals Jeremy and Beatrix). So close, actually, that she watched over them on the few occasions when we went for overnights (which we couldn’t have done at all without Doris). I’m (as anyone who knows me knows) incredibly over-protective and probably worrisome about Sookie and Rory, cause they mean the world to me, and I felt super lucky to be able to leave them in Doris’ care, cause I know how much she like the dogs. So, thanks again Doris, times a million. Sadly, we don’t have a jet to fly you to Seattle to watch the pooches, but we would if we could.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

TTITIM #6: Mercatale Conad: The Best Grocery in the World

I can’t quite remember--did I mention the Conad (Conad is a chain-ish line of grocery stores--meaning, there are lots of them, and they have the Conad house brand products, and probably use the same rewards program, but are usually very different in style, size, etc) in Mercatale? I don’t think so, which is sad if true, cause it’s my favorite shopping spot in, well, the whole world. Is that too outrageous? Here’s a photo that will make the statement even more so, cause it’s so unassuming:
and inside, it’s about the size of a small Starbucks or such. For a basic overview: it has just three aisles, starting with the veg and cookie aisle:
Notice (and this is the same in all Italian grocery stores) the machine on the left. You take your veg or fruit and set it on it, press the right number, and it spits out a sticker with scan code and price. This is genius--why can’t we have it in the states? It makes everything easier. Moving on is the pasta aisle (with sauces, cans, etc on the other side, un-pictured), which as you’d expect is amazing. Notice also the stacks of special Easter cakes:
Against the back wall, there is a fantastic meat:
and cheese case:
The third aisle is cleaning products and soda and dog biscuits, but first you have corner round the liquor shelves:
Having such a fine selection (there are more liqueurs behind the cheese/meat and in other various areas, too), a cheers worthy selection, in a store this size shows how the store’s priorities are in the perfect spot. Now, the liquor selection, the tasty array of great pastas, cheeses, sauces, veg, fruit, and much more, with prices that are really shockingly low, would be enough to make the Mercatale Conad a favorite. But what really sets it apart, and what takes it from being one of the best groceries to the best, is the owners. Starting with the Mr.:
who is perhaps the most friendliest  man in Italy. Really. From the first day we went in (he greeted us with a giant smile and a “salute!”) he made us feel incredibly welcome, even with our lack of Italian language skills (he doesn’t have any English, either, but hey, we’re in his country, he doesn’t need to), and never once didn’t greet us smiling. Also, he looked out for us--made sure we had two half-dozen eggs packs when it was two-for-one and we didn’t notice the sign, bringing us a box when we had a ton of bottles to carry out, and more. And it’s not solely us, either. There’s only one checkout line in the store, but even so he’ll always help the older Italian ladies with their groceries as needed, but still manages to keep everyone happy about it. As a final bonus, he reminds me of an older version of pal Jaime Curl (who writes the blog Suisse Miss Lucia about he and his family's life in Switzerland). The Mrs. at the store is also super nice:
and also always incredibly friendly towards us. Once, when we were buying ginger, she noticed a slight bruise on one piece, called over the Mr., and they went to the produce area, checked out all the ginger there, realized we probably had, actually, the best one, and only charged us half price. Can you see the cashier at Safeway doing that? Ah, well, maybe going back to stores that are bigger, but nowhere near as good, will help me lose some pasta pounds?


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TTITIM #7: The View from the Pool in the Morning

Every morning (at least 99.9% of the time), whether I’m living in San Martino, Italy, or Seattle, USA,  I take the dogs for a walk almost first thing. In Seattle, I usually take them separately (cause it’s easier in our neighborhood full of other dogs, cats, and all that), Rory first then Sookie. But here in Italy, I take them around the yard (not just the dog yard, but the full three-level gigantic yard) together. We tend to walk through the dog yard (which is fenced in), down the straight grassy stretch to the pool’s front edge, up the stone stairs to the olive grove, around a bit, down the slope to the back side of the pool, down the circular steps, through the tall grass pasture, up the slope to the long grassy walk from dog yard to pool and back into the dog yard. A nice little 20-minute-ish ramble to smell, sniff, pee, eat from the deer scat buffet (the dogs, not me), and wake up. We usually only stop for more than a couple seconds at one spot, the back side of the pool. It’s about the middle of the walk, and a good stop to make the dogs sit, catch their breath, calm down if the little neighbor dogs have been yapping incessantly (driving Rory nuttier than normal), and have a snack (tends to be hotdogs, if you’re interested). While the dogs are snacking, I take a moment to look out, over the grass pasture, over the neighbor’s field, and out farther, over the valley we live above, the far western corner of the Niccone Valley, our own corner of the Italy, a spot I think is as beautiful as any other spot in the world. No picture does it justice, definitely not this one, but I took it this morning, about 8:30 am, and it’ll at least give you an idea of what, soon, sadly, I won’t see every morning:


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

TTITIM #8: Kentia Pizzeria

Number 8 on the Top Ten Italian Things I’ll Miss (you can catch up with more info on the Top Ten here as well as read all the posts here) is one I’ve written about once, and not too long ago:the Umbertide Kentia Pizzeria. Kentia is pizza al taglio, which means big squares of pizza cooked on large flat pans and sold in smaller squares by weight (want to learn more about pizza? Read my pizza article here). We’ve picked up Kentia so many times, when we wanted a quick, tasty meal or snack, that I feel when back in Seattle I’ll just expect to be able to get it when wanting incredibly tasty pizza in a hurry—and then cry like a baby in the backseat when realizing it’s not, actually, around the corner, with its welcoming green awning fluttering in the wind:


Monday, April 18, 2011

TTITIM #9: The Wild Animals of San Martino

If you missed the TTITIM explanation (or, the Top Ten Italian Things I’ll Miss explanation), then head on down to the below Bar Pina post and catch up for gosh sakes. #9 in my list actually covers a whole host of “Things” in that #9 is all the wildlife living around our hillside house. And that’s saying quite a bit. See, in Seattle, though it’s a green city, it’s still a city, and so pretty rare we see any animals (outside of the tamed ones) when driving home, or walking in the yard, outside of the rare raccoon, and raccoons are really almost domesticated city creatures these days. It’s been wondrous to randomly be rounding a corner and see five or six of the local deer alongside the road, or four boar running next to the car (Cinghiale!). These have been a host of interesting critters here, and I’ve loved seeing them (of course, they all in some ways remind me of Sookie and Rory). The list includes the deer and boar mentioned, but also badger, porcupine, nutria, and smaller animals like hare, squirrels, and the world’s most new wave bird, the Hoopoe (by the way, I think that are pal Mark Butler should have a band called Mark Butler and the Hoopoes):
Sadly (or happily, in a way, cause it points the un-planned-for-ness of the animal sightings), we never, or rarely, have time to catch a snap of any of the above creatures (even that Hoopoo pic above isn’t by me). So, to stand in for the host of furred and feathered friends I’m going to miss once I go from country-boy to city-boy, here’s one of the local squirrels, who I think are a bit craftier than our Seattle squirrels (or at least the darker-hued squirrels here have a bit of a devilish look to them):


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Top Ten Italian Things I’ll Miss #10 (or, TTITIM): Beers at Bar Pina

As there are only (please pass me the Kleenex now) ten days left in our Italian pre-tirement in Northern Umbria, after which we have two days of driving and flying before we’re back in Seattle, I thought I’d take part in what’s normally an end-of-the-year (or season) pastime, a Top Ten list. This one isn’t in exact order (though a little bit), but does represent the ten things I’ll miss most when we aren’t living here in the Niccone Valley. I’m sure I’m missing a few things on the list here and there, but also think that what I have on the list are definitely things, people, food, and more that I’ll daydream about when back in the Seattle W-A. And the first one on the list is Bar Pina, the little bar/café outside of the Umbertide where we’ve spent many sunny afternoons having a beer, Spritz, coffee, mirtillo juice, crossiants, veggie sandwiches, and more at on the outside chairs, as well as having the same inside when the weather is rough. With a charming lady (Pina herself) and her husband always greeting us with friendly smiles, we don't just stop for the eats and drinks—we also stop for the company. We probably brought everyone who visited us by Pina at least once, on the way to somewhere or back from somewhere. Even Dr. Strange loved sitting outside Pina with a cold one when the sun was high in the sky, and he and us will miss it lots:

Looking for George (Clooney, That Is)

Way back when (seems like another lifetime actually) when I was sitting in my then-boss’ office at the big company telling him that I was leaving said big company for my Italian pre-tirement, after his moment of “what?” he recovered his stride and asked me the first question that came into his mind, “I wonder if you'll see George Clooney?” Which only makes sense, because of George’s well-known Italian-ness. Heck, he may be the most well-known American-Italian out there, with his big palazzo on Lake Como and now his Italian actress lady. Heck, I think a lot of Americans associate Italy with George and vice-versa now, and sorta expect that if one is vacationing over here, one should plan on at least seeing George, if not stalking his house. And though I’m pre-tiring over here, as opposed to vacationing (it’s a bit more residential, if I’m not an actual resident, if that makes any sense), I decided that maybe it’s all true, and maybe I should be seeing, or looking for, George over here. And so I began seeing George a little everywhere. Sometime about November. For example, here he is eating and looking so serious on top of the hill over Lake Trasimeno (he likes lakes, after all), in a scarf (my thought is that he’s been motorcycling, and it was chilly that evening, and we sure don’t want George catching a cold), and looking a little lean (the lake swimming has taken off some pounds—or maybe he’s doing a Colin Farrell imitation), in my paparazzi sideways snap:
As a big star, and one with serious acting chops, and one bridging the Italian-American oceans, I figure he sometimes has to go into deep Method acting, really completely delving into a non-traditional figure, in this case one of the local wine-gulpers that trot between the two bars in Lisciano Niccone, even donning a most manly mustache to complete the character:
Sometimes I’d just catch him out of the corner of my eye, behind a flower, sitting at a bar like normal folk, though donning a classy chapeau to keep paparazzi like me at bay:
Once in a while, like any good star-obsessed American, I think maybe I’ve gone overboard in my George spotting, like when I snapped this blurry shot of George imitating Guiliano, the owner of Bar Fizz, smiling cause he’s about to make us one of the world’s most tasty pizzas (I know, I know, George Clooney doesn't eat normal pizza--but I'm sure he makes it in movies):
Like most great aging American actors, George can play much younger when the need arrives, especially when he’s supporting his Italian-ness, such as a recent project when he was starring as a young flag twirler just trying to get by wearing tight pants in a rough world (this project is yet to be released):
Finally, after watching for, and seeing George, pretty much everywhere, even close Italian pals started to seem like they are, after all, just George in a part. I even thought, for a second, that Italian/British friend and landlord Andrew might be George prepping a role--until I remembered that shining Hollywood legend though he may be, George certainly doesn’t have enough distinguished savoir faire to play Andrew. Some parts, I suppose, are out of the reach even of America’s most famous Italian:

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Campari Fountain

Wouldn’t it be a better world if the fountain below actually fountained out a stream of bitterly delectable brightly crimson Campari? Though, what if it does, one day a year? And people line up around the block (or up the street, as I think the “block” here is a mountain) for Campari straight out of the fountain? Dang, I wanna be there. However, I think it’s just (as I’ve heard) a fountain donated by Campari. But wow, a boy can dream Campari dreams when looking at this:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Playing Around at Pierle Castle

Across the valley from our lovely house, perched above the town of Mercatale (around a bend or two), lies Pierle castle. Though we’ve driven by it tons (due to it being on one of the road to Terontola, where we go to take the train and pick up visitors), and though I think it’s an amazing structure, and that it is one of the many things that make this specific valley within the Niccone valley the most beautiful in the world (hey, my blog, my opinion), we hadn’t actually driven up to it until last week. Weird, I know, especially since this whole pre-tirement has been partially about not taking things for granted. But we did make it, finally. On the way up you can see the whole castle (with scaffolding) and stronghold around it:
The castle as it looks now dates back all the way to the 13th century (though a castle had been there before then), and is one of many castles in the full Niccone valley. They were built in pairs, as a defensive genius move of the time, to protect and watch the area for attacks. This particular castle was watching for attacks coming towards Cortona, usually from Perugia. Of all the castles around us, Pierle holds its ancient medieval majesty best, though it’s been mostly in disrepair since about the late 1500s when some Duke of Tuscany took it out. Damn Dukes. While you can’t wander inside the ruins, you can drive up in the small village and look at the old walls, which (as it’s sunny April) are now surrounded by flowers:
The small houses built around the castle are partially inhabited, and some in great and pretty shape (and one is for sale if you’re looking):
There were lots of puppies here and there in Pierle, including this fearless fella who took over the street after we drove past:
There was also a cat or two in Pierle, including this one who was hunting over the hillside, and who I though was so cute (for a cat, that is):
As Pierle castle naturally sits on a hillside (don’t want to miss those wicked Perugians prowling the valley), one of the best parts of coming up to wander around it was the views back into the valley, and over Mercatale:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dogs in Sunny Italian Springtime

The sun has been insistently splendid so far in our April Italian springtime, with temperatures ticking above the norm (so we’ve been told), and afternoons begging to be spent lazily. Which is okay with us, that’s for sure—we love sitting outside reading while the sun shines (and if we have a cold bierra or vino bianco, all the better). The dogs have been reveling in the weather as well, with Rory enjoying his favorite Italian pastime-of-the-moment: lizard hunting. The little Italian lizards are everywhere when the sun is heating things up, but especially on the rock walls:
Sookie would much rather sit in the sun and be petted, but every once in a while Rory gets just crazy enough that it catches her eye and ear and she checks out the hunting action:
before pouncing. Of course, with the sun comes pretty high temperatures, so a black dog like Sookie gets pretty heated with just a little lizard chasing. Sometimes, she gets so hot that she can’t even sit and be petted, instead heading for shade and greenery:
Eventually, though, the shadows start to overwhelm the yard and we have to head back inside. Of course, when trying to get Rory to leave his lizard-hunting, this is the look we get:
Ah, kids are the same no matter what species. They always want to have five more minutes of playtime.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

St. Francis' Sanctuary of La Verna

When thinking of St. Francis, naturally Assisi (his birth place, his resting place, and his main sort-of headquarters for a long time) is the first place associated with him. But pre-tiring here in northern Umbria and traveling around a lot has made me realize (even more so than when I was reading the Marvel Comics Life of St. Francis) that he got around this whole area quite a bit, and that there are more spots than just Assisi that seem Francis-ized. Perhaps tops on this list is the Sanctuary of La Verna, which we visited last week. The Sanctuary is way, way, way up in the east Tuscan hills, even higher than the mountain which gave Michelangelo the inspiration and foundation for the painting the Creation of Adam (the big M is from just down the road from La Verna):
The Sanctuary’s story goes back to 1213, when St. Francis was roaming around, meeting people and animals and speaking. At a particular spot there was a feast happening, and some merriment, and he stopped by to talk to people and in his intense way impressed a Count Orlando Catani, who was a guest at the feast and who asked St. Francis for a little more conversation. St. Francis (who was a gentleman as well as holy) told him to “honor the friends who invited you for the feast and dine with them,” and then we'll talk. After the talk the Count (who was struck by St. Francis—natch) offered the Mount of La Vernia, a wild solitary spot, to St. Francis for whenever he needed to get away from the crowds. St. Francis loved this idea, and ended up spending some of each year there, and it’s where he received the stigmata, among other things. Today, the mountain is still fairly wild, as a national park encircles the Sanctuary, and very craggy and wooded. There’s a restaurant (and gift shop—can’t have a Sanctuary without one of those), but also a convent and monastery, and  as we walked from the restaurant to the various chapels we had some friendly companions:
There is a large church, but also many small chapels, and a long hallway with modern frescos leading to various St. Francis historic spots, all built within trees and mountains:
You can duck into one particularly lovely ravine, take a right, and even see the cave which holds the stone St. Francis slept on (it’s pretty dark and cold, I have to say. St. Francis was tougher than I):
There are numerous small chapels, some dedicated to St. Francis, some to other saints, tucked in here and there, though the largest (chapel, that is—there’s a larger church) is probably the Chapel of the Stigmata, where the stone that St. Francis was one when he received said stigmata is on display:
The Sanctuary, in various chapels and churches, also displays an incredible array of glazed terracotta by Andrea della Robbia. I’m a pretty fan (as I’ve mentioned here once or twice) of the della Robbias, so it was a fantastic balance to see many within such a natural setting. It just made for an interesting juxtaposition, the shiny terracotta inside:
and then right outside the vast view:
The chapels and walks wind through the rocks and mountains and even deeper into the park—we walked around for a good hour and didn’t nearly see all. You can, perhaps, sense more of what St. Francis was about here than in Assisi, though Assisi is more monumental and a not-to-be-missed art and architecture spot. Even within the wood and wild though, you can’t get away from modernity for long. Which was lucky for one particular monk, who needed to make a quick call:
If you’re interested in St. Francis, incredible scenery, or della Robbia terracotta, then I suggest you follow St. Francis up, up, up the hill the next time you’re in the area (and think about, as you corner the curves in a car, how long the walk must have been).