Umbria offers some of the best of the Italian countryside. Wang Shanshan discovers many delights this fertile land produces.
Our car wound for more than an hour through fields and then drove for another 20 minutes along a small road into the thick, dark woodland before stopping at the castle’s giant wooden gate. The gate opened slowly in the pouring rain. A well-dressed gentleman holding an umbrella opened the car doors. “Welcome to the castle,” he said.
We followed him into a brightly lit hall.
A waiter was serving champagne. In another room, a chef was frying truffles with eggs.
A dozen courses were already arranged on a table. And they were just appetizers.
The black fungus was displayed beside the cook. We could smell its strong aroma as soon he picked it up.
Umbria is one of the few places in the world blessed with an abundance of wild truffles. Food and wine lovers hire local guides for “truffle hunting” excursions in the woods.
A white wine was served during dinner.
“We have grapes planted and our own wine made,” says the gentleman who greeted us at the castle, known as Castello di Solfagnano.
The castle has two large old wooden barrels, each more than 2 meters in diameter and about 4 meters tall, at one end of the dining room. A swing is slung from the ceiling between the two barrels. I couldn’t resist the temptation to sit on it after a glass (or two) of wine.
My friends and I were traveling in Italy’s Umbria region. Umbria means “the green heart” in Italian.
This swathe of land surrounded by coastal regions is endowed with fertility by the Tiber River, which runs across Umbria on its way from central Italy’s Apennine Mountains to the Mediterranean.
Central Italy’s Umbria is most celebrated for its olive oil and vineyards.
Agritourists arrive every year to join the winemaking that has been a local feature for millennia. It also produces arguably Italy’s best chocolates, cheeses, pastas and salamis. And each foodstuff locally enjoys a vast diversity.
After truffles, wild asparagus is the most acclaimed specialty.
We noticed olive trees, lettuce, onions and tomatoes in the garden of a house near where we stayed.
It seems collecting fresh vegetables from the garden and taking them straight to the kitchen is a daily routine for local families, who sometimes hunt for truffles and asparagus in the woods.
Umbria is increasingly a destination for well-off Chinese to escape the crowds.
The gentleman who greeted us upon arrival says Chinese billionaires have slept in his castle’s guest rooms, and a group of young entrepreneurs was on its way to visit.
The region is half hills, half plains.
Ancient cities were built on hills, sometimes surrounded by woods, while the fields are on the flatlands below. In Umbria’s capital Perugia, we took an elevator from the parking lot halfway up the hill to the city atop.
Every street seems steep.
But two girls I made friends with told me they got used to climbing up and down in Perugia in 8-centimeter heels after a year. Heels seem to be compulsory for women in Italy. I climbed behind them in sandals, panting like a dog.
The city, which can be traced back to the 9th century BC, fought many battles but retained its heritage. It seems a Renaissance gem at first glance. But one can find arts from earlier and later times here and there.