Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Ancient Iguvium: Gubbio & Taverna del Lupo

Gubbio, founded by the Umbri, is a stunning Medieval hilltown in Northern Umbria that holds the famous Eugubine Tablets, seven bronze slabs that survived from the ancient city of Iguvium. Engraved in the 2nd century BC, the tablets were discovered by a farmer in 1444 who later sold them for two years of grazing rights, having no idea of how valuable they'd be to historians. The tablets are written in the local language of the time, the only documents of this ancient culture which has come down to us in a complete state, and underscore the importance of Gubbio as one, if not the most important political and religious centres of ancient Umbria, providing crucial evidence of the life of the region before Roman times. Housed in the impressive Palazza dei Popolo overlooking the Piazza Grande within the walled city of Gubbio, the building is an incredible example of Gothic architecture and holds the astounding Museo and Pinoteca Civico — custodian of the tablets as well as an extraordinary collection of paintings, frescoes, ceramica and artifacts from Gubbio over the centuries. One of the most impressive Museums in Umbria, with the exception of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell'Umbria in Perugia, the Pinoteca in the stunning Palazzo dei Consoli defines the skyline of Gubbio, with the views from the upper loggia over the valley a breathtaking sight, especially with a bustling farmer's market in the square below in Piazza 40 Martiri.

Walking back from the market, along Gubbio's steep cobblestone streets, was made all the more inviting knowing that we were about the have one of the best meals during our month in Italy, at Taverna del Lupo. Run by the Mencarelli family, this award winning restaurant set in a series of Medieval dining rooms, is considered to be one of the best restaurants in Umbria, and having been there a few years before, we knew it was going to be a thoroughly delicious experience. Soft light casts flattering shadows across the barrel-vaulted interior of Gubbio's most sophisticated restaurant, with an exceptional menu of classic Umbian dishes, white linen draped tables and polished professional service. Some of the dishes not to be missed are Chef Claudio Ramacci's soft egg with fresh seasonal truffles, homemade tagliatelle and superlatively grilled meats and game. The restaurant also has an excellent wine cellar with over 5000 labels, which make an exceptional meal even better.

The impressive Palazzo dei Consoli was built between 1332 to 1337

The Gothic-style portal of Palazzo die Consoli with 16th-century fresco above the door

Fresco in situ at the foot of the stairs that lead to the Sala d’ Arengo by Guiduccio Palmerucci in 1342, depicts the Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Ubaldus

The original room in the Palazzo where the Eugubian Tablets, a series of seven bronze tablets from ancient Iguvium, have been held since 1444

The tables are written in both the Umbrian and Latin language, and shed light on the grammar of this ancient dead language, and also on the religious practices of the ancient peoples of Italy, including the archaic religion of the Romans

These are the only documents of the ancient religions of Europe and the Mediterranean which have come down to us in an almost complete state

Pinacoteca on the top floor of the Palazzo die Consoli

Madonna col Bambino by Mello da Gubbio, 1360

Maiolica Plate made in Gubbio by Maestro Giorgio Andreoli in 1540

The palace was the first in the city served by a public hydraulic system, 
which fed this fountain which can still be found in the main salon of the Palazzo

Running water also made this loo a working indoor toilet in the 1300s

Gubbio's Farmer's Market every Tuesday in Piazza 40 Martiri

Walking down to the market through Gubbio's warren of winding lanes

Gubbio's traditional red and blue ceramics

Fresh flowers and potted plants

Succulent melons from Mantua — so sweet and delicious, we bought two to take home to the villa

Local Gubbio pears

This fellow was hand slicing local prosciutto which was too tempting, 
so we came home with 2 grams for apertivi

After the market, a walk uphill to Taverna del Lupo

The award winning Taverna del Lupo, set in a series of Medieval dining rooms, 
is considered to be one of the best restaurants in Umbria

Our lovely table within the elegant barrel-vaulted Medieval dining room

Gorgeous antique wooden cabinet with silver candelabra,
stores silverware and linens 

A bottle of house made aqua frizzante

The menu features sophisticated Umbrian cuisine based on traditional Gubbio dishes and recipes

A glass of chilled Prosecco is a fine beginning to our lunch at Taverna del Lupo

Warm homemade bread

An amuse-bouche of local Prosciutto on a crisp fried chickpea crespelle, very similar to the prosciutto and fried gnocchi we had in Bologna a few years ago

Our server opening a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino — a special treat — made with 100% Sangiovese and Italy’s highest DOCG classification, this wine is what most wine critics cite to be the best in all of Italy

Decanted and set on the table, the wine was bold, full of tannins and absolutely luscious

Tulipano di Sfogliatine del Lupo con Funghi, Prosciutto e Tartufo di Gubbio: White Lasagna with Mushrooms, Prosciutto and Gubbio Truffle

Uovo Soffice al Tartufo di Gubbio con Fonduta di Crema di Pecorino: A cloud of Soft Egg with Gubbio Truffle with Pecorino Cream Sauce

Nestled within my fluffy cloud of egg was a lightly poached yolk

Costicine di Agnello alla Griglia: Grilled lamb Chops

Filetto di Maiale al ristretto di sagrantino con cipollotto di Cannara: Pork Loin with Sagrantino Wine sauce and cipollini onions

Patate Arrosto con Rosmarino

Spinaci con aglio, olio e peperoncini

Biscotti and round Tozzetti, sweet Umbrian almond and hazelnut biscuits

Small glass of Vin Santo


Monday, September 25, 2017

Città della Pieve, Perugino & Ristorante da Laura

The quiet walled hilltown of Città della Pieve is famous primarily because it was the birthplace of the great Renaissance painter Pietro Vannuci, known as Perugino, who taught the very young Raphael, and also because it's the home of Colin Firth and his Italian wife Livia Giuggioli. Although we were able to get sightings of some beautiful Perugino's, Colin and Livia proved more elusive. Belonging to the city-state of Chiusi during the Etruscan and Roman periods, Città della Pieve frequently suffered from barbarian invasions. It finally developed as a fortified town around 1000 AD, centred around the Cathedral of Santi Gervasio e Protasio, which is home to two Perugino frescoes. Among the works of art preserved inside the church is the Baptism of Christ, a typical example of Perugino’s later style, with characters who appear quite contemplative with a sweet airy landscapes behind them fading into the horizon. His perspective is much freer than his first master, Piero della Francesca, who was very adept at manipulating the principals of perspective like in his fresco cycle, Legend of the True Cross in Arezzo. Also in the Cathedral is Perugino's 'Madonna in Glory among the Saints Gervasius, Protasius, Peter, and Paul', painted in 1514, which seems more icon-like than narrative. Designed using pure neoclassical symmetry, the pious duo stand between two red banners which depict the emblem of the town held by its two patron Saints. 

Cathedral of Santi Gervasio e Protasio in Città della Pieve, is dedicated to the patron saints of the city and is home to 2 Peruginos

The interior with 'Madonna in Glory among the Saints Gervasius, Protasius, Peter, and Paul', painted by Perugino in 1514

Closeup of the Perugino

'Baptism of Christ'  painted in 1510

Closeup of painting

An olive tree grows outside the church

Once surrounded by a deep moat and wooden fence, La Rocca was built in 1326 to protect the city from Perugia with who they had a troubled relationship for years

Beautiful garden and house adjacent to La Rocca

Quince trees now grow in the interior garden of La Rocca

Exterior of La Rocca with flags supporting the upcoming Palio dei Terzieri, an old festival with competitions among the archers of the different village districts with a parade, and the opening of fourteenth century stalls and taverns to taste delicious local cuisine

Green and blue flags on this charming Medieval street support another neighbourhood of the town

A small street with private homes and apartments

Exploring a different hill town every day, finding a lovely restaurant to enjoy a leisurely lunch is our next priority, so were very happy to discover Ristorante da Laura, a hidden gem on Via Pietro Vannucci in Città della Pieve run by Anita Doshkova, an absolutely charming Bulgarian Italian. Specializing in fish and seafood, homemade pasta and excellent local cuisine, Anita grows many of the herbs and vegetables in her own garden. Starting with a delicious Crostini Misto and outstanding Tartare di Pesce with raw shrimp and avocado, we were thoroughly impressed with this quiet unassuming restaurant and its sensational menu. As a secondi, we ordered the Braised Beef with spinach, and the Grigliata Mista con Gamberoni, Orata, Branzino, Seppie e Tonno, which was outstanding — perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious. With no room for dolce, we were however offered a glass of homemade Limoncello and Bananino from Puglia — not fond of Limoncello, the Crema di Bananino was very good. A very special restaurant in quiet Città della Pieve, Ristorante da Laura is worth making a culinary detour.

Ristorante da Laura in Citta della Pieve

The quiet and exquisitely charming interior of da Laura

The menu features predominantly fabulous fish and seafood

Fresh baked bread

Our table with a bottle of Aqua Frizzante and bread

Half a lite of Gargaenga Biano Fermo white wine

Crostini Misto da Laura

Tartare di Pesce con gamberi crudi e avocado — superb!

Manzo alla Brace con salsa

Grigliata Mista con Gamberoni, Orata, Branzino, Seppie e Tonno


Crema di Bananino from Puglia

Offered an aperitif after our lunch, I declined the Limoncello but was then offered Bananino,
a banana flavoured liquor and absolutely delicious

My husband did choose the homemade limoncello, which was left on the table to pour at will — very dangerous indeed!