Experience Italy


When July rolls around and the heat is out of control, there’s only one thought that crosses my mind: Get me to the beach. What better way to escape the summer heat than by spending a few days soaking up the sun (rather than hiding from it) and relaxing in the water? Unfortunately, an actual escape is not always possible and so I find myself wandering the internet daydreaming of vacations that could have been and ought to be.


Enter Sardinia. With its gorgeous coastline and lush mountains it’s the perfect escape for every type of traveler–especially those who are hungry. The contrast of the expansive coastline and the treelined mountains of this region has bestowed upon it one of the most unique, and enticing food cultures in Italy. On the beaches and coast locals and travelers enjoy seafood by the boatload–everything from spiny lobster, to octopus, to sardines, all locally caught and served straight from the sea. In the mountains, the food is more typical of country cuisine, based off of what you can raise and what you can grow–there is little crossover between the two culinary realms, and yet each are distinct and delicious in their own right.

As a pasta enthusiast, I find myself drawn in particular to the Malloreddus, a Sardinian spin on Gnocchi that is so good they made it their national dish. Slightly thinner than a typical gnocchi, and with an added dash of saffron, these little pasta ‘dumplings’ are the stuff that food-dreams are made of. Add a light tomato sauce with freshly ground pork sausage, garlic, and grate some pecorino on top and it’s a wonder anyone ever eats anything else.

Speaking of pork, let’s not forget the su porcheddu, a spit roasted suckling pig that’s tender, aromatic, and packed with flavor. Just the thought of this dish has my stomach growling. Though my toes may be in the imaginary waters of the Mediterranean, my heart will always be in Umbria, and my stomach will always crave a well prepared pork.

Su Porcheddu

For those of you who, like me, can’t always get away when you want to, Via Umbria is offering up the next best thing. Each week this summer we’re focusing on the cuisine from a different Italian region with the goal of touring you around Italy without the plane ticket or time commitment. Join us this week as we celebrate all things Sardinian with a Demo Dinner where you will learn to make your own malloreddus, a CYOB (Choose Your Own Bottle) Dinner and a Wine Dinner where you can taste the mouthwatering delights of su porcheddu, and a Sunday brunch with a Sardinian twist. With four distinct dining opportunities, and Sardinian wine specials all week long, Sardinia week at Via Umbria is the perfect way to turn your vacation dreams into stay-cation reality.

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When July rolls around and the heat is out of control, there’s only one thought that crosses my mind: Get me to ...

Travel Tips: Umbrian History

Umbria is an area steeped in history and culture. It is crossed by two valleys: the Umbrian valley from Perugia to Spoleto, and the Tiber Valley, from Citta di Castello to the border with Lazio. Travel expert Marco Palermi tells us about his favorite places to visit.

There are many hills and historical towns in this area, such as Perugia, Assisi, Norcia, Gubbio, Spoleto, Todi, Orvieto, Castiglione del Lago and many other small cities. To simply wander through these beautiful hill towns will immerse you in their extraordinary history (from Etruscan to Roman, to Napoleonic), but there are a few places of note that are my favorites:

Ipogeo dei Volumni

The wall around Spoleto – A great example of classic, ancient Umbrian design and style

Ipogeo dei Volumni – An Etruscan archaeological site near Perugia with crypts, tombs and sculpted marble sarcophagi

Carsulae – An wonderful old Roman town on the way to Terni, and one of the most impressive archaeological ruins in Italy. It was even once used as a quarry for building materials transported to cities like Spoleto!

Trasimeno Lake – Roman history buffs will love to explore the battleground for the biggest Roman defense in response to Hannibal’s invasion from Carthage.

This only scratches the surface of the rich history Umbria has to offer, and during your travels to Umbria, you will most definitely find your own favorite corner of Umbria that will offer you a look into the past, as you stand in the present.

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Umbria is an area steeped in history and culture. It is crossed by two valleys: the Umbrian valley from Perugia to Spoleto, ...

Cocktail Zero to Cocktail Hero

I have always felt that there is something very smooth and sophisticated about having a drink and taking a moment to unwind and catch up on a days worth of activity. While Cocktail Hour was never part of my family’s routine growing up I have always been a fan of the three martini lunch and the idea of indulging in a cocktail before dinner, and it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or my children that one of my favorite parenting books has always been “The Three Martini Playdate.” Christie Mellor is a genius when she points out that “lemonade provides refreshment for those too young to appreciate distilled spirits, and the simple addition of a fine vodka creates an easily made and remarkably tasty beverage for an exhausted and grateful grown-up.”

Today, I drive waiters and waitresses (and occasionally those same children) crazy as I insist we sit and wait for our drinks before ordering our meals. ‘No–I’m definitely not ready to order yet. I want to have a drink well in hand before my dinner starts to arrive.’ By design, cocktails are meant to be lingered over, to be enjoyed and so what better time is there than Cocktail Hour to sit back, relax, and reflect on the day.

Newlyweds Bill and Suzy

I know what you’re thinking–how does one so easily transition from a quiet dreamer to a cocktail savant? It wasn’t easy. As newlyweds in the ‘80’s, cocktails weren’t as popular with our generation, and Bill and I were just learning to enjoy wines by the bottle instead of the box; most of the cocktails we had enjoyed had been purple and served from a large garbage can stirred with a paddle. Imagine my shock and delight when he came home from work one day with a brown bag. “What’s that?” I innocently asked. “Whiskey and Vermouth–tonight we start learning how to drink Manhattans.” And so the journey began. I hate to brag, but I think over the last 30 years we have perfected the art.

To those who are foolish enough to follow my personal Facebook page, I am notorious for my sunset cocktail photos on the beach. While it may be possible to enjoy a sunset without a drink in hand I’m not sure I ever want to experience it. When on vacation, it has become a daily game for Bill and me to find the perfect daily cocktail–something that is capable of capturing both the spirit of the day and the gorgeous backdrop of the setting sun.

Cocktails on the Beach

About 5 years ago travelling throughout Northern Italy–specifically Venice, Bossano di Grappa and Trieste–we started noticing everyone drinking a beautiful orange drink. Even as a self proclaimed Cocktail Aficionado, the olive in the bottom confused me–I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what orange liquor could be paired with an olive. I took one for the team, and so began our introduction to the Aperol Spritz: the 3-2-1 of drinks. 3 parts prosecco, 2 parts Aperol and 1 part sparking water, served over ice with a bitter green olive. Now seen throughout Italy–more typically with an orange slice than the olive–you will find Aperol Spritz served winter, summer, spring and fall. It’s the perfect drink for any season and every occasion–not too light and certainly not to intense. A very drinkable cocktail any time of day.

Bill and Suzy with Spritz

And cocktails are back. Small craft distilleries are springing up around the city, around the country and around the world. And this time the focus is on creating the perfect sip with fresh squeezed juices and herbs, tonics without high fructose corn syrup. Creating sprits with different approaches and different flavors. Now more than ever is the time to experiment with cocktails.

At Via Umbria our commitment is to: All things Italian. All things artisanal. All things local. Our cocktail program is a perfect reflection of the three. Come rediscover the art of cocktail hour with us. Join us daily for Spritz O’Clock (5-7pm in our Cafe) and spend Saturdays discovering your new favorite cocktail or glass of wine. Pair that with our new menu of Spritz O’Clock Snacks and street foods and it’s the perfect way to relax, unwind, and enjoy an hour or two.

For us, Via Umbria is not just a store, it’s our story and we want you to be a part of it. Come on in and Discover Spritz O’clock with us. Savor a drink or two with us. Share the news with friends and family.


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I have always felt that there is something very smooth and sophisticated about having a drink and taking a moment to unwind ...

A Tidbit on Umbrian Culture

It’s impossible to describe all of the quirks and traditions of a culture in one blog post, the best way to learn about it is to experience it! Traveling in Umbria is such a unique experience, especially if you leave your tourist mindset behind. However, if you’ve never experienced it (or if you’re about to go for the first time!), here’s what Marco has to say about Umbria in a nutshell:


Umbria is a landlocked part of Italy, and because of that, the relationship to the land is strong and lasting. There is a lot of heritage in this region, and the respect for all parts of the natural world is an important thread that binds this area.

Of course the food and wine is excellent, but there is something to be said about the history of Umbria, and its close ties to St. Francis, who is not only important to Umbrian culture, but to the whole of Italy, as its patron saint.


When people think about St. Francis, they think about peace and kindness, and that is what you will find in Umbria. Not just the absence of war and fighting, but the pursuit of harmony with others and with nature. It is this feeling that underwrites and upholds most Umbrian people, and truly influence the culture. Pax et bonum! We say, as the Franciscan order’s motto, Peace and Salvation!

Farmer in his Field

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It's impossible to describe all of the quirks and traditions of a culture in one blog post, the best way to learn ...

Travel Tips

It’s impossible to travel to Italy and not drink the wine, which flows as easily as water at some tables. And although Italian wines from all regions have an established reputation, we’re pretty partial to those that come from Umbria. And it’s hard not to be. Once you’ve traveled there and toured some of the vineyards, you’d be loyal to them as well! Here’s what Marco Palermi had to say when we asked him about what to taste in Umbria:

Ah! The wine and beer! Umbria is unique for its small family-run farms, and extensive biodynamic and organic wineries. There are many areas for wine production in Umbria, including Orvieto, Montefaclo Torniamo and Assisi, just to name a few.

The most grown type of grape is the Sangiovese, and Umbria is the center of production for this type. The Trebbiano and Grechetto grapes make delicious white wines, but when talking about wine in Umbria, one cannot miss the Sagrantino from Montefalco. This jewel in the crown of Umbria is the most delicious and prized wine in Umbria, and will change how you view red wine!

Bill and Suzy, your hosts at our vacation rental house, are both wine lovers and wine aficionados. Not only will they make sure you get to sample the full range that Umbria has to offer, but they are a wealth of information, and can answer any questions you may have about the wines – including how best to drink them!

But wine isn’t the only thing to indulge on in Umbria. Umbrian beers have grown in popularity recently, drawing from the monastic traditions of brewing that were popular in Umbrian history. San Biagio beer was one of the first breweries I’d heard of and tried, and they are definitely worth a taste. Lots of breweries thrive near Colifiorito, which is famous for its pure water springs, that enhance the taste and production of beers in the area.

In fact, actual Benedictine Monks brew beer up in the monastery in Norcia, and it is possible to buy that beer all year long, or plan a trip around August 15th, when they open the monastery to the public. Now if Norcia is too far away for authentic monk beer, definitely make a stop at Casa Norcia in Santa Maria Degli Angeli in via de Gasperi and try some a little closer to the villa. Other great breweries to try are: Birra Perugia, Khan beer, Birra Dell’Eremo (a close stop between Mt. Subasio and the villa), and Flea Beer.

The popularity of beer in Umbria has definitely gone up recently, and with good reason, the beers are truly delicious, and excellent paired with a slice of pizza or a torta al testo!

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It's impossible to travel to Italy and not drink the wine, which flows as easily as water at some tables. And although ...

A Labor(atorio) of Love

In a country that is renowned for its warmth, charm and grace, Umbrians, with their authenticity, approachableness and their connectedness to each other, their land, and their culture stand out. For me, there is no place in which this authenticity stands out more than around the dinner table. When I think back on the many (many) meals that I have enjoyed in Umbria, each one is colored with the rosy glow of being surrounded by strangers turned friends and friends turned family, all sharing stories, wine, and food and all living in the moment. The food is simple yet exquisite, the company is fascinating yet unassuming, and the conversation is energetic yet relaxed; every day brings a new experience and every night is a celebration. A visit to Umbria is truly an opportunity to experience authenticity in all aspects of what it means to be Italian.

Murder Mystery Dinner

This is the feeling that drives much of what we do at Via Umbria. We have created a space for friends and neighbors to meet, to eat, and to relax. A place to showcase the work of the amazing artisans of Italy, from ceramicists to winemakers, and to introduce their products and their stories to a new community. Above all, however, we are determined to recreate the feeling of sitting around a dinner table in Umbria- sharing food, telling stories, and creating memories- and from this the Laboratorio was born.

From the communal style seating to the open kitchen format, every aspect of the Laboratorio was designed with the Umbrian experience in mind. The space was created to be open, to be flexible, and to be interactive; in short it is our Laboratory, our space to explore and to create. For those of you who have yet to join us for dinner imagine it like this: take one part dinner party, add in one part of your favorite cooking show, one part wine tasting, and combine those together with a beautiful setting and an engaged group of friends and neighbors sharing a unique and unforgettable experience and you may start to get a sense of what I’m talking about.

Making Pizza

But as with all things, the best way to truly understand is to see it for yourself. Join us for dinner Thursday – Saturday night, or for brunch on Sunday for an unforgettable feast in our demonstration kitchen. Enjoy a Thursday night Demo and Dinner and let Chef Johanna Hellrigl teach you her favorite recipes from all over Italy before retiring to the communal table to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Visit us on a Friday night for a CYOB Dinner and let us teach you about a selection of wines from our unique cellar during a guided tasting before choosing your favorite bottle (or bottles) to accompany your meal. For the wine lovers, I encourage you to join us on a Saturday night for a Wine and Dine dinner where each of four courses is paired with a unique wine chosen and discussed by our experienced wine staff. And for those of you who crave relaxation at the end of your week, we welcome you to our Sunday Bottomless Bellini Brunch. No matter the format, no matter the day, a meal spent around our table will be one to remember.

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In a country that is renowned for its warmth, charm and grace, Umbrians, with their authenticity, approachableness and their connectedness to each ...

Bridging the Divide

stranger-things-finale-netflix-featureI recently started watching the Netflix series Stranger Things and I really like it. The show, which is set in rural Indiana in the 1980s follows a group of kids seeking to find their missing friend, and involves a secret government program that punches a hole through parallel universes in order to engage in some cold war spying, only to unexpectedly unleash an incredibly evil monster. Some great acting, especially from the kids, some creative writing and some compelling story lines. I would definitely say it is worth a watch.

I mention this because Via Umbria has been engaged in its own project to bridge parallel universes. And far from unleashing monsters, we have only spread deliciousness and joy.

Those two universes are, of course, Italy and America and we are engaged in an experiment to connect the two. We do that by creating an authentic Italian experience in Georgetown. And we do that by hosting American guests on semi annual food and wine tours at our farm house in Umbria, immersing them in the authentic Umbria that we have come to know and love.


img_1787-1On Saturday, we arrived in Umbria with nine guests in tow to kick off our fall Food and Wine tours, and less than 36 hours later, I dare say that they have already begun to understand and share our love of Umbria. Yesterday we introduced them to the wines of Umbria, the same Grechettos and Montefalco rossos and Sagrantinos we import and sell at Via Umbria. They met Elena DiFilippo at her organic and biodynamic cantina and drank wine with her, and will welcome Elena’s husband Roberto when he visits Via Umbria this spring. They dined on a homecooked dinner by Chiara Cicogna and heard her speak of her family’s cashmere business, and will join Chiara and us in Washington on November 16 when Chiara exhibits a selection of cashmere treasures at a special holiday trunk show at Via Umbria. This morning they experienced truffle hunting under glorious blue skies near Citta di Castello with our dear friends Saverio and Gabriella Bianconi, who are readying to ship the day’s spoils back to Via Umbria to take center stage at a pair of special truffle dinners coming up next week.


Nearly a year after reopening our doors as an Italian market, café, restaurant, enoteca and retail store, we are realizing our dream of truly connecting the worlds we inhabit in Washington and in Umbria. This week our food and wine tour group will dine at le Delizie del Borgo, a restaurant lovingly operated by our friends Simone Proietti-Pesci and Ombretta Ubaldi in Bevagna and next month Ombretta, a certified sommelier with an unmatched appreciation for Umbrian wines will return with us to Washington to host a series of special wine dinners at Via Umbria. Later in the month Simone will join us in Georgetown to cook alongside our outstanding executive chef Johanna Heilrigl. We can’t wait for these two to renew their acquaintance and to dazzle us with what they think up and cook up next. A tasting at the Tabarrini winery on Thursday will no doubt be a highlight for our guests, but a command performance in Washington is in the cards, with a special visit by the winery’s owners Giampaolo Tabarrini and his wife Federica Pietrolati for some memorable dinners and maybe a glass of wine or two.

Connecting our guests and our customers to the incredibly rich experiences that we have found in Umbria is what we do, regardless of place. Whether it takes place sotto il sole or under the sun, in Cannara or in Washington, these are the experiences that make up a life and we are proud to offer them to you.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

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I recently started watching the Netflix series Stranger Things and I really like it. The show, which is set in rural Indiana ...

The Day the Earth Shook

_90899492_hi034935345Mother Nature — a term that is such a complete contradiction.

Nature, the most powerful force in the universe is indifferent to those it impacts.  When nature provides us its bounty – sustenance, panoramic vistas, long, rich, rewarding lives – we marvel at its power and project benign intentions to it, honoring nature as we would our mothers.  When it shows us its awesomeness but spares us the impact – a distant lightning storm or an erupting volcano – we stand in awe of it.  But those powerful forces can also be arbitrary, random and deadly.  And when they are unleashed against us or count us as innocent bystanders, we simply tuck away those experiences in a compartment, refusing to challenge our notions of a benign “mother nature” and see it as a “one off” phenomenon.  Nature neither loves us or hates us.  It simply is.

A week ago, in the early morning hours of August 24, the people of central Italy, including our friends and neighbors in Umbria, the other place we call home, were awakened by the terror of what the Italians call a terremoto.  A magnitude 6.2 earthquake leveled buildings, buried under rubble hundreds of inhabitants that had no chance to escape their homes and obliterated whole villages.  In the week since the earth shook, the death toll has climbed above two hundred and those left homeless and hopeless has reached the thousands.

Early reports placed the epicenter of the quake near Norcia, a town known throughout Italy as the capital of cured meats, the place where pork butchery was invented and where early medieval surgeons were trained and sent out into the world.  Like many of the other towns making the news, Norcia is a place with which we are intimately familiar, for it is literally in our back yard.  Those reports also mentioned Perugia and other towns that make up our Italian world, but the real destruction was felt further south, along the border between Umbria and Lazio, an ancient region originally populated by the Sabines.  We are familiar, too with this area, which though rarely visited by tourists is a place we have traversed and explored often.  It is a rugged, sparsely populated area dotted with small, rough, isolated villages.  Many of those villages, happily existing alone and cut off from the modern world have been decimated, their remoteness and isolation making rescue and recovery operations that much more difficult.

The impact on our property and our orbit was minimal.  Guests staying at our farmhouse in the village of Cannara reported no damage or injury, although the movement of the ground, a side to side rather than up and down motion, apparently sloshed a great deal of water from our pool.  Thankfully our friends and acquaintances who hail from the other nearby ancient towns that dot this region – Perugia, Deruta, Montefalco, Bevagna, Spoleto – came through relatively unscathed.

Not so the inhabitants from Amatrice and the neighboring town of Accumoli.  The devastation there was so great it led the mayor to exclaim “half the town no longer exists.”  Images of the destruction are gut wrenching, collapsed buildings covered in a thin monochromatic gray coating of dust, looking like the setting of a post-apocalyptic film.


The rebuilding and recovery efforts have already started but experience tells us the work will never truly be done.  Worse than the death and destruction of properties and historic landmarks, if there is such a thing as worse in this regard, is the complete devastation of the social fabric that holds people together, that gives their lives purpose and meaning, that defines their lives as theirs. Suzy and I have witnessed firsthand this complete wiping away of the social structure, this destruction of lives and a way of life.  We did so several years ago when we visited a friend in l’Aquila, the site of the last major earthquake in Italy. There we saw a town that was more maintaining itself than rebuilding itself, its buildings standing but empty, like a Hollywood set.  Even though a couple of years had passed since the big quake, life there was different, with a palpably gaping emptiness, a hollowness in the routines of life brought about not by the terror of being shaken awake in the middle of the night or having to deal with the death of neighbors and family, but rather by the loss of place and routine – the lively piazzas and the nightly passagiata through the street.  Restaurants had reopened, not in the the city centro, but in makeshift FEMA-type trailers that ringed the city.  Makeshift attempts to rebuild the past social life that were still makeshift when we visited l’Aquila years later.  Attempts that seemed not to be gaining traction.  The l’Aquila we visited was as raw, fragile, damaged and hopeless as it had been the day after the quake.

A town or a village, we learned then, is much more than just its buildings or just its people. It is the intersection of the two that animates the place and the people and it is that intersection that was shaken and torn and damaged in certain corners of Italy last week.  The buildings can be reconstructed or replaced.  The victims can be mourned and eulogized.  But the survivors must be cared for too, for their lives – not just their immediate surroundings but the entire social network that had previously connected them to something bigger and better and more meaningful than themselves – has been reduced to rubble no less than their homes and places of work have been destroyed.


And it is only by feeling its absence that we can truly appreciate the power that this connectedness wields over our lives.  Indeed it is this connectedness – to our families, to our communities, to nature and its rhythms, to simple, elegant beauty, to our past, our traditions and our history – that animates our lives.  It is the duality of us being individuals and at the same time being part of a whole that in the end defines our lives and gives meaning and purpose to it.  Independence and interdependence coexisting and existing in the same space and time.  At this moment it is essential that we restore the quake victims’ independence – rebuilding their homes, caring for their injured, and mourning their lost.  But restoring their interdependence – rebuilding a social structure that developed organically over centuries in a place and because of the nature of that place, is a much more difficult but no less important part of our work as well.


Planning is underway at Via Umbria for a series of events to raise funds for earthquake relief efforts.  Please watch this space for further details.  We hope you will join us in providing support for relief efforts and funds to assist the residents of this devastated area rebuild the lives and way of life that were literally shaken apart in the middle of the night a week ago.  And we hope you will remain afterwards, to help rebuild and support communities that have been no less ruptured than the people.

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Mother Nature -- a term that is such a complete contradiction. Nature, the most powerful force in the universe is indifferent to those ...

108 Hours in Cannara

108 Hours in Cannara 006Nothing says summer to me like spending a few weeks in Umbria, visiting friends, finding new and interesting products for the store, enjoying Umbria jazz, and, of course, relaxing by the pool. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work out as planned- a lesson we learned last week during a whirlwind visit to to Cannara. I warn you now, the details of this trip are not for the faint of heart, the easily tired, or the weak of liver- read along at your own risk

Thursday, July 14, 2016

After many days of postponing and rescheduling our trip, we finally made it to the airport, bags in hand, happily seated at our gate, ready for a short but amazing trip to our favorite place only to find out that the flight was delayed. Not just delayed, extremely delayed. By the time we finally (rather crankily) boarded the plane six more hours were gone from our already truncated vacation but we were determined to make the most of it.

Friday, July 15, 2016

108 Hours in Cannara 0056:30pm With our original scheduled arrival time in Rome of 7:24 am we had planned to have lunch with Simone in Bevagna. With the flight delay, however, lunchtime was long gone by the time we left Rome but we beelined for Simone’s anyway (after making a quick stop at Lufra to pick up fresh mozzarella di bufala of course).  We arrived at  le Delizie del Borgo just in time for Spritz O’Clock and spent an hour catching up with our fourth (and favorite) ‘son’ Simone over a platter of salamis and cheese.  

7:30pm When we finally made our way to the Farmhouse, Jennifer McIlvaine and Federico Bibi pulled up behind us with their adorable children, and after a few minutes of excited greetings in the driveway we opted for drinks in the living room.  For those of you suffering through the current east coast heatwave you will find it impossible to believe, but despite being the dead of summer, it was way too cold to sit outside!  

108 Hours in Cannara 002Inside we found Marco and Orusia firing up the pizza oven, and friends of ours from Washington who were staying with us at the Farmhouse soon returned from a day of touring. Not far behind them were our son and his girlfriend whom we picked up at the Foligno train station- the last piece of our group.

Marco outdid himself, as always, and our raucous group enjoyed pie after pie with a bit of spicy bomba and Birra Perugia.  A small taste of Nutella pizza to end the meal.

12:00am No idea what time it was when bedtime finally rolled around but it was definitely  a long day.



108 Hours in Cannara 007

Saturday, July 16

1:00pm After catching up on our zzzzzs our intrepid group headed to Bevagna for a “light” lunch with Simone.  It was another beautiful day and we happily enjoyed our meal outside in the park.

5:00pm I finally had to give in and take a quick nap while Bill took a group to Foligno on a hunt for a Sicilian pastry shop to satiate a craving for cassata, and a visit to the Granarium (our nearby zero kilometer granary, mill and bakery) for a tour and to buy flour, bread and cookies.


7:30pm – It’s a birthday celebration and we have invited several (see below) of our Italian friends to join us.  We were hoping to eat outside, but again it is too cold and the Italians want nothing to do with the chilly, fresh air.  We have Spritz by the pool and then head indoors where Marco has rearranged the dining room to accommodate our small party of 25.  In addition to the group staying with us we are happy to have Gerardo and Assunta Ribigini, Jennifer and Federico (tonight they are senza children), Albertino and Jessica Pardi, Zia Augusta, Alberto, Linda and GianLuca Pardi and Linda’s mother, Federico and Claudia Ribigini and Daniele Sassi.

108 Hours in Cannara 003

108 Hours in Cannara 0018:15pm Everyone has brought wine so we have a selection from Terre Margaritelli, Pardi and Tabarrini to pair with a favorite summer meal – fried sage leaves, onions, zucchini and zucchini blossoms followed by pasta with arugula and walnuts, mixed grill and vegetables from the garden.

10:00pm We have sparklers in the Birthday cake but the real fireworks are outside.  Marco has picked up a fabulous pyrotechnic display and Bill has it matched perfectly to Whitney Houston’s Star Spangled Banner.

Sunday, July 17

6:00am – early departure to Cantina Dionigi for a Hot Air Balloon Ride.  You can read about it here.

108 Hours in Cannara 008

1:00 pm – Lunch in Bevagna with Simone, Marco, Francesco Rustici and his wife Elisa, plus the group at the house.

An opportunity to introduce our guests to our favorite Italian Tradition – Sunday Lunch.  Our children have bravely endured lunches lasting anywhere from 3-7 hours and despite their protests as children they have come to love and expect them.  This is a meal where the food is slowly paced, no electronics are on hand and everyone is engaged in conversation.  

6:00 pm – Not a Menard record – but still an excellent leisurely lunch.

Back to the house with Ombretta’s children Silvia and Tomaso for a quick swim before the sun sets.

108 Hours in Cannara 010

7:00pm – Albertino and Jessica stop by to visit and we make plans for dinner on Tuesday night.

8:00pm – All plans of attending a local wine festival get scratched in favor of setting up the big screen outside and picking up pizza.  Another chilly night so we bundle up and hunker down to watch a movie.

Monday, July 18

108 Hours in Cannara 0099:00am – Up by 9:00 to play cards with Tomaso and Silvia (who have opted to spend the night) and say goodbye to our guests.  

11:00am – The sun is shining and we take a break to sit by the pool and swim with Tomaso and Silvia.

1:00pm – Off to Cantina Tabarrini to see the new renovation – it’s breathtaking.  Giampaolo’s plans and ideas are exhausting but the result is going to be amazing.  We are treated to an excellent meal prepared by Franca and Federica – food fresh from their garden and an introduction to a new label and the latest release of Montefalco Rosso.

6:00pm – Back to the house for a couple of quick business calls and emails – it’s a work day after all.

108 Hours in Cannara 0117:30pm – Dinner at Cantina DiFilippo

Roberto is just back from his winery in Romania but he has the horses all set up for a sunset carriage ride through the vineyard. Elena and Bianca Maria are fantastic hosts and we enjoy a flight of Asiago cheeses and plenty of wines.

Enjoying a beautiful night with friends with Assisi lit up and sparkling in the distance.

Tuesday, July 19

8:00am – Up early to pack and return emails.

1:00pm – Off to lunch at the home of Marco’s parents, Anna and Lodovico Palermi where we are joined by Chiara, Carlo Alberto and Viola and Chiara’s mother Mariella.

3:30pm – Back to the house to Visit with Augusta.

6:00pm – Time to pack up.

108 Hours in Cannara 0127:00pm – Off to Cantina Pardi for a farewell dinner of Jessica’s Korean specialities.  It’s not easy to find all the staples for a Korean feast in the heart of Italy but Jessica makes it all seem simple and delicious.

10:30pm – Quick stop in Bevagna to say goodbye to Simone.  The circle is complete.  We have seen everyone and enjoyed our brief visit.  It’s time to go home and share our experiences, stories and hopefully a few new tastes at Via Umbria.

108 Hours in Cannara 013

Wednesday, July 20

6:00am – Early morning and departure for Rome FCO and back to DC.  Bill gets the honor of captaining the early morning drive.  I sleep.

Not the most relaxing summer vacation – but it’s easy to trade in relaxation for good friends, good wine, and good fun. Italy is such a magical place, but the most special thing about it for me has always been the people and it’s trips like these that remind me how lucky I am to have found such a great community in Umbria. For those of you who were not able to come with us on this trip, we encourage you to keep apprised of the goings on in the store.  Rumor has it a few of these friendly faces may be popping up in Georgetown in the next few months. And for those of you looking to book your own vacations in Italy, give us a call! We are happy to share our experience, and our farmhouse with you.

Traveling with Bill and Suzy Menard Read more

Nothing says summer to me like spending a few weeks in Umbria, visiting friends, finding new and interesting products for the store, ...

Umbria in Mongolfiera

Mongolfiera 015If you’ll hold my hand we’ll chase your dream across the sky
For we can fly we can fly up, up and away
Up, Up and Away, The Fifth Dimension

Early to bed, early to rise is not our typical modus operandi during our visits to Umbria and our Saturday night activity – dinner for 25 in our farmhouse, highlighted by an outdoor fireworks display to celebrate one of our guests’ birthdays – did not presage well our ability to rise early for our Sunday activity.

Mongolfiera 001But rise early we did. Both from bed and from the ground.

Arriving at the Cantina Dionigi at 6:24am, a full minute before the drop dead deadline of 6:25, we were greeted warmly by our good friend Roberto Dionigi, one of the family owners of this venerable Montefalco winery. We were also introduced to Eleonora Lolli, marketing director for Balloon Adventures Italy, Umbria’s new hot air balloon tour company. In just a short while we would slip the surly bonds of earth and float peacefully above the val d’umbria.

Mongolfiera 002

Balloon Adventures Italy is owned, operated and piloted by Peter Kollar, a recent emigrant to Umbria who had the good fortune to purchase a property next door to the Cantina Dionigi. Peter chose the property because it featured a good sized open, flat piece of land ideal for launching and landing his 18 passenger balloon. That he became fast friends and associates with the Dionigi family, whose name is emblazoned prominently on Peter’s balloon, which he boasted is the largest in Italy, is just the sort of good fortune that seems to happen often in Umbria.

Mongolfiera 003Peter’s Germanic roots were apparent from the moment we met him in the field where our balloon was being prepared for its flight. Against a backdrop of the enormous mongolfiera, he barked commands to our group of 16, barking at us to stand here, to stay away from that, to get ready to board the basket and how we would brace for landing. His bark turned out to be much worse than his bite, however, as he punctuated his necessary commands with humor and grace. By the time the balloon was fully inflated and we had scrambled aboard the basket, it was clear to all that our pilot was in control of the balloon, its passengers and the situation. He admonished us not to worry about anything. Unless he seemed worried.

Mongolfiera 006And with a few revs of the engine – well, rather a few bursts of flames from the ignitors that Peter constantly used to replenish the balloon with hot air – we rose, slowly, gently and peacefully from the field. Until we could look down directly on Peter’s hangar, his house and Roberto’s expansive fields of sagrantino, merlot and grechetto. Until we were a thousand feet high and were able to see across the valley to the beautiful glimmering cities of stone that dot the mountainside – Assisi, Spello, Trevi, Spoleto. Until we reached two thousand feet, floating languorously in the cool morning air, the golden yellow sunlight bathing the hills as a patchwork of vineyards unfolded below us, giving way to the hilltop Etruscan beauty that is Perugia and the small shimmering outline of Lago Trasimeno in the distance. We topped out at three thousand feet on a day that Peter described as “too perfect,” a morning so completely windless that steering the balloon through the usual air streams that pilots ride to bring them to their landing spot did not exist. And so our pilot cut short our adventure, expertly guiding us into a field just below another of our friends’ wineries, coming to rest among a grove of olive trees. The property owners, startled to see an enormous balloon descending into their grove came running to give us assistance, but the only help Peter needed was for them to show him a route that his Land Rover and trailer could take into the grove so we could pack the balloon and basket and take our group back to the Cantina.

Mongolfiera 009
Cantina Dionigi from above
Mongolfiera 011
The Etruscan hilltop town of Perugia, regional capital of Umbria
Mongolfiera 012
Medieval borgo of Torre del Colle in Umbria as seen from above

After deflating and packing the balloon we were transported back to Roberto’s winery, where our group was treated to a fabulous breakfast of fruits, sliced meats and cheese and Roberto’s Grechetto, Montefalco Rosso and Sagrantino wines, served, of course, after the obligatory glass of champagne or prosecco that marks every successful return to earth of the balloon and its passengers. In the gleaming, new Dionigi tasting room, with its unmatched view of the val d’umbria and Assisi and Spello, we bonded with our fellow passengers, shared our reactions to the unforgettable views and the experience of seeing this land, which we have seen so many times from ground level, from a new and truly wondrous vantage point.

Mongolfiera 016Umbria is known as “the green heart of Italy” and its majesty is well apparent to all who wind along its wandering lanes, who hike its gentle slopes, who explore its jewel like hill towns. To take all of this in from above, however, to drink in its panorama a full three hundred and sixty degrees, floating along on the soft morning breeze like a feather in the wind, is a truly unforgettable experience.

I seriously doubt whether any members of the Fifth Dimension ever experienced the thrill of a balloon ride. But they certainly nailed it in their 19xx hit, Up, Up and Away

The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy


For more information on Balloon Adventures Italy or to book your own aerial adventure, contact Eleonora at +39 366 314 0558 or email info@ballonadventures.it.  Visit their website at www.balloonadventures.it.


Transported in a balloon Read more

If you'll hold my hand we'll chase your dream across the sky For we can fly we can fly up, up and away --Up, ...

Say “Cheese”

Ruzzolone 012I have been vaguely aware of the existence of an Italian game from the countryside called ruzzolone for some time. I don’t know where I first heard of it, but I wish I had heard about it sooner.

Giovanni - ruzzoloneLucky me!  About a year or so ago, while doing a google search on a particular winemaker we wanted to learn more about I came across his image in front of his winery. In the picture Giovanni Dubini was launching a huge wheel of cheese down a dirt path. With a few admirers cheering him on. This was Giovanni playing ruzzolone. The image of this sophisticated winemaker joyously playing farmers’ game captured my imagination and made me want to learn more about the game.

For the past year or so I have been joking with Albertino Pardi that I wanted to learn all about ruzzolone and transport the sport to America. Albertino, whose family owns and operates the Cantina Fratelli Pardi winery and who is a friend and colleague of Giovanni started my ruzzolone education on the spot, teaching me all that he knew about the sport, an ancient game that by some accounts traces its roots back to Umbria’s Etruscan forebears. Despite its origins, though, it is a game that was made for the country, for rustic folks, for Umbria.


Ruzzolone antica

Ruzzolone antica3 Ruzzolone antica2

Ruzzolone 009Ruzzolone is the answer to the question, “how can I entertain myself if all I have is a wheel of cheese, a belt and a country road.” The sort of question that no doubt comes up often in rural Umbria. Today’s modern game has substituted a standardized wooden disk for a wheel of cheese (which no doubt was too valuable to waste on sport), but still uses just a cloth strap and a country road. Players wind the cord around the disk and rock back and forth several times in a stylized, ritualistic windup before heaving ho in a motion not unlike a professional bowler, but putting all manner of English on the delivery of their disk to enable it to curve around corners, hug the edge of the road and, as is the object of the game, travel the farthest distance possible. And how it does travel! On a good throw for hundreds of yards, wending its way around curves, ricocheting off of hillsides, rolling ever forward for upwards of 20 to 30 seconds.

There seems to be no dress code for participants, save dark clothing and caps. Shaving seems to be optional as well. Grunting, so loud and baying that it would put Maria Sharapova to shame is looked upon favorably as is the occasional uncontrolled spewing of obscenities and invective as the disk deviates from its flight plan and launches itself into a nearby field or up a bank into a thicket of trees.

Ruzzolone 008

But what a way to pass an afternoon. Especially on a beautiful spring afternoon as Albertino, his wife Jessica, his brother Gianluca and father Alberto and I did recently along a quiet country road outside the ancient borgo of Castel Ritaldi. Grunting aside, the only sound was the occasional disk clacking along the rough asphalt, eventually coming to a halt with a bang when colliding with the makeshift barriers erected along the course or with a wobble as it lost momentum and simply rolled over. If the sport of golf is sometimes described as “a good walk spoiled,” ruzzolone is a good walk made even better.

Ruzzolone 010No wonder country farmers live to be 100. They drink lots of red wine, eat pork fat and walk along country roads with their friends, playing a game that Seinfeld could have invented. After watching (and even trying my own hand at it) I am convinced my instincts were right a year ago when I vowed to Albertino that I was going to bring ruzzolone to America. Ruzzolone may be just what we need.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

The Italian countryside game called ruzzolone Read more

I have been vaguely aware of the existence of an Italian game from the countryside called ruzzolone for some time. I don’t ...