Golden Day Thirty-Six: Pleasures Around Todi, from Author of Marcus of Umbria
This title so appeals to me: Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl About Love. The book just came out in June, has been getting great reviews, and what I’ve read so far has been wonderfully entertaining.
Author Justine van der Leun is a hip young New Yorker, working as a magazine editor, who flees that world to puruse amore in the rural farming village of Collelungo (central Umbria). The love affair crumbles, but Justine ends up adopting a dog and thus becoming (in her words) “a weirdo” of the village. Most Collelungo natives treat dogs as bestie, while Justine follows the American model, showering Marcus with tender loving care. I’m loving reading her honest, witty prose and am absolutely enchanted by her hilarious and tender account of life in this gossipy small town.
Justine generously offered her advice for the area where she lived for a year.
Collelungo is near Todi, which she describes as “a fabulous medieval city sitting high up on a hill, all cobblestone streets and old palaces and churches.” I’ve enjoyed time in Todi too. It’s another one of Umbria’s impressive medieval gems, surrounded by three cocentric walls: the outer is medieval, the middle Roman, the innermost Etruscan. The main square has been used by loads of filmmakers, as it’s a perfect set with Gothic cathedral and surrounding palazzi.
Justine says her heart belongs to the little villages surrounding Todi: Collelungo, Izzalini, Acqualoreto, etc. And here she generously shares her Golden Day:
For me, the best way to start a day in the Umbrian countryside is: A warm, flaky apple strudel and a rich cappuccino at Bar Le Stelle in Collelungo. The bar’s owner, Cinzia, makes a mean coffee and usually stocks the International Herald Tribune, an English newspaper that’s rare and valuable in these parts. (Via G. Carducci 30, Collelungo, 0744958375)
The hills and forests outside of Todi are largely untouched – vast green swaths of land, interspersed with patchwork brown and gold fields. It’s basically a dream for any horseback rider. I like Centro Ippico Tashunka, a stable in the two-shop town of Ponte Naia, just outside of Todi. The horses are lovely, and one of the Italian cowboys (they take their spaghetti westerns seriously here) can guide you on a tour of the fields and forests. (Loc. Ponte Naia, 0758942060 or 335237163)
It’s worth doing dinner in the big city – i.e., in Todi, which, to be honest, is pretty small.
The best spot to get a bite is Pane e Vino, a boutique enoteca with a lovely, hand-hewn interior. The place has a fabulous wine selection and though Umbrian cuisine can be heavy (meat and potatoes rule here), Pane e Vino manages to serve classic, rustic dishes with just the right touch of elegance. I recommend scouring the menu for the regional specialties of wild asparagus, wild boar, or black truffle, depending on the season. And you can never go wrong with a honey-and-cheese plate. (Via Augusto Ciuffelli 33, Todi, 075 8945448)
I’m obsessed with Tiziana Barbini’s little agriturismo, Il Capricorno . Il Capricorno is simplicity done right, sitting on top of a hill in the spectacular, miniscule village of Acqualoreto. The inn’s three rooms, on the top floor of Tiziana’s fully renovated stone country house, are immaculately clean, with terracotta tile floors and private baths. The main bedroom and the front patio share the same view: Umbrian hills rolling into the purple hazy Apennine Mountain range. The other rooms look out onto the forest and Tiziana’s small, hand-tended lemon and olive orchards. In the morning, Tiziana will bake you fresh bread and leave it in a communal kitchen, along with jam. In the evening, she may even bring you out a bottle of low-key Umbrian white to drink as dusk falls. This isn’t the Ritz: There’s no glamour here – just beauty, hospitality, silence, and a sense of peace. (Loc. Il Poggio, 40, Acqualoreto, 393471917350)