What makes a great vacation in Italy? Simple food, warmth of family, peace and quiet in the countryside and small towns with great restaurants. And a beautiful villa in Umbria, away from the tourist track.
A villa in Umbria, Italy
MY HOME IN ITALY
I would love to call this graceful seven-bedroom villa with a swimming pool, nestled among the vineyards and olive groves of Umbria in Italy, my house in the Italian countryside. But I don’t think Signora Patrizzi, of a patrician Roman family and owner of everything my eye rested on in this part of Umbria, would approve.
However, for two weeks one summer, I felt this graceful house, with its rustic Italian decor — flower-laden awnings, wooden shutters and terra cotta floors — was truly mine. Some years back, you see, we rented Signora Patrizzi’s villa in Umbria, 90 minutes out of Rome, and experienced authentic Italian country life. With the house, it was love at first sight. It was a beautiful estate of rolling fields, and at the centre of it, at the end of a long driveway next to a helicopter landing pad, was the stone house.
This Italian villa had large terraces on the second floor, two living rooms below that opened up onto stone patios, a flowery pergola for outdoor dining, and sprawling grounds that provided a closeness to nature impossible elsewhere. There was no other house within neighborly distance, although we did make out some lights from a farmhouse across a couple of hills.
AL FRESCO DINNER IN UMBRIA AND MEMORIES OF SUMMER IN ITALY
During the day, we visited nearby iconic Italian hilltop towns including Spoleto, Assisi, and Perugia; and at night we cooked pasta dinners and ate al fresco under the stars.
My own memories of this particular Italian summer consist of this: incredibly blue skies and the smell of flowers everywhere; scorching afternoons when the world shuts down for a nap, and cool evenings when entire towns in Italy reawake for the traditional passagiatto—which is basically a walk around the neighborhood square — and a drink at the local bar; long lines at the gelateria stands where people sought relief from the heat; and homegrown wine pumped like gasoline into large vats at five euros a pop and drunk by the locals like water.
UMBRIA IN THE SUMMER
I’ve been to Umbria in all four seasons, and in the summer I can say that it’s an entirely different animal. Outside of the famous hilltop villages, which are — thankfully — still more colorful vignettes of local Italian life rather than tourist traps for scrapbook photo ops, this provincia is very much a “salt of the earth” type of place all year-round, with none of the glamour and energetic frenzy of its fancier rural cousins on both sides, including Tuscany further North and the Amalfi region down south.
And in the summer, Umbria temporarily sheds the heaviness and coarseness of its usual sensible agricultural existence for a mantle of carefree-ness and vitality that’s perfect for a #Travelife.