Buongiorno Italy! - Travel Diary With Mastercard
TUSCANY & UMBRIA
Maybe one of our ancestors had Italian origins which could explain my family's veneration for Italy. My parents several times, me at least once a year try to visit the home of Rome, Michelangelo, Fiat 500 and PIZZA. I think there is no other culture which is as rich as the Italian's and is within such a short distance from Budapest. I had a secret intention to return again to Portugal to our annual summer holiday but instead we decided to do a small Europe trip by car in Italy and Switzerland. After 2015 we teamed up again with Mastercard and joined their new campaign which encourages tourists to discover the top hidden treasures within Europe. After driving exactly 1044 kilometers we arrived to our first stop, Tuscany. Scroll down and follow our journey through the Italian countryside to get to know the hidden and not so hidden parts of this beautiful country.
A few years ago Umbria was known, if at all, as Tuscany’s less alluring sister. Not any more as the region has all Tuscany’s attributes – and a few more. There’s also the same glorious pastoral scenery but it has a coronet of far more intimate and easily visited hill-towns, like Spello, Spoleto, Assisi and Trevi - the little jewels of Umbria.
I loved Spoleto the most. We arrived at golden hour and we were literally the only tourists in town. We felt like having the city for ourselves. We also discovered by chance the very best restaurant in Spoleto, called '9cento' where I probably had the most delicious pici (= home made pasta) with lamb ragu in my life.
La Capella della Madonna di Vitaleta is one of the symbols of Val d'Orcia and the whole of Tuscany. You can spot it from the road from San Quirico d'Orcia to Pienza. The region's beauty is such that the Orcia valley is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We arrived to Perugia with a wolflike hunger so after parking the car we stopped at the very first pizzeria that came by. It was tiny, boiling hot inside, the cashier was rude but those slices of prosciutto pizza ... Love at first bite. The moment when all those 1044 kilometers made sense. And our love story continued with the city itself. Perugia is also known as a university town, with the University of Perugia founded in 1308. The streets and the squares are packed with chatty, gesticulating students from all over the world which gives a very vivid, welcoming atmosphere to the city.
Lake Como is the third-largest lake in Italy, after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore at the northern part of the country, in the Lombard region, an hour drive from the Swiss border. It is famous - on the one hand - for its geological uniqueness. Due to its glacial origin - with a depth over 400 meters - it's surrounded by some imposing peaks, which are reflected in its waters and render the landscape picturesque.
On the other hand it has long been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people so the lakeside is dotted with villas that you've only seen in movies before ...
Casino Royal and Attack of the Clones are ringing any bells? Put on your boater, hop on a boat and discover the movie scenes of Hollywood which has always served as a tranquil paradise for the rich and famous.
There are many villas open to public but there are a few which truly show the wealth of this region and are worth the visit - Villa del Balbianello, Villa Carlotta, Cilla Melzi and Villa d'Este. My favorite was the Villa del Balbianello which is located on the tip of the small peninsula of Dosso d'Avedo on the western shore of Lake Como. Its last owner was the explorer Count Guido Monzino who led the first Italian expedition to climb Mount Everest. In his will he left the villa along with most of the Dosso d'Avedo to the National Trust of Italy. It was one the most beautiful gardens I've ever visited. Apparently others have also been inspired by it as if you remember the place where I'm standing was the very same place where Anakin and Padme exchanged vows in Star Wars II, Attack of the Clones.
Our time in Italy hadn't been the same without those couple of days we spent at the La Saracina. I first visited the girls, Simonetta and Gabriella last year with my parents and it was love at first sight with their family-owned B&B. I promised myself to return and luckily I only had to wait a year to be back. La Saracina is surrounded by the stunning Tuscan countryside where you can experience Italian hospitality at first hand. Simonetta and Gabriella act like your best friends who know the best local restaurants, towns and vineyards and ready to share their location with you. Their suggestion for our first dinner was 'Osteria La Botte Piena' in the nearby village, Montefollonico. 5/5.
Rather than creating something new and brash, the owners aimed for comfort, familiarity, local immersion, and style, fashioning a place where one can relax and get caught up in the rhythms of everyday life. The result is an experience that captures the true essence of Tuscany. I'm quite picky when it's about accommodation but here at La Saracina, I couldn't find any mistake. Thank you again Simonetta and Gabriella, I can't wait to be back at your paradise!