ONE DAY IN NORCIA
Italy is so much more than Rome, Florence, Milan, Amalfi, etc. If this past weekend taught us anything, it’s don’t skip over the small towns. They’re filled with so much history, beautiful architecture, delicious food, and wonderful people. We rented a Smart ForTwo car and drove two hours north through the windy roads in the mountains of Umbria.
Our first stop was in Norcia, a small town that inhabits around 5,000 people. Like many small towns in Italy, the city of Norcia is surrounded by and built within walls. A couple years ago central Italy was hit with four earthquakes in a three month period. The destruction to Norcia is still very present in the city and is evident everywhere you walk whether it’s from the visible scaffolding around many buildings or the number of businesses that have had to relocate out of the city center and have “ci siamo trasferiti” (we moved) signs with their new address. You can see the damage to Norcia’s cathedral in this aerial video.
We stopped for lunch at Taverna Del Boscaiolo. We ordered the plates of cheeses native to the area with the restaurant’s homemade jams to start, I enjoyed a truffle pasta, Jaime loved his asparagus and tomato pasta, and we shared a bottle of house red wine.
A lot of places in Rome follow the tradition of an afternoon siesta, but you’re still able to find places open for a late lunch. In the small towns that’s not the case, so when we were finished with lunch and the city was shutting down for the afternoon we headed to Castelluccio di Norcia, a 35 minute drive up the mountain from the city center.
Castelluccio di Norcia is located inside the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini (Mounts Sibillini National Park). We arrived a week or two too early in the summer to see the full floom of the lentil fields, but what we experienced was still beautiful and breathtaking. One of the restaurants warned us about coming during the full bloom, especially on the weekends, because if it gets too packed on the roads the national park will shut down the roads and then the chance to see the bloom is nonexistent. The day we came, the roads to Castelluccio di Norcia were empty and in the valley it was us and less than 10 other cars.
We headed back to Norcia to check into our B&B and rest before dinner at a Michelin Star restaurant, Ristorante Vespasia. Vespasia was awarded their first Michelin Star in 2016 and have continued to meet the luxury standard. The chef, Valentino Palmisano, is from Naples and worked internationally in Shanghai and the Ritz-Carlton in Kyoto. He’s also listed among the top 10 best Italian chefs abroad by “Arbiter” magazine. On Friday nights the chef has a special aperitif that includes an amuse-bouche and a drink before dinner. The amuse-bouche included a selection of cheeses, salami, prosciutto, focaccia, meatballs with suckling pig, and savory cannoli. Jaime also had his own personal vegetarian amuse-bouche that included pickled eggplant, fried and roasted asparagus, fava beans, and a few other small bites.
There are a few different tasting menus you can choose from ranging from seafood, meat, cheese, chef’s choice and then a la carte, 4, 6, and 8 course menus. We figured go big or go home, so we ordered the chef’s choice 8 course menu and a bottle of Emidio Pepe’s 2009 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. We ended up being overly ambitious because along with the 8 course menu came a welcome dish, bread, and dessert. To say we were uncomfortably stuffed would be an understatement, but the food was mouth-watering so we have no regrets. You can scroll through some of our courses in the gallery below. Norcia itself is worth the trip to this area of Umbria, but if you’re foodies like us make sure Vespasia is part of your visit.
We stayed at Il Casale San Martino, a quaint B&B facing the mountains right outside the city center of Norcia. When we travel we spend the least amount of time at the hotel/B&B/Airbnb, so we’re always looking for the best deal and we always find the best deals at the B&Bs. Paying less than $100/night, our rooms and bathrooms were more spacious than traditional hotels we’ve visited, very clean, quiet, and what’s better than homemade breakfast upon waking up? Because the number of guests at the B&B is limited you’re given a more personal experience. If you’re looking for a place with a bar, room service, or a rooftop to relax on then a B&B is probably not for you. But if you’re like us looking to connect with the locals and needing somewhere to comfortably relax and sleep, don’t overlook a B&B on your next trip out of town.
The Smart ForTwo car may look like an uncomfortable ride for a weekend road trip, but for one or two people it’s incredibly comfortable inside. We were able to fit two small suitcases, two backpacks, and 20 bottles of wine in the trunk while still having lots of room for us in the front. Parking and driving is Rome is so chaotic neither of us are planning to get a car for daily use, but for road trips where you’re hopping from city to city the Smart ForTwo is the perfect companion and parking will never be an issue. If you’re planning to travel to Umbria and are deciding on which towns to visit, don’t let the devastation from the earthquakes discourage you from visiting Norcia. The people are wonderful, the city and countryside are beautiful, and the food is delicious.