Saturday, February 14, 2009

Italy Travel: Umbria by Car - Umbrian Cashmere and Umbrian Food

Umbrian Cashmere and Food


March is the perfect month for wearing a light cashmere jacket, shawl, scarf or handsome sweater, so where better to indulge yourself than in central Italy. The region of Umbria is home to some of the finest and most fashionable cashmere in the world.

Brunello Cucinelli: We begin our journey a short distance from Perugia and Assisi, in the picturesque hill town of Solomeo. The entire town is dedicated to the cashmere company Brunello Cucinelli and is home of their beautiful factory outlet.

The “Franciscan of cashmere” is a name often applied to Brunello Cucinelli, a man dedicated to humanism. More than 30 years ago Cucinelli moved to Solomeo, purchased three knitting machines, and laid the foundation for his clothing company. He ploughed his profits into the restoration of the medieval castle, Castello di Solome, in order to provide his staff with a spacious and motivating working environment. He has invested more than 20 million euros in Solomeo as the “preserver of Solomeo’s old town.” According to Brunello Cucinelli, “perfect quality” is the result of the inner goodness and quality of each individual. He nourishes creativity and team spirit by providing his workforce with beautiful, inspiring surroundings.

Cucinelli selects the very best materials. Collections are made using the finest, softest, fluffiest hair of the cashmere found around the throat. He dyes the wool the colors of the rainbow. The styles are exquisite for both men and women. Each piece is an investment in beauty.

Just before you ascend to Solomeo, you will find the factory outlets of Gunext and Rivamonte, both owned by the Cucinelli company. Gunext features skirts and pants for women made of the finest wools. Rivamonte specializes in tops and jackets varying in fabrics from fine cotton, silk, and wool, some with a touch of leather, all of the highest Italian style.

There are no restaurants for lunch in Solomeo.

My suggestion for lunch is Osteria dell’Olmo, close by in the town of Olmo. This 16th century villa with its own vineyard is surrounded by olive trees and the Umbrian hills. Chef Aeneas creates dishes following ancient traditions. Their cuisine is inspired by the richness of the Umbrian soil that produces their olive oil, mushrooms, and truffles. Their massive outdoor grill burns throughout the year sizzling local meats.

Osteria Dell’Olmo is a tasteful experience!

How to get here - Superstrada Firenze - Perugia, exit Coriciano, per Solomeo. Cucinelli is in the main square of Solomeo.

Arnaldo Caprai: Just south of Assisi, a few miles down from Foligino, along the highway, is the cashmere company Arnaldo Caprai. The artfully designed factory outlet offers cashmere of elegant styles for both men and women bursting with colors influenced by nature. There are also fine linens detailed with the famous Caprai lace.

The Arnaldo Capri Textile Museum, featuring antique lace, is one of the most important in the world and definitely worth a visit.

The Caprai vineyard is close by and continues the sense of luxury with high quality wines, such as, Rosso di Montefalco and Sagrantino.

The luxurious world of Arnaldo Capri’s cashmere, lace, and wine is an enchanting way to spend time in Umbria.

There are many outstanding choices nearby to savor authentic Umbrian dishes for lunch or dinner.

In the walled hill town of Trevi is Ristorante Maggiolini, on Via San Francesco. The stone interior keeps it warm and cozy in winter and cool in the summer months. The gentle owners make you feel welcome Umbrian style with warmth and affection. Specials include strongozzi pasta, prepared with seasonal sauces, grilled vegetables, and many choices of grilled meats. The frittata with truffles (when in season) is a favorite as is the grilled tacchino (turkey). Be sure to tell them Deborah and Ron send their best.

On the way to Spoleto, just off the highway, you will come upon Ristorante Benedetti in the town of Campello sul Clituno, where the Ancient Roman temple still stands adjoining the percolating waters. Owners Andrea and Federica have been running this family affair for over 30 years. The flour and oil pastas are handmade following old artisan ways. Federica is very justifiably proud of her pasta! Benedetti’s is like a stage set presenting sincere hospitality. The antipasto table is worthy of an artist palette. Their meats are grilled over hot embers as is the custom in Umbria. Even if you don’t see pennoni fra diavolo on the menu, ask for it…they’ll know you have been sent by Deborah and Ron.

For a unique Umbrian experience, I suggest a visit to Norcia, about an hour’s drive from the Assisi-Spoleto highway at Clituno. High in the Sibillini Mountains, you will come upon Norcia, home of Saint Benedict, founder of the Benedictine order, and Saint Scholastica. In Ancient Roman times up to the 1400s, the Sibyls were thought to inhabit their namesake mountains forecasting the future.

Norcia is famous for its pork products. As soon as you begin your walk toward the main piazza, you realize there’s something special in the air. Follow that scent into shop after shop offering all types of pork specialties. So famous for their skills with pork are the butchers of Norcia, that butcher shops in Italy are frequently called "Norcineria." Norcia is also widely known for lentils, truffles, and farro.

I highly recommend that you eat at Taverna de' Massari, a short way past the Piazza. S. Benedetto. They have an extensive menu and an amazing wine selection. On our last visit, we particularly enjoyed Lenticchie di “Castelluccio” con salsicce alla brace and also Penne alla norcina. Do taste their pork dishes.

Once you return from Umbria you will find yourself aching for one last whiff of porchetta and lusting for that cashmere you left behind. Umbria Internet Programs

Links to mentioned in the article can be found at the Umbria Channel of

Direct links are:

1. Nice intro to Umbrian food here.

2. An interview with Chef Aeneas

3. In Clitunno, Benedetti - Traditional dishes, lovingly prepared.

4. In Perugia [towards Corciano] l’Osteria dell’ Olmo - Umbrian dishes the old-fashion way, delicious, among the olive trees.

5. In Trevi, Maggiolini Ristorante - A taste of paradise in an Umbrian hilltown.

6. Arnaldo Capri, cashmere, lace, and wine

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