Umbria sure was a treat. It is a jewel nestled in the middle of Italy that has not yet been discovered and mobbed by rivers of tourists. Everything here is charming, friendly, and affordable. The great, unique towns are usually a rather easy drive if you are located near the heart of Umbria. The giant hay rolls that dot the vast green and yellow stretches of land, the sunflower fields, and the many other flower pastures are overlooked by castles perched on top of the gentle Umbrian hills, each castle having its own history of a long forgotten king. There is something unique to visit in every village and if it were not for time restrictions one could roam around and lose themselves along the narrow streets and alleyways for days on end.
The food is tasteful and creative with special Umbrian truffles added to every dish in restaurants whose terraces overlook Umbria’s spectacular landscapes. Moreover, unlike its neighboring province, Tuscany, Umbria sometimes has prices for food and other general goods so low that you sometimes find yourself believing it too good to be true. Eating here is a bit like eating at the well-known restaurant Eataly in New York but much better.
We said good bye to Forte Sorgnano that very generously hosted us in a cottage among olive tree and sunflower fields for almost a week. The Forte, though quite isolated and a bit hard to reach (getting to it involves driving four kilometers on a bumpy dirt road, if you dare), serves an excellent, delicious breakfast, offers amazing hospitality, and has a ruined castle on top of a nearby hill that is a nice little trek for a slow day. We left Umbria and hopped on to the highway where we had to endure six hours of repetitive, boring landscape to Italy’s fashion capital, Milan.
In Milan, we booked a visit to Cenacolo Vinciano, the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie that has inside Leonardo’s Last Supper. The fresco was renovated and opened in 1999 after having stayed closed for nearly 10 years. Today it is visited by a limited number of groups daily and is held under high security. Pictures and video are forbidden. We bought our tickets online several months in advance and it turns out that the only spots we found available were for a tour guided in Italian.
We drove into the town for a walk and dinner. The Duomo square was flooded by tourists taking pictures. It was scattered with people were selling corn to feed pigeons and hand bands or other small trinkets in order to make a living. We strolled along Via Torino and some streets around the Duomo to try to get away from the bustling crowds of tourists. Our attempts were not very successful; it seems that wherever we go, we cannot escape them. Our dinner at a generic Italian pizzeria was nothing special; after tasting the flavorful, even exotic food of Umbria, it seemed as if no restaurant in any part of Italy could match up to it. After dinner we would have wanted to poke around the city a bit more but unfortunately, it had suddenly been invaded by mosquitoes to the point at which everybody in the square was slapping either themselves or each other. We found the Fellinniesque mosquito situation surprising and even a bit funny because mosquitoes had not at all been a problem in our past days in Italy. Any physical resistance to the mosquitoes seemed futile and ultimately we shamefully surrendered to them and called it a night, our last one in Italy.