Last year we were happy to get any kind of holiday, just to taste some freedom after such a difficult time for everyone. For us, a staycation in Italy, two weeks in the middle of August, when it proved to be quieter than usual.
Our goal? To sample some of the simpler, finer things, that this beautiful region has to offer. No grand tour, just exploring our senses in Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria in our Compact motorhome.
Tuscany must be one of the most photogenic places on earth. Every stop is a vista to remember. The classic landscape, the hill towns, the churches and galleries, the markets and daily life seems stuck in time. Our best view? World Heritage Site, the Val d’Orcia, from the hills south of Siena to Monte Amiata.
"An area so beautiful, you’ll never forget it."
Throughout the region you can almost touch history. In Tuscany and Umbria especially, you are surrounded by ancient hill towns, memorable churches and museums. With Italy quieter than normal, we visited Assisi.
The approach is dramatic, Assisi looms above you, clinging to the steep hills. The destination for many pilgrimages, Assisi is intrinsically linked with its native son, St. Francis. He is remembered by many, even non-Christians, as a lover of nature and his preaching to an audience of birds is one of the many legends. The Basilica di San Francesco dominates the town and is a ‘must-see’, as is walking to the top of the hill above the town, for the views.
The perfect accompaniment for great cheese must surely be aged balsamic vinegar (aceto balsamico), the dark, concentrated and intensely flavoured vinegar originating in Italy. Traditionally made balsamic is made by reducing the grape and aging it for years in wooden barrels and three types have protected geographical status by European law, all in the Modena area. We visited Bompana Vinegar, a family-owned producer of certified balsamico di Modena. Hosted by the current Bompana generation, with their own vineyard and specially barrels made of oak, chestnut and juniper wood. We spent hours understanding the processes and passions, the art of balsamico making. It’s a fascinating story. We also spent a lot in the family shop!
"Nothing quite prepares you for the exquisite taste of aged balsamic vinegar, put in the barrel in 1850 and bottled only in 2012."
As ardent devourers of cheese, a visit to a parmesan production facility was not to be missed. We visited the 4 Madonne factory, where 16,000 parmesan wheels are produced each year, based on a local recipe from the 12th century. It’s a modern facility, as the original buildings were destroyed in the 2012 earthquake, when 33,000 cheese wheels were destroyed. It takes fifteen years to become a Cheese Master, the only person on site who knows the secret recipe. The production process is fascinating, special machines, like ‘’the stork’’ which carries the 50 kilo balls, which eventually become the pressed cheese wheels. The racks of ageing cheese wheels, the testing hammer and the attention to detail is remarkable. Walking through the facility, is a pleasurable assault on your senses – the faint aroma of aged cheese of course – and the anticipation of the tasting room and the delicatessen at the tour’s end.
The Emilia-Romagna region is perfect for satisfying your desire for movement in style, at speed. A choice of ultimate ‘’toy factories and experiences’’: the Ducati motorcycle factory in Bologna; the Lamborghini factory in Sant'Agata Bolognese, and the Maserati factory and Enzo Ferrari museum, both in Modena.
I spent a memorable morning with Ferraris, as I had previously visited all of the others. What a great decision, nearly all alone in this wondrous museum, this turned out to be my most perfect day in 2020. I’d recommend all these experiences, just check their websites for opening times and book online.
"The most perfect day, alone with Ferraris."
One effect of the pandemic, has been the revival of ancient ‘wine windows’ in many Tuscan hill-towns. These bulchette del vino, originated in the 1629 Italian plague, a small hole in the wall where patrons of drinking establishments could safely place wine to sell, in order to keep in business.
credit: Robbin Gheesling
credit: Brittany Starr
The Compact proved itself as the perfect travelling companion, easy and agile to drive and park, even in vertiginous Tuscan hill towns. The go anywhere mentality emboldens you and gives a sense of added freedom.
• New Fiat Ducato or Citroen Jumper.
• Comprex body construction, in white.
• Dynamic front cap, integrated lights.
• Inclined rear wall design, LED lights.
• Large garage with power and lights.
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