Alex and Olga

We got to know Olga and Alex when we bought Rocca di Benano in 2008 and they came on as our caretakers. In short order, they became so much more. They’re now the trusted managers we rely on to make the business run. More than that, though, they’re dear friends.

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Memories of Benano and the Most Splendid Little Villa

Many thanks to Brendon for contributing this post. I love the “will it result in good memories?” standard. Read to the end to see what I mean. 

There’s a little restaurant in Canino, which is a village outside of Tarquinia, which is a town outside of Rome. The restaurant is Archibusacci. Surrounded by olive trees, Archibusacci also produces olive oils. There’s a dried hog in the center of the main dining room, and the staff can slice off prosciutto that is as fresh as it possibly can be. Joined by friends new and old, we sat down at round table under a window that allowed a setting sun to shine on our table. The waiter brought us a cart full of antipasti, traditional starters for an Italian meal. Tired, a little out of sorts, and unable to communicate, I was the happiest guy in the world.

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That was exactly a year ago, and I’m still reflecting on the memories from a wonderful first trip to Italy. The food, the wine, the sights, the history, the company—all were perfect. All of it centered around Rocca di Benano, the most splendid little villa, just outside of Orvieto. Rocca di Benano was our home base for a week in Umbria, which allowed us to explore big and small Italy all with ease and convenience.

The small towns of Italy are not to be missed. In one day, we enjoyed espresso and gardens in Radicofani, a spectacular lunch of truffles and egg in Montechiello, art and history in Pienza, and Banfi wine in Montalcino. We drove by countless Italian towns, wishing we could stop at all of them, or at least marking them down so we could visit on the next trip. We returned to Orvieto in the evening, drove down a dark road, and pulled up to Risto-Pizzeria de Zia Graziella, where, as the only diners, we had the full attention of the lovely Zia Graziella. Her full attention led to no less than six pizzas, a slew of appetizers, a digestif, a dessert, and even a private tour of her kitchen.  It was the most full I had ever been. Zia Graziella reminded me of my grandmother, especially as she was watching closely to make sure we enjoyed her cooking. It was the most memorable meal of the trip, and that’s something.

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The next day, my wife and I woke up early, and for the opposite experience, took a train to the big city of Florence. We were there in just under two hours (that gave me the chance to watch the penultimate episode of “Breaking Bad,” downloaded via wifi at the villa the night before), and when we hopped off the train, we went straight to the Mercato Centrale. We browsed and grazed and marveled at the varieties of mushrooms, dried meats, and produce. During a full day, we climbed the Duomo, walked across the Ponte Vecchio, and ate an amazing meal at 4 Leoni. We walked through gardens, stopped for espressos and gelato, and took selfies galore. The train brought us back to Orvieto that evening, and we were in our bed for a restful sleep.

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Small towns, big cities, Benano was perfect.

What’s funny is that we almost didn’t go. My wife and I received an invite to travel with our friends Paul and Karen, the owners, but we already had a holiday trip scheduled to Paris in December for another friend’s wedding. Two trips to Europe in four months seemed a bit much. But after work one day, I was visiting with someone whose opinion on travel (and a lot of other things) is to be respected. His question to me at the time was whether the trip would result in good memories. I said it probably would, and he said then it would be foolish not to go. He even went so far as to say if we had a bad experience, he would pay for my trip. It was the safest of bets. Life is about making memories, he said that day, and he was right.

One year later, we’re longing to go back. We miss the food, we miss the relaxed way of life (va bene!) and we miss the adventures. One year later, the memories are still bringing us joy. So this week, we’ll open a bottle of wine from the region, raise a glass to Benano, and hope that our return trip is sooner rather than later.

Ciao.

A Week at Rocca di Benano

This post is another wonderful guest’s answer to the ever-popular “what would a week at Rocca di Benano be like?” question. I like his answer, particularly the “discovery” of Anguillara Sabazia on the shores of Lake Bracciano. And don’t miss the last shot, when he and his family had to leave Benano. 

Thanks very much, Mike. We’re looking forward to having you back to Rocca di Benano!

It has taken a while but I’m finally writing about our perfect week this past August in Benano. Since our son and daughter-in-law live in Florida it was longest all five of us had been able to spend together over the past few years. It was a wonderful trip and I’d like to share a few highlights.

To make the most of this trip we hired Francis for the entire week. That could not have worked out any better. Driver and interpreter, tour guide, photographer, historian and storyteller. He even helped  with grocery shopping.

We visited many of the same cities and sites that other Benano guests have experienced. However, we would like to highlight a couple of places we visited that others might be interested in reading about. We arrived in Rome on Saturday morning. Since official check-in isn’t until 4pm, we used the time traveling between Rome and Benano to visit the city (or is it a village?) of Anguillara Sabazia. It’s just bit north of Rome and sits on the shore of Lake Bracciano. If anyone is a fan of the television show Everybody Loves Raymond you would recognize it as the site where they shot their two-part episode in Italy.

Our family is a fan of that show and we can remember seeing that episode for the first time and thinking how nice it would be if someday we could visit a place like that. Well, that someday came. Of course, the town was spruced up a bit for the filming but it’s still as picturesque as it is in the show.

Another site we visited was the Florence American Cemetery. It’s just off the A1 Autostrada south of the city of Florence. This is one of two American World War II cemeteries in Italy. This is the resting place for soldiers killed in the later stages of fighting in Italy, after the Allied liberation of Rome. The other cemetery is near Anzio.

We left Benano early for the drive north, spent some time at the cemetery and then, rather than go into Florence, made our way back toward Benano and spent the rest of the day in Siena. The campo in Siena just happened to be set up for their famous horse race, the Palio, which was going to run the next day. Since we did not see Florence itself we have one more reason to someday return to Benano. Actually it was such a wonderful week all around I don’t think we need any one single reason to come back.

We were on the go every day. We visited Orvieto twice, Civita di Bagnorigio, Assisi, the sagra in Torre Alfina (along with return visits for dinner and gelato), Pienza, Montepulciano, Siena and a full day in Rome capped with an evening dinner on the beach in Fiumicino. We still found time to enjoy Benano, too, with a couple of evenings grilling on the terrace and a special Creole dinner on our last night there.

We had a wonderful time in Italy and at Rocca di Benano. It was the trip of a lifetime. At least until we’re able to go back!

Easter in Umbria

Thanks again to Lynn for chronicling our adventures in Benano! 

Easter is a big holiday in Italy, marked by a week-long series of events in every town and small village.

DSC_0189On Palm Sunday, the small village of Benano kicked off the week with a special ceremony. The priest arrived from nearby Castel Viscardo just before dark on a cold rainy evening. Despite the cold, his feet were clad only in plain brown sandals such as we imagine Jesus would have worn.

The priest walked around the village stopping in houses where the residents had invited him to provide a special blessing. After a few words of conversation and a brief prayer in each house, the priest returned to Benano’s central courtyard. Here, he blessed the eggs that village residents had brought out and “palm leaves” which looked suspiciously like olive branches from the local hillside. The priest led us in a responsive reading and hymn that was familiar to me, even though I don’t speak Italian. Following this, we had a short procession to the Benano chapel for the Palm Sunday mass.

On Monday night, we attended a wonderful Pasqua (Easter) concert at the Oriveto Duomo. The inside of the church was beautifully lit because the concert was televised. This offered the added benefit for us to see the art and architecture better than ever before. The concert was performed by members of the Roma Philharmonic, featuring Uto Ughi, a world famous violinist. The music by Beethoven, Mozart and others in that setting was truly heavenly.

I’m sure there were other events during the week, but our next experience was on Good Friday. About 9:30 pm, we drove to the nearby village of Castel Viscardo. All the lights on the main street were turned off, so the only light was provided by red and white candles in windows and sitting on the sidewalks. From a distance, we heard, via an outdoor loudspeaker, the mass that was being celebrated in the church. When it ended, a procession from the church was led by residents dressed as Roman soldiers.

The soldiers were followed by a man dressed as Jesus, carrying a large cross. Behind Jesus were people dressed as his disciples and family, followed by more soldiers, the local priests and three people carrying large decorated crosses. Next came a brass band playing a tune that somehow reminded us of the movie, “The Godfather.” And behind the band walked almost all the rest of the Castel Viscardo residents, carrying candles, pushing baby carriages and shushing their small children into silence. The procession continued all the way through Castel Viscardo down the main street. We straggled along behind in awe of the pageantry.

On Saturday, the day before Easter, one of our Benano residents came to the door bearing two gifts: a bowl of three hard boiled eggs that had been blessed by the Priest on Palm Sunday, and a wedge of the sweet Easter bread that is traditionally eaten on Easter morning.

Tomorrow, of course, Italians will attend church for the traditional Easter mass. We have invited some friends over for a brunch, which will include the blessed eggs and a special homemade Easter cheese bread. I found the recipe on the King Arthur Flour website, and bought most of the right ingredients at a local store (at least, I hope I bought the right items—the labels are in Italian and the quantities are in grams). Wish me luck!

Buona Pasqua.