I always offer to help our guests plan their trips, and I’m happy when they accept some help. And when my friend Katie accepted my offer, I was thrilled.
Katie had agreed to act as her traveling party’s activities director, and they hit the jackpot when they assigned her to the role. She read everything I sent her, pored over this blog and Rocca di Benano’s Pinterest Board (which is sort of ironic, since she was the one who taught me the wonders of Pinterest), then drafted an itinerary that we worked on together.
Here’s the itinerary Katie has proposed for her group. Although there’s not one agenda that will work for everyone, this is one great way to spend a week at Rocca di Benano.
Read to the end to see just how good Katie is. (Hint: she even researched gelato!)
DAY 1 (Friday) — ARRIVE IN ROME
Francis Surman will meet us at the airport and take us to Hotel la Residenza (€130/night). Take a hop on/hop off double decker bus tour of Rome and/or stroll around the neighborhood. Villa Borghese park, Spanish Steps, and Piazza del Popolo are all within easy walking distance.
DAY 2 (Saturday) — MEANDER FROM ROME TO BENANO
Francis Surman will pick us up at the hotel and take us to Benano, touring along the way, including a stop in Orvieto to pick up the rental car.
DAY 3 (Sunday) — AGRITURISMO PULICARO & LAKE BOLSENA
Brunch and farm tour at Il Pulicaro (10 minutes from Benano), then …
… Lake Bolsena and town of Bolsena (1/2 hour from Benano), then …
Dinner: Either stop on the way back from Bolsena at Ristorante-Pizzeria “L Pignatto” in San Lorenzo Nuovo or make dinner for ourselves eat at the villa.
DAY 4 (Monday) — CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO & ORVIETO
… on to Orvieto (35 minutes from Civita; 18 from Benano), then …
Dinner: Ristorante Zeppelin in Orvieto
DAY 5 (Tuesday) — TUSCANY
Cross over into Tuscany and take Via Cassia up toward Pienza. Other stops could include Bagno Vignoni (hot springs); Montalcino (Brunello!); Sant’Antimo Abbey (check schedule for Gregorian chants); Monticchiello (maybe lunch on the terrace at La Porta?). Dinner options: in Montepulciano (perhaps A Gambe di Gatto?); in Orvieto on way home if we take the freeway back; or at the villa.
DAY 6 (Wednesday) — FLORENCE
Catch an early train to get to there before 10. Spend the day touring Florence. Either stay for dinner there and take a late train back or eat in Orvieto near the train station (Ristorante Trattoria da Valerio or Trattoria da Dina).
DAY 8 (Friday) — FINAL DAY AT BENANO
Lazy day near Benano, including (maybe):
- a long walk through the vineyards and olive orchards right around the villa;
- walk over to Viceno for a caffè at the bar there and a pottery demonstration;
- last visit to Visit Castel Viscardo (the market comes to Castel Viscardo on Fridays);
- last stroll around the castle in Torre Alfina.
Dinner option: Hire Alex to barbecue for us at the villa.
DAYS 9 – 12 (Saturday – Tuesday) — LEAVE BENANO / RETURN TO ROME / DEPART FOR HOME
Return rental cars, then Francis will drive us to Hotel Due Torri (€147-190/night) in Rome, touring and lunching along the way). While in Rome, take in dinner at Il Bacaro one night and at Osteria del Pegno another. Tour the Colosseum, Vatican, and go on a Rome Food tour.
There’s something else you should know about this extensively researched itinerary: Katie found the most highly acclaimed gelaterias almost everywhere they’re planning to go. Here are some of the gelataterias they’re hoping to visit:
Torre Alfina: Sarchioni’s
Bolsena: Gelateria Santa Cristina
Orvieto: La Musa, on the lower end of the Corso (the main shopping street) and Gelateria Pasqualetti. There are two Pasqualetti locations: one is on Piazza del Duomo and the other is at the corner of Via del Duomo and the Corso.
Two and a half years out of a perfectly wonderful career at Procter & Gamble, I still find myself mildly unsettled without a real job description (let alone quarterly goals, success measures, and annual reviews) for my work at Rocca di Benano. If I had one, it would include something along these lines:
Accelerate guests’ enjoyment of rural Italy by providing them ample recommendations for day trips, activities, restaurants, etc.
All of which is to say that my afternoon in Bolsena was a business trip. It was my job to make the 25-minute drive down to this beautiful medieval town situated on Europe’s largest volcanic lake on a spectacular Spring day.
I had to have lunch at Trattoria Picchietto, a lovely restaurant that we recommend to our guests. I had a delicious Minestra di Tinca, or spicy fish soup, and field-fresh salad. Other diners in the courtyard were so friendly that those at the next table poured me a glass of the wine from their bottle when they saw I was alone — and wineless. But these were merely fringe benefits of my work. My objective was to optimize the relevance of the consumer-facing copy I produce for guests. Simply put, I was efforting to gather value-added learnings that will take my material to the next level. (See? I still have it.)
My after-lunch stop didn’t go according to the workplan. (Note to self: will you ever learn to anticipate afternoon closures in Italy?) I had about an hour to kill, so I did what any self-respecting business traveller would do: I stopped in on Bella Pizza, one of the best pizza a taglio (pizza by the slice) places in the area, and bought a couple of slices for my dinner. And I still had time to walk down the broad boulevard to Lake Bolsena, which sparkled in the afternoon sun. In true corporate fashion, I squeezed in a coffee break, too.
Finally, I was able to fulfill my final objective for the visit (I am nothing if not diligent): I sampled the highly touted (and deservedly so) gelateria just off the main town square. It’s a friendly, surprisingly small shop, and the gelato (I had ricotta/cinnamon and chocolate) is exquisite.
The restaurant: Trattoria Tipica da Picchietto, Via Porta Fiorentiana, 15, Phone: (0761) 799158. Closed Mondays.
The pizza: Bella Pizza, Via G. Marconi, 10, Phone: (0761) 799904
The gelato: Gelateria Santa Cristina, Corso della Repubblica 8, Phone: (0761) 798758
Paul has mastered the art of wandering around on vacation. Now that he’s here, long-ignored questions like “wonder what’s there?” are being pursued. The resulting cruise is usually interesting, delicious, or both.
One day, we started our ramble in Bolsena (on the north shore of Lake Bolsena) and found a sure sign of summer’s approach – Bella Pizza, the shop that advertises pizza a taglio, was open! Taglio means “cut,” so this is pizza by the slice.
Bella Pizza is a worthwhile, if inelegant, stop. The varieties are plentiful and interesting and the pizza very fresh. If the server asks “caldo?,” nod your head and she’ll heat it up for you.
Bella Pizza is located a few blocks up from the lake and just below the town’s historic center, which we hadn’t yet explored. So we climbed the hill after our lunch to see what was up there. We weren’t disappointed by the narrow cobblestone streets, the castle, and requisite historic church.
Then we looked for a way to drive around the lake. Part of the route is a dirt road, and all of it was beautiful. We drove through olive groves, commercially cultivated flowers, and campgrounds that are no doubt busy during the summer. Judging by the signs on the closed snack (and beer) bars in one section, we guessed it to be a favorite spot for German visitors. We stopped to stroll around Capodimonte and Marta, a couple of small towns right on the lake.
We left the lake at Montefiascone, which is a beautiful hill town with a rich history as a papal possession. Those popes lived well. A walk around the castle shows just how well. And what’s a picturesque Italian town without its own wine? Montefiascone’s is Est! Est!! Est!!!
Our last stop before heading home was the Bosco dei Mostri (“Monster’s Grove”) in Bomarzo. What a sight! And what a beautiful respite on a warm afternoon. It’s difficult to describe Bosco dei Mostri. A Renaissance amusement park? Lush gardens interspersed with mossy grotesques? If you have time to watch a video, you’ll get the idea.
A grieving husband dedicated these fantasmagoric gardens to the memory of his late wife, who, by the looks of the place, must have been a piece of work!
Here’s what our route looked like:
Lake Bolsena, a beautiful and surprisingly large volcanic lake, is a lovely 30-minute drive from Benano. On one of my first outings this week, I went to the largest town on the lake, conveniently – if not creatively – named Bolsena.
Jeff & Robin already had the GPS programmed to go to Bolsena, so I turned it on and let her guide me there. (Yes, Signora GPS speaks English.) She took me on a beautiful drive on country roads that provided occasional glimpses of the lake. I was taken aback, though, when Signora GPS directed me down what looked like a little driveway. I said, “oh, really?” and made the turn. I went down and down a small and windy road with the occasional home or church along the way. It was fascinating – a drive through Italy as is has been through the ages. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
Pretty soon I was in a town, and when Signora GPS told me to make a particularly unlikely right turn, I said, “c’mon … no … REALLLY!?” As I paused to consider the turn, two other cars zipped onto the “road” in question from the other direction. So I did it and just kind of held my breath. It really wasn’t that bad, but it was a little exciting.
I found a good parking lot easily (and even remembered to buy my ticket and leave it on the dashboard), and headed into town.
This street boasts a fresh pasta store, two cheese and salami stores, and a stationery supply store that also sells the maps I wanted. There are also two butchers. But all these pale in comparison to the main event (for me) — the bakery that sells a delicious whole-wheat bread. May I be forgiven for complaining about any food in Italy, but the bread really doesn’t do much for me. So when our friend Jude turned us on to this bakery, I committed it to memory.
It was a very satisfying outing. I negotiated several transactions, and learned (for future reference) that my favorite bread is called “internale.” The best part of the morning was wandering that little street and absorbing the differences between life in Bolsena and what is so familiar to me.
Sugar Apple, one of my favorite blogs, has a terrific post about her trip to Bolsena: http://abigailblake.com/sugarapple/?p=1289. Don’t miss her photos of how the town comes alive as a resort in warmer weather. Very different from my morning there.
On the way home, I accidentally went a different way out of town, and the GPS accommodated my mistake. My return route, which took me through the very picturesque town of San Lorenzo Nuovo, was an even easier drive. It may have been just a tad longer, and it wasn’t nearly as exciting, but I never talked back to the GPS.