Katie’s Itinerary for a Week in Benano

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.

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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.

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DAY 2 (Saturday) — MEANDER FROM ROME TO BENANO

P1040573 - Version 3Francis 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.

Dinner: either eat in at the villa, or go to to Nuovo Castello in Torre Alfina (10 minutes from Benano) or La Pergoletta in Castel Viscardo (5 minutes from Benano)

DAY 3 (Sunday) — AGRITURISMO PULICARO & LAKE BOLSENA

Brunch and farm tour at Il Pulicaro (10 minutes from Benano), then …

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… Lake Bolsena and town of Bolsena (1/2 hour from Benano), then …

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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

Tour Civita di Bagnoregio (35 minutes from Benano), lunch at Hosteria del Ponte, then …

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… on to Orvieto (35 minutes from Civita; 18 from Benano), then …

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Dinner: Ristorante Zeppelin in Orvieto

DAY 5 (Tuesday) — TUSCANY

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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).

t-numunoDAY 7 (Thursday) — WINERY and ORVIETO

Wine tasting at Palazzone, followed by another visit to Orvieto and dinner at Osteria Numero Uno in Orvieto

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.

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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:

Rome: Any or all of the places mentioned in this blog post, but especially Gelateria del Teatro.

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.

Bernini, Borromini, and Bramante … Rome doesn’t get much better than this

I had a perfect hot day in Rome last week. (On a hot day in Rome, perfection includes getting back to an air conditioned room by 3:00 and spending the hottest part of the day resting one’s feet.)

Loyal readers (that’s you, Mom and Paul) already know of my fondness for Gianlorenzo Bernini, the sculptor and architect whose work decorates Rome and — please don’t think me shallow for mentioning this — starred in the Dan Brown book and Tom Hanks movie “Angels and Demons.” Visiting Bernini’s masterpieces is a perfect way for people like me who aren’t naturally drawn to museums to appreciate art. It also turns out to be a fine way to spend a day in Rome — see “My Roman Holiday” for one such day earlier this year.

On my walk through Rome last week, I branched out beyond Bernini … and liked it very much.

Borromini

I started the day with a good look at the magnificent facade of a Borromini church near my hotel. Sant’ Ivo is inside the walls of the old Rome University, and it’s only open to the public a few hours a week. This morning, drinking in the beauty of the facade was enough for me.

Poor Francesco Borromini — he was so overshadowded by Bernini, his contemporary and eventual rival. It sounds like he was a tortured guy. The guidebook I was using interpreted his use of convex and concave curves as an expression of his internal conflict. Whatever. All I know is they sure are cool.

Bramante

Trying to beat the heat, I hustled across the river and up the Janiculum Hill to see Il Tempietto, a glorious little dome-on-the-ground, the Renaissance masterpiece of Donato Bramante, a predecessor of Bernini and Borromini. Il Tempietto was closed the last time I tried to visit it, so my enjoyment was laced with the self-satisfaction of having conquered the sometimes-bewildering schedule for visiting churches in Rome.

Bernini and Borromini in the same block!

My next stop was a two-fer: a small and incredibly rich Bernini church (Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale) a few steps away from a small and striking Borromini church (San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, aka San Carlino). It was amazing to see one right after the other and compare the different ways these contemporaries created majestic places in such small places. Both are oval … but that’s about where the similarities end.

I was especially eager to spend some time in Sant’ Andrea, and not just because my last visit was cut short by the bare-shoulder police. (My friend Carol and I had forgotten to take something to wear over our sleeveless tops and the caretaker or usher scowled at us until we left.) I read that Bernini himself was particularly fond of this church and that in his later years he would spend time inside, just admiring it. If it’s good enough for Bernini, it’s good enough for me. I would have relished my time there under any circumstances, but the idea that I was doing what he had done himself was particularly moving.

Borromini’s comparable masterpiece is on the corner no more than a block away from the Sant’ Andrea, and I’m glad I had my Michelin’s guide with me. It calls this church, his first full-scale work, the one that “probably shows his genius at its best.” More important, though, the guide pointed out the ingenuity, beauty and importance of the facade, which is hard to appreciate because it is so close to the street. Without that prompt, I would have missed one of the best parts of this gem simply by failing to cross the street and look back.

So while I still love Bernini, Borromini is #1 on my list of “Socially challenged Swiss Italian architects of the Roman Baroque that I would most like to have with me if I were stranded on a desert island.” (Um, I’m not the only one that keeps that list, am I?)

Gelato

Gelato makes a good day great, and the quest for the perfect gelato is a delightful hobby — or obsession.  I didn’t plan my visit to Rome around gelato, but, come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea.

“Chiuso” (Closed) — it’s been said that this is the most common word in the Italian language

My most recent pursuit of gelato began when I was at the Spanish Steps.  Before lunch.  (And your point is … ?)

I thought of the gelato place called 71 Sotto 0 (translates to 71 degrees below zero) and realized that would be a great destination for the next part of my tour of Rome.  Our friends who live in the Rome found it and swear that it’s hands-down the best in the city.  It’s a gelateria that looks like all the others, but … mamma mia, the gelato is delicious.  For those keeping track of such things, the address is Via Monte Brianzo, 71.

I got to walk all the way down the oh-so-elegant Via Condotti.  Along the way, I took a peek into a little church on the left called Santa Trinita.  It was interesting enough to distract me from my quest, if only briefly.  As Italian churches go, it’s very small.  So small, in fact, that it’s essentially just the dome.  So I entered right into the rotunda area, “did” Santa Trinita very quickly, and was back on the prowl for gelato in no time.  I returned to the street, which changed names and jogged a little, requiring me to bear left at one point (again, for those keep track of such things).  Via Monte Brianzo is essentially the far end of Condotti near where it would run into the river.  71 Sotto 0 is on the left, and I could see the ice cream cone hanging over the door from a block away.

But the  sign on the door read chuiso (closed).  I was out of luck.

San Crispino's

San Crispino’s – named after a saint who probably never existed

Mightily disappointed, but not dissuaded, I soldiered onward toward San Crispino, another favorite gelateria.  Paul reminds me that it’s named after a saint who is no longer thought to have existed.  Nonetheless, eating San Crispino gelato is a religious experience.

It’s a pretty slick operation – there are several locations, New York Times reviews, long lines in the summer, and a great reputation.  The gelato is delicious and distinguished by particularly innovative flavors (e.g., ginger).  The honey flavored gelato made me so curious that I had to ask for a taste (“posso assaggiare” — “may I taste…?”).  I went with the apple and cinnamon and wasn’t disappointed.

If San Crispino had not panned out (and once I regained my composure after a second closed gelateria, that is), I would have had other good options: Giolitti, the gelato institution of Rome or Blue Ice.  Blue Ice is a chain with stores all over Rome; we often find ourselves at the one near Campo de Fiori.

Thank heavens (or the fictional Saint Crispin), San Crispino’s was there for me.  Sated with gelato, it was time to look for lunch. Again, I ask … what’s your point?

My Roman Holiday

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

Unlike Italian kids, I don’t have school on Saturdays, so I decided a quick trip to Rome was in order. I took a 7:30 train from Orvieto, arriving at the Rome train station (Termini) around 8:45. My completely unplanned day of touring started at Santa Maria Maggiore because it was very close to the station. It was a glorious morning.

Having grabbed the Michelin Guide to Rome before I left the house, I took its walking tour of the area and was led to a beautiful park replete with kids playing basketball, people walking dogs, and folks practicing tai chi (I think). I had never seen this mellow side of Rome before.

My itch to see new things satisfied, I craved a visit to my BFF, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. I started with the best of the best: St. Teresa in Ecstasy. I got deliciously lost on the way and enjoyed the bustling city, beautiful day, and the opportunity to ask for directions.

Angels and Demons fever has hit the church where St. Theresa lives in perpetual – some have called it orgasmic – ecstasy. Bernini’s work, including this sculpture, were central to the plot of Dan Brown’s  best-seller and Tom Hanks’ movie. There are now Angels and Demons tours of Rome. I recommend reading the book just before or during a visit to Rome and doing your own Bernini tour. You’ll spot several examples of artistic license. The church was much more crowded than it has been on previous visits, when we had it practically to ourselves. The crowds didn’t detract from the WOW factor, though –  that sculpture gets me every time.

Looking down the Spanish Steps into Via Condotti

I was in a Bernini kind of mood, so I walked by his Triton Statue in Piazza Barberini.  From there, I strolled up to the top of the Spanish steps and soaked up the beautiful view and day.  I wasn’t alone –  there was quite a crowd from the top all the way down to the plaza.  This was the first really beautiful, spring-like day after a long period of rain, and Romans seemed to hit the streets in celebration.

Beauty was emerging as the theme of the day, so I joined the beautiful people on a stroll down Rome’s most fashionable shopping street, the molto elegante Via Condotti. Strange to think that this thoroughfare, lined as it is with the likes of  Gucci, Armani, and Ferragamo, is named after the waterways, or conduits (condotti), that were built there to feed the oldest baths in Rome, built in 19 BC.  A toney street named after plumbing. Go figure.

Almost before I knew it, I was in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Rome –  Piazza Navona (designed, by the way, by my pal Bernini). As much as I love the piazza and its sculptures, I relish every chance to wander (read: get lost in) the surrounding neighborhood.  The maze of narrow streets, tiny and hidden piazzas, with lanes and little streets intersecting at odd angles makes it impossible for me to maintain any sense of direction.  Being lost back there is a wonderful way to spend a half an hour or more if I just give myself up to it.

For lunch, I went to the Pantheon to orient myself and then found another old friend, Coppelle, a trattoria where Paul and I have eaten many times.  I had vegetable soup and succeeded in getting a half-order (“mezza porzione”) of pasta.

I went past the Forum and the Colosseum on my way back to the train station, which was, by now, quite a distance away. Taking in some of the best of all antiquity made the walk feel like a short one.  I caught the metro (subway) at the Colosseum and rode the two stops back to the train station.

I found myself with time to kill in the train station (note to self: next time, check schedule before leaving), but there was plenty to do and the people-watching was beyond compare.  The station has a reputation as a good place to be pick-pocketed, so I had to remind myself to be vigilant.  It didn’t feel at all threatening, so remembering to protect my personal space was my only struggle.

I celebrated my perfect Roman holiday by blowing an extra 5 euro for first class on the way home.  Heaven knows I love the upgrades.

I was back at the Orvieto station before 6 and in time to meet up there with Jonathan and Joe, who had spent the day in Florence and had come to see Orvieto and Benano.

And yes, Gentle Reader, there IS more.  I’ll tell you about the gelato later.