Fam-Tastic Holidays

“The best part about our vacation? The time we had with each other. It’s tricky to get everyone together since we don’t live in the same city anymore, and Rocca di Benano was the perfect place for a reunion. It’s a little sad that we have to go across the ocean for such uninterrupted family time, but we can’t wait to do it again.”

A guest wrote this about their summer vacation at Rocca di Benano, but our villa is a special place for reunions at the holidays, too. I’m speaking here from recent experience. Paul and I had a wonderful reunion with old friends over New Years this year.

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IMG_3433We planned our holiday around the Umbria Jazz Festival, which comes to Orvieto every year between Christmas and the New Year. I had heard about it for years, but this was our first chance to experience it.

And what an experience it was! The streets of Orvieto, which are alluring under ordinary circumstances, come alive for the five days and nights of the festival. There are pop-up stores, Christmas trees, and little white lights and illuminated stars strung over cobblestoned streets. And there’s the music.

I know what you’re thinking: December and January!? What’s the weather like?

It was fine, and here’s what meteorological history tells us. Pretty good! Still don’t believe me, or even the meteorologists? Then take it from guests who celebrated New Years in Benano several years ago. Their story is here.

So the weather is nice, but the real draw is the jazz. If you’re a serious music fan, you can find the schedule online and plan your visits around favorite artists, concerts held in historic buildings, or special jazz dinners organized in some of the finer restaurants in town.

You don’t have to be a jazz aficionado, though. Just being there is experience aplenty. The music and its lively energy permeate everything. When a door to a crowded bar opens to the street, music from a small combo playing inside might waft out into the brisk night air. Best of all, there are regularly scheduled “funk-offs” in which a small band winds through a different part of town. Schedules are posted, so it’s easy to catch one.

Once the funk-off goes by, it’s practically impossible not to join the crowd and follow as they lead you, Pied Piper fashion, to a piazza where they will perform for another 15 or 20 minutes.

What a unforgettable way to ring in the New Year!

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.

A Family New Years Celebration

Few things make me quite as happy as hearing from guests who love Benano as much as we do. With their permission, I’m sharing notes from the heads of two wonderful families who rented the villa over New Years. But first, enjoy their vacation photos (have you ever seen such beautiful families?)!


Hi Karen — We arrived safely home and went back to work the next day then battled fairly exhausting jetlag for a week….but it was all worth it.

We all had the most glorious week in Benano and Rocca Di Benano will stay in our hearts for the rest of our lives. I will dream of going back one day and daydream about being there at least once a week for many years to come.

Thank you for all your help and wonderful advice, we felt like we had you there by our side as we explored far and wide.

We were all incredibly comfortable and never felt like we were on top of each other. It’s not easy having two families living together but doing it at Rocca Di Benano made it seem incredibly easy.

Our highlights would have been:

  • Civita Di Banorregio
  • NYE in Orvieto
  • Perugia
  • Walking the country lane up behind Benano
  • Sitting on the bench in Benano looking out to Orvieto and enjoying the incredible peace

I wasn’t well one day but the rest of our group went to the restaurant in Aquapendente (where you said Grandma still rules the kitchen) and they were thrilled with the meal. I think they would all say that was a food highlight.

Most of all, the highlight was your home, thank you for sharing it with us. Please don’t hesitate to pass my email on to anyone wanting to know how much we enjoyed it and would recommend it.

I thought you might get some enjoyment out of some of the squillions of photos of our time at Benano. I didn’t think there was any point sending you the photos of all the things you have already taken beautiful photos of so I thought you might enjoy a little taste of us enjoying life in Benano and beyond.

Thank you again, I hope you continue to be able to share your beautiful home with lots of lucky travellers and that you get back there yourself as often as you would like to.

Warmest Regards and a big thank you hug,

Allison

and:

Hi Karen — On behalf of my family, I would just like to thank you for the wonderful time we had in Benano. The house exceeded our expectations and was the perfect base to explore the wonderful region. It must be so exciting owning that marvelous piece of History. Staying in Benano really gave us a sense of being a local. The neighbors were divine, and very patient with my terrible Italian. The house was comfortable, warm and well equipped. We took a lot of your recommendations and we didn’t have one bad day. We were worried about traveling in winter, but were absolutely blessed with the weather. In our three and a half weeks in Italy we didn’t have one rainy day and mostly blue skies. I know Orvieto suffered a lot with the torrential rains in November.

The Orvieto Jazz Festival was fabulous – we have really seen Orvieto at its best. There was a constant party atmosphere the whole time we were there. The four teens from both families are all budding musicians and the two older boys play the Sax and are really into their Jazz so it was a wonderful experience for them.

We took your recommendations and went to Civita, Deruta, Perugia and to lake Bolsena and loved them all. We ate at the wonderful Albergo Toscana  in Acquapendente which was fabulous.

On New Years Eve we had a meal in Orvieto listening to a wonderful Jazz Band then went back to Benano and sat on the car park wall watching the fireworks below. It was a wonderful week and a great experience for our children.

We will definitely be telling all of our friends about Benano, but please send me links to the sites you would like me to write a review on as we are very keen to spread the news of your wonderful house!

Many Many Thanks Again,

Jennifer

Ringing in the New Year at Rocca di Benano

I’m always a little jealous of our guests at Rocca di Benano, but that feeling is particularly acute this week because our guests get to celebrate the arrival of the New Year in one of my favorite spots on earth. Why am I jealous? Let me count the ways.

weather, jpegThe weather’s mild. Daytime highs are around 50 degrees there. We’re looking at a week in the low 30’s here in Ohio.

Capodanno (New Year’s) is very festive in Orvieto, a city with irresistible charm even without special events or holiday merriment. At this time of year, the world-renowned Umbria Winter Jazz Festival is in full swing, so music is everywhere. This post describes the festival as a “6-day party.” Researching the Jazz Festival inspired me to put together a Pinterest Board about music festivals in Central Italy. I want to go. Now.

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It’s not as if I’m not enjoying gorging on all the Christmas cookies around the house, but I have a hankering for a cenone, an over-the-top meal that many restaurants offer on New Year’s Eve. These are generally fixed-price, fixed-menu feasts that come with all the cenone-tgcomtrimmings — numerous courses, prosecco, and sometimes entertainment to boot. Here’s the mouth-watering description of how diners at Zeppelin, one of our favorite restaurants in Orvieto, will celebrate New Year’s Eve. Now I’m betting you’re jealous, too.

The Christmas season in Italy doesn’t begin to wane on December 26th as it does in the States. Rather, it continues until January 5, when La Befana, a mythical old woman who delivers gifts to Italian children, arrives in the night. So during this extended Christmas season, there will be a  live nativity scene in Civita di Bagnoregio, that is supposed to be spectacular. A resident of Bagnoregio told me that “Civita becomes Bethlehem.” Civita is about a half-hour away from Benano and well worth the visit even without Bethlehem.

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As much as anything else, I’m sorry to be missing the small events that I don’t even know I’m missing. Our wonderful next-door neighbor Pavla promised to keep her eyes open for festivals and small-town events that our New Year’s guests might be interested in attending. She’s always in the know about happenings in the area, so I encouraged our guests to go next door to ring her bell and see what she is up to. I hope they do. I wish I could.

I trust our guests are having a wonderful vacation in Benano, and I know we will have a wonderful New Year’s Eve with our friends at home. But a little piece of my heart will be out at the village overlook, watching the firework displays across the broad valley below.

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Buckets of Rain in the Green Heart of Italy

It started raining hard on Sunday.  By Monday morning, pockets of Northern and Central Italy had been devastated by floods.  Photos of what this 200-year storm did to Venice filled the Internet, but the big news in our part of the country was what it did to the area around Orvieto.

Orvieto has something of a split personality.  The glamorous and famous part sits on a plateau atop a huge tufa rock.  There is the iconic duomo, charming cobblestone streets, lots of boutiques and pottery shops, wonderful restaurants, and many happy tourists.  That part of Orvieto was unscathed.  But the part of town at the base of the rock, called “Orvieto Scalo,” the engine that keeps the region going, was flooded.

The train station is the long, taller, light-colored building in the center of this picture.  And behind it?  The parking lot that we and many of our guests know well.  Those black dots are the tops of the submerged cars of railway passengers who took advantage of the train station’s free parking, only to discover its hidden cost.

Teams of workers, civil authorities, flood victims and good-hearted volunteers are cleaning up the mess, and life is already getting back to normal.  But it was quite a couple of days.

Mom and I were at Rocca di Benano during the first full day of torrential rain, and it didn’t surprise me to learn that we lived through a record-shattering storm — 11 inches in 39 hours.  For the data geeks among you, I’m told that equates to 74 gallons per 3.86 square miles (which, I have to admit, means absolutely nothing to me).

I had to keep reminding myself that our house has been here for 1,000 years and has withstood worse.  I was right, of course, although we did lose a handful of 10-year old olive trees and part of relatively new stone stairs that run (ahem, ran) alongside the olive grove.  We were very lucky — all our problems are fixable.  I was also glad that I had harvested our young olive trees (olive trees can live to be hundreds of years old) on a glorious, sunny day just a few days before the storm hit.

And now, the last drops of oil that our dearly departed trees will ever produce are bottled and standing like brave little soldiers in the pantry.  Okay, perhaps it’s a little hasty to call them “dearly departed” given that Gino, a kindly neighbor who lovingly prunes our grove, says the displaced trees might do just as well where nature has relocated them, at the bottom of our hillside.

I wish I could report that I was brave, too.  In fact, the second day day of very hard rain worked a number on my nerves.  Instead of staying put in this solid old house, I let my imagination get the better of me.  Late Monday afternoon, I surprised my poor mother with the news that we were leaving.  I didn’t use the word “evacuate,” but that’s what I was doing.  My sudden exodus worried our dear friend, manager and caretaker Alex, who knew that we would have been much safer at home, given the roads and bridges that already were out.  I had to take a circuitous route to Rome in order to avoid both the flooded A1 (Italy’s main north/south highway) and the possibility of driving anywhere near the congested parts of the Eternal City.  I eventually made it over to the coastal highway and then to Rome’s main airport, where I parked the car, took Mom to a bar and immediately introduced her to caffe’ corretto (espresso with a shot — in this case, we chose Sambuca over the more traditional grappa).  Jangled nerves settled, we took a cab to Rome’s center, where dear friends took us and my wild imaginings in for the night.