Postcards from Umbria

My Blog: Stories about Rocca di Benano and the people who make it special


We all look forward to getting back to normal. Normal for me will be when I know guests are on their way to the villa and that Daniela is there, waiting to welcome them.

Paul and I have been touched by all the calls and notes inquiring about our friends in Italy. Many who ask have been to our villa, Rocca di Benano, and know the people they are asking about; others just know of our deep affection for our friends there and know how worried we are for them.

Short answer: everyone we know and hold dear seems to be doing fine. One friend admitted that the strict quarantine, which went into effect there on March 9, “is not easy. We can leave the house only to buy food or medicines, but we need to behave ourselves now to stop the disease as soon as possible, so we try to resist stoically!” 

Daniela is the best friend a guest beginning a vacation at an Italian villa could have. By its very nature, there’s no front desk clerk or concierge at the villa. But Rocca di Benano has something even better: we have Daniela! 

Daniela greets our guests, shows them around the house, helps them settle in and answers questions, then—and here’s the magic—gives them her phone number and offers her help. She is our guests’ safety net and is always on call in case they need anything during their stays.

Benano, the village where our villa is, sits couple of hours away from the Rome airport. By the time our guests pull into Benano, they’re ready to see a smile and meet a friendly, capable, English-speaking Italian who knows exactly who they are and what they need.

Daniela grew up in Orvieto, where her parents still live. She went away to Perugia to study languages, and returned to live near her hometown. Daniela and her husband live in a small town about 20 minutes away from Orvieto. They have two very active children: a 6-year old son and a 2-year old daughter. 

I asked Daniela to tell me what her life is like these days. Here’s her answer (with a few of my clarifying comments in italics): 

Hi Karen!

I try to describe  this situation of lockdown (we call it “Quarantena”).

We avoid to exit from our house. We exit only to go to the supermarket or to the drugstore and we are trying to reduce the times we go there. For example I go to the supermarket only twice in a week instead everyday, using every kind of food and beverage we already had in the house and in the freezer!

I don’t miss a lot of things, but it’s difficult for me to see my children (remember, they are 6 and 2) suffering stay at home and avoid to meet their friends. At the end we are lucky because there is a small garden out of our palace (in Italian, an apartment or condo building is called a palazzo, so that’s what she means by “palace”), so they can play there or at least get some fresh air. Someone not even have a terrace! 

The only pleasant surprise is to stay at home all together, the whole day. It’s a new thing for us, but it’s very difficult, too…..the day has became very, very long!!!! (You remember that her bambini are 6 and 2, right?)

I miss my parents and all my friends. I’m sorry that my parents can’t meet my children. 

I don’t know if there will be something changed permanently…. I hope that all this situation will help us to revalue and appreciate the relations between the persons and the simple things, like the Nature, the Friendship, the job, the FREEDOM!

Stay safe, amica! And keep following Nonna’s good advice:

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.


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!


Orvieto is famous for many things: its iconic cathedral, Orvieto Classico wine, Etruscan pottery, and its funicular. Dig just a little deeper, though, and you’ll find a city at war. It’s a sweet and creamy war.

It’s a gelato war.

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Pronto Soccorso (“Emergency Room” in Italian)

Kindly ENT in Orvieto

My kindly ER doctor

I don’t remember exactly how many times I’ve been to a hospital Emergency Room, but I’m sure this is the first time the directions included the phrase “go past the bar.”

But then again, I’ve never been in an Italian hospital before.

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Putting Francis in Charge

We followed our friends to our rental car at the beginning our short vacation together, feeling a palpable sense of freedom and relaxation. The source of our contentment was easy to pinpoint: we weren’t in charge. While we had all chosen the destination and lodging together, another couple had rented the car and they would be doing the driving and navigating. As Paul and I climbed into the far back seats of the rented van, we felt as much like privileged children under the care of doting parents as any middle-aged people possibly could. We were so unburdened by responsibility that we were practically giddy.

All of which leads me to tell you about Francis Surman.

About me collage2

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