As most of my readers know, I have been a big supporter of Make A Wish for many years. And, one of the ways I support them is to attend their events and buy some of the fantastic once-in-a-lifetime adventures that pop up from time to time in their auctions. I know, tough job, but someone has to do it…
This year I could not make it to the auction back in March because I was driving across the country with Tyler. Karen went, however, accompanied by Brian, our younger son. And, looking through the event booklet, she spotted an intriguing event: five nights for eight people in a villa in Umbria, generously donated by Sabatino Tartufi, an important Italian supplier of truffles. Karen could not contain a sudden, mysterious twitching problem in her shoulder, and next thing you know her arm somehow raised her paddle just as the bidding was concluding! Sold! We assembled our group, and put a date on the calendar for late October.
As we moved into summer, I figured we should start getting the trip organized, and I asked Make A Wish for a contact at Sabatino that could help with things like the address of the villa and other logistics-related questions. Shortly thereafter, I received a phone call from a guy named Federico, offering to help. Federico proceeded to give me not only the logistical information I needed, but spent nearly an hour on the phone with me, enthusiastically sharing with me his favorite restaurants, wineries, hill towns, etc. Clearly very passionate about Umbria, and truffles! He mentioned that he was based in the USA, but would email me the contact information for Grazia over in Italy, who he said was the perfect person to help organize our trip.
When I received Federico’s email, I was astounded to see from the email signature that he was, in fact, the CEO of Sabatino! Feeling very flattered that the CEO took such an interest in making our trip successful, I proceeded to contact Grazia, and over the next few weeks she put together for us an absolutely fantastic itinerary – winery visits, olive oil tastings, cooking classes, truffle hunting, special tours, dinner reservations, and more. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip!
Fast forward now to early November, and we are back in Virginia. The trip was, indeed, fantastic – so much so that, in general, I will let pictures tell most of the story. Here are a few general impressions…
- Umbria is rustic, unspoiled, and beautiful. Massive peaks, windy country roads, lovely towns placed on hilltops. Pictures and words do not really do it justice, you need to visit to appreciate it!
- Umbrian cuisine is wonderful – simple foods, comfort foods, usually cooked by grandmothers it seems! Just a few ingredients in each dish, ingredients of good quality, well prepared. I looked forward to every meal, even when I was so full from the last one that I could barely contemplate eating.
- Our hosts from Sabatino were so warm and generous. Every day when we returned from our adventures, there was a fire ready to go in the fireplace. They cooked a couple wonderful meals for us, and provided a kitchen well stocked with goodies for breakfast. The villa itself was beautiful, and in a fantastic setting.
If you are not already looking into flights and hotel, you should be!
There were so many highlights during the trip that I could not possibly enumerate them all. So, here are just a few of them…
- We went on a truffle hunting expedition in the woods near the villa, with one of the world’s sweetest truffle dogs. It was amazing to watch how gentle she was with the truffles she found – bringing them back to her owner without the slightest hint of a tooth mark.
- At Decugnano Barbei winery, we had a cooking lesson from a sweet Umbrian grandma, who showed us how to make pizza, pasta, and other goodies. We then had a four course meal where we got to eat the fruits of our labors.
- Grazia set up a “light lunch” for us in a trattoria in the ancient hill town of Portaria, where we had four types of bruschetta, an ethereal pizza farcita cooked in the coals on the hearth, and two pasta courses. We politely declined the offer of dessert!
- During our visit to Sabatino, they got word that the first white truffles of the season had been found, a rare delicacy in extremely high demand by their clients. They not only allowed us to buy a few, they came over to the villa that night to help us prepare and cook them. Not only did Vania (who is not a grandmother yet, but cooks like one!) save us from inadvertently ruining these delicacies, she showed us how to do everything from prepare truffles properly to slicing bread without smooshing it!
- Karen and I would visit the same little bar in Montecastrilli every morning to have a cappuccino and a pastry, and to watch life in the town unfold. We got to be friendly with the owner and the barista, even though we could not really speak to each other. I looked forward to it every morning.
That is all I have time to write about; I suggest you go to Umbria if you ever have the chance and create some highlights of your own! Some more pictures follow…
Such a special trip… we are already thinking about when we can go back!