Arriving in Umbria after a week in Rome is going to feel like going back in time. If you bring a rental car into the any of these ancient cities, though, it is going to feel like you are from the distant future. I'm just saying, watch those side mirrors.
I have been to Umbria before, but never to Spello. This sweet town is postcard perfect and you could spend your days getting lost among the beautiful flower lined side streets and feel perfectly content. That being said, there are some great hikes and daytrips from here plus excellent food and wine. So get lost in the mornings, grab a picnic for your hike, chill some Campari Sodas and then find yourself some wine, you know?
There are two alimentari (deli) shops in the town center, and both offer a tasty array of local meats and cheeses. My pick would be the one with this sign and no name.
I bought several items here on different occasions and was greeted kindly and served with patience. They were happy to slice off mezzo etto (50 gram) servings for we cheapos. Cinghiale (wild boar) rules in these parts and you will see it on offer in a myriad of ways. This was not boar season so if you had it in a ragú it will likely have been frozen. Still, we had a few plates of pasta di cinghiale which were delicious all the same.
Man oh man, I love me a night out in Pigneto. As if I don't get enough 'outside the city time' in Monteverde! Pigneto holds a special place in my heart, partly due to (wisely) celebrating my 30th birthday here, chugging vino rosso and stuffing myself full of the most divine porchetta to ever have been roasted. Also not to be forgotten, an incredible show by the incredible brothers Pontiak at the excellent venue, Circolo degli Artisti. This industrial working class neighborhood certainly shares similarities to Monteverde. Pier Paolo Pasollini filmed here, too, calling the outskirts, "la corona di spine che cinge la città di Dio" (the crown of thorns which surrounds the city of God). Indeed, Pigneto stands in stark contrast from the grandeur of Rome central. Still, Pigneto has endured much and the strength of it's inhabitants and strong cultural history are to be admired. Now justly starting to receive the attention it deserves, Pigneto is the kind of place you feel lucky to explore. You'll also be glad you are hungry (and thirsty!).
Like Monteverde, Pigneto is outside of the city walls and is easily accessible via public transit. Although it is possible, If not recommended to walk, an option which became known to me on the aforementioned birthday night when there was not a bus in sight! So, take a bus, OK. Or, it seems that very soon the metro will connect out here which will be great for commuting but is bound to change the vibe.
One of my favorite things about Pigneto are the vini sfusi joints dotted about town. I have briefly mentioned this and I will be brief here, too. Vini sfusi, or vino sfuso spots are little storefronts which sell 'loose' or 'bulk' wine from stainless steel drums on draft. Dispense your selected wine into your plastic jug and pay for it by the liter, usually between 1.50 and 3€. In some of the smaller neighborhoods and outside the city center of Rome, you will see these spots on nearly every street. Buying an entire liter is the best deal by far and many places simply won't sell you a glass, preferring to sell by the liter. The nice thing about some of Pineto's vini sfusi spots is the possibility to order 'vini in mescita' (by the glass). Plus, most of the sfusi spots serving up individual glasses will also provide a few snacks and a nice glass will run only 1€. We looked into several of these hip spots for research purposes (you're welcome!) and each had there own merits.
Our first stop of the night was at the charming Vini e Oli (wine and oil!). This is a convivial and low key affair. Here we drank nice pours out of plastic cups on the sidewalk for about 1€. Panini and snacks are available, too.
Our big splurge in Monteverde was at the appropriately named L'Osteria di Monteverde. This was a wise choice and you are about to see why. The clear winner for our coveted finest dinner in Rome classification, this unassuming Osteria on a side street in Monteverde offered a nice mix of traditional and contemporary cuisine, a fitting approach in this part of town.
We ate here on May Day, which in Rome means favas, and not just any favas, but raw favas in their little husks. Snacking on these tender, small and flavorful beans alongside salty bites of Pecorino Romano is a nice way to be welcomed.
The menu here will tempt you in many ways. They have a lovely wine list with fair prices. We went with a half liter of the house white (pecorino) followed by a half liter of house red (nebbiolo). At 6€ each, this was plenty of wine for two lushes.
Visiting a city like Rome can and should be one of life's great pleasures. That being said, visiting Rome might also be one of life's more overwhelming achievements! One way I have found to minimize exhaustion and maximize the Roman experience is to stay slightly outside the city center. This may not be for everyone, but I would have it no other way. Getting outside of the historic center is such a great way to see daily life and find little pockets that just might offer the things which elude so many when visiting such a popular area. You wouldn't go to New York and only visit Times Square!
Monteverde is that place for me and has offered a much needed city respite on all of my visits. If you are familiar with the Pier Paolo Pasolini classic, Mamma Roma, you have likely caught a glimpse of Monteverde. Although Pasolini grew up in Bologna, Monteverde became, for some time, his adopted home. Certainly, he was rightly critical of the very things about this area which I enjoy: it's tall apartment buildings and urban grit nestled closely to the beautiful images which Rome typically conjures. For me, there is great beauty here, too, and I love being the only tourist around.
People here are friendly, welcoming and helpful and from here, the centro storico is 15 minutes away by public transit. Or, do what I do and walk it. Clocking in at just around an hour, I love starting my day this way. Walking to the top of Monteverde past all the butchers and cafes, wine shops and pizzerias, and then winding down to the river through the posh Trastevere isn't an inconvenience, for me it is a bonus.
It's a good thing you are walking, too, since Monteverde offers a ridiculous number of very fine eateries, fancy and casual. Eating out here as opposed to fighting for a table in the city will make you feel like you finally know what you are doing (for once!) and the chances of a disappointing meal decrease dramatically.
Having a chance to visit Italia is quite a joy indeed. The food! The art! The history! The people! Does such immense beauty exist elsewhere? Of course it does, but you'd never know it while here. And Roma. Ah, Roma, when I leave, my heart (feet) will ache for thee!
Roma always seems to be a logical starting point for me. A classic beauty, this is a do not miss city on my list. And still, with it's chaotic energy and millions of things to do, eat and see, it can seem a bit overwhelming to be sure. Luckily, it is totally chic to drink wine most the day long, so have a glass (or bottle!) and relax. You couldn't possible see and do all this magical city has to offer and I find the sooner I come to this realization the better.
This is not to say one should come to this city without some semblance of a plan. It will be very comforting knowing before you arrive a few things you'd certainly like to do and to have a general idea of the city's setup. The nice thing is, just walking from place to place can be it's own reward. The architecture, cobbled streets, fountains, hidden alleyways and open air restaurants could keep you gawking all day long.
Tortilla Española (Spanish omelette) is a classic dish served in cafés and bars throughout Spain. Served as a montadillo (on bread) or as a pincho (wedge) you'd be hard pressed to resist this. Any way you have it, this is a filling and tasty snack, morning or night.
Also, if you have a wonderful friend who brings you Asturian Sidra, the only logical way to thank him is with a nice big Tortilla Española and a little spread of tapas (thanks Scott!).
I make a tortilla de patatas con cebolla, that is, an omelette with potatoes and onion (!). I know some people think onion has no place in a tortilla and to those people I suggest you make your own! I like the sweetness a bit of stewed onion adds here, so I always include it.
The simple tortilla ingredients are inexpensive and wholesome. Do use the best eggs and olive oil you can afford, though.