Welcoming the New Year in Italy

Welcoming the New Year in Italy

New Year’s Day, 2013
Orvieto, Monte San Savino and Lucignano, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

Photographer Bruce has been up before the sun morning after morning, and this first sunrise of 2013 is a magnificent reward for his early risings.

Thank you, Bruce Margolis, for sharing this beauty with us!

The rest of us sleep late after our New Year’s Eve revels, greeting the day more leisurely. We make sure to get up and about in time for one of our favorite Umbria Jazz traditions – the Funk Off gang marching through the streets.
Like the pied piper, the white tuba leads the throngs through Orvieto’s cobbled lanes,

pausing at a little piazza for a lively mini concert.

Palazzo Piccolomini, as usual  has been home for quite a few musicians once again this year, such as the band leader, a cool sax player who joined us in the ancient vaulted cellar of the hotel for our late breakfast this morning.


We complete our Umbria Jazz concerts with another special treat, the Giovanni Tommaso reunion quintet. Giovanni, the bassist, and the other four played together for the very first time on this stage in the Palazzo Popolo twenty years ago, for the first Umbria Jazz Winter. They seem to enjoy their reunion as much, if not more, as we in the audience do.

When the sax player, so very cool in his red glasses, says that it feels like they’ve been playing together forever, we all clap in agreement – a terrific ensemble!

Kirk, in his Umbria Jazz Winter shirt, leads us in our own little parade, Funk Off amplified from his iPhone as we strut to lunch.

Cantina Foresi is a tiny fun place beside the cathedral, with a few tables made of stumps,

We grab the last two, and they’re quickly loaded with warming Umbrian delights,

so many that we have to use our laps and legs in addition to the tree stumps.

Then we load up the van, and head north to Monte San Savino, where we’re greeted with a glorious sunset out of our window at the Logge dei Mercanti hotel. What beauty we’ve enjoyed from start to finish of the day!
But there’s more to enjoy, as we wind down from one hilltop town and head for the one next door, Lucignano, still surrounded by a massive stone wall.
Inside the streets spiral upward, connected with lamplit stone arches, to a sweet little church, but what we’re here for is yet one more great dinner, at il Goccino,

and we’re welcomed into a private room, where we begin to peruse the menu.

From one treat to another the meal unfolds – an unusual risotto with foie gras and artichokes is a fabulous combination of tastes and textures,
and even though we’re all already full, we can’t resist the desserts, such as this molten chocolate cake.
Oh my, it’s a good thing we’ll be doing a lot of walking tomorrow!

Vistas, Jazz and Feasting on New Year’s Eve

Vistas, Jazz and Feasting on New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2012
Civita di Bagnoregio and Orvieto, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

Today we head south to the lost-in-time hamlet of Civita di Bagnoregio, cameras at the ready. The view back to Orvieto stops us within minutes of spiraling down from the top.

It sprawls across the horizon as we look back.

Civita is known as “the village that’s dying” because only a handful of people continued to live in the few houses, accessible only by a long raised trail. In recent years it’s become popular as a second home haven for Romans, and looks even better cared for than it did the last time we were here, about three years ago.

The trail gets steeper as we approach the stone portal

the ascending walls splashed with winter color.

Even though a couple of tour buses filled with Italians arrived around the same time we did, the tiny town doesn’t feel crowded. A couple of trattorias are preparing for lunch guests, flowers brighten up a stone stairway,

and a spacious main piazza fronts a surprisingly large church.

We walk a few blocks to the end, where a steep path leads down into the valley, carved into fantastical, almost lunar scapes.

Taking another route back to Orvieto, we pull off the road once again to capture the impressive cliffs, topped with the peaks of the cathedral façade.

Not far from the Palazzo Piccolomini is a newer wine bar that Kirk noticed yesterday, Vincaffé, where we enjoy a tasty lunch. Where else but Italy would I order bruschetta with lard?? Lardo is a Tuscan/Umbrian specialty, the creamy pork fat layered with herbs to cure in a marble loaf-size pan.

A cello samba trio is our jazz for the day, in the gorgeous Belle Epoch Teatro Mancinelli,

where we feel like princesses in our gilded box.

The Morelenbaum trio accompanies Paula, who sways to the tunes as she sings,  her husband Jacques playing the rich tones of an electric cello. They happen to be staying next door to us at the Piccolomini, and at breakfast the next day we ask him about the instrument.

Apparently a seat was not provided for his cello on the flight, so he had to bring this one instead of his usual acoustic.
A special treat, for them as well as the audience, is the addition of their daughter Dora to the performance. She and her mother harmonize beautifully together  – what a privilege to enjoy such wonderful music as a family!

A table awaits us for the Cenone (BIG dinner) with which we’ll close out 2012 and welcome 2013.

Lorenzo, whose new book, The Etruscan Chef, was recently released, delights us once again with a fabulous seven course meal.
Auguri! Happy New Year!

Olives and Jazz  in Orvieto

Olives and Jazz in Orvieto

December 30, 2012
Orvieto, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

There’s a little window overlooking rooftops and a stone arched lane from our top floor perch at Palazzo Piccolomini, and when we peek out the shutters in the morning we’re greeted with pale rose skies – another lovely day to explore Umbria!
And explore we do, winding through hills and valleys to the Bartolomei olive oil farm on the outskirts of the pretty village of Montecchio.

Carla welcomes us with a warm smile, and leads us to the family olive oil museum, with ancient tools used by Bartolomei generations past.

The harvest and pressing was completed earlier this month, and we’re treated to samples of the bounty, beginning with tiny olives marinated in olive oil and orange zest, then truffled mushroom paté and olive paste ( as Carla calls it – similar to tapenade).

The piéce de resistance? Thick slices of country bread,

toasted and drizzled simply with new olive oil – unbelievably delicious!


For generations these very trees have provided oil for the family, then the village, and now delighted customers around the world. We all leave with bags of treats that will prolong the pleasure back in our homes.

We’re back in Orvieto in time for a noon Umbria Jazz concert in one of our favorite venues, the Emilio Greco museum. The jazz trio performs in the midst of his works

– doesn’t that statue “listening” to the piano look like it was created just for these concerts?

The museum, a former papal palace, is just next door to the Duomo, whose magnificent doors, added generations later than the structure itself, were created by Greco.

After some time on our own in the afternoon, we’re getting ready for a concert at al San Francesco, and would you look at this? Not only sunrises, but sunsets adorn the patch of sky out our window!

The band’s playing as we’re escorted to our front row table, filling our plates with delicious offerings from the buffet table.

Gary Brown and Feelings, who play a mix of jazz, blues, and standards such as this old New Orleans tune, have become a favorite of ours (and not just us, they’re always a sell-out!)


Off to Jazzy Orvieto

Off to Jazzy Orvieto

December 29, 2012
Florence & Orvieto, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

Leonardo’s Last Supper in Milan may be the most famous, but scattered around Florence are several stunning renditions of that final meal, and one  of our favorites is this jewel by Ghirlandaio, in the refectory of Ognissanti church. The garden setting is so inviting, and the colors so beautiful.
Why are there so many depictions of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples? Because they were the traditional decoration for the refectory, where the monks ate, and there are dozens of ancient monasteries around the city.
As the monks quietly ate a simple meal, one of the brothers would read scripture from the pulpit built into the side wall.
And now we’re off to Orvieto, where the jazz begins! We arrive around two, drop off our luggage and look for a place for a quick lunch before our first concert.

How about some porchetta, stuffed and roasted pork that’s a traditional central Italian savory delight? Handwritten signs ” Oggi Porchetta”   (porchetta today) are tacked onto the stone walls of several shops, but the advertisement here is more eye- catching, wouldn’t you say?
Inside, a butcher has set up a table and slices the moist meat – the pig has been deboned, arranged carefully with layers of garlic, herb (LOTS of rosemary) stuffing, meat, fat, and skin, then rolled, spitted, and roasted, traditionally over wood. Oh is it delicious layered in a crusty roll for lunch!

And now to begin the JAZZ – with grammy- nominated New Yorker Gregory Parker and his band in the ancient frescoed hall of Palazzo del Popolo. A great start to our jazzy New Year celebration.

The sky’s tinged with a rosy sunset as we exit,

and below, even the parking lot is decorated!

A special dinner awaits us at elegant Sette Consoli, beginning with a warming potato and cod first course, followed by tagliolini with trout, artichokes, and roasted tomatoes.

Then a flavorful bean soup, a main of roasted partridge and prunes, a cheese course of pecorino and honey, and a finale of trifle. All in tasting portions so we can enjoy each one – superb!

Are we happy? Oh yeah!

A stroll past Orvieto’s glorious mosaic fronted cathedral, shimmering in the moonlight, and we say goodnight.

One more Winery, then Ciao Italia

One more Winery, then Ciao Italia

Weekend of February 4 -5, 2012, continued
Orvieto, Italy to Aix en Provence

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

Neither snow, nor rain, nor ice, nor hail stops the Umbria Wine Tour!! Our last dinner will be at Il Palazzone, a majestic grand palazzo set on a hillside outside of Orvieto. Can the bus get us up to the estate? No, but does that stop us? Of course not! Our super-driver Vanni brings the bus as close as possible, then the gracious owner of the vineyard and palazzo ferries us up, four by four, to the house. And what a house it is – a palazzo built in 1295 for Cardinal Teodorico as a hostel for pilgims on their way to Rome to celebrate the Jubilee of 1300 A.D. After falling into disrepair through the centuries, restoration began by the Dubini family, the current owners, in the late 1960’s, and today it is truly a show case for Italian design and use of ancient structures.

Due to the snow and ice, we could not visit the nearby winery, but oh were we happy to stay nice and warm by the fire,

enjoy an apertif and Palazzone wines,

then feast on a delicious dinner downstairs, fascinated by the stories that Giovanni told us of his father’s finding and rebuilding this awesome treasure, and of the beginnings of the vineyard in the ’80s. Today Palazzone wines are some of the best known from Umbria and we certainly enjoyed each one we sampled.

On Sunday morning we descended from the pinnacle of Orvieto, through the familiar eagle-topped portal.

An ape chugging ahead of us moved aside for our big bus, and we were on our way.

Hard to believe, but the snow was even deeper as we drove south, gazing at the lovely winterscapes from our cozy bus.

These forested hills looked more like an alpine scene than an outskirts-of-Rome vista!

The closer we got to the city, the more abandoned cars lined the road. The tunnels looked like parking garages!
We had planned to revisit some favorite Rome spots since we had several hours until our evening flight, but after taking the train into town from the airport, where we were dropped off, and sliding on the ice for a few blocks, we determined it was just too dangerous. So we ate our last Italian meal at a forgettable trattoria not far from the Termini train station, and returned to the airport.
Flights had been cancelled on the previous days, but today they’re departing on time, so we arrive in Nice, pick up a car, and drive past snowy vineyards gleaming in the moonlight, arriving in Aix around 9 pm. As we rounded the Rotonde fountain at the end of Cours Mirabeau we both gasped at the wintery scene, and Kirk pulled over so we could grab a photo of the icy fountain – what a beauty!



Orvieto in the Snow

Orvieto in the Snow

Saturday, February 4, 2012, continued
Orvieto, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

What a treat to see Orvieto in the snow! The buttressed cliffs and zig-zag ascent look distinctly different splashed in white. We wind up the hill, and are one of the very few vehicles allowed to enter the town – so glad we didn’t have to lug our suitcases up to the hotel! Link

Our favorite Orvieto hotel, gracious Palazzo Piccolomini, greets us with a smile and we quickly settle into our room – and take a peek at the rooftops as we’ve never seen them before.

Lucy, our guide, thinks fast on her feet, and has arranged a nice lunch for us and the Barberani winemakers (since we were unable to visit the winery due to the road conditions) at Caffé Montanucci, an always-popular spot in the center of town. Niccolo pours,

and Bernardo describes the wines as snow drifts down on the Michelangeli giraffes in the shaft between the café rooms.

In all of the years we’ve been coming to Orvieto, we’ve never seen beneath the city, Orvieto Underground, so we’re excited that this is part of the International Wine Tourism tour. We bundle up and enjoy the views of the city in the snow…
a snow-draped Vespa

the bell-ringers high on the clock tower,

the glorious cathedral

mosaics more vivid than ever against the gray skies.

Beyond the cathedral the sheer cliffs hide the secret passages of long ago…

where remnants of an ancient olive oil mill age in one cavern.

We climb up and down narrow steep steps carved deep into the rock, and come upon a vista we’ve often enjoyed from above – gorgeous in the drifting snow.

to be continued…