A Particular Day in the Green Heart of Italy

Umbria Action L. Trasimeno
Federico, Fabrizio, Helena and myself get ready to start the hike to the Orsini Farm. Lake Trasimeno in the background.

When was the last time you were greeted on a hike by a noisy band of geese? Like a royal round of trumpets, a herd of white geese announced our arrival at the Orsini Farm in Umbria. Piercing blue eyes sized us up and down as they waddled by. These guardians of the gate made sure the Orsini family and those in the vicinity were keenly aware of our presence.

Earlier that morning, my blog tour group, This Is Your Time, met our guide Fabrizio at a trailhead near Lake Trasimeno in Umbria. He works with Umbria Action, an outdoor adventure team designed to introduce the best back roads experiences of the region. Programs range from hiking, rafting, free flying, canyoning and biking just to name a few. Wine, food and cultural tours are designed for the individual or a group by guides who thoroughly know the land and are enthusiastic about sharing it.

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Fabrizio with Linnea Malmberg, one of our blog tour organizers

We met our tour guide Fabrizio, soft-spoken and very knowledgable about the area. He took us on a trek through open fields and groves of tall green trees with lovely views of Lake Trasimeno. Along the way, he pointed out the various types of plants native to the area. Prickly pear cactus grew in mounds with bright red buds. Fabrizio proved to be an excellent guide who answered our questions with a lot of patience.

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We follow Fabrizio up the trail above Lake Trasimeno
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Prickly Pear Cactus along the path almost ready to bloom

We passed charming old villas lined with Cypress trees. The air was fresh and clean with only a hint of a breeze. I felt like I had just stepped into one of my favorite Italy scenes. All was peaceful and quiet except for the crunch of our shoes on gravel and quips of conversations shared between us.
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We arrived at the Azienda Agraria Orsini farm, our destination for lunch and a farm tour. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of our welcoming team of noisy white geese with piercing blue eyes, but trust me, they were there!

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The family garden and Lake Trasimeno in the background

As we approached the house, two baby goats skipped playfully out from under the shaded patio followed by a couple of quacking ducks. Perky and nimble, we laughed as the baby goats pirouetted around our group. Soon puppies began to wiggle from underneath the old rock and mortar farm-house. We were highly entertained by these little members of the Orsini family.
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The Orsini Agriturismo is a small-scale, family run operation, all sowing and harvesting is done by hand including fagiolina beans, grapes for wine, and olives for olive oil. The fagiolina beans are native to the area and had nearly died out of existence. Thanks to Flavio Orsini, the family has worked hard to cultivate them and once again bring them back to the meal table near and abroad.

A visit to the Orsini Farm means “spending a few hours immersed in a simple atmosphere of nature and colors that represent the great beauty of the hills of Lake Trasimeno.” We were introduced to the traditional local cuisine as well as the old authentic  techniques of production.

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Krista and Helena, two blog tour members, adore one of the puppies

Flavio Orsini is the family patriarch and president of Umbria’s Slow Food Movement. The Slow Food Movement is basically everything fast food is not. For example, Slow Food is all about preserving indigenous varieties of plant and animal food sources. It is also the promotion of local culinary traditions and local foods as well as preserving the local food products along with the lore and preparation. Organizing small-scale processing is very important in bringing about a complete cultural experience.

Flavio took us on a farm tour and gave us a demonstration of how he shells the fagiolina beans that he harvests on his property. Afterwards, the bean shells were carried to the goat pen and dropped over the fence. Nothing goes to waste. This is one of the major themes of the Slow Food idea.

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Flavio Orsini brings a bottle out to feed one of the sheep

Lunch was a long wooden table with plates of various traditional crostini. Carafes of full-bodied red wine provided a wonderful tasting experience. Fabrizio and Paola, both from Umbria Action, joined us at the table. Our view was the beautiful and serene Lake Trasimeno.

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Fabrizio and Paola from Umbria Action sit at the head of our lunch table
Orsini Farm L. Tarisemo
Delicious crostini on our plates and the beautiful view of Lake Trasimeno

Paola could no longer resist and picked up one of the scampering puppies. They enjoyed a nose to nose moment of puppy love.

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Paola from Umbria Action plays with a pup
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Our baby goats soon tire and find a warm spot to rest

After lunch and the farm tour, we said good-bye to Flavio and his family. We had places to go and things to see before nightfall. But we found ourselves lingering too long. The Orsini Farm was a beautiful oasis in a world spinning out of control. Nature worked side by side with man in perfect rhythm. It was all good and right. And very hard to leave behind.

Orvieto’s Dynamic Underground Wine Library

Slow Food Wine
Bottle of locally grown wine from the library inside Il Palazzo del Gusto. The Slow Food emblem can be seen as a snail in the background

Underneath the former medieval convent of San Giovanni in Orvieto lies the regional wine library of Umbria, containing over 120 different labels of the best locally grown wines. Displays line the walls along caves and tunnels that have been dug out of tufa rock from as far back as the Etruscan era.  All are listed as DOCG, DOC, and IGT wines grown from the areas most prestigious vines. Touch screens accompany several wine displays, packed with information to acquaint yourself with the featured wine. Sixteen different wines can be sampled from automatic dispensers.

Il Palazzo del Gusto, the Palace of Taste, is more than wine. As part of the Slow Food experience, it is a cultural association that promotes the local artisans, farmers and traditional cuisine through regional events such as wine tastings, farmers markets and taste workshops. Slow Food is Italy’s alternative to fast food.

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Sign outside the Palazzo del Gusto in Orvieto

Italy’s Slow Food movement began in 1986 by Carlo Petrini, a food writer living in Rome. He launched a local protest to resist the opening of the first McDonald’s in Italy located near the Spanish Steps. Although there are other McDonald’s in Italy, you won’t see familiar chains such as Starbucks. The Italian culture resists the values and concepts of these institutions.

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Outside the former convent of San Giovanni

Slow Food aims to promote centuries-old traditions of gastronomy and local farming. Tourists want to understand the culture, so restaurants open their doors in an effort to show them how their products are produced. It opposes globalization (food grown in another country), and industrial food production.

The Palazzo del Gusto in Orvieto is committed to preserving the local traditions of food and wine in the region of Umbria. Food education and training courses are conducted along with tasting, craft and art events. The restored cellars contain a kitchen for the purpose of training professional chefs as well as amateur tourists in the art of traditional Umbrian cooking.

Inside the cellar of the convent, there is seating around small tables. Slow Food supporters share their thoughts concerning the relationship between the small local producers and chefs in local restaurants. Many strive to keep the local cuisine and wine available to tourists as an important factor of the total tourism experience.

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We are given tastes of the local wine in one of the cellars

Wine tours grant an education in all phases of wine production, including tasting along with the local cuisine. This provides an opportunity to meet the small producers in Italy and to experience the centuries-old tastes of the region.

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We are introduced to the concept of Slow Food, beginning with the wines of the region
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Local farmers share their products with us including pasta, crackers, jams, honey and biscuits

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After a series of wine tastings, people start to loosen up!
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In a world gone crazy over fast food that lacks nutrition from freshly grown ingredients as well as the absence of taste from traditional recipes prepared with care, Il Palazzo del Gusto is an anchor of hope. Come for a guided visit inside the Palazzo and discover the real essence of Italy for yourself.
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*For more information, contact Il Palazzo del Gusto at http://www.ilpalazzodelgusto.it