Day 10: Deruta and Perugia en route to Tuscany
Today was a day with lots of variety. We left our little medieval town of Todi and traveled through Umbria into Tuscany. On the way, we stopped in the town of Deruta, which is considered to be the center for ceramics in Umbria. We went to the Maioliche Binaglia ceramics shop and watched a demonstration of the traditional art of ceramics decoration. The shop is owned by two sisters, both trained ceramics artists. All of the artwork in their shop is handmade by them. We watched as they transformed a small white vase into a beautiful work of art with flowers and birds and other traditional decorations.
Afterwards we had time to shop, and I was so tempted to buy things but didn’t because of the cost, the weight in my suitcase, and my fear that the ceramics wouldn’t make it back to the States in one piece.
After leaving Deruta, we traveled to Perugia, which is a really interesting place. It’s known for its chocolate and also for its large university. The city is quite large and modern on its lower levels. To get to the older (and more interesting) part of the city, there’s an excellent public transportation called the MiniMetro. Our guide says it looks like an egg. Really it’s just a small car (sort of like a cable car or subway car) on a track that whisks you up and up and up. I felt like I was in the future. At the top, the city did not disappoint. It had a lot of very old buildings and the sort of archways and alleys we’ve grown to expect in these ancient cities. But it’s also got high-end shopping and, at least today, a gazillion sidewalk vendors.
They were selling the most incredible cheeses and olives (and meat, if you like that sort of thing), breads, pastries, liquor, sweets, you name it. (They also had a lot of non-food vendors.) I bought a huge pretzel and a chunk of really delicious cheese from a vendor that seemed to be specializing in German foods. I found a table and a beer and had a wonderful lunch. Afterwards, I walked around and bought some chocolate and some olives for later on.
The best part of the day was driving into Tuscany (Cypress trees! Olive trees! Rolling hills!)and to our wonderful, amazing hotel called the Villa Lecchi. It overlooks the Chianti region and was originally built in the 1500s. It was modified in the 1800s but then fell into disrepair and was purchased in 1994 by the family who currently runs it. What a great story – the whole family is involved in the operation. Laura is the manager; her husband is the pastry chef and also tends to the gardens and occasionally hunts wild boar. Laura’s mother (called just Momma) is also a chef and was seen today gathering eggs from chickens they have on the property, plus she had an apron filled with fresh greens. Laura’s two sons do the heavy lifting around the place, including lugging our bags up the many, many flights of stairs because there is no elevator. Pappa Guiseppe (I’m probably spelling this wrong) had the original idea to buy the property and fix it up. We’re all amazed at how much work it must have been, based on the photos of what it looked like in the early 1990s with no roof and crumbling floors. Now they have wireless Internet, spiffy bathrooms, an amazing restaurant, and possibly the most beautiful view in all of Italy, as you can see.