Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Hills Are Alive...

The hills are alive....with flowing vino! Just kidding we know that isn't the lyrics, but wouldn't it be awesome?

As most of you know by now we stayed in Umbria, which if you look at a map of Italy, is the only region located within the "boot shaft" that is completely land locked.  The area is mostly rural and abundantly blessed with beautiful landscapes and towns built on the tops of the surrounding hills.  The closet hill town to us was Orvieto, which we visited a few days out of the week mostly because it was the closet place we could get wi-fi (we had to have a little data fix).  You can read more about Umbria in our previous blog here.

How big is this  hill town?
Later in the week we were anxious to stretch our wings and go a little beyond our immediate little town and surroundings.  We took the advice of our hostess Cecilia and a newlywed couple staying at the vineyard in a different cottage.  They both highly recommended Civita di Bagnoregio a true town on top of a hill isolated because it has limited access by car.   Rick Steves describes the town best, "please approach [Civita] with the same respect and sensitivity you would a dying relative, because - in a sense - that's Civita."  Civita was once a thriving town founded by the Etruscans over twenty-five hundred years ago.  However, the population has dwindled to just fifteen residents over the course of time due to unstable geological reasons and the town's inability to adjust to modern times (accessibility by automobile seeming the most glaring reason). 

The steep climb into town--anyone got a mountain goat?
Gabi and FloJo
It may be a dying town, but it's a photographer's Disneyland.  As we approached the lookout point before making our descent to the footbridge, Civita protrudes out of the wide valley with rolling hills and desert like landscapes in the background.  It was so picturesque.  
Ro and FloJo

Unfortunately, we didn't have the luxury of a funicular (as in Orvieto) to get us to the top of the hill town.  As we made our descent from where we parked and approached the footbridge we contemplated whether to make the trek or head back the other direction where a few of our friends were camped around a table ordering drinks.  From the lookout point where those friends decided to stop, the climb doesn't seem so bad.  It doesn't seem daunting until the moment you arrive at the bottom of the approach and gaze up the hill toward Civita and realize the scale.  Oh boy--why didn't we go to yoga more often before we left?  The moment of truth was before us. We asked ourselves "how often are we here?" Done. 
Gabi and Betsy post-climb


As we entered under the town's massive Romanesque arch, the decision to make the trip up the steep hill suddenly was worth it.  It was if we had suddenly time traveled and were entering the 12th century.  If there were residents here we would have expected them to be exchanging goods and services and bartering in the main square for their daily meals.  Instead, we did find that the stores took euros.  That may have been the one and only thing that has changed through the centuries.  We could very easily picture ourselves in a much older time. 
What should we order?

Aperol Spritz
Tagliatelle with beautiful mushrooms
Our tummies decided it was time for lunch so we ate at a little trattoria overlooking the only piazza in town, which also appeared to be the town's heartbeat.  

Good to the last drop!
We gathered around two tables on the side of the square.  FloJo ordered an Aperol Spritz, and thus the love affair began (which would be revisted throughout the rest of the trip around Italy).  We shared a salad with the table, next a proscuitto sampler and mushroom tagliatelle as our entree.  All washed down with a nice bottle of Grechetto, which is a local grape grown mostly in the Umbria region.  As we sat for our "normal" two hour lunch, we enjoyed each other's company and took in the sights of this "dying" town, which still seemed to have a steady heartbeat.  It wasn't crowded at all and we watched people leisurely stroll by with their dogs who wanted to chase after the numerous stray cats that are permanent fixtures in this hill town (and the cat population alone should keep Civita inhabited for quite some time).


After filling our tummies, we explored more of this quaint little town.  We visited the church, which was first an Etruscan temple and then a Roman temple before it was ever converted to a Roman Catholic church.  It wasn't grand or flashy like the duomos we had previously seen in Orvieto and Florence.  It was however, simple, rustic and a perfect fit for this tiny quaint hilltown.  

As we walked further into the labyrinth of streets, we stumbled across a bruschetteria with a huge sign declaring to all visitors that  it had the  Rick Steves stamp of travel approval.  


Old olive press
We ventured inside to discover a collection of massive unused olive presses.  The oldest olive press is about 1,500 years old.  Bunches of olives are place on a carved out circular stone.  A very heavy stone shaped like a wheel is placed on top of the olives used to crush the olives and is pushed by a donkey that is blindfolded in a circle (the donkey was not present the day we visited).  
We concluded our visit by taking pictures of the breathtaking views of the valley below us and decided to help the local economy by purchasing a few items (including black truffles FloJo had been searching for) at a store we saw when we first walked through the archway.  While in the store we came across a picture circa the 1960s, which showed a picture of the footbridge with a donkey on it carrying goods from the hill town (possibly olive oil).  We're told the donkeys were replaced by Vespas just in recent years.  The town that time has barely touched.

The picture was another reminder of how this hill town has survived the modern movement and kept its stories entact within the high walls that surround the town a top a hill.  Those stories protected much as the inhabitants were from invaders centuries earlier.  We felt lucky to have made the treck and to have made some memories of our own. 

Live life with flavor and fun!