Italy’s hidden gem: Castellonalto

In the region of Umbria in central Italy there’s a small town that very few people know, even Italians themselves. Home to only 10 inhabitants, Castellonalto it’s a perfect place to relax if you despise touristy locations. Don’t be fooled by its size however: it has a lot to offer, starting from the views.

Its name stands for High castle, as it sits literally on top of a mountain. Immersed in green, its air is so clean that breathing it feels like a spa for your lungs. The immense mountains and lands will capture your imagination and your mind will get lost. Due to its tranquillity and isolation, the place has been home to many hermits over the years. You’ll be amazed by how quickly you forgot about the rush hour and how far it seems. “I moved here from Rome 14 years ago with my family and I don’t regret it” says Stefano Turchetti, an art restorer. “The city is chaotic, stressful, and polluted. Here I can paint and play classical guitar surrounded by the beauty of nature”.

Food is another key element: this is Italy we’re talking about. The speciality of the area is truffle. Rich in taste and of high quality, it’s sought by farmers, Italian chefs and experts from around the world. They go through exhausting hiking trips to find it, but the result is a meal that you won’t forget. Truffle is used as a condiment for pasta, either minced or as a sauce. Paired with either an intense red wine like local Montefalco Sagrantino or an elegant white such as the Chardonnay Borgo del Tiglio, it’s guaranteed that your taste buds will be in heaven. Another typical recipe is the “Barbazza”, fried bacon with olive oil produced locally and fresh sage.

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The village was a stronghold built in the 8th century AD by colonisers sent by Liutprand, King of the Lombards. The aim was to protect the San Pietro in Valle abbey in nearby town Ferentillo. Today, the population is so small you can count it on your fingers. There aren’t any commercial businesses around, so you need a car to buy groceries. “I would say this is the biggest downside, having to travel five to fifteen miles to go to a Pharmacy”, says Turchetti. Although technology has permeated, time seems to have stopped to the Middle Age: some still practice agriculture and hand wash their clothes.

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As far as leisure activities, the festival “Castellonando” in July is worth to attend. People from the whole region come to eat, drink and dance to traditional ballads. If you like sports, nearby towns offer water rafting, hunting, hiking and rock climbing.

How to spend a holiday here? Forget hotels or B&Bs: the only way is to meet one of the peasants. If you’re a decent human being, they’ll rent you one of their spare houses for a price so cheap you won’t believe it.

 

 

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