The plan for Perugia: visit a winery, check out the old town and visit the Perugina Chocolate Factory.
What actually happened: La Fonte Agritourismo is so beautiful we don’t leave the property. Well, aside to get groceries to cook in our apartment kitchen and eat on the stunning patio.
While Andy and I stayed at a number of amazing properties during our 10-day trip through Italy, La Fonte Agritourismo is a destination in itself.
A Scenic Drive
Coming from Montepulciano, the drive is stunning, and as we enter Umbria it becomes clear why it’s called the “green heart of Italy,” or “Il cuore verde d’Italia.” Perugia, an Etruscan town within Umbria, holds a medieval feel that pairs perfectly with the verdant countryside, deep valleys and endless rows of grechetto and sagrantino grapes.
Check out my entire Italy trip in the video above (also posted at the bottom)
Suddenly, a sign reading “Monte Bagnolo” takes us off the highway to make our way up a dusty gravel road; only 10 minutes from civilization but far enough for a peaceful countryside retreat. Umbria in itself is the only Italian region without sea or international border access, so at the property we truly feel like we’ve escaped.
Entering through La Fonte’s grand gated entrance, we pass eight horses, four dogs, three cats, seven chicken and three goats on property. One thing I miss when traveling is my cat, so being surrounded by pets cheers me up immensely. I make a mental note to get some serious kitty petting and puppy playing in while here.
Turning Dreams Into Reality
Marco — whose family owns La Fonte — greets us warmly. Marco and his wife are originally from Milan, though they’d always had a dream to leave the city for the countryside. Part of that dream involved opening up a place where they could welcome guests and show visitors the beauty of a slower placed lifestyle.
In 2005, the dream became a reality. Says Marco, “We bought the property from the previous owner, who kept it as a weekend house. From the end of 2005 to 2011, we did all the necessary work to transform the poorly maintained farm complex into a farm holiday complex ready to welcome clients from all over the world.”
And we certainly feel welcome. After chatting, Marco hops onto his quad to lead us a short distance down the long driveway to our apartment home away from home.
A Homemade Welcome
The word “apartment” is an understatement, especially in terms of what I think of as a New Yorker. Walking up a set of wooden stairs we’re greeted by a table full of homemade and local goodies — fresh eggs, Pecorino cheese, olive oil, sausage, grapes, peaches, a lemon and vanilla-laced “Torta Margherita” cake, eggplant and tomatoes — with bottles of red and Prosecco to accompany.
Despite having had a big lunch my mouth instinctively begins to water.
While we’d researched some highly-rated Perugia restaurants, the homey kitchen is the kind that makes you want to stay in and cook. Tin egg baskets and wooden spice grinders sit above the stove, while hand-painted tiles accent the sink area. A chalkboard sign welcomes us to Umbria, with sunflower-adorned salt and pepper shakers lining the shelves below socially-conscious soaps handmade by villagers in Thailand. Floral and wood accents enhance the pastel purple and green hues of the cozy room.
Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that a door leading off the kitchen leads to a patio that could very well be a gate to heaven. Stepping onto the deck, a stunning view of the La Fonte’s chestnut trees, olive grove and green-hued pond stands before a large hill of oaks leading to abandoned ruins.
In an instant, sightseeing plans are abandoned. After a quick trip to the grocery store, giant glasses of red wine are poured, sunscreen is applied and butts are planted in lounge chairs allowing us a view we could never get back home in Manhattan.
Speaking of wine, this was a facet of local culture I did immerse myself in, thanks to Marco’s generous gift of a bottle of “Rosso della Pia,” a blend of Umbria grapes. The wine is from Cantina Dionigi, a small producer located in Bevagna, 20 minutes south of the property.
In Montepulciano we indulged in the famous “Nobile de Montepulciano,” though in Perugia it’s all about “Sagrantino di Montefalco.” This wine is made with 100% pure sagrantino grapes, stored in barrels for almost 30 months. The origin of the grape goes back to ancient Greece time, so there’s a historic component, as well.
Umbria Or Tuscany?
While I love Tuscany — especially cycling through it — I’m surprised to learn from Marco that he doesn’t typically receive American guests. He tells me that many choose the better-known Tuscany over Umbria, often going with travel agent recommendations.
Hearing this makes me feel truly blessed to have visited this beautiful place, even more untouched than Tuscany. Sure, Tuscany is larger with very varied landscapes and historic artistic towns; but Umbria has a genuineness about it that’s easy to fall in love with.
Notes Marco, “People in Umbria are not so used to dealing with tourists, meaning it’s still easy to find local people to open up and tell you the story of their life, enjoying conversations with a foreigner outside of a business setting. Also Umbria is greener than Tuscany, and here it’s easier to find places that are truly wild.”
There are also a number of small villages that have retained their medieval aesthetics — like Orvieto and Assisi — with nature always surrounding you.
“Even when you are in downtown Perugia, after driving three minutes driving you’ll have woods and meadows in your sight,” says Marco.
Actually, on our second day at La Fonte, Andy and I have the place all to ourselves, none of their five apartments occupied aside for ours. We wake up early to really take advantage of the amenities, fueling up on the eggs, homemade yogurt and cake (hey, I’m on vacation!) before donning our hiking packs.
Beside La Fonte is an oak forest on a hill, full of mossy boulders and leafy trails for exploring. Poppy, Marco’s border collie, comes along, showing us the way to the top to the ruins we’re able to see from our patio. These are the remnants of the 17th century Montenero Castle and Village.
Marco tells us that the Pope once owned this land, though it was worked by country people. A few years back a couple purchased the land and were going to fix it up, but then got divorced so it never happened.
We hike for a bit until we realize the path up is too overgrown with flora to reach the top. The scenery is still beautiful though, and I enjoy snapping photos before heading back to the apartment for Plan B.
We decide to drive as far as we can up the hill, and then trek up to see the ruins. While there’s a gate and fence, a big hole in the wire — not to mention the other couple on the other side of it — show the no trespassing rule is no longer in effect.
It’s just a few minutes walk up a steep path before we reach our destination. The buildings are in-tact enough to go inside; in one we even climb three flights of steps to reach the top for an aerial view!
Gothic arch entrances sit door-less, welcoming us in with an ominous embrace. It’s slightly eerie, though stray beer cans and cigarette butts make it clear this is a popular teenage hangout in Perugia.
While one building features pretty rainbow-colored snail drawings, another showcases terrifying red writing that I’m sure says someone is going to haunt me in my nightmares for visiting.
Thankfully when I translate it online I learn it says something like “even in my silence a smile can make noise.”
PS: check out this 360 shot — you can move it around with your mouse — we took from the top of the ruins. Wow!
Olive Groves & Outdoor Pools
Back in inhabited civilization — aka La Fonte — we continue journeying through the olive grove trail winding around the property.
The trail reminds me of those meditation circles where you can push away the world and focus on finding inspiration, solving problems and centering yourself. In the olives, it’s just so easy to forget about the typical things that stress me out, work deadlines, personal goals, what that subway seat stain really is. Here, though, I am totally in the moment.
The day continues — a leisurely dip in the pool, a few rounds of ping pong, some hammock lounging. We sprint inside a few times to re-fill our wine glasses, but it’s just so beautiful out we want to savor every minute drinking in its beauty.
Dinner Under The Stars
It’s rare I choose cooking over going out to eat for a romantic occasion, but at La Fonte it’s different. Going to a restaurant would mean missing out on patio time. Here, Andy and I are truly alone with nature.
About 15 minutes away is a Conad grocery store, and we pick up salmon, shrimp, pici (Italian chickpea flour pasta) and fresh salad ingredients for a feast under the stars.
Because yes, there are indeed stars here. We see the Big Dipper and the North Star, not to mention countless other constellations we make up ourselves. Hey, one day “the Jandy” (Jessie + Andy) will be on astrological maps around the world.
The only sound echoing in the darkness is the pond frogs, a natural soundtrack in a natural place.
Tomorrow we’ll be leaving; but we’ll be back. Perugia is just too beautiful a place not to visit again, and La Fonte is the perfect base to explore this paradise.
La Fonte Rates: 80€ (small apartment in low season) to 150€ (big apartment in high season), including wine, homemade goodies, onsite amenities and bike rentals. Heating cost around 20€ per day to be added if needed in low season.
Rooms: There are five apartments in total, each sleeping 4-6 people. The price includes rooms for families with fun child-decorated loft spaces.
Getting There: When visiting Umbria it’s recommended to have a car. We rented a car in Florence and drove to Tuscany and then Umbria (very enjoyable!).
I’ll admit we rented from Hertz, my least favorite car rental company in the world; but they were the only ones we found who didn’t require us to go to the Florence airport to pickup an automatic car. Instead, we simply walked 10 minutes from our Airbnb to pickup.
Of course, when we got our final receipt we’d been charged ~$75 USD for fuel — even though we’d filled up the tank before returning — and I had to spend time getting the charge removed.
Can you tell I love Hertz? If you don’t mind going to the airport, I highly recommend Enterprise instead!
Getting Around: Umbria is best explored by car. There are also taxis available.
- Understand that in many places there will be an extra charge for sitting at a table.
- Note that you do not need to tip — service is typically included — though you can leave 5-10% if you wish.
- While in the US if a restaurant serves a snack that was not asked for, like bread or peanuts, it’s safe to assume it’s complimentary. In Italy though we were often charged a few Euros for these. If you don’t want them, say so.
Language: While many locals speak English, it’s helpful to know some Italian. At least know a few common Italian phrases.
SIM Cards: While you can buy your SIM card from the airport, I recommend purchasing it within the city of your first stay. This way, if there’s a problem you can go back to the place you actually purchased it to get help.
I sadly purchased mine from the Milan Airport, and wasn’t told you’re supposed to *not* touch your phone until you receive a certain text message (which is in Italian). I used up my 40-Euro package — which should have lasted my entire 10-day trip — in less than an hour due to this error and had to re-purchase one, because the Vodafone representative in Venice (the first city visited on the Italy trip after landing in Milan) told me the airport wasn’t affiliated with his shop.
Check out my entire Italy trip in the video above