Last time we visited the hilltop town of Citta della Pieve (town of churches), deep in Umbria, we strolled around the streets and alleys that Il Perugino walked 500 years ago. On this visit to sample the special restaurants in Città della Pieve, we stayed overnight at the Hotel Vannucci, loyal to Perugino’s given name of Pietro Vannucci.
The entrance is framed by two tall old pines of Rome, manicured lawns, trees waiting to burst into bloom. The garden is dressed and adorned with light blue glass ‘rocks’ chopped from a glass tank. It suffices to say that the hotel has all the trappings of a quality country villa (which is how it started its long life). The lounge with its deep armchairs warms the heart when the fireplace is lit.
When it is lunchtime you have to choose among a variety of restaurants in Città della Pieve but be sure to make the right choice to live a real Umbrian experience. This is Val di Chiana (the local river), the area of ‘Chianina’ meat – the best Italian meat. It was a windy day and with our shawls and coats blowing in the wind, we arrived to Piazza Matteotti. Just next to Chiesa Di Gesù (Church of Jesus) there is an arch and a hidden alley. We are led into the alley and without noticing it, find ourselves in front of Ristorante Silvana.
We entered through a traditional door whose opening may have been unaltered since the church and buildings were constructed many hundreds of years ago. The interior of the restaurant breathes of the past with restoration having been faithful to the original architecture and building.
It is exactly what you would expect from one of the best traditional Umbrian restaurants in Città della Pieve, in the historical center: bricks and a wooden roof. We were seated opposite the large fireplace with its log fire in the back corner to warm the guests and more importantly for preparation of the cooking coals to feed the grill and ‘brace’ in front. It was interesting to look how the fire was fed. The split logs, each about 1 metre long, were individually delicately thrust like a caber onto the pyre from the side by the brace attendant while standing several metres from the pyre.
Silvana and her son Manuel are the forces behind this especially traditional Umbrian ristorante. She finds herself still preparing the delicious pastas by hand and balancing with flavours of local vegetables and meats. Everything is fresh and seasonal and Manuel guided us in the right choice according to our taste preferencess.
We failed to test the skills of Manuel at the grill, but we gave the kitchen an opportunity to prove their metal with one of us watering over a fine local pasta (pici) with artichokes and mushrooms. The second selected ‘pici aglione’ (a local kind of garlic). ‘Pici’ is a typical Umbrian handmade paste made just with water and flour and it has to be made in the same day you eat it.
For second course, one of us chose ‘coniglio grigliato’ (grilled rabbit) which announced its arrival with a wonderful aroma and subsequently with a flavour to match. Its power over the senses of mere humans resulted in my share of this taste sensation being rapidly diminished by the demands of my lunch partners.
As always we put our trust in the hands of the host who selected the ‘vino della casa’ (house wine), a sangiovese and merlot (not quite a chianti) for our pleasure. We could attest that the reputations of Silvana and Manuel for faithfulness to traditions, wonderful taste, warmth of attention and quality of the fare have been justly earned. It now behoves us to return and test the mantra that the menu of fine fresh local fare, excites by changing daily.
It should be interesting to come back in summertime to visit the superb restaurants in Città della Pieve and taste the many local greens that grow in the countryside of the well known hills of Città della Pieve.