I asked my friend Lynn to write this post based on her recent experience coming to visit Benano.

Traveling by train while jet lagged in a foreign country may seem like a daunting task, but you can do it! I recently arrived in Rome, found the train station in the airport, bought a ticket and rode to the main terminal in Rome (Roma Termini), bought another ticket and rode to Florence (Firenze). After a few days there, I took the train to Orvieto, which is the closest train station to Benano.

TRENITALIAI am woman of let’s say “mature” years, and I did all this train riding without any help, all by myself. And, it was a very pleasant experience—not to mention less stressful and cheaper than taking the same route with a rental car.

Of course, once you get to Orvieto, you will need to rent a car to get to Benano and see the sights in the nearby Umbrian countryside and small villages. For visits to the larger cities and more distant sites in Umbria and Tuscany, you can choose to drive to Orvieto and take the train. It will be easy since you have already got the hang of the Italian train system.

The first thing you should do is visit the Trenitalia website at www.trenitalia.com

Here you will find all kinds of information about the trains in Italy including instructions for buying tickets online and downloading a mobile app for your smart phone or i-Pad.  Here you can see schedules and times to help you plan your trip.

I do not recommend buying a ticket online to be used immediately upon arrival in Rome. Your flight might be delayed or canceled. Besides, it is very easy to purchase a ticket at the station.

In the Rome airport, after claiming your baggage and passing through customs, follow the signs that say “Tren”. Ignore the long line of people trying to buy tickets from a human being, and use one of the freestanding automatic ticket dispensers. It’s easy. Choose your language, and follow the instructions to purchase your ticket to Roma Termini.

Train ticket machineLook at the board overhead to see what track (binario) your train will be on, and THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: be sure to validate your ticket in the small box at the beginning of the track before getting on your train. If you don’t see it, just ask someone.

When the train stops in Roma Termini, avoid the temptation to walk into the building at a right angle to the train, unless you want to rent a car. Walk toward the front of the train and into the main terminal. This may be a little overwhelming, but take a deep breath and look for the now familiar automatic ticket machines straight ahead of you.

Train StationBuy your ticket to Orvieto if you plan to go straight to Benano. Take a look at the duration of the various options. The intercity trains will get you from the main terminal in Rome to Orvieto in a little over an hour; the regional trains take about an hour and 15 or 20 minutes and cost about half as much. My only recommendation is to choose an option where you do not have to change trains; there are many direct trains and this option is just easier.

Other advice:

  • Watch out for pickpockets and panhandlers in the big city train stations. Keep your valuables on your person, and do not turn your back or walk away from your bags.
  • Watch out for gypsy taxi drivers. They generally approach arriving passengers at the end of the train platform or in the terminal. These are unlicensed and will generally charge you more than the official taxis just outside most train stations.
  • It’s OK to eat and drink on the train. Pick up a bottle of water, a snack or a carry out from one of the terminal shops before boarding the train.
  • When in doubt, ask a question. The people who work for Trenitalia wear gray uniforms and generally speak English. They are very nice and helpful. Do not hesitate to stop them and ask a question. The people who look like mechanics or train workers are also customer-friendly, but their English skills may not be as good.
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I’m lucky to have company on this trip, and lucky to have friends who write blog posts.  My friend Aileen contributed this:

I’m not sure if it’s my love of yarn that makes me love sheep, or vice versa, but there’s something special about seeing pastures of sheep throughout the Italian countryside.

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Their coats are long this time of year and they seemed warm and content as they watched us drive toward the tufa towns of Southern Tuscany.

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It’s hard not to ooh and aah as you drive around a curve and catch your first glimpse (or second or third) of these Tuscan hill towns.  Built upon tufa rock, they seem to reach to the sky yet balance precariously on earth.  Each has a charm of its own.

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Sorano (La Città del Tufo) was our first stop. The panoramic views from the piazza were beautiful, even on a cloudy day in winter.

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There is also a lovely antique store run by Alessandro and his lovely wife Rikke, a Swedish transplant to Italy.

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We stopped for a delicious lunch right in the center of the tiny town of San Quirico. Homemade fettuccini al pomodoro seems like heaven compared to my out-of-a-box pasta and out-of-a-jar sauce at home.

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We continued on to Sovana, with its beautiful medieval clock and bell tower that make you feel as if you’re living in another time.  The Cathedral (Cattedrale) in Sovana was built in the 11th century – absolutely amazing to me.  Its architecture is stunning with its criss-crossed stone ceiling, striped columns and curved archways throughout the church.

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Karen showed me the leather shop in Sovana that had been recommended by other friends, but alas, it was closed for the winter.  Probably a good thing for my pocketbook.

A Family New Years Celebration

Few things make me quite as happy as hearing from guests who love Benano as much as we do. With their permission, I’m sharing notes from the heads of two wonderful families who rented the villa over New Years. But first, enjoy their vacation photos (have you ever seen such beautiful families?)!

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Hi Karen — We arrived safely home and went back to work the next day then battled fairly exhausting jetlag for a week….but it was all worth it.

We all had the most glorious week in Benano and Rocca Di Benano will stay in our hearts for the rest of our lives. I will dream of going back one day and daydream about being there at least once a week for many years to come.

Thank you for all your help and wonderful advice, we felt like we had you there by our side as we explored far and wide.

We were all incredibly comfortable and never felt like we were on top of each other. It’s not easy having two families living together but doing it at Rocca Di Benano made it seem incredibly easy.

Our highlights would have been:

  • Civita Di Banorregio
  • NYE in Orvieto
  • Perugia
  • Walking the country lane up behind Benano
  • Sitting on the bench in Benano looking out to Orvieto and enjoying the incredible peace

I wasn’t well one day but the rest of our group went to the restaurant in Aquapendente (where you said Grandma still rules the kitchen) and they were thrilled with the meal. I think they would all say that was a food highlight.

Most of all, the highlight was your home, thank you for sharing it with us. Please don’t hesitate to pass my email on to anyone wanting to know how much we enjoyed it and would recommend it.

I thought you might get some enjoyment out of some of the squillions of photos of our time at Benano. I didn’t think there was any point sending you the photos of all the things you have already taken beautiful photos of so I thought you might enjoy a little taste of us enjoying life in Benano and beyond.

Thank you again, I hope you continue to be able to share your beautiful home with lots of lucky travellers and that you get back there yourself as often as you would like to.

Warmest Regards and a big thank you hug,

Allison

and:

Hi Karen — On behalf of my family, I would just like to thank you for the wonderful time we had in Benano. The house exceeded our expectations and was the perfect base to explore the wonderful region. It must be so exciting owning that marvelous piece of History. Staying in Benano really gave us a sense of being a local. The neighbors were divine, and very patient with my terrible Italian. The house was comfortable, warm and well equipped. We took a lot of your recommendations and we didn’t have one bad day. We were worried about traveling in winter, but were absolutely blessed with the weather. In our three and a half weeks in Italy we didn’t have one rainy day and mostly blue skies. I know Orvieto suffered a lot with the torrential rains in November.

The Orvieto Jazz Festival was fabulous – we have really seen Orvieto at its best. There was a constant party atmosphere the whole time we were there. The four teens from both families are all budding musicians and the two older boys play the Sax and are really into their Jazz so it was a wonderful experience for them.

We took your recommendations and went to Civita, Deruta, Perugia and to lake Bolsena and loved them all. We ate at the wonderful Albergo Toscana  in Acquapendente which was fabulous.

On New Years Eve we had a meal in Orvieto listening to a wonderful Jazz Band then went back to Benano and sat on the car park wall watching the fireworks below. It was a wonderful week and a great experience for our children.

We will definitely be telling all of our friends about Benano, but please send me links to the sites you would like me to write a review on as we are very keen to spread the news of your wonderful house!

Many Many Thanks Again,

Jennifer

We love collecting travel tips from our guests. Some of our favorite guests told us that one of the highlights of their stay at Rocca di Benano was their visit to renowned ceramic artist Marino Moretti’s studio. After seeing the art they brought home, we decided we needed to get to know Marino.

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It wasn’t hard. Marino warmly welcomes visitors, is very engaging, and speaks great English. And he lives and works in Viceno, a short walk from Benano. It’s easy to find him there because he lives in the castle at the top of the town. (Have I grabbed your attention yet, or is visiting a guy who lives in a castle “old hat” to you?) So when you reach Viceno, just keep walking uphill until you get to his studio. Here’s a report on a recent visit to Marino’s castle/studio, written by an American blogger who lives in Orvieto.

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Marino literally grew up around ceramics; his father collected traditional ceramics and pottery fragments. When Marino was 13, he began copying pieces from his father’s collection. Three decades later, Marino’s whimsical work, which he has exhibited all over the world, celebrates his own unique interpretation of the traditional figures he first saw in his father’s collection and features fantastic scenes and brilliant colors.

IMG_1224IMG_1222Marino is always happy to open his studio to guests from Rocca di Benano. All it takes is a phone call or email to arrange a time to visit to his studio and watch him work (from Benano dial 320-265-1654, or email him at info@marinomoretti.com). Marino will demonstrate how he throws his pottery and paints his unique figures. Guests can choose between a visit lasting a half-hour (25 euros for the group) or an hour (50 euros). The price of each such visit will include a small ceramic piece to take home with you.

One of my favorite pieces.  As I write this, Marino is working on a similar piece that should grace our living room in Ohio before too long

One of my favorite pieces. As I write this, Marino is working on a similar piece that should grace our living room in Ohio before too long.

On a recent visit, we worked with Marino to design this piece, which he created and delivered to us a couple days later, in time for us to carry it home.

On a recent visit, we worked with Marino to design this piece, which he created and delivered to us a couple days later, in time for us to carry it home.

I’m always a little jealous of our guests at Rocca di Benano, but that feeling is particularly acute this week because our guests get to celebrate the arrival of the New Year in one of my favorite spots on earth. Why am I jealous? Let me count the ways.

weather, jpegThe weather’s mild. Daytime highs are around 50 degrees there. We’re looking at a week in the low 30’s here in Ohio.

Capodanno (New Year’s) is very festive in Orvieto, a city with irresistible charm even without special events or holiday merriment. At this time of year, the world-renowned Umbria Winter Jazz Festival is in full swing, so music is everywhere. This post describes the festival as a “6-day party.” Researching the Jazz Festival inspired me to put together a Pinterest Board about music festivals in Central Italy. I want to go. Now.

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It’s not as if I’m not enjoying gorging on all the Christmas cookies around the house, but I have a hankering for a cenone, an over-the-top meal that many restaurants offer on New Year’s Eve. These are generally fixed-price, fixed-menu feasts that come with all the cenone-tgcomtrimmings — numerous courses, prosecco, and sometimes entertainment to boot. Here’s the mouth-watering description of how diners at Zeppelin, one of our favorite restaurants in Orvieto, will celebrate New Year’s Eve. Now I’m betting you’re jealous, too.

The Christmas season in Italy doesn’t begin to wane on December 26th as it does in the States. Rather, it continues until January 5, when La Befana, a mythical old woman who delivers gifts to Italian children, arrives in the night. So during this extended Christmas season, there will be a  live nativity scene in Civita di Bagnoregio, that is supposed to be spectacular. A resident of Bagnoregio told me that “Civita becomes Bethlehem.” Civita is about a half-hour away from Benano and well worth the visit even without Bethlehem.
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As much as anything else, I’m sorry to be missing the small events that I don’t even know I’m missing. Our wonderful next-door neighbor Pavla promised to keep her eyes open for festivals and small-town events that our New Year’s guests might be interested in attending. She’s always in the know about happenings in the area, so I encouraged our guests to go next door to ring her bell and see what she is up to. I hope they do. I wish I could.
I trust our guests are having a wonderful vacation in Benano, and I know we will have a wonderful New Year’s Eve with our friends at home. But a little piece of my heart will be out at the village overlook, watching the firework displays across the broad valley below.
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Let’s Try Pinterest!

At the end of each rental season, I have to cull the collection of brochures, maps, and business cards that have accumulated on Rocca di Benano’s bookshelves.

I hate throwing these things away, because each piece of paper represents an adventure that  some cherished guest experienced and thought worthy of recommending to others. But when the pile grows too big to be useful, toss I must.

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Pinterest, the hot new social media site, made this job much less painful this year because I “pinned” those brochures or business cards on Pinterest “boards.” Have I lost you already?  If so, you may be new to Pinterest and this official explanation of what Pinterest is might be helpful.  And once you get the Pinterest gestalt, you may enjoy this decidedly unofficial exploration of Pinterest.

But back to Benano. For at least a week of my latest stay, I had piles of cards and brochures all over the dining room table. I grouped them by things like  “restaurants within 30 minutes of Benano,” “Deruta” (the pottery town about an hour from Benano) or “Rome,” and “things to do in or very near Benano.” Then, I created Pinterest boards for each category and pinned like a wild woman. And only then did I toss a map or card that a guest had left behind.

IMG_1651Anyone who has dabbled in Pinterest knows how intoxicating the crafts and recipes can be. I’m not saying it was easy to stay focused on developing the Rocca di Benano Pinterest page, because once you’re on Pinterest, distractions abound! (Wanna see the pillow I made using directions I found on Pinterest?  — but I digress.)

Back to Benano. I understand that Pinterest is gaining credibility as a tool for helping trip planners organize their ideas, options, contact information, and more. I love the idea and would be delighted if former guests and travelers add their comments to some of the recommendations posted on Rocca di Benano’s Pinterest page.

In case you’ve missed the hotlink above, here is the Rocca di Benano Pinterest page:  http://pinterest.com/roccadibenano/.

If you check it out, please let me know what you think.  And by all means, comment on anything on Rocca di Benano’s Pinterest site that catches your eye.

It started raining hard on Sunday.  By Monday morning, pockets of Northern and Central Italy had been devastated by floods.  Photos of what this 200-year storm did to Venice filled the Internet, but the big news in our part of the country was what it did to the area around Orvieto.

Orvieto has something of a split personality.  The glamorous and famous part sits on a plateau atop a huge tufa rock.  There is the iconic duomo, charming cobblestone streets, lots of boutiques and pottery shops, wonderful restaurants, and many happy tourists.  That part of Orvieto was unscathed.  But the part of town at the base of the rock, called “Orvieto Scalo,” the engine that keeps the region going, was flooded.

The train station is the long, taller, light-colored building in the center of this picture.  And behind it?  The parking lot that we and many of our guests know well.  Those black dots are the tops of the submerged cars of railway passengers who took advantage of the train station’s free parking, only to discover its hidden cost.

Teams of workers, civil authorities, flood victims and good-hearted volunteers are cleaning up the mess, and life is already getting back to normal.  But it was quite a couple of days.

Mom and I were at Rocca di Benano during the first full day of torrential rain, and it didn’t surprise me to learn that we lived through a record-shattering storm — 11 inches in 39 hours.  For the data geeks among you, I’m told that equates to 74 gallons per 3.86 square miles (which, I have to admit, means absolutely nothing to me).

I had to keep reminding myself that our house has been here for 1,000 years and has withstood worse.  I was right, of course, although we did lose a handful of 10-year old olive trees and part of relatively new stone stairs that run (ahem, ran) alongside the olive grove.  We were very lucky — all our problems are fixable.  I was also glad that I had harvested our young olive trees (olive trees can live to be hundreds of years old) on a glorious, sunny day just a few days before the storm hit.

And now, the last drops of oil that our dearly departed trees will ever produce are bottled and standing like brave little soldiers in the pantry.  Okay, perhaps it’s a little hasty to call them “dearly departed” given that Gino, a kindly neighbor who lovingly prunes our grove, says the displaced trees might do just as well where nature has relocated them, at the bottom of our hillside.

I wish I could report that I was brave, too.  In fact, the second day day of very hard rain worked a number on my nerves.  Instead of staying put in this solid old house, I let my imagination get the better of me.  Late Monday afternoon, I surprised my poor mother with the news that we were leaving.  I didn’t use the word “evacuate,” but that’s what I was doing.  My sudden exodus worried our dear friend, manager and caretaker Alex, who knew that we would have been much safer at home, given the roads and bridges that already were out.  I had to take a circuitous route to Rome in order to avoid both the flooded A1 (Italy’s main north/south highway) and the possibility of driving anywhere near the congested parts of the Eternal City.  I eventually made it over to the coastal highway and then to Rome’s main airport, where I parked the car, took Mom to a bar and immediately introduced her to caffe’ corretto (espresso with a shot — in this case, we chose Sambuca over the more traditional grappa).  Jangled nerves settled, we took a cab to Rome’s center, where dear friends took us and my wild imaginings in for the night.

I wish a truckload of fresh fruits and vegetables would pull up to our front door in Cincinnati every week.

A note for our guests: this truck arrives on Thursdays around noon.  The complete schedule of vendors who come to Benano is in the house book.

All in a day’s work

Two and a half years out of a perfectly wonderful career at Procter & Gamble, I still find myself mildly unsettled without a real job description (let alone quarterly goals, success measures, and annual reviews) for my work at Rocca di Benano.  If I had one, it would include something along these lines:

Accelerate guests’ enjoyment of rural Italy by providing them ample recommendations for day trips, activities, restaurants, etc.

All of which is to say that my afternoon in Bolsena was a business trip.  It was my job to make the 25-minute drive down to this beautiful medieval town situated on Europe’s largest volcanic lake on a spectacular Spring day.

I had to have lunch at Trattoria Picchietto, a lovely restaurant that we recommend to our guests.  I had a delicious Minestra di Tinca, or spicy fish soup, and field-fresh salad.  Other diners in the courtyard were so friendly that those at the next table poured me a glass of the wine from their bottle when they saw I was alone — and wineless.  But these were merely fringe benefits of my work.  My objective was to optimize the relevance of the consumer-facing copy I produce for guests.  Simply put, I was efforting to gather value-added learnings that will take my material to the next level.  (See? I still have it.)

 
My after-lunch stop didn’t go according to the workplan.  (Note to self: will you ever learn to anticipate afternoon closures in Italy?)  I had about an hour to kill, so I did what any self-respecting business traveller would do: I stopped in on Bella Pizza, one of the best pizza a taglio (pizza by the slice) places in the area, and bought a couple of slices for my dinner.  And I still had time to walk down the broad boulevard to Lake Bolsena, which sparkled in the afternoon sun.  In true corporate fashion, I squeezed in a coffee break, too.

Finally, I was able to fulfill my final objective for the visit (I am nothing if not diligent): I sampled the highly touted (and deservedly so) gelateria just off the main town square.  It’s a friendly, surprisingly small shop, and the gelato (I had ricotta/cinnamon and  chocolate) is exquisite.

The particulars:

The restaurant:  Trattoria Tipica da Picchietto, Via Porta Fiorentiana, 15, Phone: (0761) 799158.  Closed Mondays.

The pizza: Bella Pizza, Via G. Marconi, 10, Phone: (0761)  799904

The gelato: Gelateria Santa Cristina, Corso della Repubblica 8, Phone: (0761) 798758


The market comes to Orvieto on Thursday and Saturday mornings.  There’s something for everybody.

Vegetables, fruit, plants, and flowers

Beans, nuts, and grains

Fresh fish, lots of cured meats, and porchetta

(Look closely.  That’s a tail.  It’s the real deal.)

Cheese

A honey department

Plenty of answers to that burning question:

“What do people do without a neighborhood Target store?”

 Plenty of time for a coffee break, too.  I wouldn’t mind shopping at home if there was a bar like this on my way home.  The nonna at the cash register, the mind-bending variety of types of caffes being served, and the choreography of the people behind the bar topped off a perfect trip to the market.