28 August 2012

A night in Umbria

COUNTRY Resort Santa Croce

A Night with the Friars

“They say,” our host, Annalisa, gestures in assurance that she did not invent this, “that the Friars grew a certain herb in their garden, which may account for the vibrant colours in their frescos.”

Surprisingly, the tiny (600 inhabitant) town of Sant’Anatolia di Narco has a Hemp Museum, which is not something you might expect outside of Amsterdam, and this makes me wonder whether Annalisa’s story has foundation.  Cannabis Sativa, or Indian Hemp, was cultivated throughout Umbria until the middle of the last century.  However the use of hemp that the museum commemorates is that of making cloth.  Did the Franciscans really spend their time painting ceilings and walls under the influence of weed?

I think it unlikely, though it would make an interesting Art History project!  The convent had its origins, outside the fortified city walls, in the thirteenth century and then took its current form in 1610 when it became occupied by Franciscans.  In recent years, although still owned by the Diocese, it has had new life breathed into it as an atmospheric hotel, beautifully presented and lovingly maintained by Annalisa, her daughter Luana and her partner Paolo. The warmth of their hospitality and the still serenity of the structure give no impression of a hippie colony, although a glass of Campari at the bar does no harm after a busy day sightseeing!

Sant’Anatolia is one of several villages in the Nera valley.  Its position is perfect for exploring the green heart of Italy, being only 10 kilometres from Spoleto (via a useful tunnel) and less than an hour from Assisi.  It is also close to the gastronomic, medieval town of Norcia, the wilds of the Monti Sibillini National Park and the power of the Marmore waterfalls (much more exciting than you would think).  What’s more there’s paragliding from the Great Plain of Castelluccio or canoeing or rafting on the Nera.

After a day’s excursion, we retire to our room, named after Fra Eutizio, a character from I Promessi Sposi, and relax in its cool tranquillity.  Then, down the marble stairs, under the frescoed ceilings showing the life of Giovanni da Capestrano, and into the refectory, where Annalisa revives us with her cooking, specialising in using local ingredients, while Paolo serves wines from tiny Umbrian estates. 

If the friars lived like this, they had no need of other stimulants!


Richard Gibbs

October 8th 2012

This was unsuccessfully entered for the 2012 Guardian Travel Writing Competition (an unusual place to stay), but was not even a runner-up:  probably far too slow to be more than a walk-on part!

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