“They ask me, ‘What is there to do in Monteleone?’, and I say, ‘Why should there be something to do?’ “.
I’m smiling. In part because I agree with her, but mostly because I’m thoroughly enjoying our conversation.
I’m at a bar in Monteleone, sitting at an outside table under a shade tree, chatting and having caffè with a signora who puts on wonderful pasta-making lessons for my guests. I was surprised to bump into her this morning – almost literally – here in Monteleone. She was making a stop at the post office and I had just finished my walk through town taking photos. “Hai un momento per caffe?”, she’d asked me, and of course I said yes.
Monteleone is photogenic – plain and simple. From its medieval archway to its winding alleyways to its sweeping, panoramic views. It’s a village that invites meandering – if only for the sake of meandering.
On this already hot July morning there were just a few people out and about. A man was intently washing empty wine bottles in public fountain, while a woman in a house-dress and apron sat on a bench nearby, shelling beans. A handful of others passed by me, or me by them – a boy on a bike, a local policeman, a workman with a wheelbarrow.
But most of the cobblestone lanes were deserted, other than a few cats and a little terrier, trotting around like he owned the place.
For me, the quiet of Monteleone, especially on a slow summer morning, is the very best reason to come here – camera in hand. The old buildings with their deep, red, pitted bricks beg to be photographed – along with their centuries-old archways, doorways and windows.
Tunnels angle down and then outwards on either side of town, leading to views that always take my breath away. The western facing side of town is the most dramatic, with a vicolo that runs the length of the village upon a steep cliff, skirted by stone walls built during medieval times.
At the end of the village is the little Piazza Belvedere from which Umbria and Tuscany stretch out before you – as far as the eye can see. Stunning.
On the edge of the piazza you’ll always find the mayor’s classic car – a red Fiat 500. My brother took a fabulous photo of the major’s Cinquecento a few years ago, and the picture hangs framed on our wall. I took my own shot today – just because. 🙂
My coffee companion jokes that the car is the most photographed thing in Monteleone. The mayor enjoys the attention, she tells me. I don’t doubt it.
Our moment to grab a caffè becomes nearly two hours. We talk about the best places to eat (mangia bene, paga poco), the best villages to visit (there are too many to mention) and the best places to feel the presence of St. Francis, as he was a frequent visitor in this area.
We decide against a second coffee, or neither of us will sleep well tonight. She doesn’t sleep well anyway, she tells me. Not since her husband’s death – some 27 years ago. Her eyes mist over and she changes the subject to her wonderful grandson.
We embrace and promise to meet again sometime for coffee. “The next time, just pass by my house and knock,” she says. She tells me her street – she lives outside the city walls – and says I’ll know the house because of the jasmine that’s growing up one side. I must look skeptical that I could find it because she grins and tells me the house number.
I drive away – smiling. It was a lovely visit. Then I laugh out loud when I see the houses along the shady street – every other one with a climbing jasmine.
Pamela Haack creates and hosts boutique-style small group tours, artists’ workshops and retreats that are a combination of the very best of Italy: the exciting and the peaceful, the popular and the secret, the talked about and the never-heard-of-before. From art experts and operettas to authentic cooking classes and ancient Etruscans, Pamela helps guests experience the spectacularly beautiful, endlessly interesting cities and countryside of Italy in an up-close and personal way – off the beaten strada.
Pamela is also the author of Top 10 Favorite Etruscan Sites. She lives with her husband, Lou, in Umbria, Italy.