Approaching our 40th wedding anniversary, I knew that my wife, Jane, wanted to go somewhere special. What I found was Al Petrogallo, an Italian farmhouse built in 1571 - exactly 400 years before we married in 1971. She was impressed.
Al Petrogallo is in Umbria, near the Tuscan border in central Italy. I discovered it on agriturismo.it, a website about Italian country homes, and began corresponding by email with Antonella, daughter of the owner. Antonella said we would enjoy walking along the Tiber River and visiting nearby Umbertide. She recommended exploring the cities of Gubbio, Assisi and Perugia as well.
In early September 2011, we flew to Rome and then boarded three consecutive trains to Umbertide, where Antonella met us. The farm itself is a collection of three buildings with eight bedrooms, set amid wheat fields and sunflowers. Our apartment was roomy (about 900 square feet) and modern, yet lovingly restored with brick, tile and timber.
Poolside, we met guests from Germany, Belgium, Poland and the Netherlands. We enjoyed evenings together sampling local wine and cheese. We also met Antonella's sister, mother and father. It was her father, Mario, who had renovated the old home.
With the farm as our base, we began exploring a region steeped in history. As planned, we walked on the dirt path along the Tiber River to Umbertide, where we wandered through the colorful farmers market. (among our favorite discoveries: porchetta, roasted pork on a fresh, hard-crusted roll.)
One day Antonella's brother-in-law, Andre, kindly drove us to Gubbio, where he worked. In the middle of a conversation about the town's Roman influences and medieval architecture, we rounded a curve and came upon both—a Roman theater and, behind it, the walled city, whose narrow streets and stone buildings gave us a glimpse of the Middle Ages.
Then it was on to Perugia and Assisi. The former features an ancient underground city (reached by modern-day escalators). Tunnel-like walkways take visitors back to the times of the Etruscans, who predated the Romans.
Assisi, of course, is the birthplace of St. Francis. As we made our way along hilly streets there lined with quaint shops, we reached the basilica that bears his name - and found ourselves watching a wedding party. The link to our marriage four decades earlier was perfect.
The week went all too fast. We went on to Rome, but our best memories return to the farmhouse along the Tiber.
Via Mariano Pallottini, Good Things From Italy