Thursday, May 3, 2012

Three Cheers for Umbria!

It may be a law of earthly life: Heaven is seldom where you look for it. After all, if we were all so smart about heaven's whereabouts, we'd live there, right?

Planning our two-week honeymoon in Italy after 28 years of marriage, Katie and I set down three key milestones: Venice ("City of Love"), Rome (spiritual center of the world for us Catholics), and Florence (art capital of Tuscany — and we Americans all know that Tuscany is paradise. Let me hear you say Eat, Pray, Love!). What we never anticipated was that we would find heaven on earth in Umbria. Even the name Umbria, which sounds like a shadow or a dim shade of brown, suggests darkness and earth. How could there be heaven here?

Much of the credit goes to St. Francis and St. Clare, of course, and I have posted twice about our visits to the holy city of Assisi. But while our stay in Umbria still would have been religious, it could not have been half as magical without Santa Maria degli Ancillotti. I know that sounds like a reverential name for the Blessed Mother, but in fact it is a B&B set on an ancestral family farm just over the hill from one of the world's holiest towns. The B&B's address is Sterpeto 42, Assisi, because it is on a road that winds its way through fields of maze and beans and olive trees toward what was once the hilltop village of Sterpeto. But its real locale is heaven.

How ancestral is the Ancillotti farm? There is a fully restored and functional chapel beneath the main building that has been credibly dated to 1179. If your child is getting married here, this is the ideal place for a Great Event, especially if you want to seem munificent while limiting the guest list to 30 (capacity of the main building and the five en suite apartments 200 meters up the road).

A non-Ancillotti family of five has run the place for 20 years, headed by the ringmaster, Alessio. (It's OK to call him Alex.) He and his papa and mama, his wife and his sister, do everything but make your beds. They cook and serve the scrumptious meals. In our case, they even drive out to a highway rest-stop 10 kilometers away and lead you home when you are lost and tired and ready to quit, as Katie and I were three days ago, en route from Tuscany.

I know this post amounts to a review for TripAdvisor, where in fact I have already posted a review. But I promised Alessio that I would write the truth about my experience at Santa Maria degli Ancillotti, and now I have done so.

Time to get our Rome apartment ship-shape for Marian, who arrives from Bangkok via Kuwait and the Rome aiport any minute!

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