Umbria is now in the hands of a new generation who are carefully tending these ancient lands. This is the crossroads where tradition meets the future.
The untapped potential of Umbria and its tourism sector was apparent to me and my husband from the beginning of our relocation. What we didn’t realise at the time was there was so much already afoot. Honest production from genuine farmers is alive and well in Umbria and traditions have not been lost, rather they are being reborn. Umbria’s time to shine has finally arrived and it’s something to behold.
How we ended up in this majestic region is somewhat of a mystery. I’d like to think it was a sign from above, a nudge in the right direction towards our collective destiny. The year was 2018 and my dearest mother (at the age of 62) had just died from Pancreatic Cancer. I was raised in a rural town in northern Vermont, where supporting small agricultural businesses was the norm, but I’d been on the move for most of my 20’s: living in New York City, travelling across Europe, and finally laying down roots in Sydney, Australia. It wasn’t until my mom’s death that I felt worlds away from my strong Vermont roots. Little did I know, I’d find my way back to agricultural lands and small businesses soon enough, just this time, it would be in Bella Italia.
I hadn’t even heard of Umbria when Ludo said we should move there. “Where?!” I screeched. Originally from Lake Como, Ludo’s choice was not obvious, nor did it make much sense at first. Fast forward to 2020, as we sat in our newly purchased countryside Casale, my mother was all of a sudden with us again. She had brought us here, and it would now be up to us to gift these lands with our skill set, nudging Umbria towards what it deserves: the spotlight.
In Umbria, farmers used to cultivate their land solely to sustain their families. “Every family in Umbria makes their own prosciutto!” a local recently told me, and yes, it’s pretty much true. These are the real salt-of-the-earth people, where farming has always been their way of life, only now is it that outsiders are starting to take notice and the new generation is genuinely proud of their roots.
Loss made me a believer that people come into your life for a reason. One of those people I met in 2015, before he had even realised his own dream. This dream is what would later reconnect us and take him to Amsterdam, where he is now building an Umbrian-infused empire. Marco Boldrini – Sommelier, Restaurateur, and Umbrian native – grew up in his family restaurant, which just happens to be one of the most authentic establishments in Umbria (Michelin Guide agrees): Lillo Tatini in the sleepy village of Panicale, on the outskirts of Lake Trasimeno. At the ripe age of 28, Boldrini decided to take his family traditions and authentic cuisine to the Netherlands, where he now co-owns two successful restaurants based around the Umbrian table: La Maschera del Lillotatini and Momenti-Italian Cuisine, respectively.
“I lived in Umbria for 18 years of my life,” says Boldrini “[and] it took me 15 more years of travel to realise how fortunate my childhood was.” Boldrini explains: “Umbria is known worldwide as the ‘Green Heart of Italy’, a real untouched gem. It’s a place where man and nature magically melt.” Boldrini reflects “[…] when I left Umbria to spend years in London, I had the feeling that all this beauty was not supported by great marketing campaigns and good customer service skills from our touristic operators (at that time Umbria was suffering the huge fame of nearby Tuscany). Things have dramatically changed over the last decade […] great entrepreneurs understand the potential of our fantastic land.” Boldrini claims “For many decades Umbria was considered the less famous little sister of Tuscany. Now the Umbrian winemakers are producing wines of the highest quality. […] some of our Sagrantino do not fear the comparison with the legendary Brunellos […]” of neighbouring Tuscany. Boldrini continues “In the Lake Trasimeno area the wines produced using Gamay and Syrah grapes are attracting the attention of the world’s greatest wine critics. Increasingly convincing interpretations of Trebbiano Spoletino lend themselves to the combination with the Norcia truffle, another Umbrian delicacy. In the Orvieto area, sweet wines are produced, which have nothing to envy the Bordeaux icons.” Boldrini believes “Umbria will definitely be the place to be.”
So, who is going to carry the torch and give this region the love it deserves? Well, the new generation, that is: the under 40’s. They are the ones who have learned from multiple generations and now dare to take their dreams even further. They are not afraid to push boundaries nor make some noise in what was once a sleepy countryside (well, still is for that matter).
What sets Umbria apart? Authenticity. Boldrini explains “[…] the key to the international success [Umbria is] experiencing is linked to the low profile, approachable, authentic, rural and rustic experiences tourists get to live once they land [here]. Umbria is the place where the ‘Slow-Food’ way of living takes over, where ‘quality’ wins over ‘quantity’, where special moments with friends and family are always celebrated with good wine.” In a mid-pandemic world, isn’t that what we’ve all realised matters most, anyway? Umbria is intoxicating and easy to fall head over heels with – be warned: you may never want to leave.
There are countless producers and artisans throughout Umbria carrying on the humble traditions of their ancestors, yet those who value tradition without fearing modernity are the ones that will make or break Umbria’s international recognition. Innovative thoughts, ideals, and techniques are all being quietly practiced here today, it’s just still under the radar. Come to Umbria and you’ll most definitely have an authentic experience.
If you’d like to get right to the core and be a part of the future of these lands, here are some small-businesses that are very much worth your while when visiting our cherished Umbria and ones that we frequently visit year-round:
Owner and winemaker Alessandro Lanterna is making some of the most terroir-driven wines we’ve had the pleasure of tasting. He’s young and seriously dedicated to his craft. The Bettalunga line-up includes 3 local white varieties: Grechetto, Trebbiano, and Chardonnay and a Sangiovese that has the body and structure to age many years in the cellar. Lanterna is currently experimenting with a recently rediscovered indigenious black grape named ‘Grero’ (essentially Grechetto’s red sibling). On top of Lanterna’s tireless dedication to his own label, he consults for a handful of local wineries including the prestigious Reschio Estate located in northern Umbria. Mark our words – once the critics catch on, his wines will be almost impossible to find. Tastings by appointment only.
Giovanni Cenci and his partner Claudia are making what will soon be the benchmark for Umbrian Organic wines. Their style is clean, elegant, and bright with impressive structure and depth. Plus; the price is very right. If you’re new to Organic winemaking or would simply like to learn more, spend one hour with Cenci and you’ll be inspired for life. Giovanni is more than passionate about his vines and Claudia is equally ecstatic when talking about her year-round vegetable garden and wild herb knowledge. Together, they are quite the team: creating a true farm-to-table experience for any and every passerby. Tastings by appointment only.
Looking for a raw Umbrian experience? Schedule a visit with these childhood friends, Giulio and Luca, who make natural wines on Giulio’s family farm. This Umbrian-born and bred duo creates clever labels that all come with a tongue and cheek story and exciting juice for every occasion. You may even get to taste the family produce, which is as natural as it gets. We promise you’ll leave here feeling like a part of the family. Tastings by appointment only.
La Carneria Spina
This local Butcher Shop is owned and operated by local couple: Andrea and Marta. They built their brand by seeking out and supporting artisan-made products. La Carneria holds a high level of quality throughout their shop. Not only is it the place to buy salumi, meat, cheese, oil, and pasta, but they have an eclectic selection of local wines. This is a great option if you’re strapped for time, but desperate to still taste your way through the territory. Open Monday – Saturday, walk-ins welcome.
Ristorante Lillo Tatini
Raised in their family’s restaurant, siblings Marco and Bianca have now taken the reins. Yes, Marco Boldrini is making magic in Amsterdam, but sister, Bianca, manages the restaurant. Like Marco, she has impressively carved out a promising career as an expert Sommelier and their wine list is all the better for it. Lillo Tatini is the perfect blend between class and quality, without ever sacrificing authenticity. Open Tuesday – Sunday, bookings essential.
Boldrini says “I like to define Umbria as ‘a kindhearted giant’. The variety of landscapes, experiences, and products that this region provides is really impressive […]” and we couldn’t agree more. It’s been over 1 year since we first stepped foot in Umbria and my heart still skips a beat thinking of what the next 20 years will hold for our adopted region. The best part is that I know, deep in my soul, that Vero will be at the forefront of it all; giving back to these lands that have welcomed us and encouraging others to aim high. After all, we too are a part of Umbria’s youth and the future of what this region has in store.