Situated in western Umbria, Cantagallina lies close to the Tuscan border between Castiglione del Lago, on a promontory in Lake Trasimeno, and Chiusi, the Etruscan centre known by the Romans as Clusium.
The Italians, or at least their tourist writers, call Umbria ‘the green heart of Italy’, and it is. It is somewhat less visited than Tuscany, but equally full of beautiful hill towns, large and small, Roman and Etruscan sites, wonderful examples of Renaissance art, great food and wine.
There has been a settlement at Cantagallina since at least the 16th century (the village appears on one of the maps in the Vatican museum’s Gallery of Maps). The house overlooks Lake Trasimeno a few kilometres away, where Hannibal and at least one elephant fought and defeated the Romans in 217 BC. More recently, this area was one of the lines defended by the Germans in the Allied advance through the Italian peninsula in 1944. Not much of this is immediately apparent from the hamlet, but the perfectly straight roads from Chiusi towards Montepulciano and Fabro were probably first laid out by the Romans and a visit to La Foce (30 minutes away) will give a vivid idea of life in the area as the German army retreated.
The main north-south railway line and motorway (the A1) stop in Chiusi, where it is possible to hire a car. The nearest airport is Perugia (50 minutes), which has flights 5 days a week from Stansted, or Rome and Florence airports (around 2 hours away) with more frequent daily flights. From Fiumicino Airport there are trains to the central railway stations in Rome or from Ciampino in Rome or Florence airport there are taxis or buses to the train stations for reasonably frequent trains to Chiusi (about 1 hour 50 minutes). All airports have a range of car hire options, though Ciampino and Florence airports require a short airport bus ride from the terminal to the car hire offices.
The nearest village is Villastrada, walkable in about 20 minutes, with a small, very well-stocked supermarket and a café that serves excellent pizzas in the evenings on a vine-covered terrace across the road.
There are two good circuits for runs or walks from the house through Cantagallina Alta then either through Villastrada or Caiaoncola and back to the house.
Chiusi and Castiglione are the nearest centres, with several supermarkets, banks, a hospital with A&E and plenty of restaurants and cafes.
Set on a promontory in the lake. The main tourist attraction is a fort with a walk around the ramparts overlooking the lake, and a palazzo with some decent art. There is outdoor cinema in the summer; weekly screenings in English, othwerwise dubbed. Also occasional concerts. There is a beach/lido by the lake, with pedalos, a playground and mini-golf. There are a couple of good specialist food shops, one selling delicious ravioli, and a very quirky, magnificent café that does excellent cakes and pastries.
An Etruscan town. The new town near the station is not up to a vast amount, though that is where the weekly market is held on Mondays, but the old town on the hill is pretty and not much visited. The Etruscan museum is exceptional and there are tours of a few tombs on the outskirts of the town as well as of the Etruscan underground water collection system (sounds unlikely, but it is very interesting).
The towers are visible on the crest of the hills opposite the house. There are good Perugino frescoes, a festival in the summer involving medieval costumes, quite good gelati and a couple of good restaurants.
Lovely main square with cafes and restaurants or have a meal on the terrace of Masolino overlooking the countryside. The tourist office arranges tours of a private theatre (18th Cent), the lace museum and a wonderful, huge Perugino fresco of St Sebastian in a now deconsecrated church. The view from the pavement outside the church is the same as the background of the painting.
No particular sites, but a lovely town to wander around, with good restaurants and cafes to stop and absorb the scene.
A steep hill town, centre of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. There are wine shops in the town, but it is now also possible to arrange tours of some vineyards. The barn-like cathedral has some early masterpieces. Have coffee on the terrace of Café Poliziano, a local landmark since the thirties. Opposite is a good leather shop.
On the lake facing west. Spectacular views at sunset from a small park which has a bar and table football. Opposite the park is a very good gelateria and a ceramics shop that spills out onto the pavement. There are a some good restaurants on the road that runs alongside the lake. Further around is a beach, a favourite of some young (below 10) local friends.
Spectacular cathedral (Giotto frescoes on one level and Cimabue, Simone Martini below). Good to climb up through the town. There are more Franciscan sites in the hills nearby.
Good shops and restaurants (including our favourite winebar), great to wander randomly around the side streets. The Dioscesan Museum has a collection of Signorellis and a beautiful altarpiece of the Annunciation by Fra Angelico.
The centre of Pienza was designed by Pope Pius II as a perfect expression of the Renaissance. Still pretty, though a little touristy, with great views across the Val D’Orcia (designated a World Heritage Site in 1996).
La Foce was built in the 15th century as an inn for pilgrims en route to Rome. It was bought in the 1920s by Count Origo and his wife, Iris, a wealthy American-British -Irish woman who commissioned Cecil Pinsent to design the gardens. Iris Origo is the author of several books, including the exceptional ‘War in the Val d’Orcia.’ There is a classical music festival in late July organized by the husband of the Origo’s grand-daughter.
The largest town in the province- with several medieval sections intact. If you park in the Piazza Partigiana, the route to the centre of the town is via escalators through the ancient foundations. There are other places too which link to the centre in this way.There is a world-class art gallery, extensive shopping and restaurants. The tourist office has pamphlets of suggested walks around the town. There is a jazz festival in July and the centre of the town hosts an annual chocolate ‘festival’ in October.
A spellbinding cathedral façade with a jumble of religious and pagan sculptures twirling, tumbling and snaking around the portals and rich colours offsetting the black and white bands. There is also a cathedral museum with an eclectic array of paintings, statues, tapestries and the like – under-visited. There is also a famous well – with a double staircase.
Many good restaurants and shops.
In Tuscany, another major provincial centre. Above all it’s worth going just to see the cycle of Piero della Francesca frescoes in the church of San Francesco. Also good shopping, including a monthly antiques fair in the main square (our wooden statue of San Paolo was bought there).
Unmissable. The Campo, the main piazza shaped like a scallop shell, is one of the world’s greatest public spaces. This is the location of the Palio, a horse race between the city’s districts (contrade), on July 2nd and August 16th and the celebrations around those events are fun to see (lots of chanting, drum-beating and flag-throwing).
Rome and Florence are easy to get to by car or train. There are many, many more small towns that make very enjoyable outings (Montefalco, Spello, Gubbio, Bevagna, Montalcino). There are more extensive suggestions, including recommendations for restaurants, gelaterie and cafes, in the house notes and plenty of guide books on the shelves.
It just depends on your interests and energy levels and the competing attractions of the pool…
We are in the middle of farms, not woodland, so we don’t get things like wild boar, but there are many birds, including occasional Hoopoes and plentiful swifts and (very small, not scary) bats that swoop over the pool looking for insects in the evenings. One of the islands on Lake Trasimeno is a bird sanctuary.
We have fireflies in June, which is like having Tinkerbell flitting around the garden, and in the summer small lizards that are quite entertaining to watch. Some years we’ve had one or two toads and last year we had a family of hedgehogs living near the table where we spend most of our time in the summer.
We are reliably told that there are more species of butterflies around our house and nearby than in the whole of the south-east of England.. In early August there are shooting stars, as the Earth passes near the Perseid meteor shower (the Night of San Lorenzo, a saint who was martyred on a grid over an open fire).