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Gubbio in the month of April

Another couple on the road traveling in classic style.

Take two winter-weary adults and a feisty westie and what do you have? Aside from three compatible road companions, you've got a setting where the urgent yen for dining and hiking prompts the travelin' trio on a sightseeing tour of Italy's central and southern regions. Since April 25th and May 1st were holidays in close proximity, we turned them into one extended week to visit Umbria, Abruzzo and Molise. With the weather being ideal spring conditions (wonderfully sunny, with just a slight nip to the air), all that was required were light pieces of clothing enabling us to layer like an onion. Packed to the gills with hiking gear, a plug-in refrigerated cooler for the goodies, and our Slow Food guidebook, we set off for the place where St. Francis befriended the big bad wolf.

Focusing on the highlights for each region, I'll be covering a slew of topics within the next two weeks. Umbria is breathtakingly gorgeous. Abruzzo is dramatically stunning from a hiker's point of view. And Molise - well, destined to be a mere day trip - turned into a shopping expedition of unique regional products and marvelous cheese. Here's just a teaser of what's to come:

That nasty wolf had exquisite taste . . .The post on lupini may have stirred up memories for many, but it was the legendary Taverna del Lupo that fueled even more interest upon reading Frommer's review of this restaurant in Gubbio. We're talking truffles - on just about everything.

Walking the path of the "Ceri". . .Weighing nearly 900 lbs each, the ceri are tall wooden ‘candles’. With a saint's statue affixed to the top, three ceri are hefted and carried on a race to the top of the mountain. Tracing the path of this annual event, Maddie becomes the unsuspecting video star of a group of japanese tourists.

A sagra of wild asparagus . . .At this time of year, asparagi selvatici grows profusely among the verdant green hillsides of Umbria. We saw bushes and bushes of them, but nary a slender stalk in sight. Quickly harvested by the locals, the wild asparagus plays protaganist in a week-long sagra not far from Perugia.

Flying higher than the falcons . . .It wasn't enough to simply eat at the wolf's tavern - we had to hike up to the Wolf's Pass as well. A 4-hour hike turned into a 5½ hour trek as we heaved our way to the top, ultimately granting us a bird's-eye view of predatory wings soaring through vast spaces below.

A saint slithering with snakes . . .The girl at the T.I. office estimated that there were around 25,000 visitors to this cult-like event. That many onlookers from all corners of the globe in a tiny town of just over 300 inhabitants? Despite the huge crowds, it was preferable than being in the middle of say... an equal amount of snakes?

Hiking in an abruzzese natural reserve . . .In my mind I can still smell the heady scent of dry scrub and brush that somehow survive the harsh conditions of Abruzzo's rocky mountain outcrops. Dainty blossoms everywhere, and being a fledgling gardener myself, it was nirvana to stop and smell the flowers.

The best little pastry shop in Guardiagrele . . .Is a MUST if you are anywhere in the province of Chieti (Abruzzo). I tried to duplicate the famous "sise delle monache" some months ago, but ended up doubting my results. I'm glad for that, because getting my hands on the real thing was worth the wait!

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