LIGHTS. CAMERA. ACTION!
In 1972, Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli helmed Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a dramatization of events in the lives of Saints Francis and Clair of Assisi. Part of the Academy Award-winning movie (Best Art Direction) was shot on location just outside the little hilltop village of Castelluccio di Norcia – the focus of this travel blog – in the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini (Sybilline Mountains National Park) where the Umbria and Marche regions meet in central Italy and form the “rooftop of the Apennines.”
Franco Z knows how photographic the area is, and now you will, too.
A former 13th century AD military bastion, Castelluccio does have a link going as far back as the Bronze Age with the influence of the Roman Empire somewhere in between. Today, this tiny village atop the hill has approximately 150 permanent residents.
If You sow it, They will come
It stands to reason that if people flock to the administrative seat of Norcia down below for its pork products, then those that bike, drive or ride up the 28 km (16.8 mi) winding road to the Piano Grande (Great Plain) and Castelluccio (little castle) do so for the lenticchie (lentils), the world renowned blue-ribbon standard for this tiny, but hearty, legume.
At 1,452 m (4,764 ft) above sea level, the Castellucciani cultivate the land to produce its remarkable lentils, herd sheep that graze in the abundant fields all across the Piano Grande, produce excellent pecorino (sheep) and ricotta cheeses, and enthusiastically serve, with the warmest hospitality, the visitors that reach their village for the clean, fresh mountain air and breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views.
With the vast expanse of the Piano Grande, part of the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, the entire high altitude valley becomes a marvel during the late May-June period when the ground bursts with unbelievable color as wild flowers, poppies and rapeseed collide as far as the eye can see.
It is a spectacular natural phenomenon that needs to be seen at least once in one’s lifetime and is celebrated annually at the festival of La Fioritura (The Flowering) on the third and last Sundays in June.
Jump off a Mountain or take a Snooze
There’s plenty to enjoy in the rarified air of Castelluccio. During the spring, summer and early fall, platoons of people trek up Monte Vettore, at 2,476 m (8,123 ft) high, while others jump off her peak and sides in para and hang-gliding formations down to the colorful Great Plain below.
Still others saddle up as cowboys/girls at Sibillini Ranch and enjoy leisurely horseback rides across the vast expanse. Picnicking, sunbathing and a pleasant snooze will do, too, or mountain biking, bird watching and orienteering. In wintertime, the sports minded bundle up as alpine and cross-country skiers, slip on snowshoes for a trek through the white stuff, or rev the engine on a snowmobile and go for broke. Yahooooooooo!
If heart-pumping recreation is not your forte, just relax and stretch your legs a bit as you meander along Castelluccio’s narrow pedestrian-only stone walkways and staircases admiring the quaint bedrock homes, artisan shops, local watering holes, restaurants and agriturismo (literally, agricultural tourism – farmhouse-like lodging upstairs and locally produced organic foods in the kitchen below), and walk under the 15th century AD archway and pay a visit inside Chiesa Maria Assunta (Church of the Assumption).
Come for the Views, Stay for the Food
And if you’re going to come all the way up to the Piano Grande, then you’ll want to whet your appetite and wet your whistle. And, I can recommend two places where you can do just that:
There in the parking lot sits a bright white retrofitted camper that serves the best fast food that you have ever tasted. Proprietor and grill king Romolo Coccia has been standing vigil at that spot forever and awaits your order. Try the local favorite panino allo scarafischio (grilled sausage sandwich) – mild, regular or extra spicy.
After the feast between two slices of bread, marvel at the picturesque panoramic views of the lentil fields below, scratch your head as you gaze at the oddly whitewashed graffiti emblazoned across the fronts of many of the old buildings, and take a stroll around the artisan shops just across the street and just behind Sig. Coccia’s four-wheel, four-star fast-food grill.
And don’t forget the lentils. Trust me, you’ll hate yourself if you don’t take a bag or two or three home with you.
Locanda de Senari
If, on the other hand, you’ve got all the time in the world – at least three hours – to enjoy the great bounty this little village has to offer, then just make your way up the hill to Castelluccio proper and Locanda de Senari, one of the finer kitchens in the village and a certified agriturismo. There, you’ll be treated just like family by proprietors Ulisse and Mirella Cappelli.
The menu is vast and changes regularly, depending on the availability of local stock. All dishes are home grown/home made, from the antipasto to the desserts to the complimentary digestivi (herbal cordials to aid in digesting a hearty meal). So, when in Rome, I mean Castelluccio, do as Castellucciani do: eat a lot, drink a lot, and enjoy life.
Here’s the list of savory dishes my party of eight managed to consume:
Antipasto: Large platters of assorted cold cuts and slices of young pecorino cheese.
First course: A sampler plate of Pappardelle al Cinghiale (wide flat pasta in a boar’s meat red sauce) and Chitarrine della Locanda (thin flat pasta in a pork, mushroom and truffle sauce).
Second course: Misto alla Brace – Platters of wood-fired, mixed grilled meats, including castrated mutton, lamb, veal and pork chops, sausages and pancetta (thickly sliced bacon).
Side dishes: Roasted potatoes, cooked seasonal vegetables, Insalata di Farro (soft, crunchy wheat grains mixed with tomatoes and olives) and lentil soup.
Dessert: Tiramisu, chocolate cake and Panna Cotta con Frutti di Bosco (cooked cream with fresh mixed berries).
Wine pairing: Rosso Piceno (DOC) from Ascoli Piceno – A robust deep red blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese grapes from the nearby Marche region.
Mineral Water (sparkling and flat) – Espresso Coffee – Liquore all’Alloro Digestivo (cordial made from laurel leaves)
Price per person: 28 euro (Approximately $34 USD)
For complete information on Locanda de Senari, its kitchen and room rentals – with or without semi or full board – just click on this link: www.agriturismosenari.it.
With my belly completely full, a broad smile on my face and all of my digital photo storage cards maxed out, I managed to waddle down the street to the main square, squeeze into the car and waive goodbye – at least for now – to the little village atop the hill with the big heart for the tourists from down below.
Thanks again for the tip, Franco Z.
©The Palladian Traveler