Unlike many ancient towns, it is located in a wide plain abutting the Monti Sibillini, a subrange of the Apennines with some of its highest peaks, near the Sordo River, a small stream that eventually flows into the Nera. The town is popularly associated with the Valnerina (the valley of that river).

It is known for hunting, especially of the wild boar, and for sausages and ham made from wild boar and pork. Such products have been named after Norcia; in Italian, they are called norcineria.

St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine monastic system, and his twin sister St. Scholastica, were born here in 480. In the 8th century, an oratory was built so that pilgrims could pray at St. Benedict’s birthplace. Monks came to Norcia in the 10th century. Contemporary monks care for the Monastery of St. Benedict, built over the Roman ruins of the house of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica.

On 24 August 2016, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake and numerous strong aftershocks struck near Norcia, causing major damage to the towns in the region. The people in the town of Norcia were not injured and Norcia itself only suffered structural damage but this displaced many citizens. However, several small towns around the town received heavy damage and many buildings collapsed .

On 30 October 2016, another magnitude 6.5 earthquake rocked Norcia, causing heavy damage to the city: among others the Basilica of St. Benedict has been destroyed.

The older core of Norcia is completely enclosed by a full circuit of walls that has survived intact from the 14th century. They stood up despite many earthquakes, of which several were devastating (1763, 1859, 1979). After the earthquake of 22 August 1859, the Papal States, to which Norcia then belonged, imposed a stringent construction code forbidding structures of more than three stories and requiring the use of certain materials and building techniques.

Roman vestiges are observable throughout the city, especially in the walls of San Lorenzo, its oldest extant church. On via Umberto is a small aedicule or corner chapel, sometimes called a tempietto, with faded frescoes, painted by Vanni della Tuccia in 1354.

The main basilica is dedicated to St. Benedict and is connected to a functioning Benedictine monastery, the Monastery of St. Benedict. Though this edifice was built in the 13th century, it stood on the remains of one or more small Roman buildings, sometimes considered to have been a Roman basilica, or alternately the house in which the twin saints were born. The basilica was destroyed by the earthquake of 30 October 2016.


Hotel Palazzo Seneca

This is a Relais and Chateau Hotel with a Michelin starred restaurant. We stayed 4 nights and really enjoyed our stay here.

Norcia and the surrounding area were hit by a serious earthquake 2 years ago, and the populace are working hard to recover. The damage to the town should not deter you from coming here. In an odd way seeing the shored up churches is part of the sights. Everyone, from the marvelous and helpful hotel receptionists to the restaurant staff, goes out of their way to help you with suggestions as to what to see and do in the area.

We managed to fit in a wine tasting at a vineyard; an olive oil tasting and tour of a family owned olive oil producer; and a afternoon's truffle hunting in the hills high above Norcia. There are very interesting food shops in the town

The hotel has a spa area in the cellars, which is included in the room price (you pay extra for massages). And there are various nooks and crannies in the ground floor for you to sit, relax. chat, enjoy a cup of tea.

We ate dinner here twice. The food is, as you would expect with a Michelin star, extremely good. Although we chose the four course menu, there were in fact many more courses. I was grateful that the service was "friendly", but not over friendly. Sometimes restaurants try too hard for their star, and the service can get too stiff and formal. The chef is very proactive in coming round the tables and explaining the food and his ideas on cooking. He has had a very interesting career in Asia before returning home to Italy. He was happy to give us the recipe for some of his dishes. Norcia is the home to some exceptionally good food, and he therefore has access to top class ingredients.

The value for money is very good for a Michelin starred restaurant. We enjoyed both meals we had in this restaurant.

The breakfast uses top quality products, and has a nice view over their garden and the hills that flank Norcia. Our 4 days flew by, and I recommend this hotel to anyone looking for a base in Umbria.

Hotel Palazzo Seneca,

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The earthquake in 2016 has really devastated the town, and it will take a long time to recover. All the churches have crashed to the ground, and around half the houses are currently uninhabitable due to structural cracks. The government response so far seems confined to shoring up damaged buildings. As we understand it, repairs will start in a few months, commencing with the least damaged houses.

Many of the people are living in temporary wooden houses on the outskirts of the town and most of the shops and restaurants are still closed

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Roccaporena is known to have existed since the Middle Ages: in 1381 Saint Rita of Cascia was born here. The "Rock of St. Rita" is traditionally believed to be the place where she prayed. Roccaporena is also the site of the saint's house, dating to the 14th century, with the adjoining "Miracle Orchard", and the 13th-century church of San Montano, where St. Rita married. One of the highlights of St Rita's house is a 17th-century painting by Luca Giordano.

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Cascia was the home of Saint Rita of Cascia, who was born in the nearby frazione of Roccaporena in 1381 and died there in 1457. After her canonization in 1900, a large shrine was built in Cascia, which is still an important place of pilgrimage; and the house where she was born may still be visited. The town also is home to the frescoed 14th-century church of Sant’Antonio Abate.

Saint Rita of Cascia was a nun, who lived from 1381 until 1457: she was beatified in 1900. Respecting her father's wishes she married and did not enter an Augustine convent, as she would liked. St. Rita then lived in continual terror of her husband for 18 years. Her exemplary life induced even her husband to convert. Her life had a tragic end; she died in mysterious circumstances. This Saint, who is known to grant wishes, is venerated all over the world and many pilgrims undertake the journey to the Sanctuary of Saint Rita which has been dedicated to her memory.

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The commune of Montefalco and a small area of the commune of Bevagna constitute the regulated geographical area for Montefalco wines. Every year around Easter, the town sponsors a major festival called Settimana Enologica — or Wine Week — where visitors can enjoy the principal wines produced in the area including the comparatively simple red table wine, Montefalco Rosso, the more complex DOCG red wines Sagrantino, for which the area is famous, and the Montefalco Sagrantino secco.

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Wine Tasting at Arnaldo Caprai

I enjoyed our visit here, when we eventually found the place. Our GPS was out by 400 metres and it took a good 30 minutes to find it, and only then after a very kind local lady showed us the way by getting me to follow her car. Once there it was blindingly obvious.. They have a modern and well thought out tasting facility, where we sampled their wines and a plate of antipasto

The family operation began in 1971 when textiles entrepreneur Arnaldo Caprai purchased 12.5 acres in Montefalco. In 1988, management passed on to Arnaldo’s son, Marco, who launched a project to cultivate the promotion of the native grape of Montefalco, Sagrantino — increasing the estate’s premium wine production program and building brand recognition around the globe. Marco’s determination led directly to new acquisitions, scientific research and technological innovation. Today, the Arnaldo Caprai estate encompasses 370 acres — 220 of which are currently in production — surrounding the villages of Montefalco, Gualdo Cattaneo and Bevagna, and produces Montefalco DOC and Grechetto dei Colli Martani DOC as well as Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG.

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Olive Oil Tasting near Trevi

With a bit of difficulty we found this Olive Oil producer, who had been recommended by the hotel. GPS was again a few hundred yards out. But once we found it, it was quite fascinating. The owner, a well educated Italian was the 4th or 5th generation of his family to run the business. He explained the process to us, and gave us some toast and olive oil to try the product.

Antico Frantoio Carletti, one of the first mills in Campello Sul Clitunno, has been producing extra virgin olive oil since the second half of the 17th century. The Carletti family owns olive trees in the hills of Assisi, Foligno and Spoleto where the olive tree is the dominant feature of the landscape. The company produces oil through the ancient techniques of harvesting and milling olives that have been handed down from generation to generation, by selecting the best fruit to ensure high quality.

The olive oil extraction is carried out through two Sardinian granite millstones, two hydraulic presses and the separator. Such a process results in a "First cold pressing" extra virgin olive oil, whose temperatures do not exceed those of the surrounding environment. Once the olives have been crushed, the remaining olive pulp is collected and kept in motion by a machine called “gramola”, which then distributes it onto circular diaphragms called "pressing mats". The diaphragms are placed one above the other until they complete a column, which will be then inserted inside the press. The vegetation water and the resulting olive oil are divided by the separator. The oil does is not subjected to any process of artificial filtering so it is naturally decanted.

The yield of the olives varies, from a minimum of about 8-9 kg of extra virgin olive oil per 100 kg of olives pressed to a maximum of 20-22 kg of extra virgin olive oil per 100 kilograms of olives. The variations are due to several factors: the exposure of the olive trees to sun, the water availability during the growing season and the time of collection. Finally the oil is stored inside stainless steel containers which reduce the risk of oxidization. Bottling is also done inside the mill.

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The mainstays of Trevi's economy are olive oil and tourism. The comune of Trevi is known for the quality of its oil, a result of near-ideal calcareous soil with excellent drainage, just the right altitude for the cultivation of olive trees, and favourable climatic conditions on the west-facing lower slopes of the Apennine mountain range.

Trevi's good train and highway access has made the town the most convenient base for visiting central Umbria for those who rely on public transportation; the unusual number of good restaurants in the commune is partly the cause, partly the result, of increased tourism.

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Truffle Hunting

A truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus,one of the many species of the genus Tuber. Truffles are ectomycorrhizal fungi and are therefore usually found in close association with tree roots. Spore dispersal is accomplished through fungivores, animals that eat fungi.

Our truffle hunt necessitated us driving in a jeep for half an hour up into the mountains surrounding Norcia. Then decanting ourselves one by one up a narrow, steep track in a 4*4, to the truffle grounds. Apparently it is difficult to cultivate truffles artificially, and most truffles come from open moorland, where they are found by trained dogs. Each truffle hunter has a licence, and that entitles him to work a particular stretch of the mountainside. Two trained dogs accompany the truffle hunter.

The dogs are let loose and bound off to try to smell truffles. We were out of season, so there were not to many for the finding - but our man did find 2 black truffles at about 20 grams each - they were worth 25 euros each - plus a couple of white truffles which were not worth much), Chris decided, due to the enthusiasm of the dogs and the steepness of the hillside, that discretion was the better part of valour, and she stayed in the jeep and observed from afar.

When the dogs found a truffle, it would be only an inch or two below the surface. The dogs got excited and started to dig with their paws. The truffle hunter then would intervene, and pull the dogs back, so that he could safely extract the truffle with his little pick axe. The black truffles had a rich deep smell and one could see why they were used in cooking

It was a cold day in the mountains and we walked among trees coated with snow. I enjoyed the experience, and at least I know about truffles now, and how they find them.

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We then headed north for a couple of hours to Perugia for our next hotel.

On to Perugia

Italy 2018