Living With An Italian Artist in Umbria.

Umbria Italy

I travel to discover schools of life that feature in no textbooks.

On a warm spring day, I woke up to the rustling of olive trees and what sounded like Italian jazz. The delicate aroma of fine coffee wafted into my room, and blended into the warm smell of ceramics. From behind the wood and glass door, with garden tools in one hand and a cigar in the other, buongiorno chimed Enrico, and invited me to a breakfast of wood-fired hot bread, olive oil from his olive groves, fresh fruits from the garden and strawberry cake made with stone-ground flour!

Thus began my rendezvous with the dreamy countryside of Umbria – and a lesson in the Italian way of life.

Italian people, Italian way of life, Italian culture
My host Enrico in his studio.

We broke the ice in broken Italian, English, Spanish and the common love of good food, and I soon figured that we were on somewhat similar life paths: Enrico was a painter by passion, but decided to keep his 9-to-5 job to pay the bills; I had quit a 9-to-5 job to try to make my passion pay the bills. I journeyed through his vivid imagination in painted portraits, and through Umbria’s quaint, old, walled villages in his words – though admittedly some were lost in translation.

I was filled with the urge to experience Umbria’s charm first hand, but the trouble was, his home was deep on the countryside, his wife was out of town, he needed to get to office, I couldn’t drive a car, and buses did the rounds only in the dreaded early hours of the morning. We’ll figure it out, Enrico promised as he drove away.

That first morning, I wandered the nearby streets, sampling panini and coffee at a little coffee shop, living out the Italian phrase meriggiare – escaping the mid day sun in the shade, in my case, a meadow bursting with red spring colors.

Read: Every Season is Italy Season: What to Love Year-Round in Italy

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The Umbrian countryside.

By the time I got home, a shiny sporty bicycle was waiting outside my door; Enrico had driven to his brother’s place to borrow his nephew’s bike so I could discover Umbria at my own pace!

Along rolling plains covered in old olive groves, through sleepy Italian villages with tiled-roof houses, past fields blooming with red poppies and wildflowers, I rode my bike with the glee of a little girl. But as I neared the famed walled town of Todi, the road went treacherously and endlessly uphill, sapping my energy; nods of encouragement from drivers of passing cars were the only reason I trudged on.

Entering those walled gates was sweet victory – locals hanging out on cobblestoned streets, stone houses dating back to the 1200s, panoramic views of the River Tiber. That ‘a place that time forgot feeling’ was just what I had hoped to find in Umbria.

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The tiled-roof homes of Umbria.
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Riding in the wilderness.
Todi umbria, Italian way of life, Italy culture
The narrow stone-walled lanes of Todi.

My superior sense of direction always leads me to unanticipated adventures, and so it was in Umbria. I missed the only important turn on the way back, and found myself amid scenic albeit tiring vistas of aging vineyards in the backdrop of gentle hills. It was late afternoon by the time I realized I was off track, and took another twenty minutes of huffing along till I found a lone soul – a door-to-door seller of old books (or so I understood) – who chided me for getting lost, but seemed to melt upon hearing I was from India, a country he loved, and cycled almost 5 km by my side to show me a shortcut to my original route.

Read: Why You Need to Revisit Rome and Venice in 2016

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That lost in time feeling in Umbria.

Back home, more coffee and plans were brewing. Even before I could confess my love for life in Todi, Enrico invited me to a lazy Sunday brunch in the traditional stone home of his amigos; an old stone oven was fired up for pizza, we sat around feasting and chatting in the sunny garden like old friends, and afterward, almost as though the air had suddenly turned drowsy, everyone (yours truly included) fell into a brief but deep slumber! I woke up vowing to make Italian siestas part of my daily life.

Read: Will 2016 be the Year of Travel?

Umbria, Italian way of life, Italian culture, Italian traditions
The 100-year-old stone home of my new friends.
Italian people, Italian culture, Umbria Italy
Eat like the Italians!
Umbria food, stone oven pizza, Italian food, Italian culture
Stone-oven pizzas be cookin’.
Italian culture, Italian way of life, Umbria italy
Baked focaccia pizza, ready to be devoured.

More bread was baked, more stories swapped, introduction to Enrico’s lovely wife on Skype, a neighborhood gathering of “young communists” crashed with his daughters, cycling trails that dropped me off the map, a dinner invitation to Perugia’s best pizza with his friends visiting from Rome… and all too soon, it was time to say ciao to this new life that I had begun to think of as my own, amazed by the way Enrico had single-handedly transformed Italy from being all about the food to being all about the people for me.

With his paintbrush in one hand and a cigar in the other, a presto he chimed. See you soon.

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That Italy feeling.

What would be your dream trip to Italy?

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  1. Hey, this is such a coincidence. I was looking for airbnbs in Umbria yesterday ‘coz you had mentioned it and saw this air bnb and was thinking, “Wow, that looks nice, I should stay there.” and it turns out that you stayed here. Now I’m definitely staying there. Thanks a lot:)

  2. Your way of travelling is so unique and so close to my heart ! feel the place, culture and people ! 🙂 Awesome is small word ! keep it up ! 😀

    1. Glad to hear that Jay; hope our tribe grows, for I think the culture and people are what a place is really about 🙂

  3. Pragya Dwivedi says:

    You have a cool writing style and a perfect choice of words shivya!

    1. Thanks Pragya! Italy inspired those words so this wasn’t hard to pen 🙂

  4. The way you narrate story of your journey, feels like a i was there with you on the trip to umbria.
    Awesome journey , Keep It Up.

    1. Glad to hear that Rahul! Hope you get to experience Umbria in person soon.

    1. Thanks, and haha, Italy has plenty of new words (and hence lifestyles) to teach 😉

  5. And this is so beautiful! Thanks for bringing the story alive

    1. Thanks for reading, glad you found it beautiful. It’s hard to bring Italy alive, but I tried!

    1. That’s been on my mind too, need to free up time to explore that 😉

  6. sukanya malakar says:

    Lovely piece of writing mam. Italy must be best described by u and also Enrico. 🙂

  7. Thing Together says:

    Hey Shivya,

    Splendid, loved how you described a day full of charming views and the fortunate acquaintances. Umbria is pretty close to where we stay and we would love to visit that place and document some parts on our blog too. Living with a local has some great benefits 🙂

    1. Staying with a local really does change your perspective of a place. Everything I’ve described was over a week, and I think spending a fair bit of time helped me make a better connection with Umbria. Hope you get to visit soon 🙂

  8. You are one blessed soul Shivya… The more I read from your blog, the more I envy you. Each location you write about finds a place in my bucket list…. With a 9-5 job and a family to cater to, its not so easy for me to travel like you but I hope I ll be able to cover at least a few places..

  9. Hey Shivya,

    Amazing post and pictures I love them. You are a remarkable writer. Describing each and every thing very nicely.

  10. We get attached to a place when we start liking its people! Loved reading this one! 🙂

  11. “On a warm spring day, I woke up to the rustling of olive trees and what sounded like Italian jazz. The delicate aroma of fine coffee wafted into my room, and blended into the warm smell of ceramics.” That is a perfect start to a great day. Your narrative style is unique and sometimes i do ape it :). Glad i fell sick today so i could gather some time to go through the beautiful post in your blog. As usual lovely pics and great piece of writing. Think of a copyright watermark on your clicks 🙂

  12. Beautiful post and clicks. Keep sharing 🙂

  13. You put efforts to reply the comments, glad to see that, i saw your ted talk yesterday and read your blog today. amazing writing

    i would love to get some tipson writing and travelling, if you could get some free time from your beautiful nomadic life

  14. Loved this article… The house of the artist reminded me on the Bollywood movie- Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara…
    It’s my dream to live a few days like this and I lived a little party of that dream through your blogpost

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