The Little Village Atop the Hill
Story and photos by Tom Weber
Lights. Camera. Action!
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 article - in the
Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini (Sybilline Mountains National
Park) where Italy's Umbria
and Marche regions meet in the central part of the country. 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 highly-prized 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
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
festival of La Fioritura (The Flowering Festival) 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),
walk through 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:
Panino allo Scarafischio
Bikers, trekkers, gliders and skiers in a hurry need
only pause for a moment, or two, in the main square just below Castelluccio
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 front 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 daily, 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 the hearty meal just consumed).
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
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-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: 30 euro (Approximately $36
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.
of Circeo, Italy; Piovene
Rocchette, Italy; Northern