A retreat in Umbria, heart of Italy
Situated in western Umbria, Cantagallina lies close to the Tuscan border between Castiglione del Lago, on a promontory in Lake Trasimeno, and Chiusi, the Etruscan centre known by the Romans as Clusium.
The Italians, or at least their tourist writers, call Umbria ‘the green heart of Italy’, and it is. It is somewhat less visited than Tuscany, but equally full of beautiful hill towns, large and small, Roman and Etruscan sites, wonderful examples of Renaissance art, great food and wine.
A brief history
There has been a settlement at Cantagallina since at least the 16th century (the village appears on one of the maps in the Vatican museum’s Gallery of Maps). The house overlooks Lake Trasimeno a few kilometres away, where Hannibal and at least one elephant fought and defeated the Romans in 217 BC. More recently, this area was one of the lines defended by the Germans in the Allied advance through the Italian peninsula in 1944. Not much of this is immediately apparent from the hamlet, but the perfectly straight roads from Chiusi towards Montepulciano and Fabro were probably first laid out by the Romans and a visit to La Foce (30 minutes away) will give a vivid idea of life in the area as the German army retreated.
The main north-south railway line and motorway (the A1) stop in Chiusi, where it is possible to hire a car. The nearest airport is Perugia (50 minutes), which has flights 5 days a week from Stansted, or Rome and Florence airports (around 2 hours away) with more frequent daily flights. From Fiumicino Airport there are trains to the central railway stations in Rome or from Ciampino in Rome or Florence airport there are taxis or buses to the train stations for reasonably frequent trains to Chiusi (about 1 hour 50 minutes). All airports have a range of car hire options, though Ciampino and Florence airports require a short airport bus ride from the terminal to the car hire offices.
The nearest village is Villastrada, walkable in about 20 minutes, with a small, very well-stocked supermarket and a caf’ that serves excellent pizzas in the evenings on a vine-covered terrace across the road.
There are two good circuits for runs or walks from the house through Cantagallina Alta then either through Villastrada or Caiaoncola and back to the house.
Within 30 minutes: Forts, lake-side beaches and frescos
Within 45 minutes: World-famous wine and spectacular cathedrals
Within 60 minutes: Major provincal towns packed with culture
Within 75 minutes: One of the world’s greatest public spaces
Further away: Rome? Florence? It’s up to you.
We are in the middle of farms, not woodland, so we don’t get things like wild boar, but there are many birds, including occasional Hoopoes and plentiful swifts and (very small, not scary) bats that swoop over the pool looking for insects in the evenings. One of the islands on Lake Trasimeno is a bird sanctuary.
We have fireflies in June, which is like having Tinkerbell flitting around the garden, and in the summer small lizards that are quite entertaining to watch. Some years we’ve had one or two toads and last year we had a family of hedgehogs living near the table where we spend most of our time in the summer.
We are reliably told that there are more species of butterflies around our house and nearby than in the whole of the south-east of England.. In early August there are shooting stars, as the Earth passes near the Perseid meteor shower (the Night of San Lorenzo, a saint who was martyred on a grid over an open fire).