Rent a Villa and Taste Red Wine in Umbrian Estate

Campari? Crostini? Step into my Umbrian Estate. For a personal Journey, the region has a number of beautiful, yet simple and rustic farm rentals that are available by the day or by the week. It is not exactly my olive oil estate. But it feels like mine. Because every July, when daylight stretches across the Umbrian landscape until 9:30 p.m. and the smell of fresh figs — roasted with Gorgonzola, wrapped in prosciutto, of course — wafts from the villa’s two kitchens, you can find me, glass of prosecco in hand, holding court with my friends at the top of my own little mountain.

Global recession? What global recession? If you don’t count discretionary spending, my dolce vita sojourn is cheaper than a week at many beach houses stateside. For 2,400 euros (about $3,400 at $1.42 to the euro) for the whole week, we rent the six-bedroom (each with private bathroom) Caprareccia, the simply furnished, staggeringly beautiful hilltop jewel of La Montagnola’s rental offerings.

Umbria is to Tuscany what Sonoma is to Napa — a little less trafficked, a little less touristy, a lot less money. It is dotted with historic cities and towns, from the imperious, intellectual Perugia, to the spiritual and high-minded Assisi, to the wine-lover’s paradise, Montefalco, home of sagrantino di Montefalco, one of Italy’s finest and most robust red wines.

The region also has a number of beautiful, yet simple and rustic agriturismi (farm rentals) that are available by the day or by the week. These range from rooms in farmhouses to large villas on vineyards to country house estates, like mine. They are, by and large, far less expensive than a hotel, with the added benefit of the freedom to sleep late and eat breakfast when you want, shop in the local markets for artichokes and try your hand at Italian cooking in your own kitchen. It’s a great way to play house (well, play villa) with friends.

And mine it has been. Every year, my friends and I uncover a little more of the shine of our mountain and valley and the area’s towns. Last year we discovered that the deli section in the hypermarket in San Martino has roasted pigs, which when enjoyed with a crisp Orvieto Classico on a picnic table back at our villa, can go a long way toward helping one uncover the meaning of life.

We all love our Italian host. The guys love her because, well, she’s a hot blond Italian. The girls love her because she tells us where to find the spectacular Brunello Cucinelli cashmere outlet in Solomeo, or the La Perla outlet on the road to Assisi. We also quickly try to copy her style, and glide around in tight tank tops, flowy linen palazzo pants and flat sandals.

And we love our estate’s olive oil. “Taste this one,” Vittoria said during a tasting last year.

I sipped the cup. “It tastes salty,” I said.

Vittoria sniffed, dismissively. “Yes, that one is from Croatia, so it tastes like the sea. Me, I think olive oil should taste like olives.” She handed me another small cup of olive oil, this one from La Montagnola.

I sniffed, then tasted. It was fruity and spicy, triggering every memory I have of my yearly stays on the top of my Umbrian mountain.

And yes, it tasted like olives.

A VILLA FOR A DAY

To find the agriturismi, or farm rentals, of Umbria, check rental Web sites like. Rooms are available in a wide range of prices and amenities: a simple room in a farmhouse may be as little as 250 euros a week (about $355 at $1.42 to the euro); a well-appointed villa may run 7,000 euros or more. Most of these places are self-catering, so expect to do your own grocery shopping and cooking, although some of the more upscale places can provide in-house cooks. Housekeeping arrangements vary from daily (rare) to weekly (more common).

Weekly prices for accommodations at La Montagnola range from 180 euros for a double bedroom in a farmhouse with a swimming pool and shared kitchen during low season (October to April) to 2,500 euros during August for the six-bedroom mountaintop house called Caprareccia. Vittoria Iraci Borgia’s cooking classes, at La Montagnola, are 70 euros for a half-day session, with lunch. Information on how to reserve is on the La Montagnola Web site.

The cities and towns of Umbria offer a number of dining options, from simple country trattorias to full-blown seven-course restaurants. At Il Bacco Felice, dinner for two with wine is about 100 euros. Osteria I Birbi, in Torgiano, offers about 15 kinds of steak, along with rustic soups like cannellini and mushroom. Dinner for two with wine costs about 100 euros.

To reach the Prada outlet in Montevarchi, take the Montevarchi exit from the A1 autostrada and follow the signs to “centro” and Localita Levanella. The sign on the store doesn’t say Prada; it says “Space.”

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