Though ostensibly the menu was spaghetti, the real meal was their charm…
The first of many chances to break bread with Divertimento hosts Chiara of Podere Molinaccio B&B and Raffa of Poggio del Pero agriturismo, we sat at Chiara’s large kitchen table in the shadow of her BMW espresso machine, so super-sized that could rightfully also serve a busy town bar. The table was already set with a sumptuous assortment of antipasta. Raffa, who, unlike Chiara, loves to cook, was busy making the noodles al dente perfect.
You learn that they are not Umbria natives, but in some ways closer to you--- persons who arrived in Panicale and were immediately charmed by the town. In their cases so much so that they eventually moved there.
Chiara had been looking to move to Tuscany, but when she discovered Umbria’s relatively unspoiled and undiscovered beauty she switched gears.
Raffa (Raffaela), who has a commuting marriage that takes her back to Milan to see her husband and 14 year-old daughter every other week, was more purposeful in seeking out Umbria. The daughter of two farmers, she hungered for a return to agrarian life after working as a travel agent for twelve years. You learn that this is not uncommon in Italy. Farm life is seen as higher quality life to be returned to, once you have found some financial stability.
As we talked over that first dinner, “the beast” began to whine. “The beast”, as Chiara calls him, is her German Shepherd whom guests never meet, at best getting a sighting from a distance as she takes him on his walks. The name is a clue—not of the dog’s personality, but of Chiara’s “deep sense of irony”, as she calls it and which lights up the room with levity and teasing if you unleash her. A master of funny faces, she reminds of Anthony Quinn’s sidekick in La Strada.
Meanwhile, Raffa in this first meal and every one that followed seems almost stealth like in how she is ever holding up more than half the sky so darn effortlessly. She doesn’t just cook meals--she serves feasts. Her olive oil, her neighbor’s honey, the edible flowers on your strawberries—you will never find anything humdrum on any plate she has touched and yet it’s just the fare she considers every day. Then she recounts in her unflappable way how the dozen or so pre-teens she hosted on the farm the night before stayed up quite late but she was able to take them out for several hours horseback riding, though it was raining. First and foremost a woman of good cheer, you quickly learn to expect the stream of neighbors that come by through her day just to say hello.
Chiara and Raffa-- the Best Part of Panicale Tour
Good friends and both B&B hosts affiliated with the Divertimento Group, Raffa and Chiara happily accompany you on tours that they arrange. By this writer/photographer team’s lights, their company is more than half the attraction—any attraction—in the greater Panicale piece of Umbria.
In fact, when we relayed this feeling that the real charm of Italy is its people to American-born Divertimento members Tom and Colleen Simpson, they remarked that this was exactly where they were ten years ago. Caution: this feeling may require you to move to Italy.
For more information, visit:
Chiara’s Podere Molinaccio website;
Raffa’s Poggio del Pero website;
And learn more about the Divertimento Group on Picture This Post.