We were traveling to the Niccone Valley on the Tuscany/Umbria border in central Italy to celebrate my husband's aunt, Andrea's 75th birthday. Andrea is an inspiring architect, professor, mentor, and maternal figure to her niece and nephews—our kids call her "Grandandy." To celebrate her birthday, Andrea invited her family and friends to vacation with her at a mountain-top villa in Umbria. I've known her exactly half of my life and she has been a constant professional and personal inspiration and aesthetic kindred spirit.
Getting here was not easy. After a couple of plane rides, a slow local train ride, a rental car ride (all during a Europe-wide heat wave named "Lucifer") we came to this stone country house on top of an ancient hillside. I knew that we would be in for a treat—architects know how to pick beautiful vacation locales but the stunning beauty of this spot couldn't have been anticipated. This house is one of three stone structures that were restored twenty years ago to create Altabella Villas. Here are the photos of the house before the kid-wreck ;)
One day, we arranged a tour of Azienda Apistic Montecorona, an apiary (bee farm) that our house hostess told us about in nearby Umbertide. Señor Palombi is a retired science teacher and 4th generation beekeeper. His tour (entirely in Italian) was a big hit with the kids despite the language barrier. My bet is that S. Palombi was an amazing teacher in his day.
On market day, we made a day trip to the town of Gubbio to do some shopping, eat, and explore this medieval town built into the mountainside. I can't recommend Gubbio in the middle of a heatwave, but seeking AC (if you can find it) and gelato helps! I would love to come back in cooler temperatures. Gubbio is home to the "Festa die Ceri" and "Corsa die Ceri" in May—a packed, uphill, "strongman" race of giant wooden "candles." watch it here!
Our days were filled with lazy lunches, afternoon swims, and outdoor sunset dinners that were followed by stargazing (and a wild boar sighting one night!). Driving along the Niccone Valley, weaving in and out of Tuscany and Umbria, we passed by sunflower and tobacco fields, fruit orchards, micro-vineyards and olive groves tumbling off hillsides. On our first day in Umbria we already knew we would be back.