Two hours northeast of Rome in Umbria, past green rolling hills and vineyards that stretch for miles, the hills of Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, or Mount Sibillini National Park, begin to rise up. It’s on the western border of these mountains that the ancient town of Norcia appears, completely enclosed by 14th century medieval walls.
“I visited Norcia to do an inspection for our culinary vacation there when it was new and being developed,” Richard Davis, our Group & Incentive Travel Specialist, says. “This medieval walled city in southeast Umbria — not far from Le Marche — immediately “clicked” with my interest in history. This is the birthplace, after all, of Saint Benedict.” History continues to be alive and well in this town. For one, visitors and locals alike can travel Norcia’s narrow streets to the expansive main square, where the town’s cathedral is located, to hear the monks recite their Gregorian chants.
History, though, is far from the only reason to visit Norcia. “Here you are in foodie heaven. The holy triumvirate of sausage, cheese, and truffles prevails, topped off with the delicious lentils grown in the mountain area of the region. You walk into town and your head is immediately filled with aromas,” says Karen Herbst, founder of The International Kitchen. “Norcia is a small town, with a population of under 5,000 people. I swear I saw almost an equal number of food shops; these people were “foodies” way before the term was invented!” In fact, the sausages — and charcuterie — of the area are so well associated with the town that there’s even a term for them: norcineria.
During our cooking vacation, A Food Lover’s Paradise in Norcia, guests can experience and taste what norcineria is all about. The cooking classes are literally farm-to-table; some of the ingredients even come from Palazzo Seneca’s own garden, while other ingredients — like the lentils — hail from the surrounding mountains. Plus, when not in the kitchen, guests have the chance to explore the area, hunt for the famed black truffles with dogs, and visit local artisans, including the butcher and his pigs.
But the list of reasons to visit still doesn’t end there. During our foodie vacation, as well as our hiking and cooking trip, stay in the stunning Palazzo Seneca, which was once an Umbrian palace. The Relais & Chateaux property is owned and operated by the Bianconi family, who seriously treat all their guests like family. But they’re not the only ones. As Richard says, “The thing I love best about Norcia is the friendliness and welcoming attitude displayed by the people there. I immediately felt at home and comfortable – almost like family. And so will you! This remarkable place, little known I think on this side of the Atlantic, should most definitely be on everyone’s’ bucket list.”
By Liz Hall
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Originally published May 19, 2014.