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Travel Weekly

The hotel's restaurant, Redibis, occupies the ruins of a 8,000-seat Roman-era amphitheater
Heavenly stays: Garden of the Angels inn offers taste unspoiled Umbria

By Johanna Jainchill

The train from Florence to points southwest was packed with the usual mishmash of Americans, both backpackers and guidebook-clutching families quieting their rambunctious kids with portable video games. But the first indication that my destination, Italy's Umbria region, was different was that I was the only English speaker still onboard whwn the train arrived at the small town of Foligno two hours later.
Umbria won't stay undiscovered forever, but for now, Italians often refer to the region as the "Italian Tuscany". It's a snide reference to the overrun, tourist-ridden region to the north that has historically overshadowed Umbria, but also a nod to the rolling hills, magnificent vistas, and fine wine and cuisine that define both provinces.
Traditions die hard in these ancient corners of Italy. That bodes well for tourists looking for an Italy that locals don't flee come summertime, and where local menus will reflect what was recently harvested in the nearby hills, whether it be wine, olive oil, or a block of prosciutto. Even the bottled water on every table is lokely to be from a local spring.
L'Orto degli Angeli is a family-run hotel in Bevagna, one of many high-walled, medieval villages that dot the Umbrian hillside. Italian for the "Garden of the Angels", L'Orto degli Angeli was built from a combined 17th century mansion and the remains of a 1st century Roman temple and amphitheater.

Heaven on earth
The property, situated by the main gate into Bevagna, il built into the labyrinth of this medieval town, where few cars are permitted to enter. Proprietor Francesco Antonini is a dignified Umbrian whose family has been on the property since 1788. He and his wife, Tiziana, converted the former mansion into a nine-room hotel in 1996 and recently renovated the former Roman temple area into five more rooms with a completely different character.
The nine rooms of the mansion were all restored with original fitting s. Every piece of furniture, painting and decoration seems to have a story that Antonini call tell. Black-&-white photos of his family on the property go back to the turn of the 19th century. Original frescoes decorate the ceiling of the large common sitting area.
Many rooms overlook the hotel's namesake garden. A grand stone staircase leads from the mansion to the grassy clearing between the temple and mansion, defined by a wisteria-covered trestle and presided over by the arches of the temple walls, where the five new suites were built.
The newest rooms respect the character of the ancient Roman ruins whiled tastefully incorporating modern design and comforts. A centuries-old grain dispenser serves as a closet in one suite. The striking bathroom design in all the suites builds contemporary fixtures and stylish granite tubs into the ruins of the ancient temple walls.
Sunlight pours from skylights over antique wooden beams of the vaulted ceilings. The expansive living rooms have enormous fireplaces. Windows look over the terracotta rooftops and alleys of Bevagna, as well as the vineyards and olive groves of the Umbrian countryside.
The hotel exudes warmth typical of the region, whwrw locals are hospitable and everyone seems to know each other. The Antoninis are always around and are quick to make suggestion of nearby places to go, sending guests to regional restaurants equipped with the owner's first name.
Bevagna is a 10-minute drive from the Foligno train station and a short ride from many nearby villages, vineyards and olive groves. Because few cars can enter many walled Umbrian towns, the winding alley-ways can feel like living museums of the ancient Roman Empire.
In Bevagna itself, bakeries, butchers, gelaterias (ice cream parlors) and espresso bars are tucked into connecting stone buildings. Walkways are speckled with local sipping espressos at outdoor tables that are adorned with cororful flowers.

Garden of eating
Dinner in the hotel's adjoining restaurant is a must. Named Redibis, wich is Latin for "Return", the eatery is built into the ruins of the ancient Roman-era amphitheatre. Guests literally sit in an arched section of a cloister of whwt was once the massive 1st century Mevania Theater.
It is hard to not mesmerized while dining in the lower part of an 8,000-person mini-Colosseum, with a 15th century fireplace. But the excellent fare would distract anyone from any ambiance.
Chef Filippo Artioli created a manu thet, like the hotel, incorporates the new with the traditional, creating Umbrian dishes with tribute to the location's 2,000-year-old history in what Antonini calls the ‘new Umbrian kitchen'.
Artioli's regional menu is heavy on local Umbrian specialities, meaning meats grilled over olive and juniper wood, hand-rolled pastas, any locally harvested vegetables and fruits, and local wines and prosecco.
The hotel offers cooking classes with Artioli, who will work with only two to three people at time to offer a hands-on-lesson, for $ 75 per person. Local wine is provided during cooking.
Autumn and spring are excellent times to be in Umbria, when the local planting or harvest is in full swing. Tours of vineyards and olive groves are highly recommended and can be arranged through the hotel.
One harvest tour the property offers combines a stay at the hotel with a trip to the Pandolfi Estate, where Marco Pandolfi's family has been making olive oil since 1630. Visitors take part in the olive-picking process, watch olives be milled into oils and then taste the oil made from the fruits they picked.
The hotel also arranges trips to local vineyards. A local estate of bottler Arnaldo Caprai is run by Arnaldo's son Marco Caprai, who has preserved his family's wine-making tradition while experimenting with indigenous grape varieties and producing some of the regions' most well-known varieties. Tours of the estate and tastings of local Umbrian wines and cheeses are available throughout the year.
Accomodations range from $250 to $400 per night. For more information on the hotel and tours of Umbria, visit www.ortoangeli.com and www.arnaldocaprai.com.

 

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