Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Goodbye Foligno - a few best bits

Over the past month and a bit, I have become pretty well acquainted with the little ancient town of Foligno, Perugia. I rarely returned directly home after dropping off the little girl at school, most mornings I'd detour off piste to explore another little cobbled street or coffee stop. Consequently, I started to build up a little mental list of a few of my favourite places. Foligno isn't particularly well known on the tourist circuit but, in my opinion, it's got a few hidden gems. The outskirts are mostly newbuilds, but the ancient centre is really beautiful and definitely worth a day trip - you can get a great view of the roof tops and church domes from the top of Via Gentile da Foligno (at the intersection with the larger Viale IV Novembre). Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza San Domenico are both beautiful squares and, as the oldest church in Foligno, I'd definitely recommend popping into the church of Saint Maria Infraportas in the second of these two squares.

In case you ever get the chance to visit, I've written down my mental list of my favourite haunts:

Bread and pastries: Forno Pizzoni
Largo Volontari Del Sangue 6, Foligno, Perugia

Not only the oldest bakery in Foligno, but also, in my opinion, the absolute best. Still run by the same family, incredible breads, pastries and pizzas are all made on site - the baking process starts at 9pm the night before! I came in almost every day to buy bread for the family, and occasionally stopped a little longer to take a coffee and a pastry (their cappuccino was also one of the best I had during my time in Italy). Every time they were happy to stop and chat and explain a new pastry they'd served up that day - even with my shaky Italian. With an equally tempting array of savoury treats, you could certainly also pop by to get something to take away for a picnic lunch. Easily favourite place in all of Foligno.

Aperivo: L'Ocabarocca
Rione Spada 30 (at the intersection with Via Maurizo Quadro), Foligno, Perugia

Do not expect 24/7 opening hours from this little wine bar. The opening hours are both vague and erratic, but I absolutely urge you to have a bit of time flexibility as you will be rewarded. Such odd hours are due to the fact that, for the owners, this isn't their sole employment. Flavio and his wife both work during the day, this is just an avenue to follow their passion when they can (most evenings and some daytimes). And boy do they have passion for their little bar. With nothing planned one night I spent a good couple of hours here, tasting meats, wines and cheeses, all accompanied by Flavio's endless product knowledge. The walls are also stocked with fascinating teas and spices - all of which Flavio will eagerly explain and uncover to let you have a smell. His spiced hot chocolate is something of a speciality, topped with a fine grating of the allusive Tonka bean. If you come here in the evening, the unbelievably well priced 4 euro tasting option is a must: for this price you get a glass of wine or prosecco and a tasting plate of incredible and unusual cheeses, meats, olives and little accompaniments like sticky balsamic glaze or sweet fig relish. L'Ocabarocca takes the simple aperitivo to a whole new level.

Gelato: Umamibar
Via Garibalidi 11, Foligno, Perugia

Foligno isn't famous for it's gelato, but there are a couple of lovely little artisan places where you can find great gelato made on site. Umamibar is my particular favourite because they have a real focus on quality practice and produce - and, unsurprisingly, the flavour of the gelato reflects these quality methods. If you want something a little lighter, you can also try their frozen yoghurt - great topped with toasted nuts and a swirl of nutella.

Culture: Cinema Astra/Liberia Carnevali
Via Giuseppe Mazzini 47, Foligno, Perugia

Book shop by day, occasional cinema by night. This is 'hidden gem' personified. On Thursday nights (normally at 9pm) the books get pushed to the side and it metamorphoses into a cinema, showing old/arty Italian films - don't expect the current blockbusters here. Don't worry if you don't know enough Italian to understand the whole film, I think it's worth going for the experience alone.

Literature: The friendliest newsstand!
Just off Via di S. Maria Infraportas on Via Gugliemo Marconi/Rione Ammannite, Foligno, Perugia

I know it seems a little odd to mention a newsstand in a list of places to visit, but I do have my reasons. I stopped off here a couple of weeks into my time in Italy to pick up some Berlusconi based information (seemed a pretty key time to get an Italian newspaper given that I'll be studying their politics at uni next year!) With no knowledge of the different Italian newspapers, I needed a little advice. I managed to explain that I was an English student studying Italian politics next year, and thus wanted to learn a bit more about Berlusconi. What followed was a wonderful debate between the newsagents as to which paper I needed to buy - two of them were from directly apposing political positions, and thus each thought I shouldn't buy the others recommended paper. This was all explained to me by the lovely lady who was serving me (the two men weren't actually supposed to serve, they were stocking the paper racks but couldn't help but get involved!) - all in good humour and a great insight into real Italian political views. I walked away with three papers (never one to want an argument!) and three more people to add to my list of 'people who I wave hello to each morning'. On the days that followed I often popped by for a paper or a magazine, often just for the sake of the conversation. Arrive with a conversation and a smile and you won't be disappointed.

Lunch: Hole in the wall Pizzeria
Via di S. Maria Infraportas 9, Foligno, Perugia

I have never once walked past this pizzeria without seeing a huge queue of Italians - I think that's enough of a reason to go. Pop in here for a couple of slices for lunch - it's only tiny so your only real option is to take out, but this is no bad thing - walk a few steps out the door to your right to eat them in the Piazza San Domenico, or walk a few steps to your left and sit in the leafy Parco dei Canape (the park is slightly raised up from the main centre, so you can often catch glimpses of the rooftops through the trees).

Homewares shop: La Bottega della Casa
Via Rutili 1, Foligno, Perugia

Full of gorgeous 'boutiquey' bits for the home, from photo frames to armchairs, there's enough to do up your whole house, or you could just get a lovely little gift for someone special. Quite 'Laura Ashley; in style, I was entranced and came away wishing I had more than the painful 15kg Ryanair baggage restrictions!

Off the highstreet: Vintage shop
Via Mazzini 36, Foligno, Perugia

This little shop doesn't even appear to have a name. I even lost on a couple of occasions as I kept whizzing past it on my bike, only to find it had disappeared when I returned more calmly on foot. Completely confused, I trawled through the town, only to find it again right back where I'd started - it had been temporarily hidden behind giant shutters whilst they'd unexpectedly closed (not unusual here!) - rookie mistake. Full of lots of little antique treats and unusual items, well worth a visit even just to have a look around. Most of the items are too big or delicate to take home on the plane, but, if you've got enough bubble wrap, they had some lovely little candle lanterns, jars and vases.

Cycling: Bike repair
Via delle Scuola d'Arti e Mestieri 12

I am fully aware that you are very unlikely to be in need of bike repair if you just come for a daytrip, but I couldn't resist including it. Foligno is a town of cyclists and, after becoming one of them, I soon realised that bike repairers soon become valuable friends. This tiny workshop was shown to me by Nonna Guiseppina as we wandered down Foligo's tiny back streets. No name, no sign, no official opening hours... and certainly no website. It is barely a few metres in width and what little floor space there is is covered in tyres, pumps and bike frames. Seemingly run by one man on his own, I popped in here on a number of occasions with a flat tyre and just about made out that I was to return in a couple of hours to pick it up. I left with no idea of the cost or any sort of receipt, but when I did return, the bike was in perfect condition and the charge was a mere 3 euros... a surreal little place, but well worth knowing about if you're travelling by bike.