Have you ever experienced a sense of extreme familiarity with something? You know… one of those “things” you are very used to. So used to it, that you are quite sure there is not much more you will ever learn or discover about that thing. You believe there is not chance that specific thing can surprise you anymore. For me, one of these “things” was the region where I was born in Italy, Umbria.
I spent there almost 30 years (yes, I am that old) and, being a geologist, I had driven and walked most of the roads and paths this region offers. And most of the towns and views used to be so familiar to me that there was not much astonishment they were able to evoke in me anymore.
Though, I have been living in London for the last four years and have been traveling quite a lot. And now, what amazes me is that every time I go back to Umbria, I re-descover the places that used to be so familiar to me. And I see them every time under different eyes. It is the miracle effect of a reunion after a separation.
And this is exactly what happened to me today. I went with my family for a daily trip to the Polvese Island, one of the three islands in the middle of the Trasimeno Lake, the biggest Lake in Umbria. You may have heard and dreamed about Lake Garda, Lake Como and Lago Maggiore (btw, for some unkown reasons, my english friends speak about Garda as “Lake” but then they say “Lago” Maggiore, every time enjoying pronouncing the exotic sound of that simple, melodic, italian word). I doubt though you have heard about Trasimeno Lake, unless you are italian.
If you are now thinking about a dark-blue water type of lake, surrounded by high peaks and snowy tops with grazing cows and whistling marmots…then think again. Lake Trasimeno is a tectonic lake (not originated by glaciers as the other bigger ones up in the Alps), and it is surrounded by rounded hills. It’s next door to the border with Tuscany and, despite the proximity, the landscape is quite different. The hills are covered by olive trees and holm oaks and other bushes typical of the mediterranean regions. Polvese Island is the biggest of the three islands within Trasimeno Lake.
We drove and took a ferry from the town of San Feliciano and, after only ten minutes , we reached the island. The sun was shining high and the breeze made the heat pleasant. We walked on some of the paths the island to the ruins of the majestic Monastery of San Secondo, built between the 10th-14th Century, where Olivetan monks used to live. We then reached the Medieval Castle and then that small but precious, beautiful gem the Church of San Giuliano is.
Hungry after the long hike, we walked by Villa Biagiotti, an elegant villa located near the peer where we arrived with the ferry. There were tables under the porch and in the shade of some ancient trees, the menu seemed interesting, so we decided to stop for lunch. The restaurant offers a good selection of local dishes, including pasta, with fish from the lake.
We ordered the fixed local menu, the fixed fish menu plus some dishes from the menu a la carte, as we wanted to try as many dishes as possible.
As starters we had pike salad and a selection of bruschetta with local smoked and fresh fish (on a note, “bruschetta” is pronounced with a hard “c”, as if it is a “k” – brusKetta). The pike was so tender and flaky and the combination of it with fresh orange and stir-fried carrots, celery and onion was spot on.
We then tried three types of pasta. Tagliolini with lake caviar were tagliolini (smaller version of tagliatelle) with lake fish meat sauce and carp eggs (white, lake caviar). The tomato sauce was thick and generously seasoned as it should, though maintaining that delicate flavor which is typical of lake fish.
Remarkable also the Maltagliati with smoked tench and fagiolina del lago (literally “little-beans-from-the-lake” – small beans grown locally that are a true delicacy). Again, the fish was delicate even if smoked and the flavors were skillfully balanced; the shape of the pasta added in texture, making the whole dish a real success.
The tomato sauce ravioli were a bit flavourless. But hey, it is like when you go to Spain and you decide to order pasta. Why would you ever do that? In Spain you should order paella. So if you eat in a restaurant specialized in fish, you have to order fish. If you order something else, don’t expect to eat a memorable dish. Lesson learned, once again.
We then finished with lake fish on a spit and “Regina in porchetta”. Fish on a spit was a bit dry but overall nice. But hey, Regina (queen carp) in porchetta (seasoned and cooked as you would do with a whole hog you want to roast): THAT was a winner. The meat was juicy and so nicely seasoned that although you could taste the fish, the overall mix of flavors kept recalling a rich hog roast.
What a wonderful meal we had for a very reasonable price. Followed an espresso (it’s a must after a rich meal) and we happily (and stuffed) decided to have a walk and a snooze near the beach.
And that’s the moment when it hit me. It felt like being on holiday, in a new and unknown place, though it is next door to where I was born and I know that area very well. The miracle effect of the reunion after a separation. After you have been away for a while, you see under different eyes things you were used to. And it is not just being nostalgic. My eyes were so used to so much beauty that did not see it anymore. But after few years away, when you see that beauty again, it hits you. And you look at it, silent. And you feel, strangely, tourist in your own region.