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We were driving along a gravel road in the rain looking for horseriding in Umbria. We were near the conjunction between Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio, in the middle of nowhere today, but once it was the centre of the Duchy of Salci (Ducato di Salci).

We came across a narrow archway, and crenellated walls. Through the gate is a large rectangular ‘piazza’ (square) and spreading out from it, more buildings. This is the seat of the Duchy, abandoned now for about 20 years since the last resident, a priest who tended the church of San Leonardo, passed away. It is for sale and citizens of Città della Pieve are keen to restore this ghost town to some of its former glory.

Several kilometres away around the gravel road and after joining the road from Fabro, we found Agriturismo Il Felcino, an estate of about 80 hectares known particularly for its equestrian facilities and the wide area of fields and forest for horseriding in Umbria. It is a regional centre for tourism on horseback and there are trails that cross the countryside and passing archaeological sites.

We forded the flowing creek across a concrete weir and drove around to the indoor stables, suitable for about 25 horses, and an indoor exercise ring (ideal for this wet wintery day) that can be used also for dressage events.

Our timing was perfect. The ‘residents’ ranged from a small albino pony to a grand ‘Bucephelian’ Frisone (Friesian), the breed originally from northern Holland area of Friesland where the studbook originated. The great horse stands about 16 hands and is traditionally black with only a white star possibly visible on the forehead.

The breed has developed over the centuries even from Roman times and was known for its battle-hardiness (hence my reference to the great black war horse of Alexander). So to witness a Frisone being put through its paces was a truly wonderful experience. The grace of this grand horse, just 4 years old, was more than impressive, with a wonderful gait when in a slow or fast trot. To see the horse in full charge galloping in an open paddock is still a dream.

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We returned to the restaurant of Il Felcino for lunch, noting that the key business arm of this estate is the raising of Chianina cattle, the white breed of Umbria and surrounds and the source of the great Fiorentina cut, since Etruscan times. The vegetable supplies for the kitchen are all grown in the orto on site.

While we chose local soups and home-made sausages with grilled greens, tables surrounding had saved their appetities for just this Sunday meal. I watched with due attention Giusy while she was cooking of a cut of Fiorentina steak that was close to 4 cm thick. Once again the open brace was the hearth of choice. After patiently feeding the brace with fresh coals as one side was sealed, the second side received less serious attention. The steak (for four) was sliced to expose the still tartar heart of the meat, restructured as a single piece and served to the voracious diners.

Returning to my dining pleasure, I did not suffer too much from jealousy and I enjoyed the smooth vino rosso della casa (house red wine). Next time we will plan to stay a night and extend lunch into the evening without the pressure of the 90 minute drive back to Rome.

Il Felcino caters particularly for family vacations with spacious apartments in Umbrian/Tuscan style.

Gavin Tulloch

Scienziato e poeta. Ama la chimica, il vino, le donne e l’opera, ma non sappiamo in quale ordine


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