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Monte S. Maria Tiberina in the Upper Tiber Valley

Ginda Simpson

Lunch at Ristorante Oscari Emilio in Monte S. Maria Tiberina, in northern Umbria

It was a bitter cold day here in the Upper Tiber Valley in Umbria. Indeed as we drove towards this ancient mountain town, snow flurries hit our windshield like liquid diamonds. Outside, the noonday light was golden on the snow that still blanketed the hills. My husband and I had been hibernating for weeks, burrowed inside, keeping warm while temperatures outside fell lower and lower. Finally, it was time to break away and we knew if we headed for the Ristorante Oscari in Monte S. Maria Tiberina, we would not be disappointed.

Owned by Emilio and Valentina Oscari, it sits within the walls of this mountain village, perched high beneath Umbrian clouds, near the Tuscan border. Emilio, a native to S. Maria and his wife, a native to nearby Monterchi in Tuscany, opened their restaurant over thirty years ago, when there were no restaurants within the city walls. Valentina is the cook, incorporating the knowledge and experience gained at home, learned from mother and grandmother, as they prepared meals for their large family.

The menu they offer today, is the best of both Umbrian and Tuscan traditional cuisine, casareccia - home cooking at its best. Mike and I chose two different menus so that we could sample as many of their specialties as possible at one sitting. The specialties not to be missed, are beyond a doubt, Chiche al Tartufo (a handmade egg pasta shaped into little pouches, and filled with a truffle & meat stuffing, topped by a delicate cream truffle sauce) and Strozzapreti alla Boscaiola (hand-rolled fat spaghetti-like noodles with a creamy tomato sauce with a hint of mushrooms and sausage). Their house-wine is satisfying and their vin santo, served with an array of dessert choices, is excellent.

The restaurant is housed in a 13th century building. The decor of each dining room (there are three) is farmhouse rustic, but the views from the one, are heavenly. During the summer months, tables are set up outside in the street.

Monte S. Maria Tiberina is a sleepy little town with a population of less than 150 people within its walls. There is not much to see or do and therein lies its charm. It's even possible that at lunch, mid-week, you might be the only diners. We were today and we dawdled through our four-course lunch, savoring the delicate flavors of each dish and enjoying each other's company. We smiled at our good fortune to be so pampered by the owners. But don't let being the lone diners fool you. The food is excellent.

Monte S. Maria is proud of three festivals during the year. Forty days after Easter is the Feast of the Ascension; on August 15, the Sagra della Porchetta, featuring roast pig and on October 14, the Festa del Bosco, a woodlands festival. Three good reasons to make the trip to this tiny gem of a town.

To prolong this a pleasant outing, keeping off the beaten path, make this a stopover on your way to or from Monterchi to view the famous Madonna del Parto, the only painting in Renaissance art that depicts the Madonna pregnant. It was painted by renowned artist, Piero della Francesca in the mid-15th century for a cemetery chapel. The fresco was restored in 1992-93 and is housed today in what was once a primary school. Signs indicating the way begin before you even reach the town itself. The permanent exhibition is open on Tues-Sun, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and from 2-7 p.m.

For directions, consult your map of Umbria - both towns are not too distant from Citt di Castello.


Ristorante Oscari Emilio: Via Roma, 125, Monte S. Maria Tiberina, tel: 075-857-1008, closed on Thursdays in the winter months, open seven days a week from mid-June until mid-September, reservations not necessary but appreciated during the winter months

Travel Notes - Art Trails: Notes about the Piero della Francesca Trail and the Madonna del Parto.

About the Author

Ginda Simpson is an American artist/writer now living in the Umbrian countryside. It has been said of her work, "her paintings tell stories, her stories paint pictures." For more information, please visit www.gindasimpson.com.

© Ginda Simpson, 2005

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