Contrary to the lyrics ‘Go West’ in the Village People hit of the 1970’s I advise you to ‘Go East’ from Bellaugello and head into the neighbouring region of Le Marche which is exactly what we did last night.
A wild wet and blustery night and I was the designated driver… Meeting friends at the bivio for Valdichiascio the local road for Bellaugello Gay Guest House, the howling gale meant they all got very wet as they scrambled from their car to mine. A further stop to pick up another friend in Gubbio our local town met with the same ingress of water and shrieks of ‘get off me you’re all wet’. So damp, decidedly damp off we set, up through the Apennines into what the Umbrians probably term ‘bandit country’ – are you allowed to say that these days? the neighbouring region of Le Marche. Windscreen wipers on slow or intermittent, the car fugging up, it was going to be an adventure.
Indesputable fact: The Italians are so very good at so many things, most of the things they are good at involve at some stage a liberal dose of hedonism, but and it is a big but, despite their world fame in sleek sexy low slung sports cars in road maintenance they are sadly lacking in skill or competence or sleek design. My co-pilot, he who know the road well was like in a stage rally a fundamental asset in our voyage, yes, with the amount of water on the road I can justifiably call our excursion a voyage. In the absence of white lines and any road markings whatsoever and a road surface more alike a mirror than asphalt he was encouraging me to take the next left slowly, slight right, incline then sharp left, brake, brake, brake…. Why is it that in the UK or at least when I was there we had white lines painted with a thick plasticy paint that sparkled and resisted huge lorries running over it together with the torrential deluges that so often happen in the UK the reassuring sight of the white line in the centre and sometimes on the margins of the roads kept you effortlessly and safely on the right track and, was, like a bowl of steaming hot soup on a wild wintry day, utterly comforting, and in this country of ‘style’ and ‘design’ they paint the lines on the roads with a thin gruel like water based paint that at the first sign of a slick tyre or splat of rain disappears? It is mind boggling. There is no joy in driving in the dark on a black shiny road with no way of seeing curves let alone sharp bends.
Enough rant, back to the reason for going East. We were driving some 70km from Bellaugello to the riverside town of Fossombrone. The town is not only famous as being home to one of the best fabric stores in central, Italy, yes, Cocchi have four immense floors of fabrics from material to make tea towels to upholstering sofas for Hogwarts and headlining for yachts, a veritable aladdin’s cave and at really decent prices. The town is also famous for the sponsorship of its football team by sexy fashion house Bikkemberg and until earlier this week I thought that was it, but no. There is, perching high on the rock above the town an amazing restaurant. The Rocca da Cinzia which has since 1992 been personally run and managed by the bubbly passionate Cinzia and her husband Roberto. Friends of mine they tell me first went there in 1996.
Drive up from the town, the road twists and turns, narrower and narrower as you reach the summit, I am told on a fine day there are marvellous views, but last night when we arrived it was still drizzling. Open the small door and you are immediately in the entrance hall of an old Marchigiano farmhouse, the space lit by candles.
Light draws you to the bar situated in one of the many small rooms, although restored recently (Cinzia told us they had to as three winters ago the weight of snow on the ancient roof brought the whole lot tumbling down) the Rocca maintains the original farmhouse room spaces and various nooks and crannies
This is a km zero restaurant. All food locally sourced, bio, organic and combined with immense skill and passion and a lot of herbs from hedgerows and the vegetable garden. This is eating as eating has I guess always been known in Italian farmhouses. Climb the stairs, uneven, irregular, time worn to a sheen, pull yourself up with the simple iron handrail and you emerge in a corridor on the first floor heady with the fragrances and aromas pervading from the adjacent kitchen. Off the corridor five doors, or at least doorways some without doors lead to the original room spaces, some larger with six or seven tables others smaller and intimate with just one large circular table (perfect for a Bellaugello team outing….), candles abound and the light picks out the irregularity of the ancient stone and lime washed walls. The table settings are simple, this, after all is an organic eatery.
Staffed seemingly exclusively bar one cute guy, by women and young girls there is no menu, you are offered for €25 a person what the cooks have found in the storecupboards, local markets and from neighbouring farms and 1/4 litre of organic wine, all explained verbally by the young smiling staff or Cinzia herself. The meal is four courses, although the antipasto is, in the best tradition of Marchigiano cooking abundant and could be easily mistaken for the entire meal itself. I forget exactly the names of what we ate but here are a few photos and descriptions. Of particular note were the millet croquettes accompanied by mozzarella and tomato, and a mouth-wateringly light and delicate ricotta with three sauces, plum, kiwi (yes they do grow here) and apple. Finely sliced melanzane were draped on crisp slice of pastella green, deep green, intense the colour derived from cooking and seiving the leaves of bergamot and spinach, heavy with garlic and floating in a sea of heavenly olive oil, crostini of home-made bread with surprisingly delicious tofu and olive paste, the cooking is above competent and combination of ingredients inspiring.
the myriad of plates including some I recognised from other farmhouses I have visited helped make the intimate atmosphere. Locally cured meats were light and tender, a pleasing change to the more robust Umbrian salamis. Of course also accompanied by the local piadina so similar to the Indian paratha, light flaky and mouthwateringly moreish…Well guys that was just some of the starter… we then headed off into the primo, a dish of rustic noodles with ceci and fagoli in a creamy sauce and then for the secondo, yes, there was more, a tender arista of maiale with a puree of celery, by which time my iPhone gave up so no pics. Dishes are brought to the table and like at home you help yourselves, it makes for a warm friendly informal dinner, the sort of evening that a dedicated ‘nonna’ might have prepared.
A home made desert and coffee of the house almost rounded off the evening, but no, tisane of their own making was offered, that is after they had mopped up the first infusion which had landed with a huge crash just outside the kitchen door, delicious red berries and cinnamon, cleansing, good.
Ok why write so lyrically? This is a place to visit, a place we could make a Bellaugello evening outing to, the centre of Fosssombrone is pretty and there is a smattering of good shops including a great little store that sells hand-made spectacle frames, and of course the kilometres of fabric at Cocchi. Also for for guys driving from the north it is a convenient stop off place for lunch before reaching Bellaugello.
Out of season they just open from Thursday through Sunday and at that only in the evenings excepting Sundays when lunch is served. In the summer they are open every day lunch and dinner.