Searching for Wild Asparagus in Umbria

One of Umbria's gems is the walled city of Orvieto, nestled atop the summit of volcanic rock known as tufa. The valley floor is laden with olive trees and vineyards. Donnie Sexton photos.
One of Umbria’s gems is the walled city of Orvieto, nestled atop the summit of volcanic rock known as tufa. The valley floor is laden with olive trees and vineyards. Donnie Sexton photos.
Balcony of the house in Umbria that Terry Bhola and his wife bought.
The balcony of the house in Umbria that Terry Bhola and his wife bought.

Visiting Property on the fly in the Italian Countryside

Terry Bhola, a Trinidadian-born American, left the dynamic bustle of Brooklyn to move to the Italian countryside. This book chronicles his experiences in the province of Umbria where wild snowstorms, recurring water problems and encounters with territorial creatures make their plans to create a home there difficult yet rewarding.

Laws unique to Italy and only understood by its denizens present further challenges. In this chapter, Bhola and his wife zoom around and try to find the perfect house to buy in the Umbrian hills.

Book Excerpt

By Terry H. Bhola

I reunited with my wife but decided not to mention anything about my new room issues. A half-hour bus ride later, we were back down at the main train station.

St. Enea, where the apartment for sale was, was a few miles outside of Perugia, and since we didn’t have a car, the apartment owner himself had offered to pick us up and drive us there to see it. After a few minutes’ wait, a man in his sixties showed up, and after a quick espresso with us, we got in his car and drove off.

The apartment was on the second floor and nicely tucked away in St. Enea’s small historic center, and when we arrived, we had a chance to look around before we eventually went inside. We were told earlier that if we bought a home in a town’s historic center, we were basically buying a piece of history, mainly because of the house’s rustic, exterior stone-walled façade.

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Italian law forbids owners from making changes to the outside walls, so some of them are centuries old, but the inside walls can be altered however one pleases.

Big Fireplace in the Kitchen

This apartment actually had three bedrooms and two baths, and it was evident that interior work was still being done. There were tiles for the bathroom and kitchen, doors, and miscellaneous fixtures to be changed scattered about, but what wasn’t going to be changed (and rightfully so) was the big fireplace in the kitchen.

It was a good-sized kitchen, to begin with, but it would’ve been merely a kitchen if it hadn’t had that fireplace with the two built-in wooden benches, one on each side.

Pot of Tea

I already had romantic visions of my wife sitting on one bench, wearing her baby blue pullover with that long, colorful, Beebop & Wally (NYC) skirt that I adored, and me on the other side, waiting for our pot of peppermint tea (with the usual dash of ginger) to brew and my homemade scones to cool down, while a nice fire kept us warm.

I imagined all this while my wife asked questions of the seller. In the end, everything looked promising, and the price was around our budgeted amount. But if we were to go ahead with it, we would have to call in my father-in-law to have him talk down the price. He was a genius at that.

Back to Perugia

By the time noon came, we saw everything we needed to be seen and said everything that needed to be said, so the owner took us back to Perugia. He was nice enough to drop us off at a halfway point between the main station and the historical center, so we held hands and slowly paced our way to the top. Once up there, we found a café in Piazza Matteotti and made it our pit stop.

In Brooklyn, we had used our favorite little café spots to plan, argue, make-up and vent, but mostly to relax, and this was the first time since leaving New York City that we had done the café-thing as a couple, and it felt romantically stimulating—especially since there was a potential new home involved.

The Clock Tower

We both had the same feelings about the fireplace and architecture, that was obvious, but the thing we didn’t like, which eventually led us to not placing a bid, was that outside the window of what was obviously the master room was a medieval church with a huge clock tower that ding-donged every fifteen minutes.

We weren’t thrilled about that, but maybe we were a little too picky. Still, we decided to keep that apartment in mind. If we’d ended up buying it, we could utilize the room facing the big clock for something else, instead of sleeping in it.

Before I arrived the night before, my wife had seen a few homes in the area, as well as a bit farther away from Perugia, and we used our little break at the café to discuss them all. I didn’t need to visit those because I trusted her judgment, and besides, all those properties for sale were found online, and we had the printouts. Everything leaned toward the St. Enea apartment until we realized that there was a small, pink-colored row Villetta still to be seen.

Villetta is a Townhouse

A row Villetta in Italy is the equivalent of a townhouse, and the one for sale was located in the little village of Castel Rigone. According to the map we brought along, it was near Trasimeno Lake. When we saw that the price was the same as the St. Enea apartments, we looked at each other and decided to go see it. We finished our little meal and then contacted the realtor handling the property.

Sunset on the lake in Umbria.
Sunset on a lake in Umbria.

We were able to get a last-minute appointment, but it meant that we had to, once again, take the bus down to the main station to meet her. Just as we arrived, we spotted a tanned, curvaceous, well-dressed woman with long, jet-black hair waiting for us.

She had a soft-spoken manner, and because our appointment was squeezed in, her driving did the talking. When we first saw her, her retro-designed Prada shades were tucked in her black blouse, as if blocking the sun from seeing her tanned cleavage, but when she got behind the wheel and put them on, we knew our lives were in danger.

In a Hurry

She was really in a hurry to show us this property. We screeched from the main station, made a quick dip, and went past the local football team’s stadium. Because of our speed, all this felt like it took a microsecond.

We caught the E45 expressway heading west, and five minutes later, after passing a little village on a small hill that we came to know later as Corciano, we exited at a sign that said Magione.

While my wife chatted with the realtor and enjoyed the sights, I sprawled out slightly in the back seat, feeling a bit bourgeois. And I thought of St. Enea the whole time.

Terry Bhola.
Terry Bhola, author of Searching for Wild Asparagus in Umbria.

As soon as we got off the E45, we were in the town of Magione and headed on Via Fra Filippo Longo in the direction of its historical center. We were still flying, and though I did manage to see a winery, everything else was too blurry to really hold my attention.

Eventually, our realtor bore off to the right in the direction of Castel Rigone, and she did it without slowing down. The road was flat as we dashed through the last remaining occupied area of Magione, and then we came out into nothing but farmland, which we enjoyed with appreciation (the smell of manure was curiously cordial).

When we made a sharp left and started our ascent, we got a welcomed surprise. Earlier, we’d found Castel Rigone on the map, but didn’t realize that it was actually located 2,200 feet above sea level.

First Leg of the Ascent

The first leg of the ascent, through a tiny village called Colpiccione, was the steepest. But this wasn’t a problem for the realtor, who just downshifted to second gear and let the car bawl up the hill.

We were too distracted by all the olive trees that suddenly appeared to worry about the car and our safety. There were so many of them blowing in the wind, all with their two-shaded leaves fluttering and flipping like tiny flags. They were, obviously, welcoming us to the Umbrian countryside.

I felt like this had happened to me before—a sort of déjà vu. I was born in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the city of San Fernando, and I was seven at the time when my father inherited some acreage in the countryside, deep in the South.

The main town was Siparia, by the way, but the rural area my father relocated us to was on a little hill called Coora Settlement, between the two villages of Branch Road Village and Mendez Village.

Searching for Wild Asparagus in Umbria by Terry Bhole.

There, we were partly surrounded by what I understood to be government-owned grapefruit fields, and I distinctly remember seeing them collectively welcoming me and my family to the countryside, with promises of bird watching, fruit picking, and unlimited walks in the woods. I loved it.

It was ironic that I now experienced this welcoming sensation again, only this time in Italy—and by olive trees.

The second leg of the journey was less steep, but the road still climbed. We noticed some lonely stone villas and more olive trees. The third and final leg contained lots of blind turns, and the friendly olive trees were suddenly replaced by oaks.

Eventually, a sign informed us that we were entering Castel Rigone. We started to see signs of life, as in comfy-looking homes and a parked tractor, and the first thing we saw, after flying around the last blind curve, was a small, countrified bar. It literally marked the end of our ascent, and it was at a T-junction.

The road we had come upon was the major one coming from Magione; the main road going left would’ve taken us down to a little lakeside town called Passignano. But we went right because the property was in that direction; it was, in fact, the main road to the even smaller village of Preggio Again, thanks to our chauffeur, we were still flying, but we managed to glimpse a bit of the village, including the main church, amongst some pine trees.

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