Finding Sweetness in Umbria, Italy

Sunflower field neat Gubbio, Umbria

“It says to turn right after Ristorante La Dolce Vita!” I was on a winding road flanked by sunflower fields at dusk in the middle of Umbria. Finding “La Dolce Vita” was a mission (generally in life, and this evening in particular considering it was our landmark to turn on the correct road and it was getting dark). My photographer, Peter Brown (he was in the driver seat), and I were en route to Borgo di Carpiano, just outside of Gubbio, Umbria, in central Italy.

Marilisa and Riccardo Parisi, our hosts

My dear friends, Marilisa and Riccardo Parisi, had bought land from the Vatican many years ago while they lived on the Caribbean island of Antigua and ran a fabulous (and super famous) restaurant/inn/art gallery. We met in Antigua when I was living and working there and we remained lifelong friends. This was my first trip to their Borgo in Umbria after many promised times. Now, I just had to find the place.

We found La Dolce Vita (the restaurant, and, after this summer sojourn in Italy, I found it in general) and followed the road down to another road, yet leading to another road…all roads, it seemed, lead to Borgo di Carpiano. That is if you follow the directions.

Stone path around the Borgo Di Carpiano

Driving into the Borgo was a magical experience. We could see the twinkling lights from afar and slowly made our way down the now dirt road. We parked in front of the Borgo’s stone church. Vivaldi was piped through the stonework. We sort of floated our way down the path to the open-air dining room where a handful of guests were finishing dinner. Riccardo was a top-notch chef and the food looked divine (more on that later). We had arrived! We caught up into the late hours of the night over a full-bodied red from the region. After we were shown to our room, silence and deep sleep prevailed (we were sleeping in a church after all).

There’s something about arriving at night to a new place that gives you the most amazing perspective when you wake the next morning. A virginal introduction to a place, I call it. The light, the smells and well, just everything seemed so alive. We made our way down to the dining room we left the evening before, but not before stopping dead in our tracks near the kitchen. An intoxicating waft of sweetness came at us. “What is that smell?” I asked.

Oven-warm croissants filled with regional honey

Before I could say another word, we followed our nose to what looked like a basket of simple croissants dusted with confectionary sugar placed on an antique wooden cart. We took a bite of the powdery, sweet goodness. Filled with honey from the region, and warm from the oven, the croissant reminded me of that perfect kiss that you never want to stop: the breath, the taste, the smell, the everything. Total inhalation; when it all just becomes one. I’ll never forget those pastries as long as I live and Peter and I still talk about them. (On a near weekly basis.)

The ancient castle of Carpiano dates back to the beginning of the 10th century, when it belonged to Rovaldo Baldassini, father of Sant’Ubaldo, patron saint of the town of Gubbio. In the 17th century the property was left to the Curia of Gubbio and a church was built, and was in use until about 40 years ago, and then the property was abandoned.

Sitting area in the Borgo Di Carpiano

In 2001 Riccardo and Marilisa discovered it, and immediately fell in love with the “pile of rocks” as they called it. I remember when they bought it. I was having a leisurely Sunday brunch with them in Antigua and they handed me a small photo album. I flipped through the pictures. “Really? You’re going to do this? When?” I couldn’t imagine they would ever leave Antigua. But they did. They worked tirelessly to restore it to the gorgeous boutique hotel it is today. It reflects their passion. Interiors are peppered with their own antiques, china and works of art from their travels. Guests from Antigua have followed them down the many roads. Marilisa said the Google analytics of their website show that the highest search term words are “Marilisa and Riccardo Parisi.” They are the consummate host and hostess so it’s no wonder they are sought out for their unending hospitality.

Infinity pool overlooking the Umbria landscape

The property is composed of three different cut stone houses (with seven total guest rooms) terracing down to an infinity pool and impeccably maintained grounds (Marilisa does the gardening herself) that overlook the valley. It is surrounded by five hectares of olive trees, forest and an organic vegetable garden. Many options are available including daily lunch and dinner (Riccardo picks fresh herbs and only serves what’s freshly available from the region), in-house wine tastings, cooking classes, therapeutic body treatments and massages, airport transfers, rental cars with delivery at the property, classical music concerts in the church, and artistic and cultural tours with expert guides. The Borgo is super convenient for day trips to Perugia, Arezza, Gubbio and other points of interest in Umbria, but really, once you get here, you don’t want to go anywhere. Why would you once you’ve discovered la dolce vita? Have a wonderful kiss here, or alternatively, those honey-filled croissants. They are truly interchangeable.

The simple beauty of Umbria

Rates range from 130 euros for a classic room to 170 euros for a deluxe room. Breakfast, afternoon tea and wireless Internet is included in the rate. Private rental of the Borgo is available upon request. Email Marilisa directly at info @ borgodicarpiano.com, call +39-075-920337 or their website.