A Sausage Kind of Weekend

Sausage in Italy

I love sausage.  Let me correct that – I love Italian sausage.  Not the stuff you buy in US supermarkets, but sausage made in Italy.  It’s like nothing else I’ve ever eaten.  Not fatty or gristly, it’s pure pork heaven.  It’s my go-to meal here when I just don’t feel like cooking or don’t have a lot of time.  I always have sausage in the freezer to pull out and make comfort food at it’s finest.  Sometimes with pasta, often with polenta, but on its own, too.  Just sausage.

This weekend didn’t start out to be sausage weekend, but that’s what it ended up being because in Italy I’ve learned to take what comes your way and not obsess over silly things like balanced diets.  October is prime festa (festival) time in Italy.  If we were super-organized people, we would have a separate Festa Calendar where we would write down every festa we know about and plan our time so that we could attend them all.  But we’re not those people so we see or hear about a festa and say to ourselves “We’ll remember that”, but of course we don’t.  The third weekend in October must be prime festa weekend because there were a ton of them.  Here are the ones we made it to.


This isn’t really a festa, it’s a bike race.  Well, it’s not really a race – it’s basically just a ride.  With 1,000 of your closest friends.  L’Intrepida is one of Anghiari’s premier events and the festivity starts on Friday night and goes through Sunday.  The actual ride is on Sunday morning, but there are many activities for those who have their feet planted on terra firma and not attached to bike pedals.  Although the activities for riders look pretty darn good, too.  One year I may try to get into good enough shape to do the baby route (42 km or 26 miles).  That doesn’t sound too bad until you factor in the inevitable hills that are a fact of life here.  Then it gets serious.  But along the way there are refreshment stations where you can pause, rest, and regroup.  These are usually set up at ancient castles, because where else would you have them?  Imagine huffing and puffing up a hilly dirt road, thinking you are about fall over, bike and all, and then coming up to a 12 century castle where there is a spread of food, a band playing, wine flowing, and people generally having a great party.  All with an incredible view of the Tuscan countryside.  Sign me up.

Friday night we had a lovely dinner at home of polenta with sausage.  This started the sausage theme.  We knew there was going to be a party at one of the bars, so we walked down after dinner and joined a group outside in the brisk October air.  There was a local DJ, Fabio, who was playing all kinds of American rock music.  It still amazes me to see Italians singing along to Lynryd Skynyrd.  They actually had special L’Intrepida panini there, which looked like an Italian version of a BBQ sandwich.  But we were full from our sausage polenta, so didn’t sample that.

Bruschitino, anghiari italySaturday was a day of music, bikes, cars, food and festivity.  Throughout town tents were set up with all kinds of bike equipment for sale, displays of vintage bikes and vespas, and vintage cars.  I guess if it rolls, it qualifies for being part of L’Intrepida.  And brustichino.  Brustichino are grilled slices of bread that are drenched in the new olive oil.  You can add a rub of garlic and have it stuffed with sausage for a drippy, impossible-to-eat-neatly, kind of sandwich that will knock your sausage-loving socks off.  Steve had one for lunch and I watched as olive oil dripped its way down his clothing to the piazza where it left pools of unctuousness on the stones.  And his shoes.

We returned Saturday night for the live band in the piazza and more drippy brustichino for dinner.  In the spirit of the theme of the L’Intrepida, which is vintage bikes, this was a swing band.  The singer even let his three-year-old son sing along.  It was adorable.  People were dressed in vintage attire and dancing, drinking, eating, and singing along.  It was a party in the piazza and great fun.

Sunday morning the bikers set off from the piazza, led by the pace car, a vintage Fiat – barely bigger than some of the bikes.  The town band was there to play the L’Intrepida song (who knew?) and the Italian national anthem and other choice selections like the theme from the Bridge Over the River Kwai.  All day bikers were streaming through town, making their way back to the piazza where they were rewarded for their efforts with their very own bottle of L’Intrepida wine and a bringoli (the local pasta specialty) lunch.  Because they didn’t get enough wine and food on their bike ride.

Festa del Marrone

Fall is when the chestnuts start showing up everywhere – in grocery stores, markets, roasting on street corners, and at festas dedicated to them.  One of the best is in Caprese Michelangelo, which is about 15 minutes up the mountain from here.  Marrone is a kind of chestnut which grows here are regarded as some of the best.  Saturday afternoon we drove up and entered a world of all things chestnut – honey, flour, raw chestnuts, roasted chestnuts.  There were many booths set up with local foods – cheeses, salamis, preserves, honey, beer, wine, chocolate – it was truly a food-lovers heaven.  And most were available to sample.  We tasted our way through, stopping to buy things here and there, and just generally enjoying the perfect fall day.

Rooftops of Caprese Michelangelo, ItalyCaprese Michelangelo is the birthplace of Michelangelo – yes, that Michelangelo.  You can tour the home in which he was born and look out over the hills and imagine that it looks much the same now as it did in 1475 when he entered the world (except for the satellite dishes).  I love going to festas in places like this that are beautiful and have such historical significance.  Imagine – Michelangelo was born here!  I don’t care if you don’t give a hoot about art, you’ve heard of Michelangelo.  Especially on such a perfect fall day, when the air is cool and the sun is bright, walking through this town makes you feel like a vital part of the world – all that has gone before. and will come after. and you in the present.

We stopped at a stand selling fresh mushrooms and I was captivated by a display of chanterelles.  Called gallinacci in Italian, I had to buy some.  There were these three guys hanging around the stand and I’m still not sure if they were part of it or were just perched there.  They offered us wine from a bottle on display and they had on aprons, so we thought they must be part of the operation.  We had a great time trying to talk to them in our embarrassing Italian and as we walked away one of them said something and the whole group erupted into laughter.  I told Steve it’s a little unsettling to hear laughter as you walk away, so we laughed too just to make them wonder.  We ran into those guys at several other stands along the way – each time having wine.

Festa d’Autunno Monte Santa Maria Tiberina

One of the most beautiful places around here is Monte Santa Maria Tiberina.  It crowns a high hill and is visible from miles away.  With Estruscan and Roman origins, this town is old.  Very old.  It was the fiefdom of the Marquis Bourbon de Monte beginning sometime in the 11th century and that is the town that we see today.  Monte Santa Maria is the epitome of a charming hill town.  The views are incredible from way up there and the town is picture perfect.  It is remote – you have to be going to Monte Santa Maria to get there because it’s not on the way to anything else.  Sitting in the beautiful piazza surrounded by fortresses and castles, I wonder how they heck they built this place.  And why.  I know a defensive location was everything back then, but this seems so out of the way that I wonder what they were defending.

During the Festa d’Autunno, the town becomes a medieval workshop.  Cheesemakers, leather workers, wood carvers, weavers, blacksmiths – all dressed in period costumes giving examples of how they did things.  There are also stands selling local foods, jewelry, and other artisan products.  I bought of couple of things from a booth inside the castle and when I went to pay using my debit card, we had to go outside because the walls were so thick that there was no signal inside.  I guess when they built that place, they didn’t have the internet in mind.

We decided to have dinner up there.  While the sun set over the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside, we watched flag throwers and fire twirlers (I really don’t know what to call them, but they hurled and twirled all manner of flaming devices), interspersed with the local marching band.  Then our food came and – you guessed it – we had sausage.  Each meal is like the first one for me where sausage is concerned and I don’t stop to think “Wait, I had sausage Friday night, Saturday night, and now Sunday night.  Is this maybe not a good idea?”  No, I dive right in and go for it each and every time.  It’s a festa, right?  A celebration, a special occasion.  Can I help it if I went to three of these in one weekend?

What I Learned from Sausage Weekend

  1.  Next time we have a festa-filled weekend, I will not plan a meal of sausage polenta the night before.
  2. A bike ride through the countryside here can only be made better with stops along the way where you can have a slice of pizza, sip a cup of wine, and dance the jitterbug.
  3. Chestnuts are a thing of beauty and watching them roast over an open fire is enough to make you write a song about it.
  4. When you eat sausage Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, you sleep really well on Sunday night and dream of dancing piggies with fat stomachs drinking wine.  Oh wait, that was me.
  5. I live in a wonderful place and am so thankful that I get to do all these things in these remarkable locations.
sherlock holmes in anghiari italy
Sherlock Holmes searching for clues


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