Anghiari the Beautiful

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Anghiari, Italy

CNN recently named Anghiari as one of the most beautiful small towns in Europe.  Not just in Italy, but all of Europe.  Imagine.  I live in one the most beautiful small towns in Europe (according to CNN).

I have no idea how they come up with these lists, but I do know that people love them.  I also know that I would like to be on the committee that picks them.  Talk about the dream job – travel to villages across Europe to find the most beautiful.

What makes a place beautiful?  I guess you start with the visuals – scenery, architecture, geography.  Then add the layers that make a place unique – traditions, people, restaurants, culture.  While it’s highly unlikely that CNN will ask me to join their “searching out the beautiful places in Europe” team, I feel that I’m very qualified since I chose to live in one them.  Oh, well – their loss.  Let me share with you why Anghiari made it on that list.

The Setting

Carter, Serafina, and Clay in Anghiari, ItalyAnghiari is in the Upper Tiber Valley, or Valtiberina.  The headwaters of the Tiber river are near here.  Back when Rome ruled the world, the Tiber provided mighty Rome with their water supply, one of the hallmarks of their civilization.  The Tiber begins in the Apennines, fueled by an underground aquifer, and running over 200 miles to Rome and the sea just beyond.  This valley is a jewel in the crown of beautiful things.  Fertile farmland populates the valley, surrounded by the majestic Apennines.  From our terrace at the top of Anghiari, we have a commanding view of this mountainous landscape.

Anghiari rises on a small hill above this valley.  It seems part of the hill, as if the massive stone walls sprouted from the earth organically without the intervention of man.  The views over this lush valley from the imposing wall is breathtaking.  It’s serene and almost hypnotic, standing on these ancient ramparts looking out over the green valley.  Fields of sunflowers, tobacco, olive groves, and grape vines spread out in a colorful mosaic between these walls and the start of the Apennines to the east.  Sansepolcro, a neighboring town about six miles away, is clearly visible and we can tell them when bad weather is headed their way.  Who needs a weather app when you’ve got a view like this?

Ancientness and Modernity

The ancient centro storico (historic city center) was first referenced in documents in 1048.  But it’s older than that, as evidenced by the Roman ruins found when the city hall, the Palazzo Pretorio, was renovated several years ago.  The centro storico is a warren of three, four, and five story buildings all leaning on each other and curving around the wandering stone lanes that connect them.  These buildings are ancient stone wonders with big, sturdy, wooden doors and shuttered windows rising above the streets.  There is a thriving population in the city center and a walk through town takes you past familiar faces who smile and wish you a warm greeting.

Sometimes you feel like you are walking through a replica.  You have to remind yourself this is not Disney World, it’s real and it’s ancient.  That’s the American in me, thinking that something this picture perfect is contrived.  People live and work here and kids play in the alleys and the piazzas.  And they’ve been doing it for almost 1,000 years.  Placing your hand against one of the old stones in the wall or on a building is like touching a time capsule.  How many hands have touched that same stone?

Among all this antiquity is a modern city.  It’s a small town, but there are art exhibits (we went to an opening last week in a 500 year old building), concerts, dances, and all manner of events.  Even the library, where they have the torturous Tandem meetings, is in an old palazzo, with frescoed ceilings and ornate mantle pieces.

During the summer and fall, there is something going on almost every week.  I think this is one of the things I love most about living here.  The charm and historic significance of the setting mixed with the offerings of the 21st century.  All right outside your doorstep.  Some things are common to all Italian towns, like the weekly market.  But others are unique to Anghiari, like Scampanata.  Quirky, fun, and always unpredictable these events are an opportunity to come together and celebrate something.  L’Intrepida, the summer music festival, the Centogusti – these are just a few of the unique things that make living here an adventure.

Gilding the Lily

For all its physical beauty – the setting, the views, the ancient buildings, the architecture – there are so many intangible things that come together to make this a special place.  One of the most important to me are the restaurants.  You can get a meal here that will rival any fine dining establishment anywhere.  We’ve shared many meals with people here and they have swooned over the food opportunities.  There are five great restaurants here, all within the city walls or just steps outside.  We can walk to each of them in two minutes.  Coming back it’s five minutes – because we’re very full and it’s uphill coming back home.

La Cantina del Granduca is one of the best.  This is owned by the most adorable couple, Guilia and Matteo.  They look about 18, but I’m sure that’s my elderly eyes playing tricks on me.  This food is Tuscan, but with a contemporary spin.  Everything is local and sourced from the very farmland that you overlook from the city walls.

La Nena is another favorite.  While Granduca is the young, newcomer on the scene, La Nena is the veteran standby.  Always good and very traditional, it’s what you think of when you want true Tuscan food.  Located at the top of the long, straight road that splits Anghiari and goes to Sansepolcro, the view from their outdoor tables is unrivaled.

Talozzi Bistrot.  They have one of the most inventive menus here.  The owners are Italian-Korean so you’ll see things like poke bowls on the menu.  The food is excellent – all cooked by the mother while the two daughters run the front of house.  They have a wonderful outdoor area with a small fountain – perfect for warm summer nights.

Risorante da Alighiero is another stalwart on the restaurant scene here.  This is traditional Tuscan food and is consistently good.  It’s owned by a couple – he is from Anghiari and she is German.  She’s the chef and if you think a German can’t cook Italian, you’re wrong.  He runs the front of house and always has his dog by his side.  I love a restaurant where the dog is keeping watch over things.

Il Feudo del Vicario.  This is a cozy place, tucked into a quiet alley in the city center.  I love the atmosphere there – it’s a mixture of quaint and eclectic.  This is very high quality Tuscan food with some inventive touches.  It takes traditional foods and puts a modern spin on them with fantastic results.

In addition to these fine restaurants, there are three pizza places, five bars that serve panini, gelato,  and other light foods, one piadineria (sandwich shop), and one place that defies description.  It’s like a diner serving a few choice items which change daily.  No menu and no table service.  It’s a wonderful ball of confusion where you can get truly authentic, and obscure, dishes like acquacotta.  And new on the scene is a wine bar in the piazza.  Serving numerous wines by the glass along with meat and cheese boards, this is a great place for a drink while taking in the theater that is the piazza.

See For Yourself

I hope you come and visit Anghiari someday and experience one of the most beautiful small towns in Europe for yourself.  And when you’re here, you’ll see the town dog that runs around like he owns the place (maybe he does), checking out every outdoor seating area for stray crumbs, see the kids playing familiar games in the piazza, and watch the huddles of city elders who gather at the bars, in the piazzas, and on park benches keeping a close watch on everything.  You’ll see the laundry hanging high above your head making colorful ribbons on the old stone walls.  You’ll hear the bells that chime the hour and mark milestones like weddings, christenings, and funerals – keeping the beat going for this town.  You’ll see the sunrise over the Apennines and set over the Rognosi mountains.  You’ll eat well and see beautiful things that will satisfy your soul.  You will be happy.

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