My Secret Umbria Where Tourists Don't Go: A Castle with Wine and a Lakeside Trattoria

After my book promotion, I was exhausted and ready to get away from my computer. Ready to enjoy the Umbria that tourists rarely see, an ancient castle where you can buy superb local wine and a trattoria overlooking Lake Trasimeno, that serves exceptionally well-prepared food. If you ever come this way, be sure to visit these places, it's a little known side of the Dolce Vita in the green heart of Italy...

The castle is in Magione, here it is, a medieval fortress that belongs to the Order of Malta, rising darkly on its tree-covered hilltop:

The Castle is just 15 miles north of Perugia, on the way to Florence. The gate is open, you can drive in to park your car:

To the left, the sign tells you what they sell - wine, olive oil and honey - and the opening hours:

When you drive up to it, you're thrown 600 years back in time:

The inner courtyard is even more suggestive:

They sell the wine and oil in a cellar at the back of the courtyard:

The Order of Malta actually owns a lot of wine-producing land around Lake Trasimeno and also up North in the Friuli region, around Rocca Bernarda. There's a broad range of wines on offer that you can try at the bar before you decide which one to buy - white and red and even bubbly, starting at very cheap prices  (€4 for the local Grechetto and Monterone) and rising to €25 and more for the world-class Rocca Bernarda wines produced in the North.

But why not stick to Lake Trasimeno's wines? Local produce - wine and oil - has been reknown for a long least since the 15th century, look at this sign I found on the cellar's wall:

Roughly, it reads: "Everything is made more abundant thanks to the Trasimeno...Few places produce a better wine, and the oil is particularly pure."
Before you load up your car with your purchases, take a last look around you, the courtyard has a near perfect symmetry:

Then drive over to the near-by lake and go to Massimo's restaurant, nestled in the hillside between San Savino and San Feliciano, both old medieval villages on the lake. But in my opinion the best time for Massimo's is at sunset, and that's what we did. We drove out just as the sun was sinking, here it is, behind the Isola Polvese, the largest of the lake's three islands:

The restaurant has a pleasant covered terrace from which you get an unforgettable view of the lake and the Isola Polvese, as you can see here:

What to eat? Pasta of course, or risotto or pizza, all excellent. We decided on a simple pizza Margherita (just tomatoes and mozzarella with fresh basilico to flavor it) and followed it with an "Astice alla Catalana" - a delicious lobster covered with plenty of crunchy vegetables:

And white local wine, a dry Monterone, perfect for seafood. No dessert except a small lemon sorbet good for the digestion, we are boomers after all! No need to diet but it's best to keep on this side of rational eating...But for those who prefer meat or black truffles, there is that too - truffles are a specialty in Umbria and the meat is invariably superb because of the famous local beef variety from the near-by Chianciano valley.

When we left, I had a peek at the kitchen, super clean and modern:

That smiling guy is Maurizio, he's Massimo's brother, he looks after the clients in the dining room while his brother oversees the kitchen. It's a strictly family business, no doubt the reason the food is consistently good and prices are contained.

That's the secret of the Italy that "works": family businesses!

The adresses and telephone numbers:

The Order of Malta Castle in Magione: 
Viale Cavalieri di Malta, 31
tel: +39 075 5057319   email:

Da Massimo's on the road between San Savino and San Feliciano (but close to San Savino):
tel: +39 075 8476094 or 8476269 (better call to reserve)
Closed on Mondays


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