When you think of Tuscany and Umbria, you tend to think of spring and summer, maybe a little fall, if you enjoy nettles and nutmeg, but you never think of snow. Or at least I didn’t until one day, when we were visiting the phenomenal Cathedral in Assisi, where St. Francis tended his flocks. It was more than chilly that day; it was downright COLD. But the skies looked relatively clear, even if the overall feel was undeniably a little gray.
Before I go further, I want to encourage you to visit Assisi. Visit that entire pocket of ancient Umbrian cities. They’re spectacular, so picturesque and historical. You can even visit in the winter. But don’t be surprised if the flurries start to swirl. That’s what happened to us.
We exited the cathedral, which involves a very interesting series of highs and lows via staircases, only to find a sheet of fresh snow on our car and a shower of snowflakes alighting on our heads and shoulders. Turning on the heater, I felt relieved to go downhill and find the snow limited to a certain altitude. Our hotel, the beautiful Relais Todini, was located on the rolling plains of Umbria. I couldn’t imagine the snow following us onto those yellow, cypress-dotted hills. But by the time we made our way back to Todi and sought out dinner in the town’s narrow, narrow streets, the snow was pelting our car. Why do I say car? Ha! It was not just a “car” – it was a straight-up van, and not one of the conversion vans of the 80’s. This was a spartan passenger van that handled like a tractor. I would have struggled to make the unforgiving, right-angled turns of Todi’s city center under any circumstances in that vehicle. In the dark and snow, it was positively terrifying.
So we abandoned that plan and placed a call to the Relais Todini, our hotel. Could they possibly feed our party of five? Their kitchen was supposed to close soon, they explained. I was terrified we’d have no dinner plans anymore. After explaining our situation, while stopped in our car in the snow, the chef agreed to hold it open until we arrived. Grateful, we drove gingerly through the blizzard down the serpentine lane to the Relais Todini. Even today, if I close my eyes, I can still see those fast flurries, blocking our path in Todi. I was so scared that night: scared we wouldn’t find a place for dinner, scared of sliding off that skinny road and having to make my parents walk through slippery mush, scared of Josephine freezing to death if we had an accident.
Funny that all those fears disintegrated and anxieties melted away as soon as we were inside the warmth of that magnificent hotel, where we ultimately had one of the most comforting, delicious dinners any of us could recall. It was marvelous, cozy, and certainly more memorable than whatever meal we’d planned in town. The night really turned around and we were thankful for a fantastic dinner as well as for the safety of our family.
Author: Jessica Givens