Series by Hans Couwenbergh.
Although I had been longing to go back to the Monti Sibillini National Park, we decided to base ourselves at another location this time and discover some other corners of Umbria.
On my trip over a year ago, I had been driving past Montefalco and from a distance it looked like an ideal place to start further Umbrian discoveries. As many villages and indeed cities, Montefalco is perched on a hill. It had also seemed like the ‘right size’ of place to stay; not quite as tiny as Preci and a bit livelier.
It’s not easy getting into Montefalco…
I had done my homework. Checked with the hotel if I could drive into the city and right up to the hotel beforehand, which they’d confirmed. Next, I had confidently reserved a parking spot. So no lugging any luggage up on the steep hillside!
Faithfully following the GPS we arrived at the gate of the city centre. A sharp turn had to be taken to be positioned right in front and be able to drive in. We observed a Fiat Cinquecento swiftly taking the turn and whizzing through the gate. With my slightly larger car I was a bit more careful. After some manoeuvrinng however, getting through the gate proved to be “Mission Impossible”.
With the incident on the trip here still fresh in mind and no desire for further car damage, I decided to take a look first. Stepping outside the car and through the gate, I noticed the road/path ahead was closed. One was to take a right turn immediately after the gate. No way with my wheels! So I decided to find a parking spot nearby and come up with a plan first, not in the least because my adventure seemed to be drawing quite some attention.
So I found the hotel reservation and called reception. Perfect English! A very friendly gentleman explained that I had to drive around the hamlet, following the ramparts. At the other side I would find another gate. This gate would be blocked with crowd control barriers, but I should feel free to remove them (!). After having done so, I just had to drive straight up the narrow road and on top would be the town square, where the hotel was located.
The blockader thing sounded a bit strange but the rest seemed easy enough. Oh yes, and there was one more thing: the last 20 meters of the road was a one way – down – so in principle no entrance, but as the alternative would be difficult we should just go straight on and use the horn. Police? We would just have to explain that we were tourists staying at the hotel.
Adjusting our driving style
So we drove around town – some beautiful views down on the valley by the way. At the end we found a roundabout, the gate, and the barriers…Big no-entry signs all over them. Got out of the car and removed the barricade.
Immediately an old geezer appeared out of nowhere gesturing and clearly in disagreement with my actions. I tried very hard to ignore him. Just when I wanted to drive in and up, another car came down, of course driving in the middle of the street. So I patiently waited. Another one followed just as the first car reached the gate. This went on for a while and we were getting worried we would have to camp at the roundabout, with the old geezer as a neighbour.
Then I remembered the ‘driving in Milan’ advise an Italian colleague gave me years ago:
“In the car, always look confident, never use your indicators, never look beside you, and consider traffic lights merely as a recommendation.”
So I put up a steel face, made the engine roar, and drove up the narrow road as if my life depended on it. Magically, cars coming out of side streets stopped. One, who dared to venture onto ‘my’ street, immediately went to the side. It was centimetre work but the ‘not looking aside’ did the trick. Then, the finish came in sight. The last 20-meters of no-entry zone! I hit the gas and the horn, and we emerged from the alley onto the square! I saw the hotel entrance and swiftly manoeuvred the car in front of the door. I decided to ignore the expressions on some faces (“bloody tourists”…).
What a nice place we had chosen. Very friendly staff, a beautiful and comfortable room with a gorgeous view, a spa, and right in the centre of Montefalco. We spotted no less than 4 enoteca within a distance of 50 meters. For the art lovers: Bontadosi also continuously exhibits art, which is refreshed on a regular basis (every two months if my memory serves me well). We were un-packing, getting settled, and I was longing for a nice glass of wine on one of the enoteca’s terraces.
Minor detail: “you can’t leave the car in the square, Sir!”
I noticed my car was indeed the only one in the square. I mentioned I reserved parking. The receptionist stepped out and pointed at a steep downhill alley next to the hotel. To make it easier for people walking down the alley had small steps. I saw the alley was getting narrower after about 50 meters, allowing 2 people to walk side by side (no 2 people my size, I might add).
This trip started to look more and more like a driver’s challenge. I started contemplating that a flight and a small Fiat hire car would have done the trick as well. “So where is the parking lot?” I inquired, a bit suspicious that the guy was pulling my leg. It turned out that halfway down, there was an entrance, but one was to be careful as the entry was level while the alley, well, was not.
In my mind I was already calling the insurance again…
I will not describe the all the swearing, the sweating, and the forward-backward exercise. I totally forgot my confident look! But I made it, and no damage! I felt it in my bone: by the time we had to move on I would do this like a pro! Then I realized I’d probably have to do this a number of times.
High time for a large glass of Sagrantino!
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