Foligno, Umbria

Flags mark the neighborhoods in Foligno, Umbria

I’m not quite sure why Foligno is so far off the tourist track. It’s a grand and colorful small city with a train station just outside the historic walls for easy accessibility. It’s also flat, a rarity for an Umbrian burg, which, along with its size, makes it easy to navigate. Plus, there are celebrations seemingly every week, offering travelers the opportunity to rub elbows with locals as they sample local goodies and observe lively spectacles together.

A stroll through town and a hop into any bar, and tourists are sure to notice the signs announcing the I Primi d’Italia festival (a celebration of first courses—how Italian can you get?) or Notte Rosa (a celebration of women in Foligno with music, dancing, lights, and exhibitions). And this all on top of Foligno’s storied Quintana festival, which takes place twice a year with parades and a jousting competition that will leave you breathless (video at the bottom of this post).

Many of these festivals include taverne, pop up restaurants that serve local meals at low prices in a communal atmosphere. There is more about taverne in my “Guide to Umbrian Festivals”, including how to navigate what can seem a bit overwhelming, but for the moment I just want to point out that while many Italian towns operate taverne in whatever open space they can find at the time of the festival, Foligno has dedicated historic spaces that are kept specifically for operating taverne. The one we went to the most often was outside a medieval tanning operation, with a covered area where workers once stretched the leather out to dry. The taverna abuts what was once a useful river for washing hides, but in one of Umbria’s many wars, the opposing armies dug a trench to divert the river around the town, depriving the people of their water source. A bold move. You’ll see the river is still active around the city walls, but there are hints of it within the town. The taverna is one such place.

Foligno Umbria

There is a lot of neighborhood pride in Foligno, much as you might have heard about Siena (neighborhood demarcations are called Rioni in Foligno, rather than Contrade in Siena). Each neighborhood sponsors a horse for the Quintana. As such, locals in your chosen taverna may all sport neckerchiefs with designs of castles or wolves or trees.

I should also mention that the food scene in Foligno is staggering. Take an evening passeggiata (a lively scene in Foligno) and you'll see the streets packed and the outdoor restaurants full of a burbling crowd. Gelateria Crispini, close to the main piazza is a fabulous spot to get some gelato (I recommend the chestnut, or the Amalfi lemon).

The park, or canape, in Foligno is lovely. If you arrive with children, this is a great spot to sit down and let them burn off steam. We've enjoyed more than our share of kebabs in that park. Why kebabs? We have no idea. Somehow that's always what we craved while at the canape.

Right outside of Foligno, I recommend Centro de lu Munno (dialect for "Center of the World"), a culinary treasure curtesy of our friends Brenda and Graziano. There is no sign, but the location is on the website, and (hot tip!) it's situated directly beside what Graziano says is the most stunning macelleria in the area. The provenance of their meat is apparently impeccable. In any case, Centro de lu Munno is the building beside it, recognizable by its wall of metal boxes, out of which grow wee olive trees and rosemary bushes. I hear the restaurant has wonderful grilled meats, but we ourselves feasted on their antipasti selection and a round of pizzas. I love traveling with Italians who somehow know how to ask for "a selection of antipasti that you are particularly proud of, enough for all of us, but not so much that we can't eat our dinner."  A nod, and then the appearance of a platter of salumi and cheese, as well as a platter of snails, cotiche (remember this from Il Bel Centro?), a pate of lentils, truffled scrambled eggs, and coratella (a spring/Easter dish of lamb lungs, liver, and heart). It was interesting how three of these items once made the majority of my family cringe, and this time, we dove into all of it. Remember with the cotiche, how I could hardly get my family to taste it? This time, it was all of our favorite, hands down. I still wasn't too fond of snails, though Gabe and Keith loved them. And none of us submitted to the charms of coratella. Frankly, we were just glad we didn't have to pretend to like it, like we did when it was served at Mario's house.

The pizzas ranked up with our top two or three in Italy, with their Neopolitan like stretchy crust, but without the sogginess that offended the sensibilities of some in my family when we dined in Naples. Super savory tomato sauce, interesting toppings—I got an Amatriciana pizza with guanciale that was divine, Keith's pizza with porcini, beef carpaccio, and arugula initially threw me off because I do expect tomato sauce on my pizza, but I soon swooned once the flavors melded and I let go of expectations. The menu is in dialect, and you won't find any tourists. Also, apparently in warmer months, roof-top dining, with views over the farmland, is available. 

If your craving tends towards something sweet, I recommend in the strongest of terms the Sicilian bakery I reference numerous times in IBC and never told you the name of. Why? Because I didn't know it! A reader just emailed me yesterday to ask what it was, so I combed through photographs until I found one of a package of pastries wrapped in paper with the shop brand. I zoomed in and—Eureka! The shop is called Pasticceria Siciliana Farruggia, and they have a Facebook page which can help wth navigation and also drooling over once you're home and fondly remembering their spectacular sfogliatelle. And granita. And cannoli. Okay, I'll stop now.

Of course, there are attractions in Foligno beyond eating and celebrating. Palazzo Trinci is a popular destination for its insight into fancy medieval living and its fantastical staircase. It also houses Foligno’s archaelogical museum. If churches are your thing, the duomo (San Feliciano) is a worthy stop for its Romanesque architecture. In 1472, Dante’s Divine Comedy was printed in Foligno at the Palazzo Orfini.

Oh, and if you are visiting Foligno and have a car, I highly recommend a quick trip to enchanting Rasiglia, where the soundtrack is the music of endless canals and waterfalls weaving their way through this former mill town.

Mostly, though, Foligno is a town that’s ripe for wandering. The buildings are grand and gracious, the flags whipping merrily overhead are a constant reminder of Foligno’s roots in tradition, and the evocative aromas will pull you into a festival or restaurant like a hug.

Have you been to Foligno? What did you enjoy there? Let us know in the comments below!