A Luxury Country Inn - Umbria

The Island of Ponza – Final Part 3 – Food and Return to Formia


Driving around the island at different times of day, the light was very different, offering spectacular sights and varying colors of the crystal clear waters.

Ponza turquoise water

Ponza island

lunch at our hotel

Ponza magnificent

Ponza palms

Ponza villa



the sights, amusing or stunningly gorgeous, never ceased to amaze.  Each evening we ended our blissful days with a late dinner at Punta Incenso Restaurant, a family run, informal place that served dinner only.  Several of the family members spent their morning fishing, serving their catch of the day at dinner.  What a treat to enjoy only the best local, seasonal FRESH fish.

Our Ponza restaurant

Ponza grilled calamaro, swordfish and ricciola

Ponzese alici

Ponza - alici

Ponza -soutè di vongole


Maurizio on boat end of vacation

end of vacation

twilight at Ponza

Five glorious days on the beautiful island of Ponza with a total change of pace, scenery, food and activities made for the perfect late August-early September mini-vacation. We couldn’t help but wonder why we had never gone before!


The Island of Ponza – Part 2


leaving Ponza port for a full day boat excursion, from 9 AM – 6 PM with six leisurely stops for swimming 


P1120161 (1)

on the private charter boat “Orca” with just 12 passengers


We circled the entire island of Ponza and the island of Palmarola, mesmerized by its turquoise, cobalt blue, and emerald green waters


and the few sandy beaches.


The warm sea was irresistible,  as was the beauty of the two islands’ small coves, grottos, jagged coastline, unusual rock formations, sheer cliffs…and, as above,  the few intimate sandy beaches.


We were enchanted by the ever-changing light, reflections, colors, numerous grottos, coves, inlets, colorful fish visible in the crystal clear waters.


The full summer day with 98° F. air temperatures and 84° F.  water temperatures made for the perfect all-day boat trip


and for taking full advantage of every swimming stop in gorgeous spots.


P1110845 copy

A very happy me, fully in my “elements” of sun and water.


our comfy table for an unforgettable lunch cooked and served onboard


 starters of: bruschetta with tomatoes, garlic and basil; lemon-marinated fresh local anchovies with sautéed eggplant, garlic and oregano;  soutè of local mussels; served with local Ponza white wine and a  refreshing sangria

Orca boat trip

followed by an amazing spaghettata of cherry tomatoes, garlic, leeks, eggplant, zucchini…and loaded with clams, shrimp and mussels

Ponza Orca lunch

and rock shrimp with EVOO, fresh Italian parsley and garlic, sautéed ever-so briefly in the local island white wine – absolutely delicious

Ponza boat trip lunch

 before the sweet, festive watermelon…and strong espresso for all.  What a treat!


A perfect day in Ponza, an unforgettable experience…and the forging of the happiest memories.

STAY TUNED for Part 3:  Scenery and Food of Ponza


The Island of Ponza – Part 1

Ponza is called the Pearl of the Mediterranean islands.  I am not sure if I would call it the pearl  –  but I would certainly consider it one of the island pearls.  Strangely, since it is somewhat closer to us than Capri, Ischia and Elba, we had never been.  On a whim, we grabbed an opportunity and took off the last Sunday of August – the very day that the August crowds were leaving the island.  While many visitors rent scooters for the island that has only one narrow road, we took our car on the Formia – Ponza ferry boat.  The weather was full summer with bright, clear, cloudless 98° F. days – perfect for this type of trip.  The relative proximity made it feasible for a short 5 day mini-break from our Genius Loci season.

Fortunate enough to have visited the South Pacific, the Caribbean and Florida, I must admit that the Mediterranean islands are my favorite.  I prefer the barren Macchia Mediterranean to the tropical; the dry to the humid climate; the calm/crystal clear/warm water with the gorgeous patchwork of cobalt blue, turquoise and emerald green hues to the ocean.  I love the light of the amazing grottos and the typical cactus pears.  Add the most flavorful fish imaginable and the to-die-for buffalo milk mozzarella – made fresh twice daily in the area – and my preference for the Mediterranean islands is a no brainer.

I also enjoy the ease and minimum travel time:  a 3-hour drive to Formia and a two and a half hour ferry boat crossing.  In a half day we have a total change of scenery and atmosphere.

Traghetto to Ponza - Mary

on the Formia – Ponza ferry boat crossing

arrival Ponza

arriving at the picturesque port of Ponza

Ponza arrival-drive to B&B

a stop on our way to our hotel


 views driving the short distance to our hotel

Ponza magnificent

 beautiful views along the drive to our hotel

Ponza turquoise water

turquoise waters below 

Villa Gabbiano - parking space

a tiny sign indicated our Villa Gabbiano B & B parking area

Ponza island

amazing views as we walked up through the garden to our hotel

V. Gabbiano - Ponza -entrance walkway through the garden

one of the lovely walks through the vast garden of our hotel

V. Gabbiano - Ponza - entrance

arriving at the entrance

our B & B  –  Villa Gabbiano   –  boasts 360° views:

Ponza faraglioni

view from one side of the garden

side garden of Villa Gabbiano Ponza

view from the other side

front garden Villa Gabbiano - Ponza

and the “front” view of Palmarola Island

Ponza port view from Villa Gabbiano

the “back” view of the port

sunset from hotel

the “front” view of Palmarola island and the splendid sunsets

V. Gabbiano Ponza - view from our room

view from our room at sunset


If you would like to know more about Ponza, read below (from Wikipedia)

Ponza is the largest of the Italian Pontine Islands archipelago


The island was inhabited from neolithic through Roman times. According to local legends, Ponza was named after Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea who tried Jesus of Nazareth for heresy. Pontius Pilate’s family owned a grotto on Ponza, which is still named after him. The Pontius Pilate legend of Ponza’s name has recently come into dispute amongst historians.  Another theory is that the name is of Greek origins from Greek.

 Greek and Roman periods

 In ancient times the island was called Tyrrhenia. Legend says that Ponza is what is left of the lost island of Tyrrhenia. Ponza is said to have been connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land, which sank into the sea with most of the island below the water, with the parts remaining above sea level. The same exact phenomena happened at Capri. According to legend, there was a large city on the ancient island. There has been significant archaeological progress recently that shows this may be true.

 Ponza was first colonized by the Etruscans. The island was heavily forested with giant trees in ancient times, but the forest is gone and the hills are covered with man-made terraces. Most of these terraces are no longer being used to grow food and grapes and are eroding due to lack of maintenance.  Crops are grown on these terraces like grapes for wine and cactus pears and fig trees.

Ponza is also thought to be the island of Aeaea in Homer‘s Odyssey, as the island of Circe the sorceress, where her cave was located. Today it is known as Grotta della Maga Circe on the west side of the island.  Archaeologists are investigating Ponza in search of evidence of Homer’s Odyssey.

 During Roman times, Nero Caesar, eldest brother of Caligula, was deported to Ponza in AD 29, where he was put to death the following year. Two of his sisters, Agrippina the Younger (mother of the emperor Nero) and Julia Livilla, were exiled to Ponza in AD 39 for their complicity in a plot to overthrow Caligula. They were recalled to Rome in AD 41. Julia Livilla had a mansion named Palazzo Giulia (Julia’s Palace) built especially for her on Ponza. The ruins are still visible.

 Middle Ages

Ponza was abandoned during the Middle Ages due to constant raids by Saracens and pirates. In 1552, the Ottoman fleet under the command of Turgut Reis (known as Dragut in the West) defeated the Spanish fleet of Emperor Charles V under the command of the famous Genoese admiral Andrea Doria near Ponza.

 Recent history

During the 18th century, the Kingdom of Naples re-colonized the island. The island became part of the Kingdom of Italy in the mid-19th century and it is now part of the Republic of Italy. The island’s isolation destined it to serve as a penal colony by various regimes.   Today the island is a tourist attraction.


 Ponza and Gavi are the remains of a caldera rim of an extinct volcano, with a surface area of 7.3 square kilometres (2.8 square miles). Ponza is approximately 5.5 mi (8.9 km) long by 1.5 mi (2.4 km) at its widest. It is a crescent shaped island with one large beach called Spiaggia di Chiaia di Luna (Half Moon Beach) and a few small beaches and has a mostly rocky coast.

 Ponza has many odd natural rock formations.  It has several small villages, among them are Commune di Ponza, Santa Maria and Le Forna.

The island has many archeological ruins visible everywhere, including Egyptian, Canaanite, Greek, and Phoenician necropoli ruins in the center of the island. There are Etruscan ruins on parts of the island jumbled with Roman ruins.

  A large statue called Il Mamozio (“The Mummy”) or Il Mitreo, meaning miter or priest’s hat, is a 3,000 year old marble statue and was found in the harbor.  Depicting a local Etruscan consul, it is now displayed in a museum in Napoli behind protective plastic, where it was reunited with its head. It is the oldest known Etruscan statue of its kind and extremely rare.


The town of Ponza is a fishing and boating port with several large docks that can accommodate large ships. Its biggest industry is tourism followed by boatbuilding, boat repair and fishing.

The four mines at the northern end — the most beautiful area of the island — were closed in 1975 by the Italian Environmental Protection Agency because the mining operation was destroying the wildlife and flora, which are endangered species. The mines produced kaolin and Bentonite. Kaolin is used in making Kaolin-Pectin medicine and the manufacture of porcellain.

 Ponza has a two lane road that goes from north to south, but can accommodate small cars only. An airstrip planned for the north of the island was canceled due to environmental concerns. Because there is no airstrip, seaplanes visit the island instead.

Celebrities often vacation on Ponza.  Jacques Cousteau and his son, Philippe Cousteau, have filmed several documentaries in the area.

 Federico Fellini’s Satyricon (1969) was filmed on Ponza.

 Rabbits, chickens and other animals are raised for meat to make a popular Ponza dish: cacciatore. Other farmed animals include goats, lamb and pigeons. Fresh fish is the mainstay.

 The local economy is in a downturn partly due to the severe restrictions on commercial fishing.


Ferries reach Ponza from Naples, Terracina, Formia and Anzio; there are also hydrofoils (aliscafo) from Anzio and Formia that have travel time of about 75 minutes. The ferries and hydrofoils may not depart to and from Ponza during severe weather conditions. Much of Ponza is accessible by car and a bus runs the length of the island.

Ponza vegetation

Villa Gabbiano - Ponza


Crimson and Gold at Genius Loci 2015

Genius Loci -2

                                                                                                                                                                                           photo courtesy of Julie Thomas


Imagine waking up each morning to this view from your room and at breakfast or driving on the country roads around Genius Loci with the crimson vineyards stretching deep and wide around each bend, seeing the olive harvest first-hand, tasting the newly cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil at the Open Olive Mills’ Festival and relaxing before dinner by the working fireplace as we roast local chestnuts and sip Sagrantino along with a few other like-minded guests.

November 5 – 12, 2015

an all-inclusive week of magnificent beauty

WON’T YOU JOIN US?  We’d love to share this with you!

Please contact us for full information.  Space is limited…so don’t delay.














The Delights of Modena – Part 2 – Mercato Albinelli

“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.” – Paul Prudhomme

Nowhere does that ring any truer than in Italy or is any more apparent than at Italy’s magnificent food markets.  Visiting the markets wherever we happen to be visiting is always at the top of our To Do list!  Those in Bolzano, Verona, Venice, Bologna, and Florence stand out in my memory…and I must now add the Albinelli Market in Modena as another stand out.   It is hard to imagine anyone living in the center of town NOT shopping there.  In fact, 88% of all those who live within “the walls” shop at least weekly, with 25% who shop there everyday!   The atmosphere was so festive that we thought there was a celebration of some kind.  “No”, one of the stand owners replied, “it is just a normal Friday”.

There are records dating from 1100 that mention the daily food market in the Piazza Grande.  It wasn’t until 1931 that a Liberty Style permanent structure was built, just steps from the Piazza.  The wrought iron work is massive and remarkable.  The locals refer to the Market as the heart and soul and Modena.

Albinelli Market - Modena

Many of the stands have been continuously owned and  managed since 1931 by members/generations of the same family.   Even though some of the produce stands are very similar / almost identical in their offerings and prices, customers are loyal to “their” stands.  There are strolling musicians, barbershop quartets and choral groups who perform regularly:  the atmosphere is that of a “happening” with warm greetings, waving across the aisles and various chit-chats floating through the festive air.  Questions were gladly answered, exhaustive explanations were willingly offered, samples were provided, and collaboration between stands was apparent!

The highlight for us was a visit to stand 36-37, specializing in cheeses and the amazing balsamic vinegar of Modena.  The kind couple has worked there daily (except Sundays) for 21 years.  In spite of a rather long line of their regular customers, they spent a good amount of time with us, explaining the different types of parmigiano and the fundamental difference between IGP and DOP versions of the Modena Balsamic vinegars.  I plan on dedicating a blog entry on this heavenly gourmet product and on the types of parmigiano...so please check back to learn more.

modena market - mushrooms

pasta all'uovo-Modena

sugo allo scoglio

Speaking of collaboration among the stands, the day we left Modena for home, we returned to the Market for some purchases.  The woman selling this amazing fish sauce rushed to the fish monger (from which she had bought earlier that morning the fish to cook) for a large scoop of ice and a freezer bag to ensure our sauce would travel safely for the 4 hour trip home.  The third generation fish monger then came over to her stand to make sure, as she was packing the bag, that she had enough ice.  He inspected, approved…and said we were “good to go”.

cheesecake with berries - Modena Market

dandelion greens in our sandwich

Maurizio was excited to find dandelion greens to put in the sandwiches we made ourselves by visiting several stalls for the freshest bread, the best Modena prosciutto,  slices of a fresh local cheese AND a drizzle of heavenly DOP aceto balsamico.   For dessert, we had a couple slices of a beyond-delicious mixed wild berries cheesecake (see the photo above).  We topped off this simple but fun / delicious lunch with an 85% dark chocolate layered espresso at Cafè Concerto on the Piazza Grande.   What fun it was to watch the dynamics among the people and even see a dog “smelling” the flowers. I was lucky to happen upon this photo below on the Internet since I wasn’t quick enough to get my camera out to capture the similar scene!


Another delight in Modena:  the Albinelli Market!


Finally… An Authentic Italian Cookbook

Letizia's cookbook

 Letizia Mattiacci, author of A Kitchen With A View at Genius Loci

Letizia's cookbook cover

 Letizia’s cheerful book cover

“Can you recommend a good cookbook, Mary?” guests ask during our Cooking Classes or our Gourmet Tastings at Genius Loci.  Just as invariable as the question –  was my disappointing answer: “No, I really can’t”.  Never had I found a general cookbook that fully understood the why,what, and how we eat in Umbria.  For those of us who have lived here with Italian husbands and lives, the cookbooks in English just don’t “get it”.

A Kitchen With A View is SUCH a welcome exception!  Written in English by an articulately intelligent, highly educated, expert cook from Perugia with years of experience teaching foreigners the secrets of Italian cooking at her Cooking School above Assisi, Letizia instinctively knows how to address what is puzzling and what will benefit from some extra explanation.  Her useful tips, insights and writing style are straightforward, pragmatic and ever so clear.  The photography of the food and of Umbria by Letizia’s husband, Ruurd, is spectacular and adds yet another layer of pleasure to this exquisitely beautiful book.

As a modern and extremely busy woman, wife and mother herself, Letizia offers ideas and recipes (with seasonal variations) which won’t keep you in the kitchen for hours.  This is not Grandma’s cookbook, but a modern approach of someone who knows the importance of eating well…but without undue fuss.

What a relief!  Finally… I can unabashedly answer that most commonly recurring request, “Can you recommend a good cookbook, Mary?” …with a resounding and convinced “Yes”!

Mayleen Montana clematis

For ordering information, please email:   FTeditore@gmail.com 

For our treasured guests, the book is also on view and available for purchase at Genius Loci.


The Delights of Modena -Part 1

 We have raced by Modena over these many years countless times on our summer trips to the Alps.  Invariably I said, “we must plan a trip someday to visit the Duomo” with Maurizio chiming in…”and to Maranello”.  In April, the perfect opportunity presented itself:  Modena was a viable midpoint for meeting up with some special Genius Loci guests/friends for a couple days.

Duomo Modena

 the side of the Duomo facing La Piazza Grande.

Duomo of Modena

the beautiful apse of the Romanesque Duomo with the towering “landmark” Ghirlandina Campanile

At the last minute, unfortunately one of our friends fell ill and simply couldn’t come.  While we were so sorry she was not well and that we would not have the pleasure of being together, nevertheless,we enjoyed Modena.  We soon learned that Modena offers so much more than its remarkable Duomo (although it is far more magnificent than we had even imagined) and its Ferrari heritage and fame.

The Cathedral – il Duomo

Modena Cathedral is a Romanesque church in ModenaItaly. It is the cathedral, or duomo in Italian.  Consecrated in 1184, it is one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Since the 5th century, two churches had existed on the site of the present cathedral: the discovery of the burial site for Saint Geminianus, Modena’s patron saint, led to the destruction of those churches and building of this cathedral by 1099. The initial design and direction was provided by an architect known as Lanfranco. The present cathedral was consecrated on July 12, 1184

After Lanfranco’s stunning work, the Cathedral was decorated by Anselmo da Campione and his heirs, the so-called “Campionesi Masters”. The current façade, therefore, exhibits different styles. The majestic rose-window was added by Anselmo in the 13th century, while the two lions supporting the entrance columns are Roman, probably discovered while digging the foundations.

duomo modena façade

The façade also has notable reliefs by Wiligelmus, a contemporary of Lanfranco’s; these include portraits of prophets and patriarchs, and most of all the Biblical Stories, a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture. Art historians point out that along with those of Antelami in Parma, the reliefs of Adam and Eve, depicting the original sin, and the story of Noah are among the finest medieval reliefs of the 1200s in all of Europe.

duomo modena - detail of stone work

Duomo Modena -medieval stone work


The side gates are also fascinating – true masterpieces.  On Piazza Grande, the Porta Regia (“Royal Gate”), also by the Campionesi Masters, and the shorter Porta dei Principi (“Princes’ Gate”), decorated with a relief depicting episodes of the life of Saint Geminianus, by a pupil of Wiligelmus’.

duomo di modena - lateral portal

duomo modena - side panels

On the northern side is the highly original Porta della Pescheria (“Fish-Market Gate”), with reliefs inspired by the cycle of the years’ twelve months.  Due to the crowds in admiration, it was impossible for us to photograph this amazing “porta”.

The interior is divided into three naves. Between the central nave and the crypt is a sublime marble parapet by Anselmo da Campione portraying the Passion of Christ, including the Last Supper.

duomo modena - interior 3

duomo modena - detail of soppalco

The pulpit is by Arrigo da Campione, decorated with small terracotta statues.

duomo modena - detail pulpit


duomo modena - detail of male figure

n bduomo modena - detail interior

duomo modena - baptismal font

medieval capital duomo modena

duomo modena - altarpiece

above:  other various details in the interior

Pavarotti gave many memorable concerts in his hometown Cathedral and his funeral was held in the cathedral.

and with the Duomo, the delights of Modena have just begun….

stay tuned, please  –  to be continued….




Isn’t Variety the Spice of Life?

To those of you kind enough to follow my blog, I apologize for seemingly having disappeared from the face of the earth.  I spent the month of February with my daughter in State College, PA.  For many reasons…it was indeed a trip to remember!:  weather-related canceled flights, Arctic temperatures, frostbite and a bout of bronchitis.

 “Why in the world would you want to leave Italy to spend February in Pennsylvania”, friends asked?

The answer is simple:  VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE.

For a change, I love the silence, the glistening beauty of snow, the cold…and even wearing a polar bear-like coat. What fun. 

Polar Bear Mary

I love hearing the snow plows at night

snow plows and fresh snow

I love seeing icicles

ice cycles

and stop signs peeping out from the snow banks

lots of snow!

And I love my comfortable room at Mar’s and Jessi’s, such a welcome sight after a long trip

my room at Mar's

con Jessica e Marica

…and I love being greeted, welcomed, treated like a queen and hugged by Mar and Jessi.

I love picture-postcard winter scenes and a sense of pervading serenity, peace and stillness.

fresh snow

and branches laden with the freshest snow.

frozen winter roads

and looking out at icy roads.

American breakfast

and oh, the pleasure of an American breakfast

Thai food

or a dinner of Thai food

tempura e sushi

 or and evening of Japanese with sushi

pecan pie

a piece of pecan pie

a bagel

or a toasted bagel sandwich

As much as I love Italian art and food, what a joy to have some variety in both!

Barnes Foundation

Barnes cafè

and American sandwiches – so delicious

How great it was to be surrounded by Matisse, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Cezanne, Modigliani, Soutine, Manet, Picasso, Van Gogh and “forget”  the Italian masters for awhile!



Chaim Soutine “The Lady in Blue” 1922

live theatre in English

…and what about the thrill of attending a theatrical performance in English?

Ready for a change again, ready for some variety:  the joy of then returning to an early spring is tripled!  The bright blue skies seem brighter, the mild days seem warmer, the flowers more magnificent

coming home to spring

spring hyacinth

spring forsythia

clematis buds

spring view from my bedroom

the countryside greener

lemon balm

the herbs more fragrant


and the Italian food more amazing than ever!



A March favorite

artichokes and oranges


Early to mid-March is the much-anticipated beginning of artichoke season – the “mamme” as they are called in Tuscany or the”cimaroli” as they are called in Umbria:  the  very first, central, round-with-no-choke artichoke of the plants.

While there are many delicious ways to cook these delicacies, one of our favorites is a simple version, taking advantage of the super-sweet tarocco oranges that are still at their very best.  Simply sautè on a medium flame some garlic, fourth segments of the artichokes with slices of the entire oranges in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.  Douse with a dry white wine after about 5-8 minutes, continue to cook until tender, about another 5-8 minutes.  Sprinkle with freshly minced Italian parsley and serve.  Heavenly!