Umbria, often called Italy's Green Heart, is a good place to experience laid-back wine and olive oil travel. An especially good time to visit is during the autumn grape or olive harvest. Rebecca Winke, owner of Brigolante Guest Apartments near Assisi, shares these tips for visiting olive mills and tasting olive oil.
Autumn in Umbria
At the end of summer, Umbria begins to wind down its festival season and get back to what this rural region has been doing best for Milena, producing wonderful wine and olive oil.
Later in the autumn, you'll notice olive groves with large nets spread out under the trees and pickers combing through the branches with what looks like plastic toy rakes. The olive harvest has begun! Whereas you can't taste wine right after the grapes are crushed, you can sample peppery new olive oil directly out of the mill, which is what I strongly suggest you take a day to do.
Visits on the Olive Oil Road
To organize a visit to the olive oil producing areas in Umbria (and their mills), your first stop should be the fetchingly eclectic La Strada del Olio DOP Umbria website. Don't be put off by the lack of translation on their home page, all the buttons on both the right and left have been translated in the English version of the site. Here you'll find a listing of oil mills open to the public, restaurants in the olive oil country, regional gastronomic products and-my favorite-local personalities (a quirky mix of artists, artisans, and village characters).
Olive Mills Open Houses or Frantoi Aperti
The biggest annual event for the olive mills is their open house, or Frantoi Aperti, which runs for six weekends from the end of October or first weekend in November. Although the page is in Italian you can see the dates and find the towns holding festivals each of the weekends (and see photos too).
This event organizes mills open for tours, olive oil tastings, and art, music, and culinary festivals-not least Festivol in charming Trevi, one of Umbria's primary olive oil producing towns.
Olive Cultivation Museum and Olive Grove Path
To get an idea of just how important the relationship between olive cultivation and the local history and culture is, I suggest you stop into Trevi's tiny Museum of Olive Cultivation where you can get an audio tour explaining the botanical and cultural history of local olive production (I know it sounds dry, but it was actually really interesting.). Afterwards, hike the Olive Grove Path (for a general description, see the Italian Alpine Club's page or, even better, purchase their guide The Olive Grove Path: Rediscovering the Splendid Medieval Times with a Franciscan Itinerary by Enzo Cori and Fabrizio Cicio, which you can find in local bookstores.) where you can see first hand how the olive grove blanketed hills, historic mills tucked into farmhouses and monasteries, and local population--who have developed both over the Millenia--live in seamless harmony.
More: Umbria Wineries and Autumn Grape Harvest