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Trevi, the Olive Oil capital of Umbria

distant view of Trevi, Umbria

Trevi is one of those medieval towns that at first glance make you want to up sticks and move there. It ticks all the boxes of what makes Italy so visually attractive and not just for tourists, because even after a decade of living in Italy I still catch my breath when I turn a corner and glimpse a place as beautiful as Trevi. Only 20 miles away in Lazio, Casperia is another town that instantly surprises and astounds the jaded traveler so there is much to be discovered in rural Italy when you grow weary of Italy's crowded cities.

Piazza Mazzini, Trevi
Piazza Mazzini with its 15th century porticoes and the 13th century Municipal Tower

A large part of Trevi's appeal lies in the approach to town. As you climb up from the valley floor, through which the Roman Via Flaminia passed, there are olive groves everywhere and you begin to understand why there are no ugly modern suburbs around Trevi because these olive trees produce some of the best oil in the world, not just the best in Umbria, so hillside land has a premium value here. It also lies in a high risk earthquake zone so perhaps that also serves as a disincentive to urban sprawl.

View of Trevi, Umbria as you approach the town
Another view of Trevi

Even during an unseasonably cool and wet start to May there was no disguising the beauty of an historic Italian hilltop town surrounded by nothing but olive trees and a few cypress trees to complete an idyllic scene.

The other part of Trevi's appeal for us is that it has not surrendered itself to tourism and in fact we saw very few other people in town. I would contrast it with nearby Spello which is also very attractive, though perhaps a little too perfect, but has a completely different atmosphere and has always been heaving with tourists whenever we have been there. Probably as a result of a specific policy decision taken by the mayor, Moreno Landrini, who commented recently Siamo particolarmente felici dell’exploit turistico nel nostro borgo”. Be careful what you wish for would be my riposte; visit Spello by all means but do it well out of high season is our advice.

A 2nd century olive oil jar in Trevi
An ancient terracotta olive oil container

Trevi was a Roman settlement thanks to both the Via Flaminia and also the Clitunno river that rises nearby from underground springs and at that time the Clitunno and Tiber were both navigable waterways. What is now an extensive alluvial plain along the valley floor below Trevi and Spello used to be covered by lakes so all the ancient settlements are on the western facing hillsides apart from Bevagna which lies on the flood plain.

The inscription on the 2nd century olive oil container in Trevi
The inscription on a 2nd century olive oil container

As early as the 1st century B.C. Trevi had protective walls but many centuries later these defensive fortifications were too primitive to withstand medieval armies and the town was virtually destroyed on two occasions in the 13th and 14th centuries, after which it reinforced the walls and constructed new gates. The first sacking in 1214 by the neighboring town of Spoleto is commemorated every year in October with the Palio dei Terzieri, a race in full medieval costumes. In Italy defeats can be celebrated as well as victories.

La Dispensa shop/restaurant in Trevi
La Dispensa in the center of town is a knowledgeable seller of premium olive oil and also has an excellent lunch service

Several gates remain from the Middle Ages: Porta del Bruscito, Porta del Cieco, Porta di San Fabiano and the archway, Arco del Mostaccio, as well as a few sections of the Roman walls high up in the ancient center of town.

Teatro Clitunno in the center of Trevi
Teatro Clitunno in the center of Trevi

Another annual festival in Trevi, of more interest to us, is the 'Frantoi Aperti' celebration of the olive oil harvest held during the month of November when you can taste and buy the new oil from 59 different producers in Trevi alone.

The Frantoio Gaudenzi shop in Trevi
The Frantoio Gaudenzi shop in Trevi

After 25 years this festival has now grown to include neighboring towns, providing yet another reason to visit Italy out of season.

Umbria generally and Trevi in particular does not produce a large quantity of olive oil relative to southern Italy but the quality in this region is superb and in the center of town there is a retail outlet of the local producer Frantoio Gaudenzi where we bought two outstanding olive oils, Quinta Luna and Casa Lontana. Not to be missed if you visit Trevi.

Fonti del Clitunno
Fonti del Clitunno

The Fonti del Clitunno a few miles south of Trevi near the hamlet of Pissignano has been a place of inspiration for various poets through the ages, starting with Pliny the Younger and Virgil. Lord Byron made a visit here in 1817 before his Ligurian period close to Percy and Mary Shelley in San Terenzo and the Italian nobel laureate Giosuè Carducci wrote a famous poem about these springs in 1876. The Maremma wine town of Castagneto Carducci is named in his honor.

Domenico Bruschi's painting of Caligula's visit

The Emperor Caligula also made a memorable visit to the Fonti del Clitunno as reported by the contemporary Roman historian and biographer Suetonius.

A somewhat elaborate painting of this visit was incorporated on the fire curtain for the inauguration of the Teatro Clitunno in the center of Trevi in 1877. The Tempietto del Clitunno is visible in the background.


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