Montecastello di Vibio is one of the best-preserved medieval hilltowns in Umbria. Not a tourist stop for Americans, the area around Montecastello is the summer home for Romans, Milanese, Germans, and English. But it is also a living town. Generation after generation of Montecastellese are born, marry, have children and die here.
The castle (il castello), the largest building in this tiny, intimate town, is a reminder of the feudal system. The feudal lord was the protector and the master of the villagers, who worked in his fields in the surrounding valley. Today, most of the townspeople have a piece of land of their own. In September, you can see them preserving tomatoes in their garages.
The beautiful, restored 18th century theater with only 99 seats, The Concordia, is called the smallest theater in Europe. It was honored in 2002 with its own postage stamp. Here, you can see some photo albums of the history of the town. It's amazing to see the old pictures of children playing in the same streets you see every day, and then walk outside and see those children, now with grown children of their own, watching their grandchildren play.
There are two grocery stores: Santina's Tiglio Market has the biggest selection, Giovanna's Il Mercatino, in the piazza near the school, has a nice wine selection and typical Umbrian products. All stores sell housewares, Vape (VAH-pay) to repel mosquitoes, and personal care items. For a snack, we'll see you at the bakery, where Giovanni and Natalina bake fresh bread every day, cookies, pastries, and cakes.
Banca Popolare di Ancona is Montecastello's bank. If you need to change money for a trip day, be sure to do it the day before, because our bus leaves before the bank opens. CAMBIO means exchange. The ATM machine (Bancomat) at the bank does international transactions.
The two public health clinics, with doctors, are open 3 weekday mornings and 2 afternoons a week, Monday-Friday. (The local hospital is in Pantalla, about 25 minutes by car. There are major hospitals in Perugia, 40 minutes' drive.) There is also a pharmacy, three churches, and a police station. For a cappuccino, ice cream, cigarettes or a snack, go to Giovanni and Anna Rita's Bar Centrale on the piazza with the awe-inspiring view of Todi. The bar is closed Wednesdays, except in August. And in the evenings, the action is at La Torraccia.
A short drive from Montecastello in Pian di Porto there is a large supermarket and housewares store called EMI. The selection there is positively stunning compared to the village stores in Montecastello. They even have bar-code readers.
Ballo liscio (BAHL-lo LEE-sho), country ballroom dancing, is the common language of young and old, rich and poor. Students can enjoy waltz, tango, foxtrot and polka to accordion music at the outdoor dance floor during festas in Montecastello. There is more current music and fun at La Torraccia Bar, just outside the walls. There is an outdoor cinema in Todi, open most summer nights. Students in August can't miss Montecastello's famous Festa Medievale, when the village goes back to the middle ages for a weekend.You can swim or play tennis at the Todi and Fratta Todina sports complexes (10 - 15 minutes by car from the school) or take long walks or a run on the beautiful paths and country roads around Montecastello. Be warm to the townspeople. Say buon giorno or buona sera. You may get invited home for coffee or dinner; you may even make lifelong friends.
You may rent a car for the summer or weekends from Hertz in Perugia, te +39-075 5002439. Ask for our neighbor, Rita Capociuchi. However, renting through a large company abroad may be less expensive (see Car Supplement). If you want to make or change some travel plans, Elisa at Cocoon Travel in Ponterio, tel. 075 8987364 or fax 075 8987366, speaks English perfectly. If you go away for the weekend, make arrangements in advance for someone to pick you up at the station. Staff members are not available to provide this service. If you need to travel by train, let us know in advance and we'll help you.
Todi taxi points:
Local taxis with airport service:
We will assign studios, housemates and roommates before you arrive. If you're not happy with your situation at first, we suggest that you wait a few days and see if things improve. We're flexible, but don't want to make hasty changes. Our housekeeping staff will clean apartments and change sheets and towels every week. Smoking is not allowed in bedrooms, classrooms or the dining room. Smokers can enjoy the scenic terrace on the roof. You can do your laundry in the studio building: we have a washing machine, an iron, ironing board and a clothesline outside. For hand washing, basins and drying racks are provided in each apartment.
At the International School, some people eat better than they’ve ever eaten before. Thanks to our wholesome, regular meals, and lots of walking in fresh air, we’ve seen skin problems completely clear up, people lose weight, and by the end of the session they look so good we don’t want to let them go. Yet some formerly fit and trim women and men who have good habits at home have succumbed to the perils of living in Italy. You can avoid these pitfalls! Avoid: second helpings of pasta, a big hunk of bread dripping with olive oil, cheese, and salt with every meal, drinking lots of wine, cappuccino after meals (Italians drink it only in the morning anyway), or gelato. Drink lots of water, and take a walk now and then; it will also help you stay relaxed when your work builds up steam. People with food allergies should carefully read the menu that is posted at each meal in the dining room. If you are allergic to nuts please don’t eat the pesto!
The school has a small art and reading library. Please be respectful of the books. Some of them are now very rare, and we want everyone to be able to use them and teachers to have access to them for class. We gratefully welcome donations of books. The school also has a DVD player (region 2), and a digital projector, if you would like to watch movies.
The home of Director Marc Servin is down the street from Bar Centrale; ring the doorbell or call his mobile number: 348 8701011, or the office phone number: 075 8780072. The local doctor lives over the Macelleria (butcher shop). If you are running out of money, you can receive a money transfer at our Post Office by MoneyGram.
The population of Montecastello is only about 250 very nice people (more on weekends; people from the city come here for vacations). Very few people speak any English. Women may find that their natural openness and friendliness is misinterpreted by some local men who are looking for their next conquest; so until you learn the culture it's wise to dress and behave with a bit of reserve around the town.
There are old men with little to do, but like to give you a long critique while you paint. There are teenage boys who shout and ride around on loud motorcycles. Here in Umbria, like the rest of the world, we need to keep our doors locked if we want to protect our valuables. The school office has a small safe for students to use. Studio building and apartment doors should be kept closed during the day and locked at night.
We're in a picturesque medieval village in the country, on top of a hill. There is only one place to buy cigarettes. The public telephone in the piazza has frequent breakdowns. There is no public transportation to Todi. If you feel isolated or like to travel freely, you may want to rent a car, but gas is about 4 times more expensive than it is in the US.
The apartments in Montecastello are in very old stone buildings, and even though they are renovated and cleaned weekly there may be some dust and mold. The water pressure is not as strong and the hot water not as abundant as you may be accustomed to. If there's a drought, the town will actually shut off the water supply. Sometimes there is a lightning storm or the wind blows hard and there are power failures. The bathrooms in some Montecastello apartments are very basic. If you take long showers or wash your hair daily, be prepared to adapt. The tap water is okay for drinking, but it has lots of mineral deposits.
Italian plugs come in at least 3 sizes and are not compatible with US or many European plugs. Adapters and/or voltage converters may be needed. Hair dryers are a frequent cause of electrical problems in our old buildings, as their power requirements are enormous. See our Italian Plug Guide for more information.
There are very hungry mosquitoes and tiny biting sand flies called pappataci (June - August). These are transparent and practically invisible. Some people are particularly susceptible (see Mosquito supplement). The grocery stores sell a product called Vape (VAH-pay), a device that plugs into a wall socket and slowly burns an odorless insecticide while you sleep. It works. There are cats everywhere, so keep the studio doors shut to avoid "accidents". There are even small scorpions, but don't worry, they sting but they're not poisonous (don't leave your clothes on the floor). There are, however, poisonous snakes out in the fields (see Viper Supplement). Keep your ankles well-covered if you're working out in the landscape, and avoid deep grass.
In the summer, especially in July-August, there are festas, with dancing and loud music until late at night. Bring ear plugs if you like to go to sleep early (or dancing shoes if you don't). Sometimes there are heat waves. Be sure to close your shutters when you leave your room in the morning and when you're out of your studio during the day, it will stay much cooler.
During the first week of each month, the post office is filled with people picking up their pension checks. All stores close from 1-5 PM, but most stay open till 7 or 8 PM. All stores in Montecastello are closed Thursday afternoons. Giovanni's bar is closed Wednesdays, except in August.
We are very fortunate not to be in the area hard-hit by earthquakes. An earthquake is a natural phenomenon that can't be predicted, and lasts a very short time, almost always less than a minute. Wherever you happen to be, it's important to be calm and to know what to do. To be prepared for an earthquake, the National Seismic Service has some simple recommendations to follow that can save one's life.