Mario reflects on one of his favourite travel destinations of central Italy, Assisi in the region of Umbria:
In all my travels in Italy over the years, the city of Assisi is a place which is often recollected by my memories. The more visits made there the more I have fallen in love with the place. The city is famous around the world for being the home to Italy’s most revered saint: St Francis. Apart for its religious importance, Assisi is a must see for its artistic and architectural heritage and beauty.
Situated in the green region of Umbria, which boasts countless beautiful medieval towns and hamlets, Assisi stands without a doubt as one of the Region’s most stunning medieval centres. It is in a perfect setting surrounded by valleys and forests glistening against the backdrop of Mt Subiaso. Approaching the city from the valley creates an unforgettable spectacle with the city’s medieval stone walls and towering monumental churches a glow in the setting afternoon sun.
When visiting Assisi with our tour groups we always tend to stay in our favourite hotel inside the ancient city walls close to Piazza del Comune. Immediately, there is a sense of quietness and a welcome calm even during the busy summer tourist season.
What to see in Assisi?
The skyline is dominated by two churches which lie at opposite ends of the City: the Basilica of St Francis and the church of Santa Chiara. The Church of Santa Chiara is named after Assisi’s other well known saint and contemporary of St Francis, St Claire. Both churches are stunningly beautiful, built with the local pink limestone with copper coloured tiled roofs. The Basilica of St Francis is a must see. Apart from its religious reverence, where the faithful pay their respects in the presence of the body of St Francis in the lower crypt, the upper part of the Basilica is dominated by the spectacular fresco cycles by artists such as Giotto and Cimabue.
Assisi’s clean and well-preserved medieval centre is delightful and easy to stroll around. There is a real beauty in the whole of the historical centre, an atmosphere of silence pervading the pink walled streets and alleys. In the Piazza del Comune, the heart of the City, one gets the feeling that the city has a long history. The square is adorned with well-preserved medieval buildings notably Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo and Palazzo dei Priori. In the same square, there is a strong link to the city’s Roman past with the impressive surviving façade of the Temple of Minerva dating from the 1st century BC. There is also the imposing Rocca Maggiore, a medieval fortress which sits high above the city centre further up the slope of Monte Subasio. Reachable by foot after negotiating the sometimes steep cobbled roads the fortress offers visitors a spectacular panoramic view of the historical centre of the city and the valley below. On a clear day you can see neighbouring Perugia on the other side of the Umbrian Valley.
What to Eat & Drink?
In the evenings, as the day tourists leave the City, Piazza del Comune creates a tranquil setting where locals and visitors enjoy an aperitivo before dining in one of the many bars and restaurants serving traditional Umbrian fare. A must try dining experience is the small restaurant Le Terrazze di Properzio, which boasts spectacular views of the rooftops of the historical centre and the surrounding valley. It is hard to eat badly in Assisi with restaurants and street food vendors serving typical Umbrian cuisine. Look out for artisan cheeses such as Pecorino and Casciotta as well as cured meats, most notably the Coppa from Norcia, a nearby hilltown renowned for its cured pork. Vegetarians are well catered for with delicious pasta dishes with shaved truffles as well as soups with legumes such as lentils and chickpeas.
The wine of Umbria is seriously underrated when compared to its close neighbours Tuscany and Lazio. A wine to look out for is Montefalco Sagrantino DOC, a bold red wine which is known as the most tannic wine in the world. It pairs beautifully with some aged Umbrian cheese and pork/game dishes. On the white wine front there are varietals such as Grechetto and Trebbiano of which Orvieto DOC is a good exponent.
Explore the Surrounds
Allow a few extra days in Assisi and use it as a base to explore some of the other magical cities and towns of Umbria. The nearby regional capital of Perugia is also a must visit as well as the smaller centres of Spello, Gubbio, Todi, Orvieto, Deruta and Montefalco all of which can be reached in a very short time. They will not disappoint.
Join our Vita Italian Tours: Best of Tuscany, Umbria & Le Marche small group tour taking in the very best of central Italy. The tour enjoys an extended stay in Assisi along with guided visits to Perugia and Gubbio. We also devise chauffeur driven private tours and self-drive itineraries for the independent traveller wanting to visit Umbria and other regions of Italy.
Written by. Mario Vitellone – Founder/Director of Vita Italian Tours