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© Andrea Fongo | www.andreafongo.com
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Local Flavor: The Best Restaurants in Assisi

Welcome this month’s edition of the Italy Blogging Roundtable tackling the theme of “flavor”! Take a look at posts by Georgette JupeJessica Spiegel, Melanie RenzulliAlexandra Korey, Gloria, Laura Thayer, and Michele Fabio. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Welcome back to our table…come pull up a chair and join in on the conversation!

Last month, the Italy Roundtable blogged around the theme of “move”, and the obvious choice would have been for me to write about moving from the countryside, where I had lived for most of last two decades, to the center of Assisi. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a fraught and complicated topic and since we seem to be living in a moment in history in which everything is fraught and complicated, I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm for it. So I talked about hiking, which is my salve when things get fraught and complicated, and left it at that.

© Andrea Fongo | www.andreafongo.com

© Andrea Fongo | www.andreafongo.com

This month the theme is “flavor”, and in a surprising twist of events, it turns out that the move from country to city – well, ok, town – is related in an indirect way. For the years that we lived outside of Assisi, we almost never ate in the restaurants in the center of town for two reasons: one, if we were going to all the trouble to shower and get in the car, it seemed more fun to make an evening out of it and head further afield into Perugia (for the window shopping), Bevagna or Montefalco (for the great food), or Lake Trasimeno (for the sunsets); two, the restaurants in Assisi simply weren’t very good. So we would just toodle past town on our way to better cooking and more interesting nightlife.

Now that we live on the main square, the car stays parked most days since my sons can walk to school and about 90% of their activities, and I have all the grocery store, butcher, pharmacy, post office, and pretty much anything else I need just downstairs. It takes a bit more motivation for me to pull the car out now than all those years when I was driving back and forth into town at least four times a day, which means that we have started to try out eateries withing walking distance from the Piazza del Comune, and discovered some real winners.

If you’re looking for a good meal in the center of Assisi, here are my picks:

 

Osteria Piazzetta delle Erbe
Via San Gabriele dell’Addolorata 15/A
075 815352

© Andrea Fongo | www.andreafongo.com

© Andrea Fongo | www.andreafongo.com

This is our hands down favorite place to eat in Assisi, especially in the summer when they have tables set up outside in the tiny square just a block from the crowded Piazza del Comune and you can linger over your meal in peace. Gourmet without being pretentious, local without being boring, friendly without being overbearing…the Piazzetta is a little on the hipster side with bearded waiters and whimsical plating, but Matteo’s food is genuinely excellent. A local favorite, this is one of the few places that doesn’t close down for a month or two after New Year’s and is almost always full, so be sure to reserve a table in advance. In the winter, space is limited to the few tables they have in their indoor dining room with vaulted stone ceilings and tables set elbow to elbow. When the weather warms up, you can choose to eat inside or out. They menu changes every few months or so, but is always an interesting selection of surprising combinations…which almost always work. The latest dessert menu had a chocolate and olive oil dish that we dared each other to order, but ended up with the mascarpone and espresso mousse, which was probably a better choice. We usually order a two courses and wine, and it ends up around €30 a person.

 

Hosteria La Terra Chiama
Via San Rufino 16
075 8199051

When the Piazzetta is booked full or when we are up for more traditional cooking, we walk one block further up Via San Rufino to the charming La Terra Chiama, where Annarita prepares rustic local specialties in a contemporary, almost art gallery-esque atmosphere. Though there is limited seating, the high ceilings, colorful artwork, and raised area in front of the large arched window make if feel less oppressive than most local restaurants tucked into Assisi’s Medieval center. The dishes are traditional, but the ingredients are all Umbrian DOP certified or authentic and heirloom local products, including the charcuterie, cheeses, olive oil, and legumes. There is no outdoor seating, but the dining room stays cool in the summer so you can get some respite from the heat. We especially like the handmade tagliatelle egg pasta, often served with local truffles, or the classic Umbrian meat dishes featuring lamb, rabbit, and squab. They also serve a nice selection of Umbrian wines and craft beers, and a meal of two courses and wine usually costs around €25 a person.

La Terra Chiama Assisi

 

Il Vicoletto
Via Macelli Vecchi 1
075 813620
This is a new place which opened up about a year ago and has gained a loyal following pretty quickly among locals and visitors, despite being tucked into a nearly hidden pedestrian back alley just off the main Piazza del Comune. We’ve eaten here a couple of times and the food has always been very good – updated versions of classic Umbrian dishes and some innovative surprises – but somehow it doesn’t have the je ne sais quoi to knock Piazzetta delle Erbe out of our top spot. The decor is a little fussy for my taste, and the service slightly formal for the space with its exposed stone walls and vaulted ceilings. That said, they do serve fish and seafood, which is not common in this landlocked region, and the location guarantees a quiet respite when the crowds take over restaurants with more foot traffic. If Piazzetta is booked and you want something more gourmet than Terra Chiama, this is a good option. Our meals here cost about the same as La Piazzetta, though the fish and seafood dishes are a bit more expensive.

 

Trattoria degli Umbri
Piazza del Comune 40
075 812455
Let’s say you find yourself in Assisi’s main piazza at mealtime and you are hot, tired, hungry, and just need to tuck into a plate of lasagne or a nice pork chop before your blood sugar level drops to DEFCON crabby. Ignore all the touristy cafès that line the square and head to where Via San Rufino starts heading uphill and the Trattoria degli Umbri. Here you’ll find a no-frills, checked tablecloth and paper napkin eatery that has classic dishes, quick service, a great location, and competitive prices. There is a small deck with a few tables in the summer, which is perfect for a meal overlooking the fountain and the bustling piazza, or cool off indoors in the air-conditioned dining room. The prices here are quite inexpensive, and you can probably have a meal for around €20 a person.

 

I Monaci
Via Arnaldo Fortini 10
075 812512
Sometimes you just want pizza. Unfortunately, Umbria doesn’t do pizza very well, but this pizzeria is run by a transplanted Neapolitan family, so you get the real deal. About a 5 minute walk from Piazza del Comune, I Monaci is informal and family-friendly; they also serve pasta and meat dishes, though we only order pizza when we dine here. You can easily spend less than €15 a person for a pizza and drink.

 

 

Italy Blogging Roundtable
Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends – and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

hiking in umbria
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A Perfect Day, A Perfect Hike: Spoleto’s Monteluco

Welcome to my late entry for the January edition of the Italy Blogging Roundtable! The theme this month is “Move”, and I look back on one of my favorite ways to move…hiking! So take a look at posts by Georgette JupeJessica Spiegel, Melanie RenzulliAlexandra Korey, Gloria, Laura Thayer, and Michele Fabio. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Welcome back to our table in this new year…come pull up a chair and join in on the conversation!

The older I get, the more zen I become. I used to be the kind of person who made plans and stuck to them…and then got all hot and bothered when plans changed. But I am finding more and more that things tend to work out in the end, and when the end is different than what you had envisioned at the beginning, it is usually a better end.

Monteluco spoleto umbria

An excellent example: recently, I had made plans to visit the Mongiovino castle and sanctuary near Panicale, which I had been looking forward to since friends had taken a hike there and came back raving about the area weeks ago. I don’t tend to explore around Lake Trasimeno (I prefer the rugged Apennines and the tiny hamlets of the Valnerina) and the sanctuary is one of Umbria’s few excellent examples of Renaissance architecture, so I was looking forward to shaking up my usual routine and doing something a little different.

Well, it didn’t happen that way. For a series of reasons, the Mongiovino plan had to be abandoned and Monteluco near Spoleto was floated as an alternative. Sure, I said. Ok, I said. Whatever, I said.

It was the perfect day.

monteluco hike umbria

I had been meaning to visit Monteluco for years, but just never seemed to get around to it. One of the reasons may be that it’s so accessible—a quick walk from the center of stately Spoleto–that I always put it aside as a back-up plan when a more complicated day of hiking wouldn’t work. Which is exactly what ended up happening on Sunday.

Monteluco is an area which covers about 7,000 hectares of lush, holm oak-wooded mountain. Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with the hilltop on which Spoleto is perched, the two are joined by the the city’s iconic medieval aqueduct Ponte dei Torri, which dramatically spans the valley between the them like a bridge joining two islands. By crossing the bridge and following the hiking path number 1 uphill, you can scale the mountain from the bridge to the summit along the medieval aqueduct and past a series of hermitages and sanctuaries.

hike spoleto umbria

The name Monteluco comes from the Latin lucus, meaning a sacred grove dedicated to Jupiter. This historic Sacro Bosco still stands at the top of the mountain, where it has been forbidden to cut trees for at least four millenia. Though the ban was ostensibly established for religious reasons, there was also a more pragmatic explanation: the thick forest acted as a filter between the disease-laden air emanating from the stagnant swamp which covered the valley floor on the far side of Monteluco at one time and the populace of the city of Spoleto. Indeed, a marble stone still stands at the entrance to the sacred grove inscribed with the Lex luci spoletina in ancient Latin reiterating this ban (a copy—the original is in Spoleto’s Archaeological Museum).

franciscan sanctuary spoleto

The mountain’s sacred history continued through early Christianity as Monteluco became home to a colony of religious hermits—primarily Syrian–who used the natural caves and grottoes found on the flanks of the mountain and in the sacred grove itself as places of spiritual retreat and contemplation. One of these became San Giuliano, and the picturesquely crumbling Romanesque church (built in the 1200s over a pre-existing shrine from the 5th century and subsequently abandoned by the Benedictines in the 1500s) dedicated to his memory can be seen from the panoramic lookout in the Sacred Grove (it can also be reached by car from the valley; there is now a small restaurant/pizzeria at the site with one of the prettiest views over the Spoleto Valley.)

umbria hike spoleto

With the expansion of Christianity, Monteluco endured as a spiritual destination for monks from a number of religious orders who sought to live according to their vows of humility and poverty. Of these, Francis of Pavia (who died here in 1454), Bernardino of Siena, Bonaventure, and Anthony of Padova. The remains of the abandoned monastery and church dedicated to Saint Anthony can be found about halfway up the hiking trail, and his grotto is still intact in the Sacred Grove. The most famous of all religious sites on Monteluco, however, is the Convent of Saint Francis on the summit of the mountain.

monteluco sanctuary spoleto

In 1218, Francis was granted the small Saint Catherine Chapel adjacent to the Bosco Sacro by the colony of hermits, which he and his followers expanded into a small monastery and church over the following decades. The convent is still active, and Mass is often held in both the original church and the larger, more modern addition. Some of the older parts of the complex are open to visitors, including the tiny cells (one of which still holds the Saint’s stone bed), original frescoed chapel, and Saint Francis’ Well, the spot where legend holds that Francis was miraculously able to summon a flowing spring from the rock near the grotto where he was living at the time.

hiking trail near spoleto

All of this I learned from my hiking companions as we climbed the switchback trail through the thick woods from the Ponti dei Torri, past the photogenic Monastero di Sant’Antonio ruins, and, finally, to the Sacred Grove and Monastero di San Francesco at the summit. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and parts of the trail seemed like a sporty version of Spoleto’s Corso as couples with children and seniors with dogs on leads took advantage of the first warm days of spring. We stopped often to take pictures and, as the trail began to climb in earnest toward the summit of the mountain, to catch our breath and take in the view.

hiking in umbria

Our prize was the overlook at the top…from here you can see the Umbrian Valley from Spoleto past Assisi, with a series of hilltowns dribbling down the mountainsides and a patchwork of olive groves, fields, and vineyards in the valley. Our prize was also an excellent lunch at one of the three seasonal hotels at the top and would have been a nap on inviting green which covers the summit, had it not been for the walk back down to town.

All told, not bad for a Plan B. Not bad at all.

A special thanks to my hiking buddy and all-round Umbria informant Armando Lanoce, who is always full of perfect Plan Bs and beautiful photos.

 

 
Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends – and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

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