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Perfect Picnic Places in Umbria: San Leonardo (Assisi)

Here’s watcha wanna do, watcha wanna do is this:

I’m upping the ante a little bit this week by taking you to a spot where you can barbecue!  Umbria has a long and proud tradition of great pork (the beef ain’t bad, either), so with a tad more organization and accoutrements, you can enjoy your meal hot off the grill while looking out over the rolling green hills of Mount Subasio Park.

The spot up at San Leonardo has a small pavilion with a fireplace—along with picnic tables—so you’re going to have to bring up some firewood (or charcoal, but try to get firewood if you can) and a grilling rack (you can get them cheap at any household store, the bigger supermarkets, or the weekly outdoor markets) along with your sundry picnic gear.

The fireplace and pavillion at San Leonardo

To stock up on your grillin’ meat, head to Assisi’s Macelleria Passeri on Via S.Gabriele Dell’Addolorata (right next to the greengrocer at n. 4) where pretty much anything you have a hankering for passes over their butcher’s block, but I suggest the fresh sausages and chops.  They also have a small rosticceria section (pre-prepared dishes) which are generally pretty good, so take a look and see if there are any pastas or sides you can warm up as well.

Round out your meal with any other groceries by simply walking across the street to the small local market Bottega del Bongustaio (known locally as Gambacorta) at n. 17, where they have a fabulous gourmet deli section, fresh bread, wine, and chocolate.  I suggest picking up some truffle patè you can spread on crackers to tide you over while your meat is cooking.

Now, get yourself on the ring road around Assisi (SP 444–this road eventually goes to a town called Gualdo Tadino, so follow those signs) and when you get to the top of Assisi, follow the road as it leads you under a city gate called Porta Perlici so narrow that only one car can fit through at a time.  Once you pass under this city gate you will suddenly find yourself in the mountains…continue about six kilometers until you pass by a row of houses on your right (Pian della Pieve) and come to an arrow pointing the way towards Madonna dei Tre Fossi on your right.  Turn here.

Madonna dei Tre Fossi Sanctuary. Photo by Giampiero Nottiani

You are going to follow this road for about 5 kilometers, passing the small sanctuary of Madonna dei Tre Fossi on your right. (Make a brief stop here if you’re lucky and find it open.  The painting of the Madonna inside this charming stone church is said to work miracles for the faithful.)  After you pass the Boston Fire Watch Guards community to your right, continue on the main road following the signs towards an agriturismo called La Tavola dei Cavalieri.

The tiny chapel of Satriano

Once you reach this agriturismo, you can continue past it following the road as it curves left for another kilometer and reach San Leonardo at the peak of the hill, but I suggest you take a tiny detour to the right.  After about 10 meters, turn left and follow the road downhill to the Satriano sanctuary, where the dying Saint Francis briefly rested during his final journey home from Nocera Umbra.  This famous journey is commemorated every September with a historic reenactment by the Fraternal Knights of Assisi on horseback.

The view from San Leonardo on the hilltop

Back at San Leonardo, get your fire started and then take a quick walk up the road to enjoy some of the most beautiful views in Umbria over Mount Subasio and surrounding foothills.  And later, while enjoying your perfectly cooked pork, ponder the simple country chapel of San Leonardo which dominates this spot.  The story goes that years ago a local farmer, Rufinetto, would pass by the chapel every day on his way to town and ask the saint, “Leonardo, can I take a penny for my cigar?”  Hearing no response, according to the principle of silent consent, the farmer would take his coin from the offerings left by the faithful and use it to purchase his daily smoke.  As time went on, the story spread until one day one of Rufinetto’s neighbors hid behind the church.  Upon hearing the farmer ask, “Leonardo, can I take a penny for my cigar?” the neighbor called out “NO!” and poor Rufinetto responded “Oh, Lord, Leonardo is ornery today!” and high-tailed it out of there.  History does not record if Rufinetto quit smoking, but I would toss a coin in through the door just in case his ghost still hankers for a good cigar.

The humble San Leonardo chapel…toss in a coin for Rufinetto!

Buon appetito!

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