Brigolante holiday rentals in Assisi, Umbria

Self-catering apartments in Assisi's town center and nearby countryside.
Browsing category: Food and Wine in Umbria, Rebecca's Ruminations

A Meal with a View: Osteria Rosso di Sera

Osteria Rosso di Sera

V. Fratelli Papini, 79
San Feliciano (Magione)
075 8476277
closed Tuesday
serves dinner and lunch on Sunday

The score:  It’s so womantic.  But while you’re gazing into each other’s eyes, try not to forget to enjoy your food.

I’m a sucker for a meal with a view.  I’m especially a sucker for a meal with a view of the sunset.  I’m particularly a sucker for a meal with a view of the sunset over water.  I’m decidedly a sucker for a meal with a view of the sunset over water sans mosquitos.  So much of a sucker that I have even been known to close a blind eye to a mediocre meal just because it was consumed in view of the sunset over water and I came home with no welts on my ankles.

The good news is that if you’re a sucker like me, there is a meal with a sunset-over-water-view waiting for you (which is kind of a tall order for Umbria, one of the few completely landlocked Italian regions).  And the even better news is that your dinner will be anything but mediocre.

Rosso di Sera (the name is a riff on a popular Italian aphorism:  Rosso di sera, bel tempo si spera–or “a red sunset promises fair weather”) is set right on the shore of Lake Trasimeno which, like most mud-bottomed lakes, is more lovely to gaze at from afar than to swim in. Located in the small town of San Feliciano, the restaurant is perfectly placed to soak up every minute of the crimson sun setting over the lake and surrounding rolling Umbrian/Tuscan countryside and they know it.  A few years ago they fitted out a charming wooden verandah (with screened windows!) so now pretty much every table has a view.

The menu is not extensive—no more than five or six offerings for every course—but reflects a balanced mix of traditional local food (the osteria is part of the Slow Food movement, so pays homage to the local olive oil, lake fish, and heirloom legumes) and edgy contemporary interpretations that seems to be their style.  Despite the restrained menu, there were vegetarian, fish, and meat options for each course.

We began with two sformati—ricotta herb and tuna potato—which were both honest and well turned out, if a little too generous in the portion size.   Our pasta—whole wheat egg pasta (tagliatelle) tossed in a creamed squash sauce with diced summer vegetables—was a perfect foil of side-sticking rough pasta and delicate veggies.  I did get a look when I asked for more cheese, which is kind of a pet peeve of mine.  I can’t abide parmeggiano moralists.  Sheesh, it’s not like my pasta was with seafood.

At this point we were forced to skip our second course, what with the honking big sformati and mound of pasta—but it turned out to be fortuitous, given the dessert menu.  (I’m a big dessert person…see my review of Perbacco in Cannara to understand this thing I have about the sacred station of the dessert menu).  Let me just say that I had a dark chocolate torte with pear-anise sauce.  Probably the only moment I was distracted from the view.

They have a solid wine list…we went with the suggestion of the proprietor, which initially hit me like a triple sucker punch. White! Chardonnay! Sicily!  Two things I don’t particularly enjoy in wine, and a third which was the punch line to the game of “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong.”  But, I’ll be damned, it was good.  It fit the food and the place and the moment.  Just like a wine should.

The service was a little spotty when we were there, but I got the feeling it was a problem of staffing and not attitude.  Besides, what with that romantic sunset, who wants a waiter breathing down your neck?

Our bill came to about 50 Euros (with our bottle of Sicilian Chardonnay).

Full Disclosure:  The proprietor once had a restaurant just down the road from me (which I didn’t particularly like), but we didn’t figure out it was the same guy until after we’d paid the bill.


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 church, 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!


Postcards from Umbria: Nocino

Italians have an inexplicable penchant for bitter digestive liqueurs made with infusions of either curious vegetables (i.e. Cynar, made with artichokes) or a complex mix of herbs and spices (i.e. Fernet Branca, with its top-secret recipe of 27 ingredients). All are guaranteed to put hair on your chest (bartender Logan B. describes drinking Fernet Branca like this: “You shoot it, immediately getting a strong hit of mouthwash – drying the mouth out, stinging the tongue.  It’s kind of like getting hit in the nose.  Your brain hurts, your eyes sting and water, you cough a bit.”  Yum.), but the king of them all is Nocino.

Green walnuts ready to be harvested for Nocino

The primary ingredient of this traditional liqueur is unripe green walnuts, infused in alcohol with various other flavourings depending upon the recipe and the region where it is made. Nocino is found all over Italy—made either industrially or at home–but is most popular in the center and north of Italy.

Make sure you wear gloves when chopping...this innocuous looking fruit will turn your hands black for weeks. Take my word for it.

Of all the liqueurs we make at home, Nocino is my favorite, mostly because of the quirky family recipe which has been passed down through the generations:

20 chopped green walnuts, picked from the tree at dawn on the Feast day of St. John the Baptist (24 June) before the dew dries (What’s up with the dew? you ask.  See here.)
30 petals of a scarlet rose, dried in the shade
6 whole cloves, crushed
¾ of a cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
the zest of one lemon cut into strips, not grated

Add these all to 1 liter of alchol in a large glass jug, seal it, and place it in the sun for 40 days, making sure to shake it every day.

After 40 days, prepare a sugar syrup with 500 g of sugar and 500 g of water. Add this syrup to the infusion and strain through filter paper.

We think that Nocino improves with age, so tend to keep it bottled for 6 months to a year before drinking it, but that’s the young whippersnapper technique. Our older relatives start drinking it the day after it’s filtered.

And they all have very hairy chests. Cin-cin!

The last few vintages of our Nocino


Miracle Water: L’Acqua di San Giovanni

The same sorry scene repeats itself 364 days a year at my house.  My children do not want to bathe.  They beg, they plead, they cry, they bargain.  They act as if they are being denied a basic human right to choose filth.  (For any scientists out there still searching for the missing link between the animal kingdom and homo erectus, I’m here to tell you that it is little boys.  Roughly between the ages of 3 and 30.)  But one day a year, that magical 365th day, they literally can’t wait to hop in the tub– the feast day of John the Baptist.  For this reason alone I would have voted for his canonization.

The feast day of John the Baptist—La Festa di San Giovanni Battista—falls on June 24th, and on the eve of this holy day we spend an hour walking the fields and meadows around our house along with our Umbrian neighbors gathering petals of wildflowers, snippets of herbs, and scented leaves (tradition holds that there should be one hundred varieties gathered, but we start to fudge our numbers about an hour into the project) which we then soak in water in a small tub overnight to prepare the traditional acqua di San Giovanni.   Our assortment includes flowers in season (broom, rose, lavender, chamomile), herbs from our garden (rosemary, mint, thyme, sage), and aromatic plants along the country roads (bay, walnut, wild fennel).

Our flower and herb mix soaking in water

The important ingredient–and the one which often seems to be the most wily, almost always involving wading through thorny brambles in shorts to get at it–is, of course, l’erba di San Giovanni or St. John’s Wort.

The elusive St. John's wort

The soaking flowers and herbs are left outside during the entire night preceding the feast day for two important reasons.  First, tradition holds that during the night the Madonna and Saint John pass to leave their benediction on the profumed water, the power of which can stay curses, envy, and harmful charms—especially those directed towards children—and ward off demons and witches.  And, second, it is imperitive that the infusion be moistened by the first dew the next morning.  The guazza, or dew, which settles during the night of Saint John has long been thought to have mystical powers.  Surely tied to ancient pagan beliefs surrounding the summer solstice and the increased potency of the four elements (earth, wind, fire and water) during that night, even today you hear the aforism: La guazza di Santo Gioanno fa guarì da ogni malanno or “St. John’s dew cures all ills”.

There are numerous traditions tied to the supposed powers of St. John’s dew, which represents the tears of Salome crying over the death of John the Baptist.  In various parts of Italy cloths were once laid out overnight to soak up the dew, which was then wrung out and used for its curative powers.  It is also said that there is no better night to make a wish than the night of St. John…you simply have to sleep outdoors with an object which symbolizes your heart’s desire.  The object will be moistened by the dew come morning, and your wish is sure to come true.

Smiling faces ready for their bath. A miracle!

And so, the morning of the 24th, we all gather around our small basin of profumed acqua di San Giovanni.  I go first, rinsing my face and hands (sure, I may not be a believer, but the powers of the water are supposed to be especially beneficial to the skin and anything that can stave off wrinkles is worth a go, in my book).  Then the rest is poured into the tub and mixed with warm water from the tap and my sons hop in, happily splashing each other, tossing petals on the floor, and generally making a big mess.

Fun in the tub with l'acqua di San Giovanni

But they come out smelling of flowers and herbs, tradition and belief, blessings and health.  And the fact that there was no kicking and screaming about washing is proof enough that l’acqua di San Giovanni works miracles!


My New Heartthrobs: The Mysterious, Enigmatic–and Underestimated–Etruscans

So remember that boyfriend you briefly dated your sophomore year at college, the one who seemed to drop out of nowhere one day, spent a few months listening to you pine after the campus heartthrob, and then seemed to vanish into the ether again?  And all these years later you stumble upon some love notes he wrote you during those months and you realize that you probably should have paid a little more attention to the guy, because he was actually really interesting and funny and smart and it’s not really that fair that the campus heartthrob was always getting all the attention.

Well, my friends, that’s pretty much the story of the Etruscans.  This mysterious ancient people surfaced in central Italy sometime after about 800 BC, from whence we still don’t really know, stuck around for a few centuries building a far flung and mighty confederation of city states spanning from near modern Venice to south of modern Naples dotted with walled towns and rich necropolises and trading with most of the Mediterranean, left us with with some of the most astoundingly beautiful bronze and goldwork, terracotta sculpture, and frescoes produced in the history of Italy and then, during the first century AD, vanished—completely absorbed by their conquering neighbors.  And what do they get for it?  Millenia of being ignored and underrated, and having to hear everyone harp on constantly about the Romans, whom, as history has taught us, have quite a bit to thank the Etruscans for, including laying the foundations for the city of Rome itself.

IN TVSCORVM IVRE PENE OMNIS ITALIA FVERAT (Nearly the whole of Italy was once under Etruscan Rule) – Cato 2nd century BC

Ipogeo dei Volumni

A visit to the Hypogeum of the Volumnii (Ipogeo dei Volumni) inside the Palazzone necropolis right outside of Perugia is to see all this in the microcosm of one archaeological site.  This ancient subterranean burial chamber—one of the most significant examples of Etruscan funerary architecture–was discovered by construction workers in 1840 who were building a road cutting right through the necropolis which is thickly covered with almost 200 modest chamber tombs…and, in keeping with a long and proud history of distain towards this ancient populace, just kept right on building the road.  In fact, a visit to the site now is punctuated with noise of traffic from the highway running above it and the trains passing on the railroad tracks adjacent.

The 19th century entrance to the archaeological site...note the highway overhead and the railway crossing to the right. No respect. (Photo by Cantalamessa)

The tomb itself is accessed through a 19th century “antiquarium”, crowded with row upon row of ornately carved travertine urns inside of which the ashes of the deceased were laid, wrapped in cloth.  These stone boxes with roof-shaped lids show how strongly Etruscan art and architecture were influenced by Greece in this period; the sculptures of the reclining deceased on the lids look like they could have come straight from Athens.  The front faces of the urns are often decorated with ornate reliefs depicting mythical scenes, referencing Greek mythology, or sea monsters, recalling one of the more dominant theories as to the origins of this people: a sea crossing from Troy.

An elegant reclining image of the deceased

A mythological sea monster relief

From there, the steep descent into the cool and dark tomb is captivating.  The burial site dates back to 3rd century BC and imitates the architecture and layout of a house, with faux wooden roof beams carved into the stone, an entrance hall, and bedrooms and antechambers.  At the end of the entrance hall is the “tablinum”, or chamber where urns containing the remains of members of the Velimna family remain still.  The urn from the last member of the family, from the 1st century AD, is the only example in marble, in the shape of a Roman temple, and inscribed in both Etruscan and Latin.  By this point, the ruling classes in Perugia were integrated into Roman culture, and the Etruscan culture which had dominated the area for centuries had disappeared completely.

The house-shaped tomb preserving ornately decorated family urns

There is a small museum on the necropolis grounds which displays some of the artifacts found in the surrounding tombs and burial chambers, but if you’ve caught the Etruscan bug (which I certainly did after a visit to the hypogeum) it’s more than worth your time to stop in at the newly renovated National Archaeological Museum in Perugia.

Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell’Umbria

The entrance to the museum through the San Domenico cloister (Photo by G. Dall'Orto)

Housed in the former convent of San Domenico—the entrance is through the elegant cloister—the museum has on display a variety of Etruscan artifacts found in excavations in the necropolises in and around Perugia.  Two of the most interesting of these are a travertine block used as a boundary marker and incribed with one of the longest examples of the Etruscan language, and the remains of a bronze chariot.  There are also breathtaking examples of glass and gold-work from the Etruscan period.

The Cippo Perugino, example of the Etruscan language (Photo by Louis Garden)

Etruscan bronzework taken from a chariot (Photo by G. Dall'Orto)

My only beef with the museum is that the incredibly interesting printed explanations of the displays still haven’t been translated into English, which is a crying shame.  They said they’re working on it…and they had better be.  After all these years, it’s time the Etruscans get the attention and respect they deserve.

For more information about Etruscan history and culture, you can take a look here.


Postcards from Umbria: the Basilica di San Francesco by night

The beauty of many grande dames of a certain age is only enhanced by low lighting, and the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi—amongst the Grandest Dames of them all—is no exception.

Occasionally the doors of the Upper Church are opened to the public for “after hours” classical music concerts and when I get wind of one of these—there seems to be no rhyme or reason in the scheduling—I always try to seize the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful buildings on earth at her finest.

As evening progresses and darkness deepens, the richly frescoed interior becomes both more majestic and more intimate.  Giotto’s famous frescoes soften in the twilight and the famed “giotto blue” ceilings seem to richen in color.

The concert is an excuse to sit and contemplate the art and architecture with more care…there are no noisy crowds to distract you from the humble beauty of Saint Francis’ life as told through the fresco cycle.  On the contrary, the echoing cathedral acoustic—surely a bane to the musicians who perform there—only make the music seem more etheral and otherworldly and lends itself to reflecting on the lessons of the Assisi’s “Poverello”.

The whole effect is both uplifting and simultaneously calming…certainly the intention of the artist when he first put his brush to palette over 700 years ago.


Walking and Hiking in Umbria: The Franciscan Trail

This article was reproduced by permission of its author, Giuseppe Bambini, and was originally published in the now defunct quarterly magazine AssisiMia, edited by Francesco Mancinelli.

The following route Assisi-Nocera runs in the opposite direction to Saint Francis’ last journey (September 1226) where, seriously ill, he was brought back to Assisi by a group of horsemen who found him in a spot near Nocera (probably Bagnara). Every year duing the first weekend in September the historic “Cavalcata di Satriano” is reenacted.

A historic photo of the Cavalcata di Satriano, a tradition which continues today

The Franciscan Trail takes the same historic route through typically Umbrian countryside featuring medium-sized hills with undulating contours and green valleys, farm houses and old parish churches, dove towers and age-old fortresses in dominating positions. The route’s distance (20 km), the length of time (7 hours excluding pauses) and the altitude (650 m uphill and 700 m downhill) shall be rewarded by the pleasurable sensations offered by the excursion. A little fitness is necessary for the walk and the route is indicated by red and white signposts reading 51. You can also follow the CAI map “Carta dei Sentieri del Monte Subasio”. One should also keep in mind that some of the tracks run through private property and hence one should be respectful and courteous to proprietors so as to avoid any unpleasantness and to perhaps make some interesting acquaintences. Those who live in the countryside in this area appreciate chatting with passersby especially if they are foreigners.

The return trip will be by train from the Nocera Umbra train station (check on the times) via Foligno. Have an enjoyable journey!

ROUTE:  From Piazza Matteotti (445m) take Via Santuario delle Carceri uphill which within a short distance leads to the medieval gate Porta Cappuccini (469 m); under the arch there are traces of frescoes and Assisi’s coat of arms—a cross and a lion—which are not easily decipherable. Soon after the arch turn left onto a tree lined path which runs parallel to the external walls of the small fortress “La Rocchicciola”. Once you arrive at Cassero, take the rocky road on the right that goes uphill. Once you pass the drinking fountain take the small track on the left (signpost 51 that you follow until the end) that enters the wood and becomes a path. After a few ups and downs the road leads onto the asphalted road Assisi-Armenzano; take the dirt track right in front, and after passing a group of well restored houses (keep on the right) one is on the asphalted road again. Go left and within a short distance you will arrive at Costa Trex (573 m – 1.30 from the start).

Costa Trex is in a pleasant panoramic position situated above the valleys of the rivers Tescio and Marchetto. Its name originated from the ancient toponym Costa Tre Chiese (three churches) that still exist today. Take the asphalted road for about a kilometer in the direction of Armenzano, then at a fork with a huge cypress tree take the dirt track on the left downhill. Keep right at the forks, the path then crosses the Sanguinone ditch and then follow the small valley and within a short distance you will reach the characteristic Marchetto bridge (424 – 0.40 from Costa Trex).

The bridge of medieval origins was known as the Bridge of Wolves and was an important thoroughfare between Assisi and the eastern countryside. The bridge is built overhanging the ravine of the Tescio river and has exceptional views of the winding course of the river and of the steep sides of the ravine.
Once you have crossed over the Marchetto bridge turn right and within a short distance you will reach the Cavaliero bridge (18th century) close to where the Cavaliero ravine merges with the Tescio ravine. With the bridge on your right walk uphill northwards along the edge of the ravine. The path veers out of the woods after a couple of uphill bends and runs along a fenced property leading to the Poderaccio house (521 m. – 0.40 from the Marchetto bridge).

Take the dirt track on the right and soon after take the path left that goes up towards the crest. Where there is a bend that veers left, take the path uphill on the right that then leads onto a large path (gate). At the intersection with the dirt road go straight across (on the right side there is a derelict house) and continue along the path that goes uphill which then leads onto a small road that you follow veering right.

Once you have reached the dirt road that comes from the Poderaccio house go left and after some uphill bends you will reach the Zampetto house (775 m.). Shortly after take the road on the right and go downhill, after a short distance you will reach the small Satriano chapel (745 m. – 1.20 from the Poderaccio house), an ideal spot for a rest. The votive chapel was built on the alleged spot where the ancient Satriano castle stood and was inaugurated—according to the will of the mayor and Franciscan follower Arnaldo Fortini—on 5 September, 1926, seven centuries after the death of Saint Francis and in memory of the dying saint’s last journey towards his hometown.

Go back to the dirt road and at the crossroads go straight on (S – SE) along a grassy trail passing a gap in the fence. Continue right and you will pass some farmhouses and barns. After passing another gap in the fence veer left uphill and after about 20 meters veer right taking a path full of brambles (to avoid them keep to the right of the fence). Here you reach the pass “Il Termine” (875 – 0.30 from Satriano). It was given this name because it marks the boundary between the municipalities of Assisi, Nocera, and Valtopina. Continue downhill (S – E) and when you arrive at a fork go left (E) downhill walking along a fence with the sign “Azienda Faunistica”. You go past a small memorial plaque in memory of Primo Pizzicotti who was killed in this spot by German troops on 25 June, 1944.

At last you can see the downhill pathway. At a fork turn right and you will find a dirt road (748 km) that you follow keeping left; after a few hundred metres take the road on the right uphill that leads to the ruins of the fortress Rocca di Postignano (778 m – 1.00 from the pass Il Termine) which can be seen in the distance. The fortress was situated at the top of a cone shaped hill and was built in the 10th century by the counts Postignano. In 1217 it was taken over by Assisi and later by the Trinci family from Foligno. Today only some ruins remain of what was once a mighty fortress.

Take the dirt road veering right and go around the hill where the ruins stand, after 10 minutes take the downhill path on the left—full of broom bushes—that leads to the dirt road that comes from the fortress. Take the path straight on that leads to a dirt road that you follow downhill keeping right until you reach Villa di Postignano (505m) that can be seen in the distance. Taking the asphalt road downhill you reach the Caldognola bridge and to the state highway SS3 (Flaminia); walk over the railway crossing and on your left you will see the Nocera Umbra railway station (349m – 1.10 from the Rocca to Postignano). Perhaps a train will be waiting to take you back to Assisi, tired but content!Quest’articolo è riprodotto qua con il permesso dell’autore, Giuseppe Bambini, ed è stato pubblicato originariamente nella rivista ormai fuori stampa AssisiMia, di Francesco Mancinelli, editore.

l’itinerario Assisi-Nocera, qui proposto, percorre in senso inverso l’ultimo viaggio di S.Francesco (settembre 1226) durante il quale, gravemente malato, fu riportato ad Assisi da un gruppo di cavalieri, che lo prelevò da un luogo nei pressi di Nocera (probabilmente Bagnara) dove si trovava in cura. Ogni anno durante il primo fine settimana di settembre viene rievocata la storica “Cavalcata di Satriano”, come esaurientemente descritto nell’articolo di Pier Maurizio Della Porta nel precedente numero di Assisi Mia. Il “Sentiero Francescano” ripropone quello storico itinerario e si sviluppa in ambiente tipicamente umbro di media collina: dolci profili e verdi vallate, casolari e vecchie pievi, torri colombare e antiche rocche in posizione dominante. La lunghezza del percorso (20 km.), la durata complessiva(7 ore soste escluse) e il dislivello da superare (650 m. in salita e 700 m. in discesa), saranno sicuramente ricompensati dalle piacevoli sensazioni offerte dall’escursione. Le caratteristiche dell’itinerario – sufficientemente tabellato con segnavia bianco rossi 51 – sono tali da richiedere un minimo di allenamento. Consigliato abbigliamento comodo e calzature adeguate a una gita in montagna, macchina fotografica e binocolo. Indispensabile lo zainetto con borraccia, giacchetto antipioggia, panino, kit di primo soccorso, bussola e la “Carta dei sentieri del Monte Subasio” scala 1:20000 del CAI sezione di Foligno (l’ultima parte del percorso non è compreso nella carta); può essere utile anche un altimetro. E’ utile ricordare inoltre che alcuni tratti si sviluppano su proprietà private: un po’ di cortesia e rispetto da parte dell’escursionista nei confronti dei proprietari eviterà spiacevoli equivoci e consentirà di fare interessanti conoscenze. Da queste parti chi vive in campagna gradisce scambiare due chiacchiere con i viandanti, specie se forestieri! Il ritorno è previsto con il treno dalla stazione di Nocera Umbra (informarsi circa gli orari), via Foligno. Alla stazione di Santa Maria degli Angeli, per raggiungere Assisi (piazza Matteotti), partono autobus ASP ai 10′ e 50′ di ogni ora, buon viaggio! ITINERARIO Da piazza Matteotti (445 m) si prende in salita via Santuario delle Carceri che in breve conduce alla medievale Porta Cappuccini (469 m); all’interno vi sono tracce di affreschi e con lo stemma di Assisi – croce e leone – non facilmente riconoscibile. Appena superata la porta piegare a sin. su sterrata alberata che costeggia la parte esterna delle mura della Rocchicciola. Giunti al Cassero prendere a ds lo stradello sassoso che inizia a salire, superata una fontanella, prendere a sin un viottolo (segnavia 51 che si segue fino alla fine) che entra nel bosco diventando sentiero. Con alcuni saliscendi sbuca sulla strada asfaltata Assisi-Armenzano; di fronte all’uscita dal sentiero si imbocca una sterrata, superato un gruppo di case ben restaurate (tenersi sulla ds.) si è di nuovo sulla strada asfaltata che si prende verso sin giungendo in breve a Costa Trex (573 m – 1,30 dalla partenza). In amena posizione panoramica sulle vali del Tescio e del Marchetto, deve il suo particolare nome alla sincope dell’antico toponimo Costa Tre Chiese, che ancora risultano presenti. Si percorre la strada asfaltata per circa 1 km in direzione Armenzano, quindi a un bivio con un monumentale cipresso, si imbocca a sinistra una sterrata in discesa. Ai bivi tenersi sulla ds., il sentiero traversa il fosso Sanguinone e percorrendo la valletta si giunge in breve al caratteristico ponte Marchetto (424 – 0.40 da Costa Trex) Costruito a strapiombo sulla incassata forra del Marchetto, con eccezionale vista sulle pareti e sull’andamento sinuoso del corso dell’acqua, il ponte, di origine medievale, era anticamente conosciuto come ponte dei Lupi e rappresentava un’importante via di comunicazione tra Assisi ed il vasto contado orientale. La confluenza tra il Sanguinone ed il Marchetto è poche decine di metri più a valle. Traversato il ponte Marchetto si prende a ds. giungendo in breve al ponte Cavaliero (XVIII sec) in prossimità della confluenza del fosso Cavaliero nel fosso Marchetto. Lasciato sulla ds. il ponte si prosegue in leggera salita (N) costeggiando il fosso. Con un paio di svolte in salita il sentiero esce dal bosco, quindi costeggia una recinzione giungendo a casa Poderaccio (521 m – 0.40 a ponte Marchetto). Prendere verso ds. la sterrata e subito dopo imboccare a sin. un sentiero che sale verso il crinale, in corrispondenza di una curva a sin. prendere a ds. un sentiero in salita andando a sbucare su un largo sentiero (cancello). All’incrocio con la strada sterrata proseguire diritti (sulla ds. è visibile una casa abbandonata), quindi continuando per il sentiero in salita si sbuca su uno stradello che bisogna seguire verso destra. Arrivati sulla sterrata proveniente da casa Poderaccio si prende verso sin. e con alcune svolte in salita si è a casa Zampetto (775 m). Poco dopo si prenda a ds. uno stradello che in discesa porta in breve alla cappellina di Satriano (745 m – 1.20 da casa Poderaccio), luogo adeguato per una piacevole sosta. La cappella votiva, costruita nel luogo dove si ritiene sorgesse l’antico castello di Satriano, venne inaugurata – per volere dell’allora podestà e francescanista Arnaldo Fortini – il 5 settembre 1926, a 7 secoli dalla morte di Francesco, a ricordo dell’ultimo viaggio del Santo morente verso la sua città natale. Si torna sulla sterrata e all’incrocio si va diritti (S-S-E) su pista erbosa superando un varco nel recinto. Procedendo sulla ds. si incontrano fienili e casali. Superato un altro varco sulla recinzione si piega a sin. in salita e dopo alcune decine di metri si piega a ds. imboccando un sentiero ingombro di rovi (per evitarli passare a ds. della recinzione). Si giunge così al passo Il Termine (875 m – 0.30 da Satriano). Il nome del sito deriva dall’essere vertice di confine fra i comuni di Assisi, Nocera e Valtopina. Si continua in leggera discesa (S-E) quindi ad un bivio prendere a sin. (E) in discesa costeggiando una recinzione con segnali “Azienda faunistica”. Si tocca una piccola lapide a ricordo di Primo Pizzicotti, qui ucciso il 25 giugno 1944 dalle truppe tedesche. Il sentiero in discesa diventa finalmente evidente, a un bivio si prende a ds. sbucando su una sterrata (748 m) che si segue verso sin.; percorse alcune centinaia di metri imboccare a ds. uno stradello in salita che conduce ai ruderi della Rocca di Postignano (778 m. – 1.00 dal passo Il Termine), già visibile in lontananza. Posta al vertice di un conico colle, fu edificata nel X secolo dai conti di Postignano, nel 1217 venne sottomessa ad Assisi ed in seguito subì il dominio dei Trinci di Foligno. Della possente rocca oggi non restano che pochi ruderi. Si riprende la sterrata verso ds. aggirando il colle sul quale poggia la rocca, dopo 10 minuti si imbocca a sin. un sentiero in discesa – ingombro di ginestre – che incrocia di nuovo la sterrata proveniente dalla rocca di Postignano. Proprio di fronte si imbocca un sentiero che sbuca nuovamente sulla sterrata che si percorre verso ds. in discesa giungendo a Villa di Postignano (505 m) già visibile in lontananza. Percorrendo la strada asfaltata in discesa si oltrepassa il ponte sul torrente Caldognola e si giunge sulla SS 3 (Flaminia); superato il passaggio a livello a sin. si trova la stazione ferroviaria di Nocera Umbra (349 m – 1.10 dalla Rocca di Postignano). Un treno starà forse ad aspettarvi per riportarvi ad Assisi: stanchi ma contenti!


Umbria Revealed: 5 Tips to Making the Most of Your Trip to Umbria

Umbria has so much to offer, but to get the most of your trip to this region there are a couple of top secret, high security, eyes only (and definitely copyrighted) tricks of the trade I can reveal.  But keep it between us.

1.  Quit being a baby and rent a car.

Now, everybody stand up, shake yourselves a bit, and have a group freak-out about driving in Italy.  Ready? Go!  AAAAAHHHHH!!!!  Shriek, wail, rent your garments!  Ok, done?  Feel better?  Now that we’ve gotten that out of our system can we sit down calmly and talk this thing out? Good.

Example of a typical rental car in Umbria. Kidding! I'm just kidding. Sheesh.

Listen, folks, driving in Umbria is not that big of a deal.  Umbria is to Rome what Wisconsin is to Chicago, what upper state New York is to Manhattan.  It is quite rural here, so unless you manage to get yourself into a hopeless tangle in the middle of Perugia (something that is incredibly easy to avoid, as all the main parking lots are outside the city walls anyway) the worst thing that’s going to happen is that you get benignly lost along some country road and have to retrace your steps.  The pace is slow here, and traffic not that heavy. Umbria is dotted with hilltop towns and villages, many of which are difficult to reach by train or bus, and there are some breathtaking drives in the area, even if you don’t have a specific destination.  By having to rely on public transportation, your visit to Umbria will be confined to the more densely visited towns and you will miss out on some of the most beautiful and undiscovered places in this lovely region.  Get yourself some wheels!

2.  Time your visit to coincide with a local festival.

The Umbrians are, generally, a staid and reserved populace, so there is nothing like an Umbrian town during that one time a year when everyone really lets their hair down.  Almost every town in Umbria has one main annual festival—often centered around the patron Saint’s feast day and/or in period garb—during which the town gets decked out,  its citizens riled up, and there is an irrestistible air of celebration.  Flags and banners hang from every window, taverne–outdoor temporary eating areas which range from refreshment stands to all out restaurant fare–sprout overnight like mushrooms in the piazzas, there are street musicians around every corner, costumed processions, reinacted medieval markets, crossbow tournaments, jousting, singing and dancing.

Calendimaggio in of the many must see festivals in Umbria

Some festivals worth checking out are the Corsa all’Anello in Narni (April), Calendimaggio in Assisi and the Corsa dei Ceri in Gubbio (May), the Mercato delle Gaite in Bevagna (June), Umbria Jazz in Perugia (July), the Quintana in Foligno (August), and the Giochi delle Porte in Gualdo Tadino (September).

3.  Do your homework.  But don’t get too Type A about it.

Before you leave for your visit in Umbria, research, research, research!  And then, once you get here, trash it.  There are so many wonderful things to see in this region: restaurants to try, towns to visit, works of art and architecture to admire—many of which are covered in the guidebooks and on the web.  But one of the most wonderful things about Umbria is that it is still able to offer that Holy Grail of travel to visitors: discovery.

You won't find this simply elegant facade in any of the guidebooks. The first reader to guess where this was taken gets a big prize. Big.

Umbria, despite its fame as a tourist destination, remains in many ways a provincial and undeveloped area.  It is peppered with lovely off the beaten track villages, restaurants which don’t have business cards much less websites, and isolated frescoed churches and abbeys in the hills.  These are things you are only going to be able to find if you are willing to ask advice from the locals, follow a mysterious sign pointing to a monastery at the crossroad,  stop your car along with others parked in a field where you hear music and the smell of cooking coming from the big tent.  So have a game plan before you come, but be willing to diverge from it and try something not on the roster.

4. Take advantage of the natural beauty here.  And I don’t mean Monica Bellucci.

Umbria has some amazing art and archecture, food and music festivals, enchanting towns.  But it is also one of the most beautifully green regions in Italy.  Lakes and hills, mountains and waterfalls, woods and fields of wildflowers.  So take your car (the one that you’ve rented, right?) and skip the culture for a day, instead heading to one of the many regional parks.

An autumnal shot of magical Mount Subasio.

You can walk or hike, picnic, swim, enjoy a scenic drive, or just simply sit along one of the overlooks, let your ears rest themselvs with silence, and let your eyes rest themselves with shades of green, let your spirit rest itself with stillness.  After all, you’re on vacation, remember?  Some of my favorite places in Umbria are the Marmore waterfalls, the Piano Grande in the Mount Sibilline National Park, Lake Trasimeno, and the Mount Subasio and Mount Cucco Regional Parks.

5.  Get the inside scoop.

I’m one of those nerdy folks who always gets the headphones in the museum, and actually reads the guidebook’s explanations while gazing at a frescoed church.  Part of that is because at the advanced age of 39 I have come to terms with my inner dorkiness and no longer feel a need to hide it, so wandering around a gallery with oversized headphones like a 70s deejay from Soul Train no longer bothers me.  But mostly it’s because the background explanations—with their historical and cultural context, their underlining of details I wouldn’t otherwise notice, and their juicy helping of factoids which are always fun to throw out at future dinner parties—make the whole experience much more meaningful and memorable.  So as long as you’re here, try to fit in a day when you spend time with someone familiar with the local history and culture and really get to know Umbria and its people in a way you wouldn’t be able to by simply visiting monuments.

Learning the art and history of winemaking directly from the source. Photo by Gusto Umbrian Wine Tours

Consider filling a day with shopping and preparing a traditional meal with a local cook, touring the small family-run vineyards, learning to hunt truffles (and how to use them in the kitchen), or painting your own majolica ceramics.  The most memorable things you bring home from a journey aren’t those you carry in your suitcase, but in your heart.


Perfect Picnic Places in Umbria: Il Monastero di San Benedetto (Assisi)

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

Go to Farmer Shop on Via San Francesco n. 4a in Assisi, where you can stock up on prosciutto and a variety of different salami, all made from an heirloom breed of pigs raised on a farm right outside of town, and some amazing local cheeses (try the aged sheep wrapped in fig leaves).  Pick up some of their freshly baked bread, as well.  And finally, the kicker, a bottle—or two—of their organic, unfiltered, unpasteurised, bottle re-fermented beers from the San Biagio estate (ask them to get you the chilled ones they keep in back.)

From there, pass over to the other side of the Piazza del Comune to Il Mercantino greengrocers on Via S.Gabriele Dell’ Addolorata n. 4 for some fruit to snack on (anything marked “nostrali” is grown locally, so try some seasonal Umbrian produce).

Finally, stop in at Pasticceria Sensi on Corso Mazzini n. 14 and choose some of their freshly-made pastries (and pick up some water).

Now, take a look at your Assisi map and find Via San Benedetto, which begins about a kilometer from  Porta Nuova off the main road 147, passes quickly through a residential area outside of the historic center of town, and begins to switchback up the slope of Mount Subasio.  There are periodic signs for Il Monastero di San Benedetto along the road, and you want to follow those.  About 6 km up, you get to the newly renovated but closed monastery on the right.

The monastery was abandoned by the order for a period during the middle ages, and used as a hideout for Assisi's banned political dissidents

Now, of course I would never condone hopping the fence into the monastery, as that would be illegally trespassing.  Which I would never condone.  But, let’s say, hypothetically, that one were to hypothetically step on the low stone wall to the left of the locked gate and hypothetically swing their legs over the wrought iron fence (being hypothetically careful to not hypothetically break their precious bottle of beer in the process).

This patio is a siren song for a new breed of "outlaws"

Inside, one would hypothetically discover one of the most peaceful spots around…the centuries-old stately stone monastery surrounding by woodland and a sunny paved patio looking out over the valley below which seems made for a relaxing picnic.

It would be a "crime" to miss out on this view of Assisi from above

Buon appetito (hypothetically)!