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Two Days in Assisi: A Complete Itinerary

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The 2-Day Itinerary – Overview

Day 1

Assisi is divided into two parts—the Lower (Parte de Sotto) and the Upper (Parte de Sopra). Though the distinction is purely semantic for most of the year, each May the town—home of peaceloving Saint Francis—sheds its normal spirit of brotherly love to spend three days (and nights) locked in intense competition as the two parts stage processions, scenes of medieval life, and concerts with period music as they vie for the honor of the Palio during the annual Calendimaggio festival. Today we’ll explore the Parte de Sotto (everything that lies between the Basilica of Saint Francis and the main—and officially “neutral”–Piazza del Comune and the Parte de Sopra, which covers the area from the central Piazza del Comune and extends east. Make sure you have comfortable shoes, as there will be some steep climbs through the narrow streets marking the upper part of this famed hilltown, but the views will be worth a bit of huffing and puffing!

Day 2

Many of the more spiritual sites in Assisi are outside the historic center, either on the slopes of Mount Subasio above the town or in the Valley below. Your final day in Assisi will be spent with a slower pace, exploring the peaceful places in Assisi’s environs. The timing of this itinerary is only a recommendation, as much depends upon your method of transportation (public transportation and walking will take more time than driving or hiring a taxi) and how long you choose to linger at each site.

Day 1

La Basilica di San Francesco (The Basilica of Saint Francis)

Hours: Lower Basilica 6:45am-6:00pm/Upper Basilica 8:30am – 7:45pm
Website: http://www.sanfrancescoassisi.org

To begin your first day, start at the Piazza Giovanni Paolo II public parking lot (some locals still call it Piazza San Pietro). Here there is ample paid parking, one of the main bus stops for those taking the local bus from the Assisi train station (located in Santa Maria degli Angeli in the valley below; check schedule at the bus stop for times and purchase tickets at the bar in the train station for €1), and a taxi stand (€10 from the train station). From here, it’s a short uphill walk to the Basilica above.

The ties between Assisi and her most famous monument are so symbiotic that it’s difficult to discern where one begins and the other ends; to know one, you have to know the other. Despite its sprawling size, the Upper and Lower Churches can get crowded during peak hours, so to enjoy the fabulous Giotto school fresco cycle documenting the life of Saint Francis in relative peace, it pays to time your visit for early morning—in fact, if you’re an early riser I suggest you try to get there before the time listed here to beat the tour bus crowds.

Local’s Tip: To fully enjoy the Basilica’s rich art and history—and its two churches, crypt, and museum– you should visit armed with a good guidebook or rent an audioguide from the stand to the left of the entrance to the Upper Church (€6/one hour tour; open 9:30am-5:30pm).

From The Upper Church in the Basilica, simply cross the street to the first building; your next stop is right on the corner.

Caffè San Francesco

Address: Via San Francesco, 52
Website: http://www.ristorantesanfrancesco.com

After your visit to the Basilica, it’s time to give your brain and feet a rest at this landmark local cafè. Try to grab the secret hidden table behind all the flowerpots on the corner for the best view in town, or enjoy the old-world style marble and scarlet decor inside while you sip your cappuccino.

From here  continue down the main Via di San Francesco.

Via San Francesco

One of Assisi’s main thouroughfares, this long road is lined with everything from the kitschiest of souvenir shops to Assisi’s civic museum.

Local’s Tip: Stop to get a drink and fill your water bottles at the small fountain at the bottom of the stairs on the left which lead up Vicolo S. Andrea from Via San Francesco. The water is potable and the lionhead fountain charming.

Casa dei Maestri Comacini

Where the stairs of Vicolo S. Andrea meet Via San Francesco, take a good gander at this 13th century loggia and two-story extension to the right (dated 1477 on the coat of arms on the lower story).  The building was named for the compass and rose reliefs above the door and the window to its right, suggesting that it might have belonged to the master masons who traditionally came from Lake Como. One of the best preserved medieval facades in Assisi.

From here, continue up Via San Francesco (away from the Basilica).

Oratorio dei Pellegini and Monte Frumentario

Hours: 10am–12pm/4pm-6pm ; closed Sun

You will come first to the unassuming Oratorio dei Pellegrini, built by a group of pilgrims returning from Santiago di Compostella in the 1400s. Though the drab exterior is easily overlooked, it belies the rich frescoes of the Perugino school completely covering the interior.

On the next block, the uniform series of facades lining Via San Francesco is broken up by the delicate columns of Monte Frumentario’s portico. This 14th century building—originally a hospital—later housed a guild which lent wheat and other farm products to peasants in exchange for pawned goods.

Next door, the Oliviera Fountain, built in 1570, features a plaque fixing the fine for doing wash in the fountain at one “scudo”. Don’t drink the water here, but feel free to take some great pictures of this lovely public fountain.

After admiring the fountain, continue along Via San Francesco passing under the arch and continuing about a block. Here, turn left and climb the steep Via A. Luigi; then take the stairs to the right which end in front of the Church of Santo Stefano.

Church of Santo Stefano

Duration: 30 minutes
Hours: 8:30am–6:30pm Sept.-May/8:30am-8pm June, July, Aug

The tiny, simple stone Church of Santo Stefano is a stark contrast to the opulent Basilica, and its unadorned Romanesque interior and facade remind visitors that it is one of the oldest churches in Assisi.

Local’s Tip: As you continue your walk, take a moment to enjoy the view over the valley and Santo Stefano’s pretty church bells, said to have miraculously rung on the day of St. Francis’ death in 1226.

Take the staircase to the left of the door of the church, and follow it as it turns right around the corner of the church. Continue climbing until it turns left and ends on Via San Paolo. Turn right and follow Via San Paolo into Piazza del Comune.

Piazza del Comune and Archaeological Museum

Address: Roman Forum and Archaeological Museum (Via Portica, 2)
Price: €4 (or included in the €8 ticket purchased on Day 1 at Palazzo Vallemani)
Hours: 10:00am-1:00pm/2:30pm-6:00pm
Website: http://www.sistemamuseo.it/museoid.php?uid=218 (in Italian)

It’s time to take a break and admire the pretty Piazza del Comune. Grab a table at one of the outdoor caffes (try Bar Trovellesi under the portico near the fountain) and admire the 13th century municipal building lining one side of the piazza, the pretty fountain with its jetted lions, the soaring belltower, and—most importantly—the Temple of Minerva. From the 1st century BC, this is the most intact Roman temple facade in Italy. To put the Temple of Minerva into context, head to the entrance to Assisi’s Roman Forum and Archaeological Museum just a few meters down Via Portica on the far side of the Piazza. Here you’ll find a scale model reconstructing the layout of the Roman forum, the foundation of the Temple of Minerva, and three classical marble statues unearthed in Assisi, one of which represents Minerva herself.

From the exit of the Archaeological museum, turn right (downhill) and walk down Via Arco dei Priori until it ends at Via Sant’Antonio. Turn right and continue about a block until you reach Piazza del Vescovado with the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore at the far end.

Piazza del Vescovado and Roman Domus

Price: Entrance is a flat €80 fee for groups of 2-15, so the individual ticket price is variable depending upon group size. (See the “Before you go” section above for more information.)
Hours: To reserve call the Infoline 199 151 123 Mon-Fri 9:00am -5:00pm

In the nineteenth century, excavations near the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Piazza del Vescovado uncovered the remains of a luxurious Roman villa. This domus, with its original mosaic floor, painted wall decorations, and a long section of richly decorated vault-covered portico, is a must-see for anyone passionate about Roman civilization. Next door, a second domus is currently being excavated and restored under the Palazzo Giampé.  This site, with its excellent frescoes and mosaic floors, is one of the most important and intact examples of a Roman domus on view in Italy.

From here, retrace your steps along Via Sant’Antonio, turning left on Via Arco dei Priori until you return to the Piazza del Comune. From here, turn right onto Corso Mazzini.

Il Corso

La Piazza and Il Corso is where all Assisi go to see and be seen. Unfortunately, Assisi’s main street has been taken over by shops and caffes catering primarily to the tourist trade, but if you’re looking for some traditional souvenirs to take home, you may want to stop in the stores here.

Local’s Tip: Assisi’s best bakery is “Bar Pasticcieria Sensi” about halfway down the corso on your right. Though not as showy as many other pastry shops around town, this is where the locals all flock to satisfy their sweet-tooth. If you have a taste for something savory, try the pan caciato (cheese bread with walnuts).

Lunch

Unfortunately, there are no restaurants worth their salt along the Corso, so for lunch double back to the main Piazza. From here you have three great options, all within a few meters.

Trattoria degli Umbri

No frills traditional family-style trattoria with traditional Umbrian fare. It can get crowded in peak season and you may need a little patience with the slow service.

Address: Piazza del Comune, 2
Phone: 075/812455

Osteria Piazzetta delle Erbe

Modern twist on traditional cuisine and one of the few spots in Assisi with outdoor seating.

Address: Via San Gabriele dell’Addolorata, 15/A
Phone: 075/815352

Trattoria La Pallotta

A Slow Food restaurant, this historic family-owned spot is heavy on local dishes and ingredients.

Address: Via della Volta Pinta, 3
Phone: 075/812649

From any of these three restaurants, make your way back into the Piazza del Comune, then follow Corso Vannucci until it reaches Piazza Santa Chiara.

Local’s Tip: As you pass under the archway at the end of the Corso (where Piazza Santa Chiara begins) there is a water fountain in a niche in the wall to your left (at the base of the staircase). Stop for a quick drink here.

Chiesa di Santa Chiara (Church of Saint Claire)

Hours: 6:30am-12:00am/2:00pm-6:00pm

The pink and white striped facade of the church dedicated to Saint Claire shortly after her death in 1253 dominates this piazza, and the immense flying buttresses and intricate rose window only render it more dramatic. Don’t miss the San Damiano Crucifix inside (in the Oratorio del Crocifisso)…this is the one which spoke to Francis, commanding him to “go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin,” thus changing the course of history.

Local’s Tip: The stone benches along the overlook at the far side of Piazza Santa Chiara are a wonderful, shady place to rest for a minute and snap some fabulous photos of the Umbria Valley below.

From Piazza Santa Chiara, walk the length of the Corso back to Piazza del Comune. Circle right around the fountain, and take the steep pedestrian Via San Rufino di Piazza San Rufino. At Piazza San Rufino turn left into Via Porta Perlici and climb for about a block. On the left, take the stairs (there is an arrow indicating La Rocca Maggiore) as they climb, ending at the service road which leads to the entrance to the fortress.

Local’s Tip: If the climb uphill to the fortress is too rigorous, you can also get a taxi at the stand right in Piazza Santa Chiara. Taxis have access to the service road leading to the Rocca, but not normal traffic.

La Rocca Maggiore

Hours: 10:00am–7:00pm
Price:  €5 (or included in the €8 ticket purchased on Day 1 at Palazzo Vallemani)

The medieval fortress which sits above Assisi is one of its most fascinating, yet least visited, sites. This captivating warren of semi-restored tunnels, turrets, and courtyards is a thrill to explore for kids and grown-ups alike, and the heart-stopping climb up the far tower rewards you with one of the most amazing views over Assisi and the whole of the Umbrian valley below.

Descend the access road back to the staircase you took coming uphill. At the bottom of the stairs, turn right down Via Porta Perlici until you arrive in Piazza San Rufino.

Chiesa di San Rufino (Church of Saint Rufino)

Hours: 10:00am – 1:00pm/3:00pm-6:00pm
Price: €3 (for the Museum and Cript)
Website: www.assisimuseodiocesano.com

Assisi’s cathedral has been recently restored, so its twelfth century Romanesque facade and massive belltower are even more breathtaking. Don’t miss the small but excellent museum and crypt (in the piazza to the right of the facade), with its vaulted rooms and gracefully restored columns, it is perhaps the best collection of art and architecture in Assisi.

Local’s Tip: Ready for a snack? The tiny pizza shop “Da Andrea” on the corner right across the street from the Church of San Rufino (there is a small wooden bench next to the door) has the best slices in Assisi.

From Piazza San Rufino, continue straight downhill along Via San Rufino, passing through Piazza del Comune and taking Via Portica downhill on the left.

Shopping

You are probably pretty much art-and-history-ed out by this point, so it’s time for more frivolous pursuits (especially now that you don’t have to schlepp your purchases around with you for the rest of the day). The lion’s share of Assisi’s shops line the long walk from the main Piazza del Comune to the Basilica, so take a leisurely look along this route. There are a plethora of trashy trinket hawkers, but also a couple of gems. Here are a few to pause at:

Franchi

Address: Via Portica, 15/A
This shop is bursting with wooden toys and decorations…Pinocchio in all sizes and colors, mobiles, wall clocks, rocking horses.  Toys from another era yet somehow ageless.

I Colori del Tempo

Address: Via Portica, 6/b
A wonderful, quirky shop with natural fiber clothing (mostly women and children) and accessories. Some euro-fashion that won’t break the bank.

StudioAssisi Via Fortini

Address: Via Fortini, 7
An eclectic collection of clothing, shoes, accessories, and home decor.

Arte Legno

Address: Via Fortini, 20
An entire shop dedicated almost exclusively to items carved for the richly veined local olive wood.

Laboratorio Artistico Alice

Address: Via San Francesco, 81
I can’t talk up the kids’ t-shirts Alice hand-paints enough…sunflowers, doggies, dinosaurs, poppies, whimsical scenes of Assisi.  If you give her a couple of days (and she’s not too busy), she’ll even personalize the back with your choice of name painted in a rainbow of colors.  A one-of-a-kind gift.  Aside from her handpainted tshirts, Alice has jewelry, photo albums, paintings and prints.  All in her lovely, whimsical style.

Il Tapiro

Address: Via San Francesco, 24
Mauro’s leather shop is a landmark in Assisi. He has a great selection of pretty sandals, purses and carrier bags, wallet, belts, and just about any other leather item you can imagine.

Dinner

You are now standing back in front of San Francesco, and there are a few options for dinner. You can choose a table with a view at the Ristorante San Francesco (you were here for a cappuccino in their adjacent bar this morning). Their terrace windows face the facade of the Basilica, which is fetchingly lit up at night.

If you are hankering for pizza, head back up Via San Francesco, pass under the archway and after about a block on your right you will see the Teatro Metastasio (there is a small piazza in front). There is a staircase leading down from the piazza, and halfway down the flight of stairs to your left you’ll find the entrance to Ristorante I Monaci (you passed the downstairs entrance a few hours ago). They’re a popular local favorite for pizza, the place is usually hopping with those looking for a simple meal at a fair price. They serve pasta and meat as well.

Address: Via Scallette, 10
Phone: 075812512

Day 2

The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli

Hours: 6:15am – 12:50pm/2:30pm – 7:30 pm

Website: www.porziuncola.org

To begin your first day at the Basilica, you can park in the free lot directly in front of the church. Otherwise, for those using public transportation, it’s a short (flat!) ten minute walk from the Assisi train station (located in Santa Maria degli Angeli) where all trains and buses arrive; just point yourself towards the soaring dome.

You can’t miss the imposing domed Basilica which dominates the valley below the historic center of Assisi in the neighboring town of Santa Maria degli Angeli; this church is probably the second busiest after the Basilica of Saint Francis. The church itself is remarkable perhaps only for its size (it’s the eighth largest church in the world), but inside it holds the tiny 11th century Porziuncola oratory, where Saint Francis and his followers worshipped. Saint Claire took her vows of poverty here, and Saint Francis asked to be brought here to die. Here you can also visit the Cappella del Transito, where Francis died, and the rose garden, where the miraculous roses which shed their thorns at the Saint’s touch still bloom.

If you are using public transport, you will have to take the local bus from the train station at Santa Maria degli Angeli to the Sanctuary at Rivotorto (check bus schedules at the bus stop right outside the station and buy tickets from the bar inside for €1…buy a return ticket, as well, if you are planning to take the bus back to Santa Maria degli Angeli for lunch). Otherwise, you can easily drive from the Basilica, passing in front of the train station and continuing for two kilometers straight on until you reach the large church on the left. There is also a taxi stand in front of the Basilica, and you can take a taxi (€10 from Santa Maria to Rivotorto).

Local’s Tip: Along the left flank of the Basilica (where the road passes), there is a lovely Renaissance fountain perfect for snapshots and to fill your water bottle.

The Sacro Tugurio (Rivotorto)

Hours: 8:00am – 12:00pm/2:30pm-7:00pm
Website: http://www.sanfrancescoassisi.org/RIVOTORTO_HOME.htm (Italian only)

Another example of a modest treasure enclosed in an ornate box, the sprawling Franciscan sanctuary in the neighboring village of Rivotorto contains the first home of Saint Francis and his disciples, the Sacro Tugurio (or sacred shed). Francis and his followers lived and worshipped in this rough stone hut from 1208-1211 and here began organizing what would become his order. In 1211, the group was granted use of the Porziuncola from the Benedictine Order, and the Sacro Tugurio was abandoned only to become a site of pilgrimage in the following centuries.

To return to Santa Maria degli Angeli for lunch, drive back the way you came. In front of the train station you will have to turn right at the traffic circle (the road you took coming is only open to buses going the opposite direction), but simply follow this road until the next traffic circle, turn left, and turn left again at the following traffic circle. Follow this road as it passes under the train tracks, and Da Elide is directly in front of you as you come up from the underpass on Via Patrono d’Italia. Otherwise, any local taxi driver will know this restaurant or the local bus (check bus times at the stop in Rivotorto) will leave you at the station and it’s about three blocks walking to the restaurant.

Lunch at Da Elide

Address: Via Patrono d’Italia, 48 Santa Maria degli Angeli
Website: http://www.assisihoteldaelide.com

If you think that a restaurant near the train station is bad news, Da Elide is pleasant surprise. Just steps away from the Assisi train station (which is located in the valley in Santa Maria degli Angeli), this historic restaurant (and hotel) is a local favorite, known especially for their meat grilled over the wood coals and fresh egg pasta.

To reach the Hermitage by car, find your way back to Piazza Matteotti in Assisi (your beginning and ending point for Day 2). From here, turn right on Via Eremo delle Carceri (there is a brown arrow indicating the turn for Mount Subasio). After passing under the city gate, veer left and follow this road as it climbs up the mountain until you reach the Hermitage. Otherwise, the local bus runs from the train station in Santa Maria degli Angeli to Piazza Matteotti. From here, you can either get a taxi to the Hermitage (€15 or €20 directly from the train station) or—if you’re feeling athletic—walk the road up the mountain (you’ll be in good company; most pilgrims walk to the Hermitage). It’s about an hour uphill.

The Hermitage (L’Eremo delle Carceri)

Hours: 6:30am – 7:00pm
Website: http://www.eremocarceri.it/

One of the most peaceful and evocative spiritual sites in Assisi, the Hermitage where Francis would often seclude himself in prayer and meditation is just off the beaten track enough to avoid the crowds of the Basilicas in Assisi and Santa Maria degli Angeli. Take time to wander both the building and the surrounding walking paths.

From the entrance to the Hermitage, continue climbing straight as the road climbs the remaining slope to the plain at the top of Mount Subasio. You can do this by car, taxi, or on foot.

Mount Subasio

Website: http://www.parks.it/parco.monte.subasio/Eindex.php

Umbria is known as Italy’s “Green Heart”, and one indication of this is the numerous natural parks in this small region. Mount Subasio is one of these (the entire town of Assisi is included in the Park’s boundaries), and it would be a shame to miss out on the lovely fields at the softly rolling peak of this mountain…often full of wildflowers and grazing horses. You can take a drive through, or park you car and walk out onto the pastures.

Retrace your steps down the road which descends the slope of Mount Subasio, passing the Hermitage and stopping about 2/3rds of the way down at the Bar Ristorante Gli Eremi along the road on your left.

Caffè at Gli Eremi

Address: Via Eremo delle Carceri, 15
Phone: 075816286

You’ve earned a break after all this walking, so stop for awhile here for a snack and a cappuccino with a view (grab one of the picnic tables along the road).

From here, continue descending the road until you find yourself back in Piazza Matteotti. Take Viale Umberto 1 as it circles its way around the perimeter of the historic center. When you pass in front of the new cement multistorey Mojano parking long on the right, look sharp because Via San Damiano is the next left (there is a small brown arrow indicating San Damiano at the intersection, as well). You can also walk this same route (there are sidewalks along this busy road) or take a taxi (€15 from Piazza Matteotti).

The Sanctuary of San Damiano

Hours: 6:15am – 12:00am/2:00pm – 6:45pm

Your final stop today is actually where it all began. The sanctuary at San Damiano once held the famous crucifix (now in the Basilica of Saint Claire) which spoke to a praying Francis, commanding him to “go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin,” three times. Francis did just that…first interpreting the message as a call to restore the neglected San Damiano and Porziuncola chapels and later taking it to mean a tweaking of the Roman Catholic Church itself. In this vein, he founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of Saint Claire and—many hold—became one of the most influential figures in religious history, pioneering virtues of poverty, brotherhood, respect for animals and the environment.

Local’s Tip: If you are planning on using a taxi for this itinerary, consider hiring a driver for your whole day. Many drivers will take you from sanctuary to sanctuary (and also for a nice drive on the top of Mount Subasio) and wait while you visit each site for a set fee—often much less than what they would charge for each individual run. Call the Radiotaxi line at 073 813100 for information and prices.

Dinner

You are in your final hours in Assisi, and have three days of restaurant suggestions to choose from for your “last supper”. Most won’t start serving before 7:30, but chances are you are already a bit behind schedule and won’t have long to wait. From San Damiano, you can easily head back to the historic center of Assisi for one of the suggestions there, or, if you’ve had enough wandering for one day, have a simple pasta or pizza meal just steps from the sanctuary.

Ristorante Paradiso

Address: Via Padre Antonio Giorgi 6
Phone: 075816064
Website: http://www.assisiristoranteparadiso.com

Along the access road you took to reach San Damiano, a green gate on the left leads you to a parking lot. From here take the steep steps down to the charming restaurant/pizzeria which is immersed in a small wood and marks the site of an ancient Roman spring with baths. The food is simple and honest, the service quick, and the place is hopping with locals most nights.

 

Before You Go

Almost all the sites included in this  three day itinerary are open to the public with no advance reservations needed. There is, however, one exception:

Piazza del Vescovado and Roman Domus

It is in your best interest to join up with a group to visit the Domus, as entrance is a flat €80 fee for groups of 2-15, so the individual ticket price is variable depending upon the number of visitors. To do so, call the Infoline (199 151 123 Mon-Fri 9:00am -5:00pm) to be included in a group tour.

 

Transportation tips

The itinerary for Day 1 is exclusively on foot (except for one step, when a taxi is a possible alternative). The itinerary for Day 2 is best done by car, though it can also be done by a combination of public transportation (bus) and taxis.

 

Something Extra

Have some extra time? Here’s one thing to add to this itinerary:

Piazza Matteotti and “Piazza Nova”

The area near Piazza Matteotti (known locally as Piazza Nova) is one of the most characteristic in Assisi, with its twisting alleys and geranium bedecked stone houses lining the narrow lanes. Where other quarters in Assisi seem half-abandoned, this neighborhood is still quite populated, and the locals sitting on their front stoops exchanging gossip and shelling peas only add to the old world charm.

From Piazza Matteotti, cross Via Eremo delle Carceri to take a quick walk around the Via Dell’Anfiteatro Romano; the oval-shaped lane follows the outline of the Roman amphitheater which once dominated this area. From here, walk back across Via Eremo delle Carceri, and then go around the corner, using the crosswalk to cross the busy Via Umberto 1°, and enter the narrow Via del Comune Vecchio. Take the first left on Vicolo Bovi, and go about a block. Double back on yourself with the sharp right on Via Montecavallo, and then turn left (Via Montecavallo again). Follow this as it winds its way to Via Porta Perlici, turn left here (downhill) and continue to Piazza San Rufino. Veer right (downhill) onto Via San Rufino, which descends steeply until reaching Piazza del Comune.

 

Staying longer (or shorter) in Assisi?

 

 

 

 

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One Day in Assisi: A Complete Itinerary


The 1-Day Itinerary – Overview

Assisi is divided into two parts—the Lower (Parte de Sotto) and the Upper (Parte de Sopra). Though the distinction is purely semantic for most of the year, each May the town—home of peaceloving Saint Francis—sheds its normal spirit of brotherly love to spend three days (and nights) locked in intense competition as the two parts stage processions, scenes of medieval life, and concerts with period music as they vie for the honor of the Palio during the annual Calendimaggio festival.

This itinerary will explore highlights from the Parte de Sotto (everything that lies between the Basilica of Saint Francis and the main—and officially “neutral”–Piazza del Comune) and the Parte de Sopra, which covers the area from the central Piazza del Comune and extends east. Make sure you have comfortable shoes, as there will be some steep climbs through the narrow streets marking the upper part of this famed hilltown, but the views will be worth a bit of huffing and puffing!

assisi umbria italy

We will also touch on a few spiritual sites outside the historic center of Assisi, either on the slopes of Mount Subasio above the town or in the Valley below. The timing of this itinerary is only a recommendation, as much depends upon your method of transportation (public transportation and walking will take more time than driving or hiring a taxi) and how long you choose to linger at each site.

La Basilica di San Francesco (The Basilica of Saint Francis)

Hours: Lower Basilica 6:45am-6:00pm/Upper Basilica 8:30am – 7:45pm
Website: http://www.sanfrancescoassisi.org

To begin your first day, start at the Piazza Giovanni Paolo II public parking lot (some locals still call it Piazza San Pietro). Here there is ample paid parking, one of the main bus stops for those taking the local bus from the Assisi train station (located in Santa Maria degli Angeli in the valley below; check schedule at the bus stop for times and purchase tickets at the bar in the train station for €1), and a taxi stand (€10 from the train station). From here, it’s a short uphill walk to the Basilica above.

The ties between Assisi and her most famous monument are so symbiotic that it’s difficult to discern where one begins and the other ends; to know one, you have to know the other. Despite its sprawling size, the Upper and Lower Churches can get crowded during peak hours, so to enjoy the fabulous Giotto school fresco cycle documenting the life of Saint Francis in relative peace, it pays to time your visit for early morning—in fact, if you’re an early riser I suggest you try to get there before the time listed here to beat the tour bus crowds.

Local’s Tip: To fully enjoy the Basilica’s rich art and history—and its two churches, crypt, and museum– you should visit armed with a good guidebook or rent an audioguide from the stand to the left of the entrance to the Upper Church (€6/one hour tour; open 9:30am-5:30pm).

From The Upper Church in the Basilica, simply cross the street to the first building; your next stop is right on the corner.

Caffè San Francesco

Address: Via San Francesco, 52
Website: http://www.ristorantesanfrancesco.com

After your visit to the Basilica, it’s time to give your brain and feet a rest at this landmark local cafè. Try to grab the secret hidden table behind all the flowerpots on the corner for the best view in town, or enjoy the old-world style marble and scarlet decor inside while you sip your cappuccino.

From here continue down the main Via di San Francesco.

Via San Francesco

One of Assisi’s main thouroughfares, this long road is lined with everything from the kitschiest of souvenir shops to Assisi’s civic museum.

Local’s Tip: Stop to get a drink and fill your water bottles at the small fountain at the bottom of the stairs on the left which lead up Vicolo S. Andrea from Via San Francesco. The water is potable and the lionhead fountain charming.

Casa dei Maestri Comacini

Where the stairs of Vicolo S. Andrea meet Via San Francesco, take a good gander at this 13th century loggia and two-story extension to the right (dated 1477 on the coat of arms on the lower story).  The building was named for the compass and rose reliefs above the door and the window to its right, suggesting that it might have belonged to the master masons who traditionally came from Lake Como. One of the best preserved medieval facades in Assisi.

From here, continue up Via San Francesco (away from the Basilica).

Oratorio dei Pellegini and Monte Frumentario

Hours: 10am–12pm/4pm-6pm ; closed Sun

You will come first to the unassuming Oratorio dei Pellegrini, built by a group of pilgrims returning from Santiago di Compostella in the 1400s. Though the drab exterior is easily overlooked, it belies the rich frescoes of the Perugino school completely covering the interior.

On the next block, the uniform series of facades lining Via San Francesco is broken up by the delicate columns of Monte Frumentario’s portico. This 14th century building—originally a hospital—later housed a guild which lent wheat and other farm products to peasants in exchange for pawned goods.

Next door, the Oliviera Fountain, built in 1570, features a plaque fixing the fine for doing wash in the fountain at one “scudo”. Don’t drink the water here, but feel free to take some great pictures of this lovely public fountain.

After admiring the fountain, continue along Via San Francesco passing under the arch and continuing uphill along Via Portica to Piazza del Comune.

Piazza del Comune

It’s time to take a break and admire the pretty Piazza del Comune. Grab a table at one of the outdoor caffes (try Bar Trovellesi under the portico near the fountain) and admire the 13th century municipal building lining one side of the piazza, the pretty fountain with its jetted lions, the soaring belltower, and—most importantly—the Temple of Minerva. From the 1st century BC, this is the most intact Roman temple facade in Italy.

From here, take Corso Mazzini on the left.

Il Corso

La Piazza and Il Corso is where all Assisi go to see and be seen. Unfortunately, Assisi’s main street has been taken over by shops and caffes catering primarily to the tourist trade, but if you’re looking for some traditional souvenirs to take home, you may want to stop in the stores here.

Local’s Tip: Assisi’s best bakery is “Bar Pasticcieria Sensi” about halfway down the corso on your right. Though not as showy as many other pastry shops around town, this is where the locals all flock to satisfy their sweet-tooth. If you have a taste for something savory, try the pan caciato (cheese bread with walnuts).

Local’s Tip: As you pass under the archway at the end of the Corso (where Piazza Santa Chiara begins) there is a water fountain in a niche in the wall to your left (at the base of the staircase). Stop for a quick drink here.

Chiesa di Santa Chiara (Church of Saint Claire)

Hours: 6:30am-12:00am/2:00pm-6:00pm

The pink and white striped facade of the church dedicated to Saint Claire shortly after her death in 1253 dominates this piazza, and the immense flying buttresses and intricate rose window only render it more dramatic. Don’t miss the San Damiano Crucifix inside (in the Oratorio del Crocifisso)…this is the one which spoke to Francis, commanding him to “go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin,” thus changing the course of history.

Local’s Tip: The stone benches along the overlook at the far side of Piazza Santa Chiara are a wonderful, shady place to rest for a minute and snap some fabulous photos of the Umbria Valley below.

From Piazza Santa Chiara, walk the length of the Corso back to Piazza del Comune.

Lunch

Unfortunately, there are no restaurants worth their salt along the Corso, so for lunch double back to the main Piazza. From here you have three great options, all within a few meters.

Trattoria degli Umbri

No frills traditional family-style trattoria with traditional Umbrian fare. It can get crowded in peak season and you may need a little patience with the slow service.

Address: Piazza del Comune, 2
Phone: 075/812455

Osteria Piazzetta delle Erbe

Modern twist on traditional cuisine and one of the few spots in Assisi with outdoor seating.

Address: Via San Gabriele dell’Addolorata, 15/A
Phone: 075/815352

Trattoria La Pallotta

A Slow Food restaurant, this historic family-owned spot is heavy on local dishes and ingredients.

Address: Via della Volta Pinta, 3
Phone: 075/812649

From any of these three restaurants, make your way back into the Piazza del Comune and take the steep pedestrian Via San Rufino to Piazza San Rufino

Chiesa di San Rufino (Church of Saint Rufino)

Hours: 10:00am – 1:00pm/3:00pm-6:00pm
Price: €3 (for the Museum and Cript)
Website: www.assisimuseodiocesano.com

Assisi’s cathedral has been recently restored, so its twelfth century Romanesque facade and massive belltower are even more breathtaking. Don’t miss the small but excellent museum and crypt (in the piazza to the right of the facade), with its vaulted rooms and gracefully restored columns, it is perhaps the best collection of art and architecture in Assisi.

At Piazza San Rufino turn left into Via Porta Perlici and climb for about a block. On the left, take the stairs (there is an arrow indicating La Rocca Maggiore) as they climb, ending at the service road which leads to the entrance to the fortress.

Local’s Tip: If the climb uphill to the fortress is too rigorous, you can also get a taxi at the stand right in Piazza Santa Chiara. Taxis have access to the service road leading to the Rocca, but not normal traffic.

La Rocca Maggiore

Hours: 10:00am–7:00pm
Price:  €5 (or included in the €8 ticket purchased on Day 1 at Palazzo Vallemani)

The medieval fortress which sits above Assisi is one of its most fascinating, yet least visited, sites. This captivating warren of semi-restored tunnels, turrets, and courtyards is a thrill to explore for kids and grown-ups alike, and the heart-stopping climb up the far tower rewards you with one of the most amazing views over Assisi and the whole of the Umbrian valley below.

Descend the access road back to the staircase you took coming uphill. At the bottom of the stairs, turn right down Via Porta Perlici until you arrive in Piazza San Rufino.

Local’s Tip: Ready for a snack? The tiny pizza shop “Da Andrea” on the corner right across the street from the Church of San Rufino (there is a small wooden bench next to the door) has the best slices in Assisi.

Follow Via del Turrione uphill to the left of the facade of the church until it comes out at Piazza Matteotti. From here, you can either get a taxi to the Hermitage (€10) or—if you’re feeling athletic—walk the road up the mountain (you’ll be in good company; most pilgrims walk to the Hermitage). It’s about an hour uphill.

The Hermitage (L’Eremo delle Carceri)

Hours: 6:30am – 7:00pm
Website: http://www.eremocarceri.it/

One of the most peaceful and evocative spiritual sites in Assisi, the Hermitage where Francis would often seclude himself in prayer and meditation is just off the beaten track enough to avoid the crowds of the Basilicas in Assisi and Santa Maria degli Angeli. Take time to wander both the building and the surrounding walking paths.

From here, either take a taxi back to your car parked in Assisi or all the way to Santa Maria degli Angeli (€15-€20).

The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli

Hours: 6:15am – 12:50pm/2:30pm – 7:30 pm

Website: www.porziuncola.org

To visit the Basilica, you can park in the free lot directly in front of the church. Otherwise, for those using public transportation, it’s a short (flat!) ten minute walk from the Assisi train station (located in Santa Maria degli Angeli) where all trains and buses arrive; just point yourself towards the soaring dome.

You can’t miss the imposing domed Basilica which dominates the valley below the historic center of Assisi in the neighboring town of Santa Maria degli Angeli; this church is probably the second busiest after the Basilica of Saint Francis. The church itself is remarkable perhaps only for its size (it’s the eighth largest church in the world), but inside it holds the tiny 11th century Porziuncola oratory, where Saint Francis and his followers worshipped. Saint Claire took her vows of poverty here, and Saint Francis asked to be brought here to die. Here you can also visit the Cappella del Transito, where Francis died, and the rose garden, where the miraculous roses which shed their thorns at the Saint’s touch still bloom.

Dinner at Da Elide

Address: Via Patrono d’Italia, 48 Santa Maria degli Angeli
Website: http://www.assisihoteldaelide.com

If you think that a restaurant near the train station is bad news, Da Elide is pleasant surprise. Just steps away from the Basilica in the direction of the Assisi train station, this historic restaurant (and hotel) is a local favorite, known especially for their meat grilled over the wood coals and fresh egg pasta.

 

Transportation Tips

This itinerary is primarily on foot, though parts can also be done by a car or combination of public transportation (bus) and taxis.

 

Something Extra

Have some extra time? Here’s one thing to add to this itinerary:

The Sanctuary of San Damiano

Hours: 6:15am – 12:00am/2:00pm – 6:45pm

Your final stop today is actually where it all began. The sanctuary at San Damiano once held the famous crucifix (now in the Basilica of Saint Claire) which spoke to a praying Francis, commanding him to “go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin,” three times. Francis did just that…first interpreting the message as a call to restore the neglected San Damiano and Porziuncola chapels and later taking it to mean a tweaking of the Roman Catholic Church itself. In this vein, he founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of Saint Claire and—many hold—became one of the most influential figures in religious history, pioneering virtues of poverty, brotherhood, respect for animals and the environment.

 

Staying longer in Assisi?

 

 

 

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Umbria’s Artisan Crafts: What to Buy and Where

Though I’m not a huge shopper and certainly not a collector (I own so few things that I was once asked by a date who stopped by my apartment if I had lost all my belongings in a house fire), when I do spend money I try to spend it well. I do my best to support small local businesses, especially artisans who have to struggle so hard to keep crafting traditions alive.

textiles

I feel especially strongly about this in Umbria, a region with a long and proud artisan past and a thriving artisan present…if you know what to search out and where. Purchasing their handcrafted wares is killing two birds with one stone: doing good (by supporting the local economy) and doing well (by taking home an excellent quality memento that truly captures the essence of Umbria).

Read here to see what are four of Umbria’s most iconic products, and some suggestions as to where to find them:

Shopping for Artisan Crafts in Umbria:Where to Buy Ceramics, Cashmere, Textiles, and Chocolate

 

Do you have any favorite artisans or ateliers? Post them in your comments below to spread the word!

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Art Day Trips from Umbria to Le Marche

Umbria is surprisingly dense with masterpieces of art and architecture, given its small size and relatively modest history (no Medici art patronage during the Renaissance here, as Umbria was part of the vast and stoic Papal State until the 1800s). It’s easy to spend a week or two criss-crossing this region taking in the churches, abbeys, monasteries, and civic museums without ever having to cross her borders to fill your days.

Madonna_di_Senigallia

That said, the neighboring Le Marche has its own share of culture, much of it in quiet civic museums and echoing churches (though there are a few monumental exceptions). If you’re curious to head east during your stay in Umbria for the day and see what treasures this nearby region has to offer, take a look at this overview I wrote recently:

Le Marche’s Hidden Art

 

You can easily combine your day trip with a drive through the gorgeous Sibilline National Park, or a few hours at the beach along Le Marche’s Adriatic coast. But be sure to make it back to Umbria…we don’t want you to become too enthusiastic about our friendly neighbors!

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Assisi’s Basilica di San Francesco and Franciscan Sites in Umbria

The rock star popularity of newly-minted Pope Francis (in March of 2013) has led to a surge in interest in his namesakes’ life and an explosion in the number of visitors to Franciscan sites in Assisi–primarily the Basilica of Saint Francis–and across Umbria.

The Basilica of Saint Francis, Assisi, Umbria, Italy

Though I love the Basilica for its sheer artistic and architectural heft, there are a number of sites scattered around Umbria where Francis lived and prayed that have the quieter, more contemplative vibe that marked the saint’s approach to spirituality and nature.

Whether you are drawn to the historical or the spiritual aspects of Francis’ life, there are a number of Franciscan sites which are both fascinating and poignant monuments to this Umbrian saint’s life and work. Take a look at my two articles below for an overview of Assisi’s Basilica and a Franciscan itinerary across Umbria. Pax et bonum.

A Quick Guide to the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi

 

Franciscan Sites in Umbria

 

 

 

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Beach Day Trips from Umbria to Le Marche

It’s that season when it feels like it has been raining for roughly, oh, seventeen years.

Why is Umbria Italy’s “green heart”? Well, because we get an incredible amount of precipitation during the winter, which usually (though we have been hit with drought in this crazy new global climate, as well) sees us through the summer. But, boy, can it be a bummer during January and February, when it starts feeling like we may never see the sun again.

Monte Conero, Le Marche, Italy

In my California dreaming, I was reminded of a little guide to beach resort towns in Le Marche I wrote recently. Umbria is landlocked, so visitors who want to day trip to the seaside either need to head over the Appennine mountains to the east, or across Tuscany to the west. The Adriatic coast to the east is slightly closer, so most choose Le Marche for a quick jaunt.

Here are a few suggestions of seaside resorts close enough to day trip for those seeking the sun:

Beach Day Trips from Umbria to Le Marche

 

The other option (Tuscany) is doable for a day trip from Umbria, as well. I’ll be writing up a guide to some of my favorite Tuscan resort towns soon. But right now I need to go have some hot cocoa by the fire…

 

 

 

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Shopping in Assisi and Perugia

It may look like I’ve abandoned you all, whiling away my days on the divan whilst imbibing on wine and chocolates.

Oh, yee of little faith. I’ve been here this whole time, just not here here.

I’ve been doing a bit of writing about Umbria and Italy for a number of other travel publications and sites, and as some of these articles may be of interest to folks planning a stay in Umbria or at Brigolante, I’m going to catch you up over the next few weeks.

I’ll begin with shopping.

 

Photo by G. Dall Orto

Photo by G. Dall Orto

I wrote a Shopping Guide for Assisi post many moons ago, but some of the information there has changed in the meantime. So, recently I put together two new posts listing some of my favorite haunts to drop coin in Assisi and Perugia. You can read them here:

Shopping in Assisi

 

Shopping in Perugia

 

If you have any other favorite shops or suggestions, please leave a comment below!

 

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Italy Roundtable: Panzanella

This edition of the monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable is a bit sluggish…blame the August heat.  Take a look at what my fellow bloggers including travel writing powerhouse Jessica Spiegel (on leave this month),  professional travel writer Melanie Renzulli, art historian and general brainiac Alexandra Korey, Tuscan uber-blogger Gloria the hilariously irreverent Kate Bailward and me have to say. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Please, pull up a chair to our Roundtable, have some popsicles, and join in on the conversation.

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August in Italy

August in Italy is hot. Hot hot. Too hot to work (which is why this post is late), too hot to sleep, and too hot to cook—much less eat–much of anything.

There is one dish that I can always stomach, no matter what the thermometer reads. No, it’s not gelato (there are days when even gelato seems a challenge) and it’s not pasta salad (though it’s a close runner-up). It’s panzanella.

Panzanella is both a quintessentially Umbrian and a quintessentially summer dish. Umbrian because it is a delicious way to use up stale bread, which appeals to the parsimonious Umbrians and their farming traditions of not letting anything go to waste, and because pretty much every cook has their own version of it, depending upon their tastes and vegetable garden. Summer because it is built around flavorful garden tomatoes, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, and not much else–all ingredients that abound in these summer months—and involves not a lick of flame to make.

When the temperatures soar, make yourself a big ol’ plate of panzanella. And then take a nap in front of the fan.

panzanella-umbra-1

 

Panzanella

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Ingredients for four servings:

  • 200 grams traditional Umbrian bread (cooked in a wood oven is best), cubed
  • 3-4 ripe tomatoes (cherry tomatoes work fine, as well), chopped
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, sliced
  • (optional, according to taste: 1 cucumber and/or 1 carrot and/or a few leaves of romaine lettuce and/or capers and/or minced garlic and/or red or yellow sweet peppers)
  • a handful of green or black marinated olives (the good ones, people)
  • a bunch of fresh basil, chopped
  • red wine vinegar
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Cut the vinegar with the same volume of water, making enough to soak the bread cubes. Soak for about five minutes, then press out the liquid well (the cubes get a little mushed up…it’s fine.).

Mix the bread with the chopped vegetables, olives, and basil in a large salad bowl. Dress with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.

Let the panzanella rest in the refrigerator for about two hours.

Yep, that’s it. Nap time.

ibrgraphic_small

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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The Most Beautiful Villages of Umbria: Arrone

In the long and proud tradition of two steps forward/one step back, one step forward/two steps back, and general non-linear progression, I am skipping from the Cs (I have Citerna in the works…great things to say about Citerna, folks) back to the As. Arrone is the first town on the list of The Most Beautiful Villages in Umbria and logically where I should have begun my quest to visit them all, but instead I got sidetracked by the Bs and then Citerna kind of fell in my lap, but here I am back at the beginning.  As it turns out, I was so enamored with the Nera River Valley–home to Arrone–that I have a feeling I will soon be skipping to the last village on the list (Vallo di Nera) just for an excuse to go back again.

These rocky slopes have captivated travellers for centuries.

Know’st thou the mountain, and its cloudy bridge?
The mule can scarcely find the misty ridge;
In caverns dwells the dragon’s olden brood,
The frowning crag obstructs the raging flood.
Know’st thou it well?

(– J. W. Goethe, Mignon)

I dare you not to be charmed by Arrone.  And I know you.  You are going to take the dare.

The hilltop hamlet of Arrone, with the fortress portion known as La Terra and the more recent lower portion known as Santa Maria.

And you’re going to have a sinking feeling as you come out of the long tunnel behind Spoleto which leads you from the gentle rolling hills of northern and central Umbria to the wild and rugged scenery in the Nera River Park.  You are going to suffer some serious self-doubt as you snake through the dramatic Valnerina along highway SS209 which skirts the crystalline Nera river and runs under steep mountainsides where tiny creche-looking stone villages perch precariously.  It is an area both stunningly beautiful and foreboding, where the weather can go from sunny skies to black clouds in a matter of minutes, where the isolated hamlets and claustrophobia-inducing sheer rock walls remind you that centuries ago the inhabitants of these inpenetrable peaks held out against conversion to Christianity for long after the rest of the region, where dragons and witches lurked in caves, and where—just to make the area a bit more hostile—each tiny town was locked in perennial warfare with the next one over.

You'll know you're here when you're here.

You may have a flash of hope and begin to feel cocky as you near Arrone, whose medieval central fortress on the peak of her rocky outcrop is ringed with buildings from the 1960s and1970s, a period which is to Italian architecture what the 1980s was to American fashion.  But then you will park your car, grab a quick espresso at the Bar di Piazza alongside every retired guy in town, spend a moment watching the locals drive by and wave to each other, try to make out the faded lettering on the political posters plastered on the door of the Italian Free Hunting Union across the street (I’ll help you out.  They say:  Free Hunting is Our Reason to Live.  They don’t mess around in Arrone.), and you will feel yourself beginning to weaken.  You’ll step across the piazza and poke your nose into the church of Santa Maria, whose unadorned facade belies the lovely frescoes inside–some from Caravaggio’s school– and know that you are in big trouble.

No rush for morning coffee in Arrone.

And then you’ll start to climb the steep, winding road that leads from the lower—and more recent—portion of the historic center of town to the walled castle portion above, stopping often to catch both your breath and the view of the surrounding mountains.  You will step through the arched gate of the castle, and know that your goose is cooked.  You’ll be charmed.

The views only get more dramatic the higher you climb.

There is not one commercial establishment in the castle portion of Arrone.  No stores, restaurants, bars, or Starbucks.  There are simply tiny, winding pedestrian alleyways that end in quirky courtyards, dramatic views over the Valnerina from every parapet, a main street Via del Vicinato which ends under the civic clock tower, a tiny Gothic Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (if you’re lucky, the door will be open and you can take a look at the lovely votive frescoes inside, commissioned by Arrone’s noble families over the centuries), octogonal stone bell tower (try to be there at noon when the bells are rung and the lone resident dog barks in time.  He lives for the noon bells.  You can tell.), and residents.

Arrone's main street which leads to the civic tower.

Yes, residents.  I was amazed to find homes lived in, gardens tended, stoops swept, and heartening signs of renovation.  At a time when tiny mountain villages are as endangered as the Panda, this incredibly inconvenient hamlet above a tiny town in an isolated river valley in the far corner of Umbria is surviving.  Plucky folk.

Here's to Giovanni and Natalina, living a life in Arrone

It doesn’t take long to explore Arrone, but don’t leave this beautiful area just yet.  Directly beneath the town, there is a pretty little park along this placid stretch of the Nera River, which is a perfect place to relax or set off on a rafting excursion.  If you love to drive (I love to drive), you can continue past Arrone to Polino (Arrone’s historic arch-enemy.  They were feisty back in the day.), where the view over the mountains is even more breathtaking, and up to the peak of Colle Bertone for a pretty walk or picnic.  Beware of asking for restaurant recommendations from gathered groups of locals in the Bar di Piazza, lest long debates, convoluted directions, cellphone verifications that cousins’ trattorias are actually open for lunch, and conflicting last words delay you so long that you miss lunch.  Take my word for it.

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Cin cin: The Best Places to Have Drink in Umbria

Before I go any further, let me just preface this by saying that Umbria is a food culture, not a drink culture.  A group of friends in Umbria is much more likely to organize an evening around a meal—either at home or at a restaurant—than around meeting for drinks.  In fact, for roughly the first 15 years I lived here I don’t think I ever met up with friends for a cocktail.  At most, we would grab a beer after dinner in the pub…but even that was rare.

Lately a small cocktail culture has begun to take hold in Umbria, for a number of reasons.  First, the concept of the aperitivo has become increasingly popular over the past couple of years, probably because the happy hour-esque pairing of drink with food around dinner time is something that the Umbrians can cotton on to without much trouble.  Also, with the economy being what it is, it can be cheaper to nurse a drink for an evening of after-dinner conversation than order a meal (However, as part of my hard hitting journalism, I actually found myself consuming an €8 cocktail the other night.  €8.  Like, the same amount I pay for a pizza margherita and a small beer in my real life.). And, of course, Umbrians–like the rest of the world–like to feel like they are doing the same things hip people in Manhattan are doing, so mixed drinks are hot right now.  Though the hip people I know in Manhattan seem to spend an inordinate amount of time ordering-in Vietnamese sandwiches and watching The Wire on their TiVo.

The bottom line is that you are probably not going to get an extraordinary drink in Umbria.  This is not the land of the mixologist, but of the porkologist.  If you want a memorable salame, you’ve come to the right place.  If you want a memorable Manhattan, you should probably go there.  This is, however, a land of wonderful views, people watching, and historic cafes…so I’ve given more weight in my choices to the esthetics than to the quality of the alcohol.  If you’re choosy about your cocktails, you can always just order a glass of wine.  Umbrians do know good wine.

A Drink with a View

Punto di Vista–Viale Indipendenza, 2 Perugia

The bad news is that Perugia has no rooftop bars.  The good news is that this hilltop town doesn’t need them.  Perch yourself on one of the stools along the parapet which forms the long wall of this outdoor bar, and sip a cocktail while enjoying one of the most spectacular views around.  From here you can see almost the entire length of the Umbrian valley, and prettily lit Assisi on the far hill.

Why, yes, I did manage to snap this picture on the night of the full moon. Why, yes, I do rock.

Il Trombone–Via Fontanello 1, Spello

The view from this outdoor lounge is so enchanting that you will be tempted to return here for a meal.  Don’t do it.  The restaurant is—how can I put this?—a crime against Italian cooking.  But the adjoining bar is a lovely tree shaded patio with wicker seating tucked into niches and an incredibly soothing view over the green olive-grove covered hills surrounding Spello.  I repeat:  just drink here.

The view takes the edge off just as much as your drink.

A Drink with a Different View

Tric Trac–Piazza Duomo, 10 Spoleto

If you are green hill panorama-ed out but would still like some eye candy to accompany your gin and tonic, head to one of the outdoor tables at this elegant bar overlooking Spoleto’s breathtaking duomo.  The piazza–closed to traffic–is unusually quiet for an Italian square, so you can sip in peace while gazing at the softly lit facade of one of the most magnificent churches in Umbria.

The bell tower is currently under scaffolding, but that doesn't distract from this breathtaking facade.

Nun–Via Eremo delle Carceri, 1A Assisi

This rather unfortunately named brand-new-never-been-opened-still-in-box luxury hotel and spa seems to have gotten everything right…the elegant renovation of the historic ex-convent it now calls home, the breathtaking spa in the excavated Roman ruins under the hotel, and the chic internal courtyard bar open to both guests and the public.  This glass, chrome, and dramatically lit space offers a unique view in Assisi…looking up, rather than down, you see the Rocchicciola, or secondary fortress which dominates the skyline.

People watching

Hotel Bontadosi–Piazza del Comune, 19 Montefalco

If all humans are actors in this theater of life, the main stages in Italy are doubtless the town piazzas.  Settle yourself down in one of this elegant hotel’s inviting outdoor couches, order a drink from the formal yet approachable staff, and watch the show.

Get front row seats to the show in Montefalco's charming piazza

Bar 1.2–Piazza Garibaldi, Todi

Right under the portico of the elegant Palazzo del Comune, this new bar is both a wonderful place for people watching and, if you’re lucky, listening to live music.  The atmosphere is young and casual, the shows are a mix of acoustic, jazz, and alternative, and the piazza is hopping.  A winner.

Winter haven

H2nO–Via Baldeschi, 12/a Perugia

If the sun isn’t cooperating but you are still hankering for a Cuba Libre, search out this quirkily hip bar right in the university district, with its young clientele and a fun vibe.  The main floor is built around some restored Roman arches in brick and stone, which makes it an interesting space when the weather outside is frightful.

Il Vincaffè–Via Filippeschi 39 Orvieto

This wine bar is upscale yet friendly, like a neighborhood place in Soho.  Great wines and spirits, jovial staff, and some foodie munchies.  A perfect place to pop in for an hour on a chilly fall evening to imbibe and rub elbows with the locals.

This great shot by Dean Thorsen captures the vibe of the place. Good times.

A special thanks to Alessandra from Discovering Umbria for her Todi and Orvieto help and suggestions!