Brigolante holiday rentals in Assisi, Umbria

Self-catering apartments in Assisi's town center and nearby countryside.
Browsing category: Family fun in Umbria...especially the kids!, Life in Umbria, Sports and the Great Outdoors in Umbria

The Day I Fell in Love: Fishing on Lake Trasimeno

If there’s one thing my mother taught me, it’s this: If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all. (Second only to: Always wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident. A life lesson slightly less useful but still memorable.). Which is why there are certain areas in Umbria that I don’t talk about much; I just don’t have very many nice things to say.

I admit that Lake Trasimeno and environs has been, for many years, one of those areas for me.  Not that the Trasimeno basin isn’t lovely…it certainly is, in a bucolic, softly rolling hills, postcard-y sort of way. I am a more dramatic, craggy, sturm-und-drang school sort of gal (see my lauding ad nauseam of the Valnerina), however, and the resort town atmosphere around the lake feels somehow staged.

It took a recent impromptu fishing excursion recommended by friends from San Diego Sportfishing to rethink my blanket dismissal of Trasimeno. (Let me preface this by saying that I do not like fishing. Patience is—ahem—not a virtue for which I am particularly known, and if you want to see an otherwise competent, mature, and self-possessed woman morph instantly into a squealing mess of a girl, have her unhook a writhing carp from a fishing line.) But it was a cloudless day in May and perfect weather to be on a boat, so I went. And discovered that underneath the beaches and nightclubs and boutiques ringing the lake, there are real people who have lived and worked in symbiosis with its waters for generations.

Boats on Lake Trasimeno

The traditional fishing boat is flat-bottomed and wooden.

We met up with our fishman/guide/capitano (Who sized us up rather skeptically. He was apparently familiar with the morphing issue.) at the Trasimeno Fishing Cooperative in the unassuming town of San Feliciano and immediately set out in a traditional flat-bottomed wooden boat.

(Consider Hiring the Best Baton Rouge Personal Injury Attorney to fight legal complications related to boating accidents)

Our pensive captain. He knows what he’s dealing with here.

After motoring to the nearby fishing grounds, our captain cut the engine and stood in the center of the boat rowing in the traditional style–criss-crossing the handles while alternating pulls on the right and left oars–and somehow managed to keep a straight course. Like the Venetian “voga” rowing style, it looks damned easy until you try it and find yourself going nowhere fast.

Rowing on Lake Trasimeno

The traditional rowing style looks easy. It ain’t.

We cut slowly through the placid waters, casting long nets and hauling in the cone-shaped traps for eel, pike, tench, and carp. (And crayfish from the Southern US, who somehow inexplicably have ended up in the Bel Paese.)

Fishing on Lake Trasimeno

Hauling in a cone-shaped trap.

While we fished we chatted with the friendly-yet-taciturn captain (have you ever met a chatty fisherman?) as he told his story of following in his father’s footsteps, and about the history and culture of the local fishing town. As he talked passionately about the lake and his life there, I felt myself warm to Trasimeno…which suddenly seemed less like a movie set and more like a community.

Fishing on Lake Trasimeno

Letting out the nets.

We only had time for a quick trip out on the water, but excursions usually include a turn around the lake with a stop on the Polvese Island where your catch is grilled up on the beach (something I certainly plan on doing with my kids this summer). Alternatively, your haul is weighed and sold at the Cooperative, which supplies the area restaurants. The local landmark “Ristorante Da Settimio” is half a block from the Cooperative and docks and features fish caught by the Cooperative, if you are curious to sample the lake’s bounty.

Fishing on Lake Trasimeno

A real fisherman repairing real nets on real Lake Trasimeno.

To reserve a fishing excursion with the Cooperative, I suggest actually stopping by the office in San Feliciano. They may know where the fish are biting, but they’re not so good with the answering emails and phone calls thing.


Walking and Hiking in Umbria: The “Costa’s” Fountains

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.

This is a pleasurable spring excursion, in an area full of fountains and springs, which is quite an unusual incidence for a limestone mountain like Subasio. If you want to fully enjoy this excursion you should wear comfortable clothing and suitable shoes for a mountain hike and  you should take a backpack and water bottle, rain coat, bread roll, camera, first-aid kit, and the map of Mount Subasio’s paths “Carta dei Sentieri del Monte Subasio” in scale 1:20,000 of the C.A.I. section of Foligno.

Porta Cappuccini

Porta Cappuccini


The itinerary: from Piazza Matteotti (445m) take Via Santuario delle Carceri uphill which within a short distance leads to Porta Cappuccini (469m). As soon as you pass through the arch, turn left onto a tree-lined dirt track which runs parallel to the outside walls of the Rocchicciola (red and white signpost 50/51). Once you arrive at Cassero, take the rocky track on the right which goes uphill; after passing a small fountain, leave the rocky track at the crossroads—the rocky track continues straight uphill towards the Hermitage (signpost 50)—and take the small flat path on the left (signpost 51), which enters into the wood and becomes a pathway. The way to follow is obvious–wellmarked and sloped–and runs through the thick wood and ends on the asphalted road Assisi-Armenzano which you then cross.  Take the dirt track opposite which leads within a short distance to some perfectly restored country houses. Go right and you will find yourself once again on the asphalted road which you follow towards the left for a short distance as far as Costa di Trex’s few houses, locally called “la Costa” (573m – 1.40 km from the start).

The Church

The Church at Costa di Trex

This site is particular not only because of its pleasant position and characteristic bell tower which can be seen by all the houses in the parish, but also because of its unusual toponymy “Costa di Trex” which is a cyncope of the old name “Costa di Tre Chiese”.

Follow the asphalt road towards Armenzano for about 700m, then leave the road at this point and take the chained-off road on the right used by the park rangers (signpost 61), go uphill and within a short distance it leads to the Fonte (fountain) Castellana (600, 0.15 km from Costa di Trex).

The basin which collects the fresh spring water, the surrounding glade, and some magnificent cypresses from Arizona make this a very pleasant resting place. Continue uphill and ignore the signpost 61 which indicates to go left, keep going uphill along the service road; at a crossraods continue straight on uphill as far as a plateau and there you will find the Fonte Maddalena (800m – 0.50 km from the Fonte Castellana); the excursion’s highest point is definitely worthy of a stop. At the following crossroads go right downhill until you reach the end of the service road closed off by a chain. There you cross a rocky path which you follow downhill towards the right (signpost 50) reaching within a short distance the Rocchicciola. The tree lined dirt track taken at the beginning takes you again to Porta Cappuccini, and then again to Piazza Matteotti (0.45 km from Fonte Maddalena).

Mount Subasio’s water is really very good!


Rebecca as Guest rather than Hostess: Five Fabulous Hikes in Umbria

There are so many great walks and hikes in Umbria that it’s impossible to explore them all (unless, of course, you are Bill Thayer).

It is, however, very possible to select the crème de la crème, and in doing so see some of the most stunning countryside in Italy. I was able to share five of what I consider the best hikes in this region recently on the Bootsnall Indie Travel Guide‘s blog.

So dust off those boots, get yourself a good map and some sunscreen, and head to the hills. But read my guest post first!


Rebecca as Guest rather than Hostess: A “Velvet Escape” Hike in Umbria

There’s nothing I like more than a good hike. Okay, maybe a hearty meal. And a solid night’s sleep. And a pair of warm socks. And a compelling book.

But after all that, I really like a good hike. So it was a pleasure to be able to share one of my favorite hikes in Umbria on Keith Jenkin’s wonderful Velvet Escape travel blog.

The trail itself is breathtaking, but my favorite part of the hike is the mysterious legend behind its final destination. Take a look here to read about this quirky hike.


Walking and Hiking in Umbria: The Marchetto Canyon

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.

We would like to propose an easy walking tour which reveals an area of great geological and scenic interest:  Marchetto Canyon.  Comfortable clothing and footwear appropriate for an excursion in the countryside is advised.

By car:  from Piazza Matteotti leave the city through Porta Perlice and take route SS444 in the direction of Gualdo Tadino – below to the left is the deep gorge of the stream Tescio; after about 6 kilometers, directly in front of the little private church of Pian della Pieve, leave route SS444 and turn right onto a dirt road which, after passing over a little bridge, brings you under the arcade of the large Ponte Francescano where you can park your car (6,2 km from Piazza Matteotti).

Walking itinerary:  from the rest stop beyond the arcade of the large Franciscan bridge and before reaching the little bridge, turn left onto a well-marked path (there is a no thoroughfare sign), which goes up along the right slope (on the map) of Marchetto Canyon.

The walls of the Marchetto Canyon

After a brief level grassy stretch, the path becomes discontinuous and begins to rise, then levels out again (here you can glimpse the deeply-embedded ravine below with its deep chasms) until it reaches the destinctive Marchetto bridge (40 minutes from the start) which projects over the wild chasm with an exceptional view of the vertical rock-face and the sinuous progress of the course of water below (be careful!).  The bridge, certainly medieval, in ancient times was known as the Bridge of the Wolves and represents an important arterial path between the city and the vast countryside to the East.

The Marchetto Bridge

Leaving the bridge to your right, proceed following the red and white trail signs 51 to Ponte Cavaliero (18th century), near the confluence of Cavaliero Canyon into Marchetto Canyon.

The Marchetto Canyon from above

Once again leaving the bridge on your right, proceed slightly uphill skirting the gorge until you reach a fork in the path.  Ignore the sign for trail 51 and take the little level grassy road to the right which soon leads to a waterfall Fersena, which can be heard for some distance; over the waterfall is the Norcia-Assisi-Perugia aqueduct by which you can reach the head of the waterfall (once again, be careful!).

Returning to the fork, take up the marked path again.  With a couple of upward turns in the path you come out of the woods; skirt the cultivated field until you reach Casa Poderaccio (40 minutes from Marchetto Bridge).  Beyond the house, leave trail 51 and take a dirt road to the left that, in slight but constant descent (beautiful panoramic view of the wooded northern slope of Mount Subasio and the surrounding hills) will bring you pleasantly back to the starting point (40 minutes from Casa Poderaccio).

At the end of the excursion, returning toward Assisi on route SS444, we suggest a brief stop at Restaurant da Giovannino at Ponte Grande where, in homey and hospitable surroundings, you can taste the characteristic local dishes cooked in the authentic traditional manner.


Perfect Picnic Places: Il Lago di Aiso (Bevagna)

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

I’m especially proud of this picnic spot, not so much because it’s extraordinarily beautiful (though charming it is) or particularly hard to find (though you’ll have to follow my directions carefully), but simply because I had to do some serious recon work to find a place that I liked enough to share.  After a long day of driving around more or less chasing wild geese and rejecting contenders with a growing sense of defeat, this tiny lake came out of left field and surprised me with its quiet grace.

But first, victuals.  This is a perfect excuse to take a stroll down the main corso of pretty Bevagna, where in the space of four or five blocks you can find all you’ll need for a meal al fresco.  Begin at Tagliavento on Corso Amendola…here you’ll find a tempting selection of handmade salame, prosciutto, dried sausage, and other traditional Umbrian charcuterie side by side with some local cheeses and the ubiquitous porchetta.  Umbrians have been coming here for their cold-cuts for three generations, so take your time and choose with care—or let Marco and Rosita suggest something special.

From there, cross over the piazza toward Corso Matteotti; along the Corso you can stop by the greengrocers at number 53, the grocery market at number 49, and the Polticchia bakery right around the corner at Via Fabio Alberti, 9.  And you can’t spit in Bevagna without hitting a wine shop, so stock up on some local Sagrantino as long as you’re there.  This is how small town shopping is done and—when not pressed for time—it’s a pleasure to finish up laden with an anachronistic array of bundles, bags, and packages from four or five different stores.

Now to reveal to you my secret spot:  From Bevagna, take the provincial highway SP 403 following the signs towards Capro and Cannara.  About two kilometers outside of Bevagna, you’ll come to an old brick bridge that runs parallel to the road (where there’s a new bridge now) which has been closed and made into a picnic spot (one of the rejects…too much traffic noise).  Where this bridge begins you’ll see a small road on the right with a sign indicating Il Convento dell’Annunziata (another reject…pretty view but no place to sit.  I’m telling you, I cased the Bevagna countryside).  Turn here, but rather than continuing uphill towards the convent, take the road which continues straight along the plain marked by an arrow reading Lago di Aiso.  After about a kilometer, you’ll come to the small fenced lake ringed by poplars and picnic tables.  For the prettiest view, walk around to the table at the far side, where you’ll have a view of Assisi.

The still lake perfectly mirrors the surrounding trees and fields

This spring-fed lake is small but deep—around 15 meters—and flows into the nearby Topino river.  Though unassuming, it has a wonderful legend surrounding its origins which has been traced back to the 1600s.  It is said that at this very spot there once stood a large farmhouse owned by a wealthy but impious and miserly farmer named Chiarò.  One year he decided to thresh his fields on the feast day of Saint Anne (the 26th of July), despite it being traditionally a day of rest.  His wife, known for her piety and charity, begged him not to work on this holy day to no avail.  As soon as he had finished threshing the last stalk of wheat, the house and surrounding fields suddenly sank into the ground and the deep pit immediately filled with water, drowning the farmer and his fieldhands.

The sound of rushing water from the run off into the nearby Topino river is perfect background music for a picnic

His wife—warned by an angel of what would soon be the fate of her husband–was able to escape with their baby son, but a small stream of water followed her and drowned the farmer’s offspring as well.  The nearby natural spring called the Asillo marks the spot where the infant drowned. Every year, on the night of Saint Anne, those who visit the lake can see the house of Chiarò under the water at the bottom of the lake and hear his cries as he urges on his threshing horses.


Get the VIP table with the view of Assisi on the far hill

Buon appetito!


Walking and Hiking in Umbria: Seavalley Up in the Mountains

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 excursion which we propose here unfolds along peaceful dirt roads and small country roads accessible to all and offers out of the ordinary views of the woody eastern slope of Mount Subasio.  The entire itinerary is charactierized by powerful oaks whose presence is due principally to the clayey nature of the hills which look out over the Topino river.  These have been planted and cared for by man since the times of the Umbrians; they are not nature but culture.  When the leaves fall, among the bare branches it is easy to descry the presence of the “golden branch”: mistletoe with its golden berries, symbols of light and of life which regenerates itself.  Since this is a parasitic plant which does not have its roots in the earth, it used to be said that it had come down from the sky, that it was a divine emanation.  The Celts called mistletoe “that which cures all”.  This mysterious plant was the central element in a complex ceremony which was held during the rites connected with the winter solstice.  The Druids—the priests and prophets of the ancient Celts—gathered the plants with a golden sickle and were careful not to let it touch the ground; the water in which it was subsequently immersed was held to be an efficacious antidote for curses and spells.  Even today, the gift of a branch of mistletoe on New Year’s Eve—to be hung inside above the door—brings good luck.  And as for you skeptics, it certainly does no harm!

We recommend comfortable clothing and shoes suitable for a trip to the mountains.  Bring a knapsack with food and drink, a rain slicker, compass, and altimeter, the Map of the Trails of Mount Subasio (CAI), binoculars, and a camera.

By Car: from Piazza Matteotti (445 m) go out under Porta Perlici and take the SS 444 (of Mount Subasio) road in the direction of Gualdo Tadino.  After about 500 m leave the SS 444 road and go right (following signs for Costa di Trex and Armenzano).  The narrow asphalt road, in slight but constant ascent, leads you to the few houses of Costa di Trex, (573 m – 5 km) then to Armenzano (759 m – 10 km).  Here leave the SP 249 road and continue on to the left; after skirting the walls of the castle, go left again on a road which goes down.  Once you have passed a small cemetary shaded by cypresses, you will come to a saddle, the Armenzano Cross (627 m – 11.5 km from Piazza Matteotti) where numerous roads and paths intersect.  You will recognize the spot because of a small country shrine here made of stone and a characteristic country tower for doves.  The saddle is the watershed between the Cavaliero Channel (N-W), a tributary of the Tescio Torrent and the Anna Channel (S-E), confluent of the Topino River.

The shrine at Armenzano Cross

Itinerary: from the Armenzano Cross (627 m) begin to walk (E) along the dirt road and after a few meters you will reach a fork where you bear to the right on a road which ascends slightly.  After you have passed alongside the country dove tower, continue along the peaceful dirt road.  Towards the right, a view will open up of the broad head of the Anna Channel and of the eatstern slope of Mount Subasio, deeply furrowed with numerous streams.

The slope of Mount Subasio

You will reach Falcioni Alto (684 m – 20 min from your departure) signaled by various man-made structures—houses and stables for animals—in a complete state of abandonment.  Here go left and after a few meters turn right; once you have crossed a metal fence, continue along (N-E) on a grassy path through uncultivated fields which will bring you to a saddle between two modest rises.  On a little hill on the left (700m)—delimited below by a low stone wall—remains of a country villa from Roman times have been found.  No visible trace of the villa remains above ground except for a few square blocks and numerous fragments of pottery.  The presence here now of small cement fireplaces, which perhaps anticipate debatable tourist “fruits” in the future is a real disappointment.

Return to the Falcioni Alto fork (15 min round trip) and continue on to the left (S-E) with various brief descents and ascents.  The dirt road will wind along the eathen partition which separates the head of the Anna Channel (on the right) from the head of the Rio Chanel (on the left), both tributaries to the Topino River, while all around you, revealed in all its harmony, lies the countryside so typical of Umbria, miniscule villages, isolated farmhouses, woods, cultivated fields, and oak trees in the midst of fields, all to be leisurely savored.  Continuing on in the same direction, you will come to the intersection at Casurci (701 m – 25 minutes from Falcioni Alto), a miniscule farming village.

The Umbrian countryside

Here you must change direction and turn right onto an ascending road which winds around the Solfea hill. On your left, the view widens to include the Apennines of  Umbria and the Marches with the stubby mass of Mount Pennino (E) and the mountains of Gualdo Tadino (N).  Once you have crossed a mountain pass (720 m), the road begins to descend and Mount Subasio will reappear on your left.  At the next fork, shift directions again and turn right: a dirt road (interrupted several times) will descend through the vineyards and oaks and bring you to the few houses of Vallemare (Seavalley) (660 m – 15 min from Casurci).

This toponym, truly unique among the Mount Subasio spurs, has given rise to various interpretations and legends, the most convincing of which is supplied by Arnaldo Fortini: in 969 an entire population was transplanted from the land of Puglia, at the time of Pandolfo Testadiferro, duke of Spoleto who, at the head of the imperial army of Otto I, conquered and subdued the Saracens and Byzantines in that region.  Perhaps this reference to the sea in this valley makes us remember that people.  In addition, the presence of last names with the prefix “de” or “di”—unusual given the “genitive” last names in this area—could be another small bit of supporting evidence.

Continue your descent and you will come out almost immediately on the narrow asphalt road from Valtopina.  Here turn right until you come to the small inhabited village of Colle Silvo (544 m – 10 min from Vallemare), which you will have seen for some time in the distance.  The charming panorama here invites the traveler to make a well-deserved stop.

Retracing your steps for some thirty or forty meters, you will come to a curve to the right.  Here turn instead to the left (N) onto a small descending road which will begin to wind around the woody head of the Anna Channel, watched over from above by the castle of Armenzano.

One you have passed the small in-cut channel of Colle Silvo, you will come to an intersection.  Here go straight down (N), then cross the Cacciaragani Channel (490m) which is the left branch of the Anna Channel.

Continue on the opposite side which winds up steeply, flanking a fence.  Shortly after, the path levels out: on your left, vast fields with trees for timber and vines.  You will cross a pass between two oaks which face each other, the one on your left is an imposing tree and seems to be completely enveloped, up to its topmost leaves, by a stubborn creeping plant which has a trunk of its own of notable dimensions.

The shrine of the Armenzano Cross  (627 m – 40 min from Colle) is just steps away.

A Seavalley up here was really the last thing I’d expected!

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’escursione proposta – con caratteristiche riportate nel profilo altimetrico – si sviluppa lungo tranquille sterrate e stradelli campestri accessibili a tutti, offre inconsueti scorci sul boscoso versante E del Subasio. L’intero itinerario è caratterizzato dalla presenza di poderose querce, la cui funzione è dovuta principalmente alla natura argillosa delle colline che si affacciano verso il Fiume Topino. Sono state piantate e curate dall’uomo sin dai tempi degli Umbri: sono cultura, non solo natura. Quando cadono le foglie, tra i rami spogli sarà facile notare la presenza del “ramo d’oro”: il vischio con i suoi frutti dorati, simbolo di luce e di vita che si rigenera. Trattandosi di una pianta parassita senza radici in terra si diceva che, discesa dal cielo, fosse emanazione divina. I Celti chiamavano il vischio “quello che guarisce tutto”.

Questa pianta misteriosa rappresentava l’elemento centrale di un complesso cerimoniale che si teneva durante i riti legati al solstizio d’inverno. I Druidi – sacerdoti e vati degli antichi Celti – lo raccoglievano con un falcetto d’oro ed evitavano che toccasse terra; l’acqua nella quale veniva poi immerso il vischio, era ritenuta un efficace antidoto contro malefici e sortilegi. Ancora oggi è di buon auspicio regalare per capodanno un rametto d’oro da appendere dietro la porta di casa. Per gli scettici: male non fa! Consigliato abbigliamento comodo e calzature adeguate a una gita in montagna.

Munirsi di zainetto contenente qualcosa da mangiare e da bere, giacchetto antipioggia, bussola e altimetro, Carta dei Sentieri del Monte Subasio in scala 1:20000 del C.A.I. sezione di Foligno, binocolo per gustare i panorami e macchina fotografica per chi vuol ricordare.

In automobile: da Piazza Matteotti (445 m) si sottopassa Porta Perlici imboccando la SS 444 (del Subasio) in direzione Gualdo Tadino. Percorsi circa 500 m si lascia la SS 444 e si prende a ds la SP 249 (indicazioniCosta Trex – Armenzano). La stretta strada asfaltata, in leggera e costante salita, conduce alle poche case di Costa Trex (573 m – 5 km), quindi ad Armenzano (759 m – 10 km). Qui si lascia la SP 249 e si prosegue sulla sinistra. Dopo aver lambito le mura del castello, si prosegue ancora a sin in discesa.

Oltrepassato il piccolo cimitero ombreggiato da cipressi si giunge a una sella, la Croce di Armenzano (627 m – 11.5 km da Piazza Matteotti ) – punto di incrocio fra numerose strade e sentieri – riconoscibile per la presenza di una edicola campestre in mattoncini e di una caratteristica torre colombara. La sella rappresenta lo spartiacque tra il Fosso Cavaliero (N-W)tributario del Torrente Tescio, e il Fosso dell’Anna (S-E) affluente del Fiume Topino.

Itinerario: dalla Croce di Armenzano (627 m) si inizia a camminare (E) lungo la sterrata e percorsi pochi m si giunge a un bivio dove si prende a ds in leggera salita.

Fiancheggiata la torre colombara si prosegue lungo la tranquilla sterrata. Verso ds la vista si apre sull’ampia testata del Fosso dell’Anna e sul versante orientale del Subasio, inciso profondamente da numerosi fossi.

Si giunge a Falcioni Alto (684 m – 20 min dalla partenza), segnalato da alcuni manufatti – abitazioni e ricoveri per animali – in stato di completo abbandono.

Qui prendere sulla sin e dopo pochi m piegare a ds. Attraversata una recinzione metallica si prosegue (N-E) su pista erbosa tra campi incolti che porta a una sella tra due modesti rilievi. Sul piccolo colle sulla sin (700 m) – delimitato a valle da un muro di pietrame a secco – sono stati individuati i resti di una villa rustica di epoca romana, di cui non resta traccia visibile in superficie all’infuori di numerosi cocci sparsi e di alcuni blocchi squadrati. Davvero deludente l’attuale presenza di caminetti in cemento, che forse anticipano future discutibili “fruizioni” turistiche. Tornati al bivio di Falcioni Alto (15 min per andare e tornare) si prosegue a sin (S-E) con alcuni saliscendi. La sterrata si snoda lungo il diaframma che separa la testata del Fosso dell’Anna (a ds) da quella del Fosso il Rio (a sin) entrambi tributari del Fiume Topino, mentre tutt’intorno è il tipico paesaggio umbro che si manifesta in tutta la sua armonia: minuscoli borghi, isolati casolari, boschi, coltivi, querce camporili: da gustare in tutta calma. Mantenendo la direzione principale si giunge all’incrocio di Casurci (701 m – 25 min da Falcioni Alto), minuscolo borgo agricolo. Qui si trascura la direzione principale e si piega verso ds in salita, aggirando il colle della Solfea. Sulla sin la vista si allarga sull’Appennino Umbro-Marchigiano con il tozzo massiccio del Monte Pennino (E) e i Monti di Gualdo Tadino (N). Superato un valico (720 m) la strada inizia a scendere mentre sulla ds riappare il Monte Subasio. Al bivio successivo trascurare la direzione principale e piegare sulla ds: una sconnessa sterrata in discesa tra vigneti e roverelle conduce alle poche case di Vallemare (660 m – 15 min da Casurci).

Il toponimo, davvero singolare tra i contrafforti del Monte Subasio, ha dato adito a diverse interpretazioni e leggende, la più verosimile la fornisce Arnaldo Fortini: “nel 969 tutta una popolazione fu trapiantata dalla terra di Puglia al tempo di Pandolfo Testadiferro – duca di Spoleto – il quale, al comando dell’esercito imperiale di Ottone I vinse e sottomise Saraceni e Bizantini in quella regione”.

Forse questo richiamo al mare tra questa valle, fa ricordare quella gente. Inoltre la presenza di cognomi con prefisso “de” oppure “di” – inconsueti rispetto ai cognomi “genitivi” della zona – potrebbe rappresentare un’altra esile conferma. Si prosegue in discesa andando subito a sbucare sulla stretta strada asfaltata proveniente da Valtopina.

Qui prendere a ds giungendo all’abitato di Colle Silvo (544 m – 10 min da Vallemare), già visibile in lontananza.

L’ameno panorama circostante invita il viandante a una meritata sosta.

Tornati indietro per alcune decine di m, in corrispondenza di una curva a ds imboccare sulla sin (N) uno stradello in discesa che inizia a girare intorno alla boscosa testata del Fosso dell’Anna, vigilata dall’alto dal castello diArmenzano.

Oltrepassata la piccola incisione del Fosso di Colle Silvo, a un incrocio proseguire diritto in discesa (N) quindi si traversa il Fosso Cacciaragani (490 m) che costituisce il ramo sin del Fosso dell’Anna.

Si prosegue sul versante opposto con ripide svolte in salita, costeggiando una recinzione. Poco dopo il sentiero rimpiana: sulla sin vasti campi con alberi da legno e radi filari di viti maritate. Si passa attraverso un vallo

costituito da due roverelle affacciate fra di loro, quella di sin è imponente e appare completamente avvolta fino alla chioma da un tenace rampicante, che si diparte da un tronco anch’esso di notevole dimensioni.

L’edicola della Croce di Armenzano (627 m -40 min da Colle Silvo) è lì a due passi.

Una Vallemare quassù proprio è proprio una sorpresa!


Perfect Picnic Places: Fonte di Monte Lauro (Bettona)

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

The last time I took a walk around Bettona, I noticed some antique photos hanging in the main piazza’s bar.  Local citizens dressed in 1920s regalia were snapped posing around a little brook, and the picture was inscribed with the name Fonte di Monte Lauro.  When I asked the proprietor of the bar if the spring was still around so I could go take a look, he shook his head and told me it wasn’t worth my time as the place had been abandoned for years.  Then he proceeded to shaft me for a cappuccino.  So I went looking for the spring anyway.  And–lo and behold–I found an absolutely charming little picnic place.  Moral of the story:  any barista who will shaft you for a cappuccino is not to be trusted.

Whom you can trust, however, is Donatella from Bottega del Gusto on Via Vittorio Emanuele, 1 in Bettona, whose gourmet shop is stocked with all you’ll need to throw together an impromptu picnic.  Have her slice up some top quality local cheeses, prosciutto, or salame for a tasty sandwich on fresh torta al testo (Umbrian flat bread), which she can warm up for you.  She also has truffle paté, which can be spread on bread, a variety of the best Umbrian wines, biscotti, fresh jam crostate and artisan chocolate.  You’ll be tempted to stop and lunch at one of the tiny bistrot tables in their charming shop, but press on!

Once you’ve chosen all your picnic makings, head to Bettona (about a 15 minute drive).  You need to climb all the way up the hill to the ring road that encircles the historic center of town.  Follow that ring road around the city walls until you see the yellow sign indicating a right turn downhill with Acqua Minerale Monte Lauro written on it.

Ok, I'll admit the sign isn't very promising. Stay with me...

Follow those signs for about a kilometer until the road ends in front of a utility shed.

The signs don't get better

Leave your car here and walk just a few meters down the path until you get to the brook with a footbridge which leads you to a stone pavilion and picnic table on the opposite side.

The little footbridge is super fun for kids (and me. I thought it was fun, too.)

The cool woods and sound of the bubbling spring-fed brook are a wonderful backdrop for a relaxing picnic.  There are a few paths that wind their way into the woods beyond the picnic area, which I didn’t have time to explore.  Perhaps you will, once you’ve digested your Umbrian goodies!

The water from this fountainhead, with its alkaline and chalybeate properties, was used in the past to treat gastro-enteric maladies. (Chalybeate means it contains salts of iron. I had to look it up.)

Buon appetito!


Perfect Picnic Places: San Francesco al Prato (Perugia)

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

This week, after a series of picnic spots out in the country, I’m going to mix things up a bit and point you to a sanctuary in the middle of the bustling Umbrian city of Perugia.  This cosmopolitan provincial capital is stuffed with wonderful restaurants and pizzerias, but in a day of touring its fabulous museums and churches you may find your soul yearns for a bit of green after all that stone.  But first, provisions!

All three of the places I’m going to point you to are within a couple of blocks of the main Corso Vannucci, so with a pretty basic tourist map of the historic center of town you’ll be good to go.  You’re going to pick up your food in reverse order of how you will be consuming it, because cold pizza is only good for breakfast.  So first, head to one of my favorite spots in Perugia, if not the universe:  Pasticceria Sandri (Corso Vannucci, 32).  This historic pastry shop opened in 1860 and has been serving up cakes, pastries, and confections to Perugians since.  Before you head inside, stop for a moment to look in their shop window—the ever-changing display, stuffed with their dramatic edible works of art, is themed around local events and holidays.  Once inside, make sure you take the time to admire the lovely antique frescoes and wooden display cases before your attention is absorbed in choosing some sweets for your meal.  If you need to think it over, try a glass of their cool almond milk in the summer or sumptuous hot chocolate in the cooler seasons while you ponder.

The historic inside of Pasticceria Sandri

Once you have dessert taken care of, get some fruit.  Bananas, that is.  Head around the corner and down a block to Piazza Matteotti, where on the west side of the piazza next to the post office you will see an old Perugian institution:  a brightly painted stand from which the eccentric owner hawks nothing but bananas.  If you are in Perugia and have a banana craving, he’s the go-to man for you.

Now that you’re set for the end of your meal, rewind for the main course:  pizza.  In nearby Piazza Piccinino, 11/12 you can order a take-away pie from the Pizzeria Mediterranea.  This Neapolitan-style pizza is so good we will actually drive all the way from Assisi (where pizzerias are second only to churches in density) to eat one.  If you want the quintissential Italian pizza, go for the margherita.  Otherwise, any of their toppings are highly recommended.  Order it to go, and ask if they will slice it for you before you leave, so you can eat it more manageably al fresco.

San Bernardino's famous dictum: "Make it clear, make it short, and keep to the point" earned him the post of Patron Saint of Advertising

Time for your picnic!  Start walking down Corso Vannucci and turn into Via dei Priori, which you will follow until it ends in the inviting green Piazza San Francesco.  If you are there at lunchtime on a sunny day you will join the numerous students and office workers who spread out on the grass to enjoy the relatively tranquil lawn to sunbathe and relax.  While you eat, enjoy the view of the facade of the fifteenth century Oratorio di San Bernardino which–adorned with pink and green marble reliefs by Agostino–is one of the finest examples of Renaissance art in Umbria and the majestic San Francesco al Prato which—despite ongoing restoration work—has one of the most graphically elegant pink and white stone facades in the city.

San Francesco al Prato is finally getting the restoration it's badly needed for the past 300 years.

In a city which can be hectic in its rhythm and austere in its architecture, this spot is a haven of both peace and exquisite art.

Buon appetito!


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!