Brigolante holiday rentals in Assisi, Umbria

Self-catering apartments in Assisi's town center and nearby countryside.

Food and Wine in Umbria, Rebecca's Ruminations

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Walking and Sipping in the Assisi Hills

The more I travel the world, the more I appreciate the beauty of Umbria. (I know, it seems like a hard sell—but it’s the truth.) And the more I travel Umbria, the more I appreciate the beauty of Assisi. Sure, there are other areas of Umbria which I hold particularly dear (the largely undiscovered Valnerina, for example), but Assisi is—despite the tourists, despite the souvenir shops, despite the glaring lack of stellar restaurants—simply, gloriously, lovely.

One of the features which makes this iconic hilltown remarkable is the lack of modern development ringing its historic center, which means that it has both remained stunningly picturesque from afar and a perfect base for walkers and hikers, who can literally step out of the city gates and in minutes find themselves meandering in bucolic solitude the surrounding undulating landscape.

The wines produced on the hillsides and valley surrounding Assisi—using primarily Trebbiano, Grechetto, Sangiovese, and Merlot grapes to make their whites, red, and rosato—are perfect walking wines: light and clean, pairing well with a simple dejeuner sur l’herbe spread, and not picky about temperatures and oxidation. These are wines to be tossed into your shopping basket alongside your marinated olives and artichokes, cheese and salame, bread and apples, and uncorked on a hillside, under an olive tree, with the sun shining on your upturned face.

Mount Subasio Park

This extensive regional park–which includes the Assisi DOC producing towns of Assisi and Spello (and the lesser known Nocera Umbra and Valtopina), a number of tiny hamlets, four country churches, three abbeys, the Topino and Tescio rivers (criss-crossed with medieval stone bridges), and a network of hiking and walking trails (you’ll need to pick up a CAI trail map at a local bookstore)–centers around the hulking Mount Subasio.

It’s worth the trek to the softly rolling peak of this mountain (often full of wildflowers and grazing horses), which offers amazing views from over the Umbrian Valley to the south and the Appennine foothills (you can spot the craggy peaks of the Appennines themselves in the distance on a clear day) to the north. I especially love the Franciscan Trail (CAI n. 51) from Assisi to Nocera Umbra, which traces the last journey of a dying Saint Francis, and the itineraries suggested by Via di Francesco.

The Bosco di San Francesco

The newly inaugurated San Francesco Woodland, adjacent to the imposing Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi, is a restoration project spearheaded by the Italian National Trust, which cleared more than 30 tons of waste, cut back undergrowth and replanted native species of trees and shrubs, opened over 3 kilometers of walking paths, and restored the 13th century Santa Croce Benedictine convent and mill, (now used as a visitors’ center) over a 12 acre area of wooded land which had been neglected for centuries.
The woodland’s walking paths and corresponding explanatory notes, an audioguide, and mobile app are grouped into three thematic routes: the landscape route illustrates the history of the rural landscape in Italy; the historical route recounts the area’s historic architecture; and the spiritual route invites walkers to reflect on the relationship between nature and mankind.  The Saint Francis Woodland also holds Michelangelo Pistoletto’s piece of landscape art Terzo Paradiso, using the mathematical symbol for infinity to comment on the unsustainability of the model of modern development and the union of heaven and earth.

Don’t want to muck around with trail maps and packing picnics? Saio Winery just outside of Assisi’s historic center has a pretty walking trail through its vineyards and can provide a picnic (which they drop off at one of the shady spots along the trail for you).

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Assisi for Kids

I realize it’s been Itinerary Central over here for the past few weeks, but I’ve had these blog posts simmering in the pot for awhile now and am finally catching up with my editorial backlog. (That’s what we real writers call our half finished Word files. Editorial backlog.)

I happen to think that Umbria is a great destination for kids, for a number of reasons. And Assisi is a fun town for families to visit, with the help of a few caveats to keep in mind and pointers to guide your way.

Kids in Assisi

Some Caveats

There’s some bad news: Assisi (like almost all of Umbria’s towns) is a hill town. Which means there’s a bit of climbing to get between virtually any two points on your map…which can be trying for kids who are not great walkers, but definitely a chore for everyone on the hottest days of the summer.

Try to time your visit according to the season (avoiding long, steep stretches during the hottest hours of the day) and rally your flagging troops with promises of snacks and play time (suggestions for both below). Also, everyone should wear comfortable clothes and shoes (Folks, can we not tour our children around all day in beach flip flops or crocs?) that are also suitable for visiting the Basilica, if that’s on the itinerary.

Assisi is, strangely, largely open to traffic (aside from a number warrens of tiny picturesque alleyways, too narrow to fit cars through), so you’ll have to keep sharp for passing cars along most of the main streets. Even the central Piazza del Comune is criss-crossed by cars through the day, so for better (and greener) play places, see below.

Before You Come

A bit of preparation will go a long way toward helping your kids get the most out of a visit to Assisi, including–most importantly–a quick lesson on the life and person of Saint Francis. His compelling story (Involving some of Disney’s key plot points: spoiled, war-mongering offspring rebels against family to chart own destiny. Personal growth and historical greatness ensue.) is one that most kids find fascinating, and his love of animals, message of peace, and lack of a gory martyrdom make him a relatively innocuous and universal role model.

There are a number of excellent biographies of Saint Francis geared toward children (Including one authored by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Yeah, that one.), and parents can choose one which emphasizes different aspects of his life (the religious, the natural, the peaceful) depending upon their interests and tastes.

There is also a fun app called Gumshoe Tours Assisi which came out last summer, specifically for kids visiting Assisi. Full of games like I Spy, treasure hunts, and puzzles, the app gets kids interested in some of the town’s most famous monuments by integrating games and learning. Definitely worth downloading (for free).

Also, take a look at my Assisi itineraries (one, two, and three day) for a good general overview, tips like water fountains and shady spots, and more places to eat and shop.

Monuments

The Basilica of Saint Francis

The Giotto frescoes in the Basilica’s upper church work exactly like religious art was supposed to back in the day: telling a story in comic book form to an overwhelmingly illiterate congregation.  If your kids have had an introduction to Francis’ life (you ordered a book, right?), they’ll enjoy recognizing many of the most salient events retold in the famous frescoed panels. Also, be aware that the friars are insistent about maintaining silence within the church, so it’s preferable to go over the fresco cycle before entering (using a guide book or app) rather than incur the wrath of the prowling brothers by hissing explanations inside the church.

The Temple of Minerva

This intact Roman temple facade in Assisi’s main Piazza del Comune is sure to interest older kids who have started studying Roman history (or younger ones who have watched Tom and Jerry cartoons). Not much to see on the inside, but the Corinthian columns and covered portico are a great backdrop for family photos.

The Basilica of Saint Clare

Flying buttresses!! What more need be said? Also, two fountains (one to the side of the church under the buttresses), a sprawling piazza with no cars (except around the local elementary school 1:00 p.m. pick up time), and a row of shady benches overlooking the valley. This is a good stop to make.

The Rocca Maggiore

This is the de facto playground for much of Assisi’s youth (residents get in for free), as its real stone towers, tunnels, ramparts, and parapets are a million times more fun than any tire-and-timber castle at the neighborhood park. Kids need to be careful of the worn stone steps that can be slippery, and the dark tunnel running under the length of the outer wall to the far tower can either be electrifying or terrifying, depending. But, all told, this is a great place for kids to take a break from the solemn church atmosphere and run off some steam. Also, there’s a grassy outer courtyard with a small refreshment stand (there’s no admission to the outer courtyard) where everyone can get a cold drink and relax for a bit.

L’Eremo delle Carceri

This Medieval hermitage halfway up the side of Mount Subasio is a good mix of culture and nature for everyone. The pretty stone monastery has a quirky, windy route through its chapel, rooms, and passages and the tiny doorways and stone slabs where the friars slept are a fascinating look at both how small folks were back then and how humbly the first Franciscans lived. On the far side of the monastery, the woods have a number of paths and trails through the surrounding area leading to little shrines and caves where Francis and his brothers would retreat to pray. A warning: these woods are a pilgrimage destination and visitors are expected to be quiet and respectful…so if you are looking for a place for a loud family game of hide-and-seek, this is not it.

 St. Francis’ wood

This is the perfect place for a little break after touring the Basilica. Literally steps from the entrance to the upper church, the Bosco di San Francesco is a recently reclaimed woodland with a gorgeous trail downhill to the valley floor at the bottom. Wherein lies the only problem: if you walk all the way down (it’s a couple of kilometers), you have to make the trek back up. That said, there is a bubbling brook flanked by a pretty (and flat) trail, occasional benches, and lots of woods for exploring at the bottom. A good compromise is simply starting there (there is a free parking lot at the bottom visitor’s center), and exploring the flat bit at the bottom and a bit of trail uphill.

La Porziuncola

This is fun because it’s a church in a church. The grandiose Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli hides the tiny Porziuncola chapel inside, which was the center of Francis’ second community of friars (the first is about 2 kilometers away in Rivotorto, where another grandiose church contains a tiny stone hut where Francis once lived and prayed).

Play places

Assisi is sadly bereft of great playgrounds. In years past, kids would play ball in the church piazzas, but they have been gradually paved over and declared off-limits for play over the past generation. There is a rather desolate, tiny play area with swings and a climbing structure outside the Porta Nuova city gate, which is okay in a pinch. Otherwise, the town park (called Regina Margherita on maps, but known to everyone locally as the Pincio) has just had a grand reopening after decades of neglect and abandon. There are no play structures, but the park itself is very green and pretty and a great place to run around or picnic.

Otherwise, the Bosco di San Francesco (see above) is good for running around (if you don’t pass through the bottom visitor center but instead cross the road and take the trail along the stream you won’t need to pay the entrance donation), the Rocca is perfect for the more adventurous (the outer courtyard is open to the public; to enter the castle itself you need to purchase a ticket), or, for calmer kids, the Eremo is good for stretching the legs in shady woods.

Of course, the mother of all outdoor play is on the top of Mount Subasio, where the vast grassy plain offers kilometers of traffic-free running around.

Shopping

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.

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.

Food

Ok, yes. In a perfect world, we would feed our children three square meals and two healthy snacks a day, travel or no travel. Yeah, well. Guess what. This ain’t a perfect world. Here’s where you can score some pizza and ice cream.

Pizza

Ristorante I Monaci

This  popular local favorite for pizza on Via Scallette, 10 is usually hopping with those looking for a simple meal at a fair price. They serve pasta and meat as well.

Pizza by the slice

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.

Ice cream

There is, sadly, no great ice cream in Assisi. But there is convenient ice cream…i.e. Caffè San Francesco. After your visit to the Basilica, it’s time to give your brain and feet a rest at this landmark local cafè across the street. 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.

Pastry shop

Bar Pasticcieria Sensi is about halfway down Corso Mazzini between the main piazza and Santa Chiara. Though not as showy as many other pastry shops around town, this is where the locals all flock to satisfy their sweet-tooth. They also have not great (but convenient) ice cream.

 

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Easter Events and Food in Umbria

 

Easter comes exceptionally late in 2014, which means it’s a great year to take off for the week and head to Umbria where spring is in full swing.

If you are planning an Easter visit, I wrote a few tips about what to expect regarding events and food related to this important holiday for About.com’s GoItaly this week.

Good Friday and Easter in UmbriaGood Friday Processions, Easter Food, and Pasquetta

 

torta di pasqua

 

Want more information on what to pig out on during your Easter break in Umbria? Say no more.

Food for the Soul: Torta di Pasqua

 

 What’s the funnest part of Easter in Umbria? Read on.

Falling Off the Wagon: Easter Eggs, Italian Style

 

Have any more tips for visiting Umbria at Eastertime? Leave a comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

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Visit Assisi in One, Two, or Three Days: Itineraries and Tips

Though I live only about six minutes from the historic center of Assisi, I find that I don’t write about my hometown very much. I tend to explore (and share) Umbria’s less famous villages and countryside, but there is no doubt that Saint Francis’ birthplace is one of the most beautiful spots in Umbria, if not all of Italy.

assisi_101024_166

So I finally sat down and put together three itineraries: one, two, and three days of discovery of the picturesque, the poignant, and the–uh, another p word isn’t coming to me–town and environs. Take a look and plan your visit:

One Day in Assisi: A Complete Itinerary

This itinerary is a greatest hits compilation to help you discover Assisi’s most beautiful and iconic historical monuments and spiritual sites. Follow the directions to get a taste of the best of this unique town, and leave wanting to come back for more!

Two Days in Assisi: A Complete Itinerary

This itinerary will help you discover Assisi beyond the Basilica and historic center, including some of the more evocative Franciscan sites in the quiet countryside outside of town. Follow the directions to see and experience some of Assisi’s most famous monuments and most spiritual corners.

Three Days in Assisi: A Complete Itinerary

This itinerary will help you discover Assisi beyond the Basilica; use it to dodge the crowds of pilgrims which can flood the town in high season and find the quiet, picturesque backstreets, small trattorias where the locals eat, and off the beaten track gems (many of which you will have virtually to yourself). Follow the directions and know that you will leave after three days having seen and experienced the very best of this special place.

 

Need help planning your entire stay in Umbria? Here are two region-wide itineraries to help you out:

Seven Perfect Days: A One Week Itinerary for Umbria

A week long suggested itinerary for visiting Umbria which throws in the crème della crème of the region: art and history, towns and parks, food and drink, people and shopping.

Fourteen Perfect Days: A Two Week Itinerary for Umbria

A two week long suggested itinerary for visiting Umbria which throws in the crème della crème of the region: art and history, towns and parks, food and drink, people and shopping.

 

 

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Three Days in Assisi: A Complete Itinerary


The 3-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).

Day 2

Your second day in Assisi we’ll discover 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 3

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 don’t continue down the main Via di San Francesco, but instead turn right up the hill on Via Cardinale R. Merry Del Val. After a block, turn right on Vicolo Santa Santa Margherita.

Alleys of Vicolo S. Andrea

Just a block away from the bustling Basilica, the virtually empty twisting alleys and stairways of S. Andrea is a fun glimpse into medieval Assisi. Though quiet now, five hundred years ago this quarter was teeming with life, as homes, workshops, stalls, and markets crowded these narrow streets. Take a meandering walk (and snap some pictures) through this warren of narrow streets and staircases.

Follow Vicolo Santa Margherita to the end, then take the stairs to the left. Make a stop at tiny piazza in front of the Church of Santa Margheria (on the left at the top of the stairs), where you can enjoy the view of the Basilica of Saint Francis from above and catch your breath on the benches. From here, continue along Vicolo S. Andrea about a block until you reach the narrow Vicolo Inferiore S. Andrea on the left. Climb here, following as it curves left, then take Vicolo Superiore S. Andrea on the right. Follow it to the end, and follow the stairs down, returning to Vicolo S. Andrea below. Continue following the stairs on the left, which end at Via San Francesco.

Local’s Tip: Wondering what all that stuff is splattered everywhere on the pavement? Well, it’s wax. This area is often commandeered as a backdrop to stage medieval festivals and fairs, and the torches and candles used to light the alleys have stained the bricks and cobblestones below over the years.

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

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.

Casa dei Maestri Comacini

At the base of the stairs, immediately cross Via San Francesco, you can take a good gander at the 13th century loggia and two-story extension to the right (dated 1477 on the coat of arms on the lower story) across the street.  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 to the right (away from the Basilica) for about a block.

Palazzo Vallemani: Pinacoteca Comunale and Museo della Memoria

Price: €3 (€8 combined with the Roman Forum and the Rocca Maggiore—recommended!)
Hours: 10am–1pm/2pm-6pm March-Oct and 10:30am-1pm/2pm-5pm Oct-March

This imposing palazzo houses Assisi’s largely uninspiring and uninspired municipal art gallery (though it is worth a quick peek) and the startlingly excellent Museum of Memory which documents the events which took place in Assisi in the final years of World War II. As told in the book and film “Assisi Underground”, those years were ones where citizens—lay and ordained, private and official—secretly collaborated to harbor and ultimately save more than 300 Jews and other war refugees. Moving and compelling, this small museum (opened in 2011) merits a visit.

Local’s Tip: At Palazzo Vallemani, purchase the €8 ticket which includes entrance to the Pinacoteca, Roman Forum, and the Rocca Maggiore. The second two sites are included in the Day 2 itinerary!

After exiting the palazzo, cross the street and continue up Via San Francesco for about a block.

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. Walk the entire length of Via San Paolo (it becomes Via Metastasio) until it makes a sharp curve to the right and begins to descend, passing under the large medieval city gate of Porta San Giacomo.

Lunch

Halfway along Via Metastasio, you will pass Ristorante Metastasio on your left. Though this restaurant is quite touristy (and eschewed by locals) and overpriced (€12 for a primo?!?), it does have the–not-insignificant–advantage of a view.

Address: Via Metastasio, 9
Phone: 075816525

Just steps before passing under the San Giacomo city gate, two simple but reliable old-style trattorias await to serve you lunch.  The first, Trattoria Al Vecchio Camino, is a no-frills family run restaurant with little ambience but traditional Umbrian dishes. Criticized by locals because of their lightening-speed service (Italians like to linger over their food), this is a good choice if you are really feeling the hunger pangs.

Address: Via San Giacomo, 7
Phone: 075812963

Practically under the arch of Porta San Giacomo, the Locanda del Podestà is a local favorite. Great price/quality ratio, solidly good traditional dishes, friendly staff, and just a touch more ambience than Al Vecchio Camino across the street—you can’t go wrong here. In fact, you may be tempted to come back for dinner.

Address: Via San Giacomo, 6/c
Phone: 075816553

Pass under the arch of Porta San Giacomo and continue straight to the end of the road, where you’ll find the gates to the cemetary.

Walk and Cemetary

It’s time to walk off that pasta, and luckily you’re just steps away from a lovely (and flat!) walk. Amble down the shady, cypress-lined road that leads from Porta San Giacomo and enjoy the views over the surrounding hills on the left. The road leads directly to the cemetary gates. Assisi has shops, restaurants, music and arts festivals, religious feast days, nattily dressed inhabitants, and many, many cell phones. But if you really want to see what makes this town tick, this is where you need to be.  Aside from being architecturally lovely in the way that old monumental European cemetaries so often are, here you will discover the town’s soul. Notice the names on the markers that repeat over and over, as generations live out their lives in this small town. See the carefully tended graves, as women return every week to freshen flowers and polish marble. Watch as they tenderly touch the portraits attached to the graves and quietly greet their loved ones. This—not the ornate Basilica—is where the real community is.

Retrace your steps, passing under Porta San Giacomo and immediately veering right down steep Via Cardinale R. Merry Del Val. At the corner in front of the Basilica, turn right again, descending the road and passing through the Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco. Pass under the the arch, following Via Frate Elia and continuing straight as it continues to descent (becoming Piaggia San Pietro). Cross the street (Via Borgo San Pietro) to the Church of San Pietro.

Church of San Pietro

Hours: 7:30am-7:00pm

The stately square facade (broken up by three massive and ornate rose windows) of San Pietro dominates this piazza, and the serene stone interior and fantastic dome are especially loved by residents here (this is an active parish church, as well).

Local’s Tip: Take a quick look at the underground foundations—the entrance is through the gate to the right of the facade. Often used as an exhibition space for art shows, the massive arches and pillars holding up the church above give you an idea of the sheer heft of this stone building.

From Piazza San Pietro, retrace your steps across the street back to Piaggia San Pietro. Instead of continuing along Piaggia San Pietro as it climbs to the left, turn right instead on Via del Fosso Cupo. Continue climbing this street (it becomes Via Fontebella) past the ornate Fonte Marcella on the left. Veer left on the steep Via E. Brizi at Piazza Garibaldi (you’ll see the Ristorante I Monaci on the left), and continue veering left on the even steeper Via Giotto. This road ends at Via Portica about a block up; continue climbing towards the right on Via Portica until it ends in the main Piazza del Comune. Then lean against the wall for a minute until your heart rate declines, turn around, and descend the entire length of Via Portica (it beomes Via A. Fortini and then Via San Francesco) until you find yourself in front of the Basilica once more.

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.

Otherwise, you can climb the hill of Via Cardinale Merry del Val a block back to Porta San Giacomo to try one of the restaurants suggested for lunch (or return to a particular favorite).

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

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.

Local’s Tip: The parking lot at Piazza Matteotti is a perfect place to leave your car (park on the lower level to keep it out of the sun) or, if you’re using public transportation, begin from the bus stop here. The local bus leaves 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, as do taxis (€10 from the train station).

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.

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)

After your meander through Assisi’s most intact medieval quarter, 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 Saint Rufino (Church of San 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.

From Piazza San Rufino, climb the steep Via del Torrione which passes under the archway to the left of the base of the belltower. When you reach Piazza Matteotti (this is where you began your day), turn left passing in front of the parking lot entrance. Continue to the corner, then cross Via Eremo delle Carceri to the entrance to Nun Spa.

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.

Nun Spa Museum

Address: Via Eremo delle Carceri, 1/a
Telephone: 0758155150
Website: www.nunassisi.com
Price: from €45/person

If you splurge on one thing while in Assisi—or while in Italy, for that matter—make it this. When the luxury Nun Hotel and Spa (located in the restored former convent of Santa Caterina) opened their doors in 2010, they revealed what had been unearthed during construction work:  extensive remains of the amphitheater.  The bad news is that the ruins have been artfully incorporated into the chic spa, and are on view only for spa clients.  The good news is that the ruins have been artfully incorporated into the chic spa, and are on view only for spa clients.  So book yourself in for a few hours of hammam downtime and a massage to recover from your arduous day of touring, and chalk it up to culture.  They have an excellent juice bar (with a wonderful Umbrian wine selection) for a relaxing drink afterwards.

Dinner

If you’ve had enough walking for one day (probable) and you are feeling too relaxed to head back into the Piazza, you can simply stop here at the Nun Relais’ restaurant. Elegant and understated (as is both the hotel and spa), the dishes are Umbrian with a nouveau vibe. They also have a “light” menu, if you are still in the healthy spa groove.

Otherwise, head back to the Piazza del Comune and choose one of the restaurants suggested for lunch (I especially like the outdoor tables in the evening at Osteria Piazzetta delle Erbe).

Day 3

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 are, however, two exceptions:

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.

Nun Spa Museum

You will need to book in advance, as they have a limited number of hammam slots a day. You can do so by calling 0758155150 or through their website at www.nunassisi.com, where you will also find a complete list of services and prices.

 

Transportation Tips

The itineraries for Day 1 and Day 2 are exclusively on foot (except for one step during Day 2, when a taxi is a possible alternative). The itinerary for Day 3 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:

Il Bosco di San Francesco (Saint Francis’ Woodland)

Hours: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm April to September;  10:00 am — 4:00 pm October to March  (the last visit must begin an hour before closing time). Weekends only in February. Closed Mondays, and the final two weeks of January.
Website: http://www.fondoambiente.it/beni/Index.aspx?q=bosco-di-san-francesco-i-beni-del-fai

Opened just two years ago, this gorgeously restored woodland just steps from the entrance to the Upper Basilica of Saint Francis is truly an homage to the saint’s love of nature. Three themed trails wind downhill towards the restored monastery and mill on the valley floor.

 

Staying longer (or shorter) in Assisi?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two Days in Assisi: A Complete Itinerary


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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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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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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A shopping guide for Assisi

I feel I am uniquely qualified to research and write an article about shopping in Assisi for two reasons:

  1. I absolutely abhor shopping.
  2. I only rarely go into the center of town.

Given these two details, is has to be something really special to lure me into a store in town, but luckily Assisi is full of lovely, offbeat little boutiques unique enough to tempt even the avid non-shopper.

Unfortunately, average run-of-the-mill souvenir hawkers specializing in what we affectionately call in our family “shitky-ditky” are both more numerous and more prominent near the monuments and churches, so at first glance it’s easy to miss my favorite specialty shops.  If you are looking for pressboard crosses, friar salt and pepper shakers, or plastic replica medieval weapons, read no further…you can find all that without my help.  But if you have your heart set on bringing something home to remember Assisi by which you won’t be able to find anyplace else on earth, you’ve come to the right place.

Food and Wine

Il Baccanale, Via del Comune Vecchio 2

I love this wine and gourmet shop….Luana (proprietor and friend) has a wonderful selection of both Umbrian and other Italian wines.  She also stocks high end chocolate and coffee, top quality olive oil and pasta, and a whole range of jams, sauces, and condiments.  She can help you with your selections and make up a gift basket to bring home with you.

Il Baccanale di Assisi

Farmer Shop, Via San Francesco 4a

This great mix between rustic stone vaulted space and minimalist design furnishing sells products from a local agricultural consortium…heirloom legumes, wild boar salami, hearty aged sheep cheese…but their big seller is their organic, unfiltered, unpasteurised, bottle refermented beers from the San Biagio estate…you can sample before you buy!

Farmershop Assisi's beer

Farmershop Assisi's Cheese

Kids

Alice Laboratorio Artistico, Via San Francesco 8I

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.

One of Alice's hand-painted t-shirts

My favorite tee that Alice makes

Franchi, Via Portica 15A

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.

Art

Alice Laboratorio Artistico, Via San Francesco 8I

Aside from her handpainted tshirts, Alice has jewelry, photo albums, paintings and prints.  All in her lovely, whimsical style.

A sample of Alice's charming wares

Claudio Carli Studio, Via San Rufino

Claudio Carli is a well-known local artist who works in both watercolor and oil…primarily scenes of Assisi and Umbria.  I love his work (we have some hanging in our house) and even if you are not in the market for a work of art, I suggest you stop by his gallery and take a look.

An example of Claudio Carli's work

Artestampa, Via S Francesco, 10c

Handmade woodcut prints of the monuments and backstreets of Assisi. Much more charming than the ubiquitous posters.

Galleria d’Arte San Francesco, Via Fortini 10a/b

This antique shop has mostly big ticket furniture and art, but there are a few small, packable (or shippable) items which are fabulous…primarily their antique prints and majolica tiles.  Claudio, the proprietor, is affable and knowledgeable, and the space is chock full of beautiful, unique pieces.

Minigallery, Via San Rufino 15

A tragically hip gathering of local contemporary art—if you are looking for something beautifully offbeat, or perhaps offbeatly beautiful, stop in here and have a chat with Francesco, the loquacious and charming gallery curator.

Minigallery Assisi

Detail of a painting shown in Minigallery, Assisi

Jewelry

Assisi has two wonderful jewelry designers with shops:  Artigianato del Gioiello on Via San Francesco and Il Forziere on Via San Gabrielle dell’Addolorata.  They both make lovely gold and silver pieces worked around precious and semi-precious stones, and also sell commercial lines (though I like their own work better).  If you would like something uniquely “Assisan” to remember your visit, consider a gold tau—symbol of redemption much loved by Saint Francis.

L'Artigianato del Gioiello, Assisi

Fashion and accessories

I Colori del Tempo, Via Portica 6/b

A tiny boutique is crammed with scarves, purses, hats, jewelry, and some clothes.  Most of their stock is in silk, wool, or cotton and in lovely hues and eye-catching prints.

Il Tapiro, Via San Francesco

This leather workshop has hand-made purses, wallets, belts, and jackets…the shop is owned by Mauro, who is passionate about his products and will treat you right.  Florence is the place to go for leather, but if you’re not going to make it there, this boutique is runs a close second place for price and quality.

Paper and Books

Zubboli, Piazza del Comune

One of my favorite stores in Assisi, for both the beautiful antique wooden and glass show cases and the leather-bound wares in them.  This shop has gorgeous hand-bound photo albums and journals, florentine printed notepaper, fountain pens, and hard-to-find books about Assisi and Umbria.

Outside of town

Terra Umbra, Via Patrono d’Italia 10, Santa Maria degli Angeli

A wonderful gourmet shop for Umbrian specialties….cheese, cold cuts and cured pork, truffles, and olive oil.

Duda Dida,  Via de Gasperi 9, Bastia Umbra

This is an amazing toy store…fabulous european educational toys, dolls and stuffed animals, science and art projects.  Definitely worth the stop in an otherwise unexceptional town, or a perusal of the website for online shopping.

Duda Dida, Assisi

Margiò, Via Los Angeles 57, Santa Maria degli Angeli

A wonderful fresh pasta shop where you can get tagliatelle, cappelletti (with meat filling) and a number of different types of ravioli filled with the traditional spinach and ricotta to the more exotic truffle and sheep cheese made fresh daily.

Broccatelli or Brufani, Via Los Angeles 33 or 35, Santa Maria degli Angeli

These two cheese shops (oddly right next door to each other) have fabulous fresh local cheese, both cow and sheep.

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Crossing the Rubicon, or Beginning the Blog

This is my first blog post (yes, I showed up to the party a little late, I’m sorry, the traffic, you wouldn’t believe, couldn’t decide what to wear, does this make me look fat?, but I made some amazing dip, where can I get a glass of wine?), and, as seems inevitable with firsts,—the first of the year, the first day of a new job, the first time you wake up and realize the details of the party you attended the night before are a little sketchy and whose apartment is this, anyway?—it has led to a bit of spontaneous stock taking.

I recently got back from a trip to Hawai’i, where I spent the holidays with my brother, who just moved to Kaua’i (my brother has many laudable qualities, not least of which is his predilection to reside in beautiful places).  When I returned to my “hometown” of Assisi, not a few friends, after hearing me recount my absolutely perfect vacation on the Garden Isle (for which I would like to publicly thank the aforementioned Brother, who is also one of my favorite people on earth and really knows how to show guests a good time), asked me in a conspiratorial murmur, “Weren’t you tempted to move there?”

And I have to say that I surprised even myself by answering honestly and decisively, “No”.

Now don’t get me wrong, Kaua’i is breathtakingly gorgeous…but of course, I already live in a place that is breathtakingly gorgeous, though Kaua’i is all about pristine palm-fringed beaches and verdant jungles where Umbria is all about rolling wooded land interspersed with vineyards or olive groves and tiny medieval stone hill towns.  However, once you live in a gorgeous place you start to get a little insouciant about the whole marveling at other places’ natural beauty thing.

And the people of Kaua’i are certainly warm and welcoming, in a very forward “ALOHA!!” sort of way.  But, of course, the people in Umbria are the same, though in a much more formal and reserved “Buongiorno, Signora” sort of way.  In fact, it took me a couple of days to get reacclimated to the American peculiarity of readily starting up long and intimate conversations with perfect strangers, who just minutes later are crowned your New Best Friend.  I am considered quite gregarious in Umbria, but a bit stand-offish in Hawai’i.

Rebecca and her sons in paradise

Rebecca and her sons in paradise

The rhythm of life in Kaua’i is certainly a sustainable one, as is that of Umbria.  These are doubtless two populaces who have not tacked up “winning the rat race” amongst their top ten life goals. Both spend an admiral amount of time doing what we humans are programmed to do:  enjoying life.  One dedicates itself to surfing and pimping monster trucks, and the other to truffle hunting and pimping tagliatelle, but the end product of contentment with their lot is the same.

And speaking of tagliatelle, these are also two places where one can eat wonderful fresh local food.  Kauai’i has a cuisine which reflects its social history of successive waves of immigrants from Polinesia and Japan, where Umbria’s is a testament to an immobile and insular regional history, with a cuisine which has remained largely unchanged for centuries (they still eat unsalted bread, after a spat with the Vatican over the salt tax in the mid-sixteenth century.  They’re not into nouvelle cuisine, here.).

In short, Kaua’i, according to all the usual parameters is, indeed, paradise on earth.  I must be crazy not to want to move there, right?

The thing is, is that sometimes you move to a place for very tangible reasons…its beauty, its economy, its convenience.  But sometimes you get off a plane, set your suitcase down, and in a flash, or a wave, or a slow, flowering moment you feel you have come home.  It’s nothing you can really put your finger on, but instead a primordial recognition of having arrived where you are supposed to stay.  I have experienced that with only one place in my life until now, and that place was not Kaua’i, or Paris, or Charleston, or Mykonos, or even Chicago, where I was born.  That place is here, in Umbria.

Not to say that my life here is perfect.  In the more than 15 years since I settled here, there have been beginnings and endings, births and deaths, gains and losses…in a word, there has been a life.  But I have the conviction that it has been the life I was supposed to have had in the place I was supposed to be.  And just that feeling of it being right is…paradise.