Take the road out of Spello that winds around Monte Subasio towards Assisi and about 10km (6 miles) from its peak the village of Collepino appears, hovering on the slopes. Collepino means “pine hills”, and appropriately the surrounding countryside is peppered with tall pines as well as hornbeam, oak and maple. The journey from Spello is delightful, with a well-made road, dropping steeply on one side, and low walls built from the pink stone of Monte Subasio. At this time of year, the walls are brimming with bright red poppies and other colourful Spring flowers.
This little isolated village, in the heart of the Regional Park of Monte Subasio, was fortified in medieval times in order to protect the nearby Benedictine Abbey of San Silvestro. Of its defensive walls, 5 towers remain.
I am not known as a great animal lover, but who could resist this friendly dog? He greeted us on arrival and followed us as we wandered round the streets, chewing a stick that he had conveniently brought along. He only deserted us at the car park.
We took a long walk around Collepino, taking in its fine views. There are many hiking trails in this area and a surprising number of cyclists, considering the very steep terrain. We stopped to chat with an olive farmer who was pruning his trees and burning the lopped branches; the sweet smell of wood smoke pervaded the air.
The picturesque streets were all but deserted. A tiny church (closed!), neat houses and – a real find – a charming little restaurant, La Taverna San Silvestro, completed the scene.
We ate lunch in the Taverna – local wild boar and lamb. Very good it was too washed down with a local wine.
We returned later that week. Continuing north, the road passes the hamlet of San Giovanni before eventually arriving at Armenzano which is around 14km from Spello and 6km from Assisi. The road degrades quite significantly between San Giovanni and Collepino; the surface is more track than road with a serious pothole problem, so caution was required as we continued climbing. The neat stone walls that marked the Spello to Collepino route had disappeared and sheer rock faces, badly eroded and with signs of recent rockfalls, had replaced them.
Armenzano was also a fortified village due to its strategic position on the hilly slopes near Assisi. Its walls still encircle the village, giving it an air of peace and tranquility. Neat houses line the walls, spiralling round and up.
There was an air of desertion about this place. there are few permanent residents – less than 50 – and no shop or cafe, but it was so beautiful. At the top of the village all we could hear was birdsong; a solitary cuckoo competed with the chorus. The only signs of life were women working in the fields, collecting wild garlic and herbs, and the distant rumble of a tractor.
Yet again we were treated to spectacular views.
Returning to the car, we spotted a sign for a restaurant. This looked promising as we had seen no sign of a watering-hole all morning and we were thirsty and hungry. Note to self: don’t leave home without water and nibbles! After a few kilometres of pitted, narrow track we saw an oasis before us: the Le Silve Hotel and restaurant. This ancient estate has been lovingly restored to create a 4* hotel and small restaurant sited on a natural balcony with extensive panoramic views over the valley between Perugia and Assisi. The sun burned bright, lime green lizards warmed themselves on the warm stone walls and it truly was a slice of paradise.