Tag Archives: Umbria

Since You’ve Been Gone.

Spello, Umbria

Spello, Umbria

It is almost a year since we left Spello in Umbria, Italy, after a wonderful 3 month stay. Previous posts have detailed the people we were fortunate to befriend and the places we visited. We hoped we would return someday, and here we are in summer 2014 making that hope a reality. Three weeks this time rather than 3 months, but still lots of time to catch up with old friends and revisit special places.

Approaching Spello by train from Rome was a new experience. Rome’s main railway station is a huge travel hub – 29 platforms radiating trains in all directions. Train travel in Italy is fast, efficient and cheap, so the train was thronged with commuters, students and the odd tourist.

The plains on the outskirts of Rome gave way to deeply wooded hills and valleys, wide rivers and arable fields. We plunged into dark tunnels, emerging into bright sunlight. High on a hill were the crumbling ruins of an ancient castellated tower, greened with ivy. Along the tracks were industrial units feeding the giant metropolis with power, cement and wood.

At Orte, 60 kilometres north of Rome, there was a sudden surge of departing passengers. Orte was an important railway junction in the 19th century as almost all of the trains leaving Rome stopped here on their way to Florence or Ancona and all points in between. The sprawling buildings around the railway station folded the people inwards like welcoming arms.

And so to Narni, ribbon developments along the tracks and distant views of rugged mountains, their jagged peaks now blue, now green, framing the moving scenery. Neat houses with tidy yards, balconies festooned with bright summer flowers and even brighter washing, and the inevitable supermarkets and DIY outlets. At Terni the olive trees cast long shadows across the orchards and rocky peaks rise as we enter a deep gorge where the sun only reaches the tops of the trees on the upper slopes. Through Giuncano and Baiano without slowing down, and sun baked slopes of green and gold emerge, with swathes of wild flowers, poppy red, brilliant yellow and royal purple.

Familiar territory as we approach Spoleto, with its huge castle high on the hill, the town clinging to the slopes below. Happy memories of a day spent here before the train rushes on to Trevi, a classic hill town on the flanks of Mount Serano and Foligno, known for its manufacturing industries and its beautiful cathedral, churches and museums. I held my breath as we rounded a bend in the track – and there was Spello, its ancient walls of stone from Mount Subasio glowing pink in the sun. I felt a surge of happiness, just like coming home. It was so good to be back.

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Memories are Made of This

Leaving Spello after 3 months was not easy. We had tried our best to live the Italian life, integrate into the local community and taste the pleasures of the land and the grape. Saying goodbye to our new friends was the hardest thing; so many people asked us to come back, and I am certain we will do so.

Orvieto: bell tower

Orvieto: bell tower

As we crossed Umbria’s border for the first time in 3 months, we reflected on the things that we will remember about our experience. The smell of woodsmoke in the air; the sight of the smoke from the fires of trimmed olive branches curling upwards; the sound of the bells chiming harmoniously and the earthy taste of truffles.

The art: from the frescoes…

Spello: Chapel of St Anna, fresco detail

Spello: Chapel of St Anna, fresco detail

….to the simple chapels….

Spello: chapel

Spello: chapel, detail

….to the grandest cathedrals.

Spoleto: Duomo, marble angel

Spoleto: Duomo, marble angel

The architecture: from ancient monuments, built to glorify God….

Assisi: Basilica of St Francis

Assisi: Basilica of St Francis

Orvieto: Cathedral facade detail

Orvieto: Cathedral facade detail

….to the wonderful hill towns in stone and brick….

Spello walls: the lookout

Spello walls: the lookout

Spello: street view

Spello: street view

The stunning Umbrian mountains and countryside: the “green heart of Italy.”

Monte Subasio: view

Monte Subasio: view

The weather: every day was different. We had torrential rain, hailstones the size of acorns, storms and sun, sun, sun. The sky was a constant, moving picture….

Spello: Sky from apartment

Spello: Sky from apartment

Spello: Sky from apartment

Spello: Sky from apartment

The food: local, seasonal, delicious….

Ravioli with tomatoes and olives.

Ravioli with tomatoes and olives.

Potato rosti with brie, walnuts and leaves.

Potato rosti with brie, walnuts and radicchio.

The artisan food shops such as the local bakery. The window display changed regularly….

Spello: Bakery

Spello: Bakery

The wine: new varieties of grapes to try….

Montefalco winery: wine jug

Montefalco winery: wine jug

….and the remnants of a good night out….

Spello: sad, empty bottles

Spello: sad, empty bottles

Nature: the flowers, wild and cultivated.

Spello: Spring flowers

Spello: Spring flowers

Spello: wild flower

Spello: flower

And who could forget the Infiorata? Carpets of flowers in every street and square in Spello’s old town.

Spello: Infiorata, flower carpet

Spello: Infiorata, flower carpet

The beauty of the trees, bursting into life….

Spello: Spring buds

Spello: Spring buds

….and promising edibles to come….

Spello: Olive Tree

Spello: Olive Tree

Fonti del Clitunno: Water weeds in the lake

Fonti del Clitunno: Water weeds beneath the surface of the lake

Most of all it was the people of Spello that we will remember. Their generosity, their warmth, their patience with our piecemeal Italian, their sharing and their humour will not be easily forgotten.

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Spello, Magic Spello, we have left a little piece of our hearts with you, until we return.

Spello: town gate

Spello: one of the town gates

The Eagle Has Landed

Todi: Palazzo dei Priori, Bronze Eagle

Todi: Palazzo dei Priori, Bronze Eagle

Legend has it that the construction of Todi had already begun on the banks of the River Tiber, when an eagle descended and snatched a tablecloth from a local family. The eagle dropped the tablecloth higher up the mountain slopes, and since this was considered to be a good omen, building work was moved to the higher site. The eagle remains the symbol of Todi to this day; this wonderful bronze example in the main piazza dates from 1339.

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Todi’s position, overlooking the east bank of the River Tiber, affords it wonderful views. Indeed, the undulating landscape could come straight out of a Renaissance painting.

We arrived in the town’s main car park and – oh joy! – there was a funicular to whisk us up to the centre. On exiting the funicular, there was a viewing point with a spectacular panorama of Todi.

Todi: panorama

Todi: panorama

Todi: panorama

Todi: panorama

Todi’s walls are medieval, Roman and Etruscan. The Romans levelled out the town’s two hilltops to make way for a forum. Todi’s main square grew up on the remains of the forum so, compared to other Umbrian hill towns, it is very large. This magnificent square – Piazza del Popolo – has, unsurprisingly, provided the location for several films; it is truly reminiscent of a film set.

Todi: Piazza del Popolo

Todi: Piazza del Popolo

The square contains at least 4 magnificent buildings. The cathedral was founded in the 12th century, possibly on the site of a Roman temple, but it was not completed for several hundred years.

Todi: Cathedral

Todi: Cathedral

The sweeping flight of steps is 18th century, the door, the choir and the rose window date from the 16th century but it all comes together to create a harmonious building.

Todi: Cathedral

Todi: Cathedral

Todi: Cathedral, door panel detail

Todi: Cathedral, door panel detail

The rose window is particularly delicate, with beautiful pink and white marble decoration and fine carving.

Todi: Cathedral, Rose Window

Todi: Cathedral, Rose Window

The interior view of the rose window shows its brightly coloured glass and the wonderful frescoes filling the entire wall.

Todi: Cathedral, internal view of Rose Window

Todi: Cathedral, internal view of Rose Window

A largely plain interior sets off the frescoes and gives the cathedral a feeling of space and light.

Todi: Cathedral

Todi: Cathedral

Opposite the cathedral is the Palazzo dei Priori, built in the 13th and 14th centuries and home to the town’s rulers through the years. Spot the eagle mounted on the facade!

Todi: Palazzo dei Priori

Todi: Palazzo dei Priori

Next to the Palazzo dei Priori is the Palazzo del Popolo, complete with swallowtail crenellations. (If I remember one thing from this trip, it will be how to recognise swallowtail crenellations and fluted merlons!) The Palazzo del Popolo is one of Italy’s oldest administrative buildings, begun in the 13th century, but heavily restored in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Todi: Palazzo del Popolo

Todi: Palazzo del Popolo

The external staircase is supported by an attractive porticoed space used for public meetings.

Todi: Palazzo del Popolo

Todi: Palazzo del Popolo

The Palazzo del Popolo continues around the corner into Piazza Garibaldi.

Todi: Palazzo del Popolo, Piazza Garibaldi facade

Todi: Piazza Garibaldi

Adjoining Palazzo del Popolo, and sharing its huge entrance staircase, is the Palazzo del Capitano. It has a grandiose facade with attractive mullioned windows, and now houses the art gallery and museum.

Why do the Italians insist on putting modern signage in front of historic buildings? It drives me crazy….

Todi: Palazzo del Popolo

Todi: Palazzo del Popolo

Leaving the main square, Todi’s labyrinthine streets have lots to offer at every turn. In Corso Cavour where medieval spice sellers once traded, is the fountain known as Fonte Rua or Fonte Cesia, after the bishop that had it built.

Todi: Fonte Cesia

Todi: Fonte Cesia

A little further on is the Porta Marzia, a medieval gate constructed from salvaged materials. This lovely statue sits just above the gate, making eternal music.

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Then up and up we climbed to Todi’s highest point, where a large public park provides a peaceful retreat. It was very peaceful when we visited as it was cool and threatening to rain…

Todi: Public Park

Todi: Steps to Public Park

Close to the park is the most unusual Franciscan church of San Fortunato. It is a huge edifice, standing at the top of an impressive flight of steps.

Todi: San Fortunato church

Todi: San Fortunato church

The interior is Gothic, airy, bright and simple. It is unusual, in that this style of church – a Gothic hall church, where the side aisles are equal in height to the nave – is rarely seen in Italy.

Todi: San Fortunato church.

Todi: San Fortunato church.

Todi: San Fortunato church, fresco

Todi: San Fortunato church, fresco

In the crypt is the tomb of Todi’s most well-known citizen: Jacopone da Todi who died in 1306. A Franciscan poet and mystic, after the death of his wife he led a simple existence, devoted to God. He was considered extreme in his views and was even accused of heresy, but he is still remembered for his religious poetry.

The other eminent Todi citizen was Pope Martin, later martyred and made a saint. This sculpture is in the cathedral.

Todi: Cathedral, sculpture dedicated to Pope Martin, Pope, martyr, saint

Todi: Cathedral, sculpture dedicated to Pope Martin, Pope, martyr, saint

In my last post, I opened the door to our apartment in Spello so that you could look in. But prior to coming to Italy, Todi had been our original destination and we had signed a contract to stay in the tower set into the town walls pictured below. No sooner was the ink dry than the owner asked us to cancel the contract due to a legal issue with a sitting tenant. So we just had to go and see where we might have spent 3 months…..

Todi: The Tower

Todi: The Tower

It looked like a nice place, but it was in a car park and next to the ring road, so lady luck was bounteous on the day that the contract fell through and we found our Spello home from home.

Steps away from the tower is the striking church of Santa Maria della Consolazione. Standing just outside the city walls, it is a Renaissance masterpiece. It has been attributed to Bramante, one of the architects of St Peter’s basilica in Rome: you can see the similarities. But there is no documentary evidence to confirm this link; it is more probable that the architect of Todi’s church may have used some of Bramante’s drawings.

The church was built to house and protect the venerated painting of Santa Maria della Consolazione. This is a tiny and – in my view – unremarkable fresco. The church’s interior is plain and elegant, with grand statues of the apostles forming the major decoration. The great dome is set above a balcony to which brave souls can climb and admire the views. The silhouette can be seen from some distance.

Todi: Santa Maria della Consolazione

Todi: Santa Maria della Consolazione

The weather was poor, the lunch was the worst we have eaten in Italy, but Todi’s attractions are many so our memories of the day – other than the food and the weather – are good ones.

Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren)

“Sir, I did not count your glasses of wine, why should you number up my cups of tea?” – Samuel Johnson

There are lots of watering holes in Spello, but we have found only two wine bars.

Spello: Enoteca Properzio

Spello: Enoteca Properzio

Enoteca Properzio is located next to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore on Spello’s winding main street. You can taste fine wines here – note the stacked cases of Krug – from all over Italy and beyond.

Spello: Enoteca Properzio

Spello: Enoteca Properzio: Ready for wine tasting.

Wine tastings are a feature here. The wines are paired with delicious cheeses, meats and pasta. This enoteca is renowned throughout Umbria and both its press and punter reviews are exceptionally good. We have been 3 times and thoroughly enjoyed both the food and the wines. But…there is somewhere else we much prefer.

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia

Vinosofia is situated in Via Maddalena, just off the main street through Spello. Husband and wife duo Brenda McLeran and Graziano Santucci, welcome you in to a tasteful, calm interior with soft music playing in the background.

Combining American flair and Italian style, Brenda and Graziano have created a fine space where you can pop in for a quick glass or spend a long, languid evening. We have popped in for a quick glass on more than one occasion only to end up spending wonderful long languid evenings here!

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia

Brenda and Graziano are trained sommeliers, and they are passionate about their products. They are extremely helpful in recommending wines and we have been delighted to taste some of their recommendations. They work well together, quietly ensuring that customers have everything they need.

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia

Wines are largely European, mostly organic and all are from small producers. The accompanying platters of artisan cheeses and organic meats are served with baskets of fresh bread – all delicious.

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia

Vinosofia also offers an excellent range of cookery books and gifts for the wine lover. We had to buy one of these wonderful wine measures – we had never seen anything like this before. As well as measuring the wine, it also aerates it. It is such a beautiful object.

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia

Brenda and Graziano pride themselves on being a green business, in everything from the products they sell to the materials used in renovating the building. They source food, wines and gifts locally and minimise their environmental footprint wherever they can.

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia. A glass of man….or am I seeing things?

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia

Wonderful liquor bottles…and they taste as good as they look!

Spello: Vinosofia

Spello: Vinosofia

A visit to Vinosofia is an experience not to miss if you ever have the pleasure of visiting Spello.

Another Brick in the Wall

Perugia. Palazzo dei Priori, Merchants' Guild Hall: detail

Perugia: the largest city in Umbria and its capital. City of contrasts, city of mystery, city of violence, city of art and culture, city of chocolate. To understand Perugia, past and present, it is important to understand a little of its fascinating history and how it has shaped today’s bustling Perugia. It is a complex, bloody history, so it is difficult to do it justice here, but I will try to pick out some highlights.

Originally occupied by the Umbrians, the site was settled by the Etruscans in around the 5th century BC. The old city, built on a hill overlooking the Tiber valley, still retains visible remains of the Etruscan period, such as Porta Marzia which incorporated a fine Etruscan arch into the city walls.

Perugia. Porta Marzia -Etruscan archway

Perugia. Porta Marzia -Etruscan archway

Conquered by Rome in 309 BC, the Perugians staged several revolts, culminating in the city being burned down when the funeral pyre of an Etruscan who had refused to capitulate got out of hand. Rebuilt by Augustus, there is little recorded of the city in the Dark Ages and beyond, other than its incursions into its neighbouring towns – Assisi, Spello and Folignio for example – all of which were subjugated.

In the 13th to 15th centuries, Perugia was embellished with some of the magnificent buildings that can still be seen today. In theory the city was part of the papal state but the popes found it difficult to control Perugia with its influential nobles and merchants. Pope Benedict XI visited the city and was given – by a nun so it is rumoured – poisoned figs. He was just one of 4 popes to die in Perugia: 3 of poison and one of overeating!

Tales of skulduggery abound. The nobles, merchants and commoners continued to vie for dominance and the popes, Milan and Naples all joined in at various points. Then along came the wonderfully named Braccio Fortebraccio – “Arm Strongarm” who conquered all of Umbria and had ambitions to unify Italy until he too was disposed of by a Perugian.

The feud between 2 noble clans – the Oddi and the Baglioni – grew increasingly violent and bloody. A pitched battle in the main square left 130 dead and revenge killings that the Mafia would have been proud of followed, until the murder of a papal legate gave Pope Paul III a reason to visit Perugia and exercise papal control once again. He raised the tax on salt, so the Perugians revolted again in the Salt Wars, only to be crushed by huge papal forces. Umbrians do not, even today, put salt in their bread as a protest against this provocation.

The Baglioni family gathered the Perugians together in the main square and vowed to protect them from the papal forces. It is said that a painting of Jesus was taken out of the cathedral to help the people. It has never been returned inside the cathedral as the Perugians feel they have still not had justice for the wrongs they suffered.

Perugia Cathedral, showing the painting of Jesus over the entrance.

Perugia Cathedral, showing the painting of Jesus over the entrance.

A deal was struck between the Pope and the Baglionis in which the Pope agreed not to destroy the city. He soon reneged on this deal however, and in 1543, as a further act of repression agains the Perugians, the Pope ordered the building of a huge fortress, the Rocca Paolina. In order to make way for the fortress, monasteries and churches and more than 100 houses – notably the properties belonging to the Baglioni family – were destroyed. The tall towers of the Baglioni family, symbols of their power, were demolished to form the foundations of the Rocca.

Rocca Paolina by Giuseppe Rossi

Rocca Paolina by Giuseppe Rossi

When Perugia gained independence in the 1800s, its citizens demolished the fortress brick by brick. Today little of it remains, other than the Porta Marzia  and the rather spooky remains of Via Baglioni, perfectly preserved medieval streets beneath Perugia.

Via Baglioni - medieval street buried beneath the Rocca

Via Baglioni – medieval street buried beneath the Rocca

Walking through the underground streets feels very strange.

Via Baglioni - medieval street buried beneath the Rocca

Via Baglioni – medieval street buried beneath the Rocca

These are the very places where the medieval nobles lived, ate and slept. Was that an echo of a voice from the distant past? The ring of a sword being drawn? In these silent streets, it is not difficult to imagine.

Via Baglioni - medieval street buried beneath the Rocca

Piazza IV Novembre lies at the centre of Perugia. The most well-preserved and attractive square we have seen to date, it has, at its centre, the Fontana Maggiore, a magnificent 13th century fountain which is one of the best Romanesque monuments in Italy. Designed by a monk, Fra Bevignate, and created by father and son Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, the waters of the aqueduct converged here.

Fontana Maggiore. Piazza IV Novembre, Perugia

Fontana Maggiore. Piazza IV Novembre, Perugia

The lower basin is in white marble, decorated with panels showing agricultural scenes and biblical episodes.

Perugia, Umbria. Fontana Maggiore detail. Piazza IV NovembrePerugia, Umbria. Fontana Maggiore - detail. Piazza IV NovembrePerugia, Umbria. Fontana Maggiore. - panel, Piazza IV Novembre

The second basin is in pink marble and portrays mythical and biblical characters. At its base are multiple spouts in the form of animals.

Perugia, Umbria. Fontana Maggiore detail. Piazza IV Novembre

Perugia, Umbria. Fontana Maggiore. Piazza IV Novembre

At the top is a bronze bowl with nymphs supporting an amphora from which the water pours.

Fontana Maggiore. Piazza IV Novembre

Fontana Maggiore. Piazza IV Novembre

The Cathedral of San Lorenzo faces onto the square. Constructed between 1345 and 1490 and remodelled over the centuries, its facade remains unfinished. The lower facade is decorated with pink and white marble.

Perugia, Umbria. Palazzo dei Priori & Cathedral

The beautiful exterior pulpit is from the 15th century, and it was from this spot that Saint Bernadino of Sienna preached to large crowds in the 1420s.

Cathedral, exterior detail

The interior is Gothic in style and is light and cool. Its most important treasure is in the Cappella del Sant’Anello where, in a gold casket, a ring said to be the Virgin’s betrothal ring, is kept under lock and key.

The Virgin's ring. San Lorenzo Cathedral, Perugia.

The Virgin’s ring. San Lorenzo Cathedral

San Lorenzo Cathedral, Sacristy

San Lorenzo Cathedral, Sacristy

Facing the cathedral is the Palazzo dei Priori, built in stages between the 13th to 15th centuries, and designed to hold Perugia’s administrative offices when it was a flourishing city. Note the castellations and the shapely windows.

Palazzo dei Priori, Perugia

Palazzo dei Priori, Perugia

Annunciation by Perugino

Annunciation by Perugino

The Palazzo’s interior is most impressive. It now houses several attractions of note. The National Gallery of Umbria features works of art from the 13th to 19th centuries, organised chronologically and well laid out and labelled.

The art is almost exclusively religious art; by the end you have seen enough Madonna and Child paintings. But there are some remarkable works by significant artists such as Perugino, Pinturicchio, Fra Angelico. My favourite was a small Annunciation by Perugino.

Also within the Palazzo is Il Collegio della Mercanzia, home of the Merchants’ Guild from 1390 and almost unaltered since that date. The quality of the woodwork was so crisp and clear that it could have been carved yesterday.

Perugia, Umbria. Palazzo dei Priori, Merchants' Guild Hall

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Perugia, Umbria. Palazzo dei Priori, Merchants' Guild Hall

imagesFinally, we visited the Collegio del Cambio where the money-changers operated. It was used as a counting house and the tiny scales and coins are on view. There is a series of frescoes by Perugino covering its walls which is considered to be one of the most significant examples of Italian Renaissance art. Perugino also included a self-portrait, left.

The attached chapel of Saint John the Baptist contains additional frescoes.

Palazzo dei Priori. Chapel of St John the Baptist, fresco detail

Palazzo dei Priori. Chapel of St John the Baptist, fresco detail

There are so many interesting things to see just walking around Perugia. The backstreets seem virtually unchanged from medieval times, drainpipes excepted.

Perugia, Umbria. Backstreets

There are magnificent buildings and signs of the past everywhere.

Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, seat of the judiciary. Justice, detail

Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, seat of the judiciary. Justice, detail

Pharmacy sign - founded 1592

Pharmacy sign – founded 1592

Perugia’s hilltop position allows some far-reaching views over the Tiber valley. These shots were taken from Piazza Italia.

Perugia, Umbria. Piazza Italia view

Perugia, Umbria. Piazza Italia view

The University of Perugia was founded in 1308 and still attracts large numbers of students, as does its reputed Language School.  Perugia is a cultural city; it hosts a chocolate festival and Europe’s top jazz festival annually and has several theatres.

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Despite its history of conflict and conquest, modern Perugia is vibrant and colourful, forward-looking and proud of its past.

Horse's head in the bed...?

Watch out for the horse’s head…

My Kind of Town

In a previous post (Red Red Wine) I wrote about the Sagrantino di Montefalco wine and the erstwhile pleasure of our visit to the Arnaldo Caprai winery set in the verdant Umbrian countryside. At the centre of the Sagrantino wine region sits the small town of Montefalco, perched high on a hill and enclosed within medieval walls.

Porta Sant'Agostino, Montefalco

Porta Sant’Agostino, Montefalco

The walls are pierced by 5 gates, and from each gate a narrow road winds upwards to the main square, Piazza del Comune, at the summit of the town. The Piazza is almost perfectly circular, and around its perimeter stand a number of grand buildings. The Palazzo Comunale dates from the 13th to 14th centuries, although it was restored in the 19th century. It is an imposing building with beautiful, crisp brickwork.

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Montefalco. Piazza del Comune. Palazzo Comunale

Tall, thin and elegant, the former church of San Filippo Neri, built in the 18th century, is now a theatre.

Montefalco. Piazza del Comune. Former church of San Filipo Neri, now a theatre

The tiny Oratorio di Santa Maria was used to hold public meetings during the Renaissance. It has some original frescoes and copies of other key paintings held in Montefalco’s museum and churches. Just as well, since the “no photos, even without flash” policy is common.

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Detail from a painting in Montefalco’s museum, reproduced in the Oratorio di Santa Maria.

Montefalco. Piazza del Comune. Oratorio di Santa Maria

Leaving the square, we visited the church of Saint Francis and the attached monastery which now form part of a small museum which is renowned throughout the region. The museum houses a number of interesting paintings, largely by Umbrian artists including Francesco Melanzio from Montefalco. There are also some artefacts – ceramics, wooden statues, glass from Murano for example – and the ancient cellars of the Friars Minor of Montefalco, containing an enormous wine press!

The highlight of the museum is the former church itself. Built as a Franciscan church in the early 14th century, it houses a cycle of frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli depicting the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. In terms of their subject matter, these frescoes are considered second only to those in the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi. Gozzoli, a pupil of Fra Angelico, is best known for his wonderful frescoes in the Medici Palace in Florence. So, important art for a small town. The detail below shows Saint Francis giving his sermon to the birds.

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There is also a Nativity fresco by Perugino as well as various paintings by Umbrian artists of the 15th century. It was well worth a visit.

Continuing down the street, we reached a lovely piazza with extensive views across the Umbrian valley, vineyards, olive groves and mountains. You can appreciate why Montefalco is known as the “Balcony of Umbria”.

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The photo below shows Spello in the distance, perched on the lower slopes of the mountain.

Montefalco. View from Montefalco showing Spello

This photo shows Spello and Monte Subasio, the mountain we drove over (!!! See earlier post Stairway to Heaven) to Assisi which is just out of shot to the left of the picture. 

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And here is Assisi….

Montefalco. View from Montefalco, showing Assisi

You could still see snow on the highest peaks.

Montefalco. View from Montefalco showing snow-topped mountains

Everywhere you turned in Montefalco could have been a scene from the film “A Room with a View.”

Montefalco.

Montefalco.

Montefalco.

Everywhere you looked there was something of beauty, like this detail of a painting on one of the old buildings.

Montefalco. Detail of wall painting

And a more modern poster advertising an exhibition.

Montefalco. Via Ringhiera. Poster

After all of that culture and fresh air, there was nothing else for it but to head for lunch in the main square. L’Alchimista had come highly recommended, and its tables were filling up fast.

Montefalco. Lunch at L'Alchimista

We started with zucchini flowers, stuffed with ricotta cheese. Not only did this look divine, it tasted heavenly too. It was, without doubt, the best dish I have eaten during our entire stay – and that is saying something!

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I followed up with carpaccio of veal with goat’s cheese and truffle….

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….whilst mio marito settled on tortellini stuffed with porcetta and truffle with fresh peas and broad beans….

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….all washed down – inevitably – with a glass of Sagrantino di Montefalco.

Montefalco. Lunch at L'Alchimista

It was the most perfect lunch: local produce, zinging with flavours, beautifully prepared and presented.

Just as we left, the local Harley Davidson Hills (as in hill towns) Angels arrived, the distinctive throaty thrum of their engines preceding them by a short handlebar.

Montefalco. Piazza del Comune. L'Alchemista Restaurant

Sailing

I love water. Seas, lakes, rivers. I even drink the stuff. Umbria is landlocked, so there is no possibility of trips to the seaside, but it does boast 2 lakes: Lake Trasimeno and Lake Piediluco.

Lake Trasimeno, Umbria

Lake Trasimeno, Umbria

Lord Byron described Lake Trasimeno as “a silvery veil” and Goethe as “an unforgettable vision“. It is the 4th largest lake in Italy, covering an area of around 126 square kilometres (48 square miles) with a perimeter of around 60 kilometres (37 miles). It has none of the glamour of Lake Garda, and is all the better for it; quiet and peaceful, blue and green, green and blue, surrounded by low hills peppered with castles, villages, towers and churches.

We decided to spend 2 days at Lake Trasimeno and found a quirky B&B In Castiglione del Lago, the principal town on the western shore. It is a charming little town, surrounded by ancient walls breached by imposing gates.

Gate, Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Gate, Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Gate, Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Gate, Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Castiglione del Lago is built on a rocky promontory, giving expansive views of the Lake. Because of its strategic position, the town was fortified first by the Etruscans and then by the Romans, and was fought over, destroyed and rebuilt throughout the centuries. Today it is a small town unspoilt by excessive tourism, full of friendly people.

Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Building detail. Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Building detail. Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

The shops are full of local products, including the many-coloured beans which looked so very attractive.

Local products. Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Local products. Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

We couldn’t resist capturing these two chatting ceramic figures sitting on a window ledge.

Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Dominating the town is the Rocca del Leone (Lion Fortress), completed in 1247 by Frederick II. It is built to a pentangle design with 4 corner towers and, unusually, a triangular keep.

Rocca del Leone, Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Rocca del Leone, Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

It is one of the finest examples of military architecture in Umbria, and in the 16th century was considered to be one of the most impregnable fortresses in Italy.

Rocca del Leone, Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

Rocca del Leone, Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno

From the fortress, a narrow covered passageway inside the wall leads to the Palazzo della Corgna, an imposing palace built for the della Corgna family. An earlier building on this site was owned by the Baglioni family who hosted Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci there.

Passageway between the fortress and the Palazzo della Corgna.

Passageway between the fortress and the Palazzo della Corgna.

Fresco, Palazzo della Corgna, Castiglione del Lago

Fresco, Palazzo della Corgna, Castiglione del Lago

The 16th century palazzo is remarkable for its extensive, well-preserved and brightly coloured frescoes, attributed to Pomerancio and unknown others. The subjects include scenes from the Aeneid, the military exploits of the founder of the dynasty, Ascanio della Corgna and depictions of the seasons.

Frescoes, Palazzo della Corgna, Castiglione del Lago

Frescoes, Palazzo della Corgna, Castiglione del Lago

Frescoes, Palazzo della Corgna, Castiglione del Lago

Frescoes, Palazzo della Corgna, Castiglione del Lago

Frescoes, Palazzo della Corgna, Castiglione del Lago

Frescoes, Palazzo della Corgna, Castiglione del Lago

In early May, Castiglione del Lago hosts the “Colour the Skies” festival with light aircraft, hot air balloons and kites. The palazzo housed a display of some of the kites from former years.

Kites, Palazzo del Corgna

Kites, Palazzo del Corgna

There are 3 islands in the middle of the lake: Isola Minore, Isola Polvese and Isola Maggiore. Isola Minore is privately owned whilst Isola Polvese is a wildlife sanctuary. We took the local ferry to Isola Maggiore – a lovely trip taking about 30 minutes.

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

The shore was fringed with weeping willows.

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

There are few inhabitants on the island and most make their living by fishing or tourism. We strolled around the quiet streets. The sun blazed down – I had to buy a hat!

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

Saint Francis of Assisi was said to have come to this island to fast and pray, and there is a worn chapel built on the site where he supposedly knelt on arrival.

Old churches perched on worn steps.

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

Breathtaking lake views were all around us.

Vie from Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

View from Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

Wooden piles at the boat jetty seemed to be “walking” into the water!

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

There were surprisingly few pleasure craft on the water. The Lake is fairly shallow and marshy in some areas which may explain the lack of activity. This little speedboat was collecting diners for a lakeside restaurant.

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno - view of Castiglione del Lago

Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno – view of Castiglione del Lago

As the sun began to cool, we sat on the shore with a well-deserved drink watching the water shimmer and dapple in the light. It was heavenly.

All too soon the ferry arrived and we were homeward bound. Castiglione del Lago looked wonderful as we returned to its encircling walls. Day one was drawing to a close.

View of Castiglione del Lago from boat to Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno

View of Castiglione del Lago from the boat from Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno