Tag Archives: Umbrian hill towns

Street Life

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Baby You Can Drive My Car

In the warm autumn sunshine, Spello attracts few tourists and can often be quiet and still. The restaurants with their delicious dishes celebrating local food and wines remain open, the scent of herbs wafting from their busy kitchens. The cafes still spill out onto the pavements where the afternoons drift lazily by, fuelled by strong coffee and Aperol spritz.

Paws for Thought

Paws for Thought, Spello

On the street, life continues on. The children are back at school now, and in the early mornings and afternoons their excited chatter echoes in the narrow passageways. Workers continue to improve the road surface, vehicles squeezed into the narrow streets, blocking any traffic.

Parking Problems?

Parking Problems? Spello

In the town square, old men sit chatting whilst old women fill their baskets with ingredients for dinner. A Fiat 500 (cinquecento) – ideal for the narrow roads – screeches past, its distinctive engine stutter and rattle a regular sound here on the street.

For Ishita, as promised!

For Ishita, as promised!

During the afternoon pausa, shutters are closed and the sound of clattering plates and talking can be heard from the cool interiors. Now and then people stroll by, keeping to the shade of the buildings.

Strolling, Spello

Strolling, Spello

In nearby Montefalco, even the statues have sunglasses to protect them in the heat of the day…

Blues Brothers Chef, Montefalco

Blues Brothers Chef, Montefalco

….and these young girls look cool as they whizz around the medieval villages with a scooter tutor….

Scooting, Montefalco

Scooting with a Scooter Tutor, Montefalco

But even on the warmest day there is often a hint of rain in the air, as the clouds gather over nearby Mount Subasio. Armed for any weather, this wonderful friend is all smiles….

One of my Crew, Spello

One of my Crew, Spello

How can a day be so perfect? Perhaps you have a perfect day too?

Blue,

Blue Remembered Hills, Spello

Scene Through the Eye of a Lens

Spello Staircase

Spello Staircase

One of the things I love about Italians is that they love a festival. Any opportunity to celebrate local food, wines, traditions and culture is seized upon with enthusiasm. One such cultural event which we were privileged to attend this week was the Spello Photo Fest.

Fabrizio Corvi's Studio, Spello

Fabrizio Corvi’s Studio, Spello

Organised largely by Fabrizio Corvi, who has a studio in Spello, and Barbera Pinci, it was a celebration of the work of fifteen talented photographers. Local people opened up their garages, storage spaces and unrestored buildings to host the exhibitions in the ancient Via Giulia. This meant that as well as the art on show, we were allowed a secret peek into the wonderful old buildings which are usually hidden behind large wooden doors. This particular space was enhanced by the view across the fields and hills: a framed picture in itself….

Framed View, Spello

Framed View, Spello

Interiors offered glimpses into crumbling rooms, waiting to be brought back into use….

Ripe for Renovation, Spello

Ripe for Renovation, Spello

The exhibits themselves were extremely varied. There were haunting black and white photos by Deigo Good that drew you into his mystical world….

Lake Trasimeno. Copyright Diego Good

Lake Trasimeno. Copyright Diego Good

Artists such as Andrea Cianca documented the struggle of Italians who came out onto the streets as a last resort to defend things that were dear to them, such as their land and their jobs. These were harsh realities, tenderly portrayed.

Copyright Andrea Cianca

Italian Streets. Copyright Andrea Cianca

A laughing bride was presented in a distressed frame against a rustic wall….

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As well as the more traditional works, there were contemporary exhibits such as this mix of familiar objects. Who wore these shoes? Who watched this TV? Whose lives are we part of for a few fleeting minutes?

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Fabio Galioti recreated a 16th century painting by Caravaggio – The Calling of Saint Matthew – in a 9 minute film entitled “In the Light”. The characters were positioned exactly as in the painting, and as we watched they moved really slowly. It was an unusual and moving piece.

Was this doll’s head meant to remind us of childhood, or to give us nightmares?

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In a local cafe there was a display of old photographs of Spello and the people of Spello – the Spellani. This picture was really evocative – taken in Via Guilia which has hardly changed.

Family Collection, Spello

Family Collection, Spello

In Spello’s tiny museum there was another celebration of photography, this time by the American photographer Steve McCurry containing photos of Umbria. Steve McCurry is perhaps best known for his beautiful colour photos in the documentary tradition, including his striking portrait “Afghan Girl” which first appeared in National Geographic magazine. (We saw this recently at an exhibition “Drawn by Light” in London’s Science Museum).

Steve McCurry Exhibition, Spello

Steve McCurry Exhibition, Spello

“Even in the most forgotten and hidden areas of the country you will come across massive amounts of elegance and poetry, architecture and art. In Italy I like to explore the old and new and see how they intersect. And…if I had to recommend a place to visit in the world I would not hesitate: it’s Italy.” Steve McCurry

Family Lunch, Perugia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Family Lunch, Perugia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry’s photographs were beautifully presented, lit from behind in a darkened room. They are full of life, full of colour and display a real empathy for the people he portrays. This photo of a horse rider taken near Castellucio di Norcia – an area known as the Tibet of Italy – could almost be a painting….

Castellucio Di Norcia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Castellucio Di Norcia. Copyright Steve McCurry

In Bevagna at the medieval market of the Gaite held each June, he captured this recreation of an ancient craft, lit like a Vermeer painting….

Bevagna Medieval Market of the Gaite. Copyright Steve McCurry

Bevagna Medieval Market of the Gaite. Copyright Steve McCurry

His photos are inspirational; it is easy to see why he is considered to be a master of his craft.

“If you wait, people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.” Steve McCurry

Monk, Spello. Copyright Steve McCurry

Monk, Spello. Copyright Steve McCurry

 

My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You

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Set amongst picturesque mountains and surrounded by some of Umbria’s most stunning scenery, the ancient Roman town of Spello is a place where you come to visit, leave and then long to return to.

Rooftops Spello

Rooftops Spello

And so it was that we arrived in Rome after a perfect flight, ready to connect with the fast train to Roma Termini, the main railway station, then onwards to Spello. Unfortunately the luggage for our entire flight went missing and it was an hour and a half later before we finally had our cases. By the time we tumbled onto the final train, night had fallen so we arrived in darkness, hungry and tired. Next morning, refreshed and bright-eyed, we were delighted to see the views from our terrace.

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The bells of the ancient church of Santa Maria Maggiore welcomed the day and we strolled around the streets, reacquainting ourselves with old familiar places and familiar faces.

Spello street

Spello street

And yet there is always something new to see, like this pair of angels on the wall of a house. Were they always there?

Angelic Wall, Spello

Angelic Wall, Spello

Even though summer is over, bright flowers can still be seen, their colours contrasting starkly with the mellow Spello stone….

Spello Street

Spello Street

An unexpected development was the long-promised work to improve the streets. This sunlit church watched over diverted traffic….

Sunlit Church, Spello

Sunlit Church, Spello

It is a huge project but progress is good and the end result will surely be worth the disruption. Here and there we had to squeeze past large trenches cut into the ancient foundations….

Work in Progress, Spello

Work in Progress, Spello

Familiar places, familiar faces, blue skies and Italian food; it’s good to be back in Magic Spello.

“Is that actually you or am I dreaming again?” Phil Klay

Spello Sky

Spello Sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking on Sunshine

Spello, Umbria

Spello, Umbria

Just outside the walls of Spello is the start of a trail along the remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct that delivered mountain spring water from the tiny hilltop village of Colepino to Spello. We had walked this trail on our previous visit, but we wanted to experience once again its panoramic views across undulating Umbrian valleys towards the distant Apennines.

Spello: Aqueduct, Lizard

Spello: Aqueduct, Lizard

The aqueduct had fallen out of use after the Second World War, and the trail had been buried for many hundreds of years. In around 2008 a wonderful restoration project was undertaken, reopening the pathway along which asses carried people and produce between Colepino and Spello in Roman times. As part of the restoration, embedded in the walls at intervals are bricks engraved with quotations from luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Gandhi, Einstein and Chaplin. Good translation practice for those of us with limited Italian!

Bright berries catch the midday sun….

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On either side of the path, olive groves stretch into the distance on terraced slopes, sometimes incorporating sections of the aqueduct….

Spello: Acqueduct and Olive Trees

Spello: Acqueduct and Olive Trees

Olive trees burst into blossom, a taste of things to come….

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Wild flowers are everywhere, bright colours reflecting the strong sunlight….

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Wild herbs cling to crevices in the walls and asparagus and fennel grow in abundance. Locals come here to gather nature’s bounty to enhance their cooking.

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Grasses bleached by the hot summer sun are entwined together in complimentary hues….

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Huge dandelion ‘clocks’ disperse their seeds like tiny autogiros….

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In the distance the church bells of Spello ring out the hours, whilst these beautiful bells are silent….

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The entire walk is a delight. Birds circle overhead, tiny finches hop across the path. Lizards speed through undergrowth and up walls. Crickets chirp, appearing here and there on a grass stalk or tree branch, always well camouflaged.

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But it is the smells that linger long afterwards: herbs warmed by the sun, the scent of flowers on the breeze, newly strimmed grass under the olive trees and always, always woodsmoke.

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The Lonesome Pine

Coat of Arms, Collepino

Coat of Arms, Collepino

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.

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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.

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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.

View, Collepino

View, Collepino

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.

Church, Collepino

Church, Collepino

We ate lunch in the Taverna – local wild boar and lamb. Very good it was too washed down with a local wine.

Collepino Village

Collepino Village

Collepino Village

Collepino Village

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.

Gate, Armenzano

Entrance Gate, Armenzano

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.

Armenzano village

Armenzano village

Armenzano Village

Armenzano Village

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.

Armenzano Village

Armenzano Village – Wallflowers!

Yet again we were treated to spectacular views.

Armenzano View

Armenzano View

Armenzano View

Armenzano View

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.

Hotel Le Silve di Armenzano, Monte Subasio Park - Lunch!

Hotel Le Silve di Armenzano, Monte Subasio Park – Lunch!