Fate took me to Assisi for the first time in the early nineties. My husband and I were driving from Siena toward Montepulciano and a dense January fog descended. We got lost, argued about whether it was safe to head in the foggy direction (I SO wanted to keep going) and ended up turning towards clearer skies, with me pouting. We got lost again, heading towards Perugia, fought again, and then… there suddenly appeared a pink stone town on the hill, glowing like an oasis…
Since we were living in San Francisco at the time, we imagined Saint Francis had lead us to our sister city and headed up the mountain. The town was completely quiet, and the only open hotel we could find was the Hotel Subasio…it was so out of our price range, yet so beckoningly grand. The kind signore at the desk took pity on us bedraggled San Franciscans, and a deal was struck for a couple of nights–in fact, he put us in a suite with a balcony. There we sweetly apologized to each other and watched one of the most amazing sunsets of our lives: rosy/gold rays shimmering over the valley. We fell in love with the place, and got to see the Giotto frescoes in the cathedral pre-earthquake.
Many years later “Assisi” is the marriage shorthand my husband uses when he’s trying to convince me that he’s going in the right direction.
Recently, I’ve been grateful to meet (online) Letizia who with her husband owns and runs Madonna del Piatto, a beautiful agriturismo just outside of Assisi. Letizia’s passion for all things Umbrian comes through on her charming blog where she posts excellent recipes and great travel advice for the region. She also runs a highly praised cooking school from the agriturismo, using ingredients from the surrounding gardens, with fun classes that end with meals on her delightful terrace that opens to a view of Assisi. I can’t wait to get there someday.
In the meantime, Letizia was gracious to share with us her insider’s advice for the City of Saint Francis:
It’s touristy! Some will say. Indeed coming during major festivals or pilgrimage days might not be a good idea for lovers of tranquillity. However, for most of the year, spending a day in this timeless hill-town will be an unforgettable experience for your eyes and soul.
Here are a few tips to organize a perfect visit:
1) Stay two or more nights. Assisi deserves at least a full day. Even though the Basilica of Saint Francis is the major attraction, the town offers many more monuments worth admiring and plenty wandering of geranium clad alleys. In addition Assisi makes a great base to visit all the other delightful towns of Umbria like Perugia, Spoleto, Bevagna, Montefalco, Orvieto, Gubbio.
2) some festivals are actually fun to see even if crowded. At the beginning of May, the people of Assisi gets dressed up in medieval costumes for Calendimaggio. The festival celebrates the arrival of spring with games, magnificent pageants and music competitions of love songs. You can see videos here
2) Consider the setting. Assisi is not only an artistic and spiritual attraction but is sourrounded by splendid countryside. Staying in a small agriturismo or B&B out of town will give you the opportunity to meet the locals, enjoy home hospitality and the scenic back-road drives
3) Enjoy the food. Truffle, pecorino cheese, peppery olive oil, prosciutto and all things pork are local specialities and of high quality. As in all popular places you need to know where to find a good meal. For a light lunch head to Trattoria degli Umbri in the Piazza del Comune a cozy, family run place. In the fall and winter they have great bean soups, another Umbrian favorite. Click here for my pasta e fagioli recipe!
For dinner you definitely need to try the “truffle tagliata” at Restaurant Basilica, in the village of Santa Maria degli angeli. Via Protomartiri Francescani 11. Tagliata is a seared steak, sliced paper thin and buried in truffle shavings, heavenly!
You can find a map of the trails as well as a couple of guidebooks at Libreria Zubboli in Piazza del Comune. We love trail nr. 50 which starts near the Carceri Hermitage and climbs up to Rifugio Vallonica. The initial steep ascent is rewarded by the magnificent views from the top. Near our house you can even walk to Assisi through the Franciscan Trail of Peace, used for centuries by pilgrims retracing the steps of Saint Francis from Assisi to Gubbio.
5) Tired of Giotto frescoes? Enjoy the great outdoors by horse riding or paragliding, or pamper yourself with a wine tasting at the Sportoletti winery or a cooking class with us at Madonna del Piatto.
6) Allot some time for hanging around. The intricate architecture of Assisi offers a fabulous background for people watching. Take an ice cream, sit on some stone steps and savour the beauty around you. You will be back!
Grazie Letizia! Hope to see you soon!