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A Postcard from Umbria

Postcard from Umbria    

By Inntravellers, James & Fiona Clarke, travelling in September

ARRIVAL DAY: Check into Tre Esses and after a swim and refresh we head into Assisi for dinner. Find a nice restaurant, Il Frantoio, with a panoramic view at dusk across the valley below and enjoy local food and wine. Very ready for bed and sleep well.

Tre Esses, AssisiDAY 1: After a good breakfast we head into Assisi to start our exploration of Umbria. We do plenty of climbing and follow a route which includes St Pietro, upper and lower Basilicas of St Francesco, Minerva, St Maria Della Rosa and the fortress of Rocca Maggiore. All very different, from simple to fantastic artwork, to heavy and dark. All well visited, many tours led by monks in their habits. We stop for a refreshing birra and good pizza lunch in a small café in Vicolo St Lorenzo with a view over roof tops and the Duomo.

Having seen the major sights we find the start of the 4km red brick path from Assisi to Basilica di St Maria degli Angeli e Porziuncola, a route trodden by St Francis and his followers. Again a beautiful church, with a very small even nicer one inside. The ‘no camera rule’ seems relaxed and there are lots of people with phones capturing the sights. We get a light snack and head back to our hotel.

AssisiDAY 2: Another bright morning and we are collected by taxi after breakfast, and dropped off a few miles away ready to head into the countryside. Plenty of farming here, at first open fields and drainage channels, later olives (with plenty of fruit), vines (most already harvested), walnuts and alfalfa. As we climb we also get good view back to Assisi, although it is misty. Much of the way is also a sculpture trail. We climb to two small hilltop towns, Castelbuono and Torre del Colle. Both seemed deserted, but Torre del Colle was much better kept. In some houses we could smell newly fermented grapes. As we walk, we see quite a few flowers, including scabious, yellow toadflax, chicory and knapweed, which host yellow, orange, white, brown and bright butterflies.

Eventually we drop down and head towards Bevagna. We stop for a beer on our way into the town, before checking into our hotel, Palazzo Brunamonti. We have a delicious supper close by at Il Grottino, a very good, family run restaurant with many homemade dishes.

BevagnaDAY 3: We leave the hotel early and spend time exploring Bevagna before heading out into the countryside. Before long we are following a cypress tree-lined road into a large vineyard, where they are still harvesting Sagrantino grapes. We soon begin our final climb into Montefalco, resisting the beer tasting, and head into the sunny main square. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, but we select l’Alchemista, as recommended in our notes. There is a very good choice of local foods and we have a glass of each of the excellent Sagrantino wines.

We explore the hilltop town and churches after lunch, but many are sadly closed. The Church of St Francis is part of a museum, however, and has some wonderful frescoes. Our taxi collects us from here for the short drive to Spoleto and the Hotel Clitunno.

MontefalcoDAY 4: We booked an extra night in Spoleto, so spend today following an improvised route based on Inntravel notes and Tourist Information guidance. We find a gradually rising path which levels into a beautiful panoramic track that follows the contour with cyclamen under the trees and views back to Spoleto and the Ponte delle Torri. We are very pleased much is in shade as it is another hot day.

Once past the Torri we join St Francis’s trail to Monteluco, high above Spoleto with a small Francescan monastery and scattering of houses. We eat our picnic here and then pick a route back down to Spoleto. Having done plenty of climbing, we use one of the escalators to gain height in the town and make our walk back to the hotel easier. We will use more of them when exploring the town tomorrow!

SpoletoDAY 5: Today we have a full day to discover Spoleto. We meet other Inntravellers and share a table and experiences for breakfast. We start our tour by winding our way uphill to the castle, Rocca. There are beautiful views back over Ponte delle Torri and the town, but, in contrast to yesterday, there are lots of people here. We descend to the Duomo, but our way is barred. ‘Don Matteo’, an Italian TV crime series, is being filmed and entry to the square is only allowed between takes. The Duomo has more beautiful frescoes and is full of light. For lunch, we opt to sit outside above the Roman amphitheatre and enjoy meats and salad with local wine. Spend afternoon walking the streets and relaxing with reading and writing.

Spoleto duomoDAY 6: Today, we are dropped off high above Spoleto, from where we pick up a lovely track through woodland, descending, then climbing a little to a dewy meadow. More cyclamen and butterflies all day. As we descend, we pass a number of people coming uphill in the other direction. At one point the peace is disturbed as we are overtaken by five motorbikes roaring along the mountain track! We eventually come out in the valley bottom, where the walking is much easier, and we see more farming, including some sheep, with crops and fields full of marjoram. Due to work on a nearby aqueduct, the final stretch of the walk is off limits and so we ring the hotel as pre-agreed to get picked up. We stay at the beautiful and restful Abbazia di San Pietro, an old monastery attached to a church.

San PietroDAY 7: After a pleasant and relaxed breakfast we head off on a circular walk from our hotel. We walk down the hill into the river valley at Colleponte before rising again to Umbriano, which is an atmospheric hilltop village deserted in the 1950s. We then route back along the fast-flowing and fertile Nera river valley, where the walking is mainly level. Finally we cross back over the river and head up through the village of Macenano, and on up back to the Abbey. A very enjoyable walk in beautiful weather.

We spend most of the afternoon relaxing and reading before packing up for departure tomorrow. Another dinner on site with delicious and interesting dishes, including nettle pasta, pea polenta with truffles, lamb, pork with herbs and onion and almond panna cotta. A superb meal to end our holiday with.

DAY 8: Our driver arrives in a brand new vehicle – we are the first passengers! Our plane departs on time and have a smooth clear flight home. This has been a very enjoyable break, although several other Inntravel holidays (with less road walking) have been more to our liking.

[All photos by James & Fiona Clarke.]