5 June: Spellbound in Spello

Author: Mrs A

Location: Spello, Umbria, Italy

Wednesday: We only drove 15 minutes to Spello, just 10km away from Assisi, everything we had read suggesting it was worth a visit.

We took quiet winding roads through agricultural land, grateful we didn’t meet any other traffic along the way.

Maybe just room for a cyclist to pass here…fabulous roads to drive on as long as you don’t meet anyone!
Gorgeous views accompany us on our way

Spello is far less well known than Assisi, but its history stretches back just as far. Much of the town is built on Roman remains and foundations, and sits within an old amphitheatre. The churches are often built on top of old Roman temples, and encompass little clues here and there to the past.

We entered through a grand gateway flanked by towers, amazed that there was not a soul around. In fact that is one of the main appeals of this town – it is so close to Assisi but there are so few tourists here. The streets and buildings are quiet, taking on a pink hue from the Mount Subasio limestone used in their construction. The constant call of swallows can be heard as they swoop catching flies around the rooftops, and the hum of insects on the ever present flowers.

Where are all the people?
These stone walls were restored in the early 1900s

Every corner is filled with flowers
Pretty pathways in all directions
A lovely looking villa
Every little space is used for pots of colour
Richness of colour in every direction

Seppo is full of flowers, every windowsill, doorstep and corner brimming with blossoms. The few people we did see were often tending to their pots, painting wooden planters, replacing dying plants with new ones.

A local gardening enthusiast tends to his pots

There seemed to only be one cat in Seppo…quite a chunky one too!
Fine views across the Umbrian countryside

From the top of the town there are fabulous views back across to Assisi, a monastery behind us enjoying this view daily.

Assisi on the hillside opposite
Wander around forever and never see another person!

Heading off down yet another enticing lane way
Will we get tired of these views?
A flower within a flower?
If only we could understand the stories behind this architecture

We tried to find somewhere nice to have lunch, but the menus were quite restrictive in terms of dairy-free, and the restaurant we really wanted to go to was closed on Wednesdays.

Mr A making use of the Google Translate app to ask about dairy-free meals

So we wandered back through the town, calling in for some wine tasting on the way through (three small glasses for €10), and popping our heads into the Chiesa di Saint Andrea, a church built in the 11th century, an example of Francisan architecture.

Hard to resist another little alleyway to explore

Chiesa di Saint Andrea
Frescos by Tommaso Corbo in 1532

We’ve seen sculptures like this all over Italy

It was well worth the visit to Seppo. We didn’t buy any wine, the prices set for the American market (two to three times the usual cost!) rather than the Italian value we have become accustomed to. It would be a great location to stay if visiting Assisi and wanting to avoid the crowds, assuming you had a hire car you could park outside the town walls.

We, meanwhile, jumped back on the road and continued our journey towards the east coast.

4 June: Are we getting tired of all these lovely villages? Not yet!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Assisi, Umbria, Italy

Tuesday: While sad to leave Lago Trasimeno, we were keen to see some more of the area before we were due in La Marche on the eastern side of Italy. We decided to head to Assisi. Mr A was originally reluctant, claiming it was ‘too much about religion’, but given the whole town is a UNESCO world heritage site, I felt it was a location not to be missed.

It was a short hour’s drive and we were soon pulling up at a relatively new sosta outside a motorhome owning farmer’s house. What a view of Assisi it had!

We were also excited when a little ginger kitten came bounding up to greet us, six month old Esther is an Italian camping-cat!

Cheeky Esther bounds into Truffy for an explore
I wonder if she meows in Italian?

We wasted no time in getting out the ebikes and heading up the steep hill into town.

Mr A heading under the city gateway

As we rode up through the streets, very thankful for the electric motors helping us on our way, we passed a whole mixture of stone archways, pillars and building styles from throughout the ages.

At the very top of the hill there sits a fortification, the Rocca Maggiore, more than 800 years old. The views from here are fabulous, looking across the patchwork valley of Tescio. The castle has been built, pillaged, restored again and again in its history – it’s in pretty good nick these days but we didn’t go in.

Rocca Maggiore
Solid stone walls more than 800 years old
Fabulous views across the valley
Look where these little bike bring us!

The settlement of Assisi has been populated for thousands of years, with evidence dating back to 1,000 BCE when the Umbrians lived on the hill top in a small fortified settlement. The Etruscan civilisation took over around 450 BCE, introducing architecture heavily influenced by the Greeks, and then 295 BCE was when the Romans took over central Italy.

A Roman water trough still adorns a square

You may have heard of Saint Frances of Assisi? He was canonised in the 1200s, born and buried in Assisi and is co-patron-saint of Italy along with Saint Catherine of Siena. Pilgrims still flock to the town, and we saw several monks in long brown robes strolling the streets.

There are indeed a lot of churches in Assisi, containing magnificent frescoes and paintings by famous Italian artists. But churches aside, the history and architecture is fascinating, often intermingled through the ages.

Piazza del Comune

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
These pillars date back to the 1st century BCE – part of a temple dedicated to the Egyptian Goddess Isis
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva – interior from the 1500s, covered in frescoes
Magnificent painted ceilings

We made our way gradually through the streets, exploring nooks and crannies and stopping to try some local produce – some delicious Umbrian wine, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

A delicious crisp fresh dry white from Umbria

Sold! One tin of extra virgin olive oil and one aged balsamic ‘no caramel in here!’ – bought from Francesco, such a character…

Love the sign outside Francesco’s shop: ‘Please come in and taste now the best olive oils and balsamic vinegar, Later you will not feel like walking up again. Don’t miss this chance.’

Houses frame yet more views of the surrounding countryside as we descend through the town
Such a clean and uncrowded city

The most famous of all the churches is probably the biggest, Basilica of St Francis. It is also the most visited, with coach trips heading here just to see the artwork here. I recall visiting while an art student at university, way back in February 1990. The temperature was slightly different then, I can tell you – think snow flurries and bitterly cold wind! I decided not to go back in, but did a fly by on the bike to remember how it looked.

Outside the Basilica – inside, frescos painted by Giotto depict St Francis’ life
A grand entrance way

As we returned to camp, the farmer and sosta manager pointed out his cat had a litter of four kittens needing good homes. They’re only a month old at the moment, so too young to adopt, but very adorable…no room for another cat in our life though, our Aussie Miss Tassie is still our most important fur child.

Kitten fur is just so silky soft

We settled down to a relaxing evening, enjoying the view as the lights turned on across Assisi.

Better than watching the TV – I even got a cat curled up on my lap for half an hour!

The Basilica of St Francis all lit up
Looking up to the castle
Sunset over Umbria
Santa Maria degli Angeli – just around the corner from our camp. Famous for housing the home of St Francis and his followers – where he founded the Franciscan order and also where he died in 1226.

2 – 3 June: A lakeside retreat in Umbria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Castiglione del Lago, Lake Trasimeno, Umbria, Italy

Sunday: Although part of me felt I really should be spending more time in Florence, perhaps visiting the art in the Ufizzi Gallery or one of the many Leonardo da Vinci exhibitions I just couldn’t face a day amongst the crowds after getting back to camp well after midnight from the UK.

Instead we packed up and hit the road, driving just over an hour south-east from Florence to Lake Trasimeno. At 128 square kilometers surface area, Lake Trasimeno is the fourth largest lake in Italy (slightly smaller than Lake Como, the third largest). The town I selected purely on the reviews of where to stay – the lakeside sosta sounding peaceful and picturesque – just what the doctor ordered.

After a relaxing lunch, we jumped on the bikes for a ride. There is a route which goes right around the lake – just over 70kms, but apparently the heavy rains during the winter have raised the lake’s levels and some of the pathways are covered with water. We decided to do a 45km return ride, heading towards the north of the lake from our sosta. It was a perfect day for ride – the weather warm but not too hot, birds singing, cuckoos calling from the woodland, butterflies fluttering by, everyone in a great mood…

Such a picturesque ride

The pathway wound its way along the shore, through poppy lined fields and over reed lined bridges. The views kept on coming.

Couldn’t resist this diversion for a perfect field of poppies!

You often don’t see the water, but the surrounding countryside is lovely
A brief water break
A rowing boat sitting on a quiet inlet
I had to run over this rickety old bridge
The locals enjoy a cooling dip too

Definitely up there with one of the best rides we have ever done, and one we’d be keen to repeat and perhaps complete the whole circuit.

Monday: We started our day more locally, jumping on the bikes again and heading into Castiglione del Lago. As with many towns with an ancient history, this is located up on a hill, overlooking the lake. It has a fortification which dates from 1247, currently used for shows with its natural amphitheatre.

‘Castle of the lion’ – which later became Castiglione…
Looks like a great spot for moonlight cinema
Remains of round towers
Ancient olive trees cast strange shadows with their near hollow trunks

The old town is very pretty, full of bars, restaurants and little shops selling local produce. Mr A did find a shop with a 50% off sale and made a few clothes purchases, and we did a little wine tasting along the way. Around every corner there is a medieval gateway framing yet another fine view. Just lovely.

Perfect eBike territory with lots of steep hills
Free wine and chorizo tasting? Why not!
Another gateway frames a lovely view
More lake views across the terracotta rooftops

Mr A had spotted Cantina Del Trasimeno, a wine co-operative, not far from where we were camped which was offering free wine tasting, so we decided to head along late afternoon for a sample. It turns out it is an outlet for more than 2,000 wineries from the local region – that’s the area around the lake, not even the whole of Umbria!

Mr A looking excited to sample some local grapes
Our lovely host – excellent English skills and some fabulous wines

We tried a selection of rosetta, blanco and rosso wines, and placed and order for 18 bottles. We are meeting up with friends in a week’s time and are keen to share some local drops.

From here, we jumped back on the bikes and back along the lake, it was Monday afternoon after all, and the lakeside bars were already serving. We found a bar with nice waterside tables and settle down with a beverage to enjoy the view.

Ahh the serenity
Dramatic looking skies did not bring any storms

We really like the feel of this area, a lot less touristy than Tuscany (we barely heard an American accent – sorry USA friends!) and very beautiful. The wine is delicious, the climate lovely at this time of year and for us the cycling opportunities not too hilly and interesting. It is definitely a region we would be keen to return to in the future. Added to our (ever growing) list!

Enjoying our lakeside view – just €16 a night
Final sunset…off in the morning