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Assisi

Driving, Europe, Italy, Travel

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

May 8, 2017
5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence
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For the past two summers, I have rented a car in Italy. Not only do I feel a little more local when I do this, but it also allows me to see the smaller towns that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Don’t worry driving in Italy isn’t as scary as people make it sound and Italian road trip is one of the best road trips!

Renting a Car

Renting a car in Italy is easy. I would recommend using Auto Europe, click here to check rates. I used them the last time I rented a car in Italy for the month, and they offered the best rates.

Rome is my starting point for renting a car because I cannot drive a manual transmission and there are more automatic cars available in Rome. Also, the rental desks are open till midnight. If you want to spend time in Rome, then I recommend renting the car after your time in Rome as parking in Rome is difficult and expensive.

Day 1 – Rome to Amelia

Once you arrive at the Rome Fiumicino Airport and rent your car, get on the road to your first stop or stay the night to rest up. If you come late in the day or are jet lagged, I recommend spending the night at the Hilton Rome Airport, check rates here. It is a short walk to the terminal and will allow you not to have to rent the car right after getting off the plane.

The first stop is the Parco di Monstri in Bomarzo, about one hour and a half from the Rome airport. This historic park is full of scary and wacky sculptures. Built by Pier Francesco Orsini in memory of his wife, Giulia Farnese in the 16th century. Both from well known Italian families.  The park is only accessible by car, so it is a must do while on a road trip in Italy. Allow 1-2 hours to explore the whole park.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

The next stop is Amelia, which is only about 45 minutes away from the park. Amelia is one of my favorite towns in Italy, and some say it is the oldest city in Umbria. The walls are ancient and in fantastic condition. There is an archaeology museum and many beautiful churches to explore. For dinner, I recommend La Locanda del Conte Nitto, which has beautiful food and views of the ancient streets of Amelia.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

Day 2 – Amelia to Assisi

Spend the morning finishing exploring Amelia and then head to the town of Assisi. If Assisi sounds familiar, it is because it is where St. Francis of Assisi was born. At the end of the town is the famous Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. The Basilica is stunning with views outside of the surrounding valley and colorful frescos inside. I recommend going early to beat the crowds.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

After that walk, through the town to the other side and head to the Rocca Maggiore. The Rocca Maggiore is the town’s ancient defense fort and overlooks the whole area. If you head to the top of the tower, you get an even better view.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

Stay the night in Assisi. You will want to, after all that walking. There is a public car park near the Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum hotel, which is the hotel I recommend in Assisi, check the rates here. Not only are the rooms located in a historic nunnery, but the hotel has a spa located in the Roman baths below. You can get a massage till eight at night, which is just the cure for you aching feet. Not only that you can eat with great views at the in-house restaurant of Eat Out, where the menu is seasonal and local.

Day 3 – Assisi to Gubbio

After enjoying your breakfast in Assisi, take the short drive to Perugia. Perugia is the capital of Umbria. It is known for its celebration of the arts. The highlight here is seeing the underground fortress, Rocca Paolina. The fort was started in 1540, and most of it was destroyed by the 19th century. Now you can explore the cellars and basements that are still standing.

Find more history in the short drive to Gubbio. Gubbio is a town built into the side of a small mountain and makes for stunning views of the city and the valley below. Due to it being integrated into the side of the mountain, you can take elevators from different levels of the town. There are tons of things to see in this city, but the architecture of dark gray stone buildings is intriguing and makes you fee like you have stepped back in time.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

Make sure you make it to the top level of the town to see the Cathedral of Gubbio. It has a stain glass window that is gorgeous. The views from up here are almost a must see. If you are really brave, you can take the funicular up to Basilica of Saint Ubaldo.

Day 4 – Gubbio to Siena

Spend a few hours in the morning exploring the things you didn’t get to see yesterday in Gubbio. Don’t forget to see the Palazzo dei Consoli built in the 14th century with running water. Then make a long drive to Siena. You are now in Tuscany! The entire historic center of Siena has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highlight of this is the Siena Cathedral with its amazing gothic architecture.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to FlorenceThen make a long drive to Siena. You are now in Tuscany! The entire historic center of Siena has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highlight of this is the Siena Cathedral with its amazing gothic architecture.

If you go to Siena in the summer, try to be there around the historic Palio di Siena. It is a medieval horse race that takes place in the Piazza del Campo. Who doesn’t want to see men ride horses through an ancient town in costume!

Day 5 – Siena to Florence

Given the short drive from Siena to Florence, you can spend the morning in Siena before heading to my favorite city in Italy, Florence. You will begin to see the rolling hills of Tuscany on this route. Driving through Umbria has you driving through the mountains, but now you will drive between them.

In Florence, you will return your rental car as driving in the historic center of Florence is limited to residences and can carry hefty fines if you do. Parking is also expensive. You will most likely have to return the car at the Florence airport. You can then take a taxi or the “Vola in Bus” shuttle, which takes you to the Florence train station.

There is so much to see in Florence, so you will need a few days to see it all. But on this first day, I recommend finding a museum that interests you and only do that on the first day. This way you won’t wear yourself out and can enjoy Florence to the fullest. I recommend the Hotel Plaza Lucchesi in Florence. I have stayed here on every trip I have had in Florence, check rates here.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to FlorenceBook tickets in advance and see the Uffizi Gallery on the second day. You will avoid the long lines to get in this way. The Uffizi Gallery has something for every art lover. Be sure to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus while you are there.

Have you gone on an Italian road trip, what was your favorite place? Share with us in the comments.

Europe, Italy, Travel

3 Umbrian Towns to Put on Your Bucket List

December 12, 2016

Umbria

Dotting the hills of Italy, medieval towns are to be found all over the countryside. Each one unique with a story to tell. Given their locations, I often think about the logistics of getting stones to build these towns up these steep hills and how many hours it took. Every town is beautiful in its own way, and I have been lucky enough to have visited several of these small magical towns in Italy. Here are three of my favorites in Umbria.

Amelia

Amelia has been a favorite of mine since last year when my friends took me there. Located about an hour and a half drive north of Rome. Amelia is claimed to be the oldest Umbrian town, and some say was founded around 1134 BC. Despite the age dispute, the minute you see Amelia you know it’s old. The walls are almost 11 and a half feet thick and surround the old town. You can enter the historic center through the Porta Romana walking or by car. Careful driving in as it is a one-way road and the streets are so narrow that people flatten themselves to walls as cars pass by.

Amelia, Umbria

Walk through the Porta Romana, and you can explore all of the historic center on foot. Look out for the old Roman road that has been uncovered in parts of the town. There is an archaeology museum that houses a large bronze statue of Germanicus that was found in 1963. A tour of the Roman baths is also possible; however the tour is given in Italian, but you can get English descriptions of what you are viewing.

Amelia, Umbria

Amelia is also home to one of my favorite restaurants to eat at in all of Italy, La Locanda del Conte Nitto. There are signs all over the town so that you won’t miss it. However, it is down a dark alley, but don’t let that discourage you. The food is fresh and local. My favorite thing here was the pistachio tiramisu! Not only that but you get to see more of the old Roman city that has been uncovered in the restaurant and has been glassed over for viewing.

Amelia, Umbria

Amelia, Umbria

Assisi

The birthplace of St. Francis is famous not only for being the birthplace of the saint but also for the large Basilica of St. Francis. The frescos inside the church are colorful and amazing. Several of them damaged by an earthquake in 1997 and restoration work continues.

Assisi, Umbria

While many flock to Assisi for St. Francis, walking the streets of Assisi to view the architecture of this medieval town was the draw for me. The walk from my hotel to the Basicilia should have only taken me about 15 minutes, but I think it took me an hour because I kept stopping to look at buildings.

Assisi, Umbria

Assisi, Umbria

Sitting above Assisi is the Rocca Maggiore castle. This fortification was built in 1174 and reduced to ruins in 1198 by the local populace. Starting in 1367 restoration was started and continued by several people over a hundred years. Seeing a castle of this size and being able to walk through it is a rare treat, but it isn’t up to standard when it comes to safety so walk slowly and use the hand rails when they are there. The ticket agent told me this as well when I entered. The best thing is to walk inside the walls to the turret and climb to the top of the tower. From here you can see all of Assisi, the surrounding valley, and the mountains. Even this deathly afraid of heights girl did it!

Assisi, Umbria

Assisi, Umbria

You can even sleep in a medieval church in Assisi, read my review of the Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum here.

Gubbio

I heard of Gubbio through an American blogger who lives in Florence as it is popular with Italian tourists. The town is built into the side of a hill. This makes not only for impressive architecture it also lends itself to the towns ingenious solution of getting from one level of the city to another without having to walk in a zig-zag pattern up the hills, an elevator! Each level of the town had elevator access to another level. Not only did this save me from exhaustion and tired legs, but I was also able to see much of the town in one day.

Gubbio, Umbria

The highlight for me is the Palazzo dei Consoli, which was built between 1332-1349. It dominates the Gubbio skyline and offers incredible views of the valley below. The Palazzo was the first building in Gubbio to have running water inside. It also houses the Iguvine Tablets, which contain the writings of the Umbrian language. The tablets provide insights into the grammar of the language, now dead.

Gubbio, Umbria

Gubbio, Umbria

The Cathedral of Gubbio is one of the prettiest churches I have seen. There is a beautiful circular window that depicts the three symbols of the evangelists, an eagle, an ox and a lion. The church is defined by the 10 pointed arches that support the roof.

Gubbio, Umbria

Driving from each town is the best way to see them all and to experience driving the hills of Italy. Seeing one of these ancient towns from below is the best way to get the full experience. It also gives you a good sense of what someone would encounter if they were going to try to invade one of these hilltop towns.

Have you been to any of these towns? What town in Umbria is your favorite? Share with us in the comments.

Hotel/Accommodation, Italy, Travel

A Room with a View: Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum Hotel

November 21, 2016

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum

Nothing will catch my attention faster than the word museum being in the name of a hotel. Sitting in Gubbio, Italy, I was planning where to sleep for the night. I was having a tough time deciding between staying Gubbio or heading to Assisi, Italy. In an unusual manner, I had not booked a hotel for the night or even decided if I was going to stay away from my apartment in Umbria. After searching for hotels in Gubbio and deciding that the one I wanted wasn’t available, I moved on to Assisi.

Choosing to sleep in Assisi might have been the best hotel choice I have ever made in my life! As I said, I was caught by the word museum in the name of the hotel and the gorgeous photos of the spa. To be honest, I don’t think I looked at pictures of the rooms at all. And normally I do some kind of research on the hotel, but I only read the TripAdvisor reviews and booked the Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum! The hotel looked stunning on my tiny iPhone 5, and that was enough for me. Only later did I discover it was a 13th-century monastery for Benedictine nuns.

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum

When I arrived, I did not think my room would be ready as I had only booked the room about two hours before. However, my room was ready, and they never let on if my last minute reservation was stressful. I had gone in the wrong entrance when I arrived, and my bag had been left at the spa entrance. While I was waiting for my bag to be brought up, I was offered a drink while I waited. During that time, they took my bag directly to my room, which was great since there is no elevator in the Nun Assisi Relais.

The Room

My room was room 12. Each room is different, and there are only 18 in total. Entering through a small double door, I walked into a small sitting area with the television. The seating options were a bench area and one lounge chair with a footstool. From the lounge area, you walk down a hallway to the bedroom. Along the way, you pass the closet and bathroom. The closet is a walk-in and is larger than almost every closet I have ever had! The bathroom is not large but has a wonderful rainfall shower and shower gel that smelled so good I brought it back to Doha with me. My only complaint about the bathroom was the mirror was up so high that I could only see my forehead.

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum

The bedroom contained a large and very comfortable bed. There was also a television in there. Once I laid down on the bed, I realized I had a stunning view of the Rocca Maggiore. The view was even better as the sunset. The room had air conditioning, but it was not what most Americans are used to, but I wasn’t hot through the night as I thought I would be. I discovered the reason why in the morning, linen sheets! I wanted to take them off the bed and bring them home with me. Want to sleep on these linen sheets, check rates here.

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum

The Spa

Once I arrived, I decided that I was in need of a massage from all the walking I had been doing all over Italy. I booked a massage for later in the day so I could still sightsee during the day. I was told to put on the robe in my room and go down to the spa a few minutes before my appointment.  Since I was going for a massage, I didn’t take my camera, which was a mistake. This is also where the museum portion comes into play. The spa is in the ruins of a Roman amphitheater. The space is gorgeous and immediately calming. Despite my wanting to explore the whole space, I had to go directly to my treatment.

The massage is one of the best I have had in my life. Unlike in the US, you lay on the table without a towel. I am assuming it is because Italians are less concerned about nudity than us Americans. It didn’t matter though as the table was heated and the massage therapist made me feel comfortable. It was a rough massage, but I felt so relaxed, I almost fell asleep. What I also liked is that the room was dark, there was relaxing music playing, and the massage therapist did not talk much.

There is also the option to do the Nun Circuit, which is entering several different rooms of different temperatures. It is supposed to bring immediate purifying and regenerating effects. There is also a multi-massage pool. All of this is just an excuse to go back since I wasn’t able to do any of this because I had a reservation at the restaurant.

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum

The Food

The hotel has a restaurant on the property. I found it amusing that the restaurant is called “Eat Out” since if you are staying at the hotel, you could consider it eating in. Anyway, the view of Assisi from the restaurant’s terrace is worth a visit alone. You can see most of Assisi from there, and it is especially popular when the sun is setting.

While Assisi is awash with ancient structures, Eat Out is thoroughly modern inside. The interior is clean and simple with neutral tones and dark wood. Some of the kitchen is open plan, so you can see the chefs working.

The menu changes with the season. Much of the ingredients are sourced locally and are organic. The portions are not large; the food is not complex but flavorful. The wine list was carefully selected and paired well with the menu choices. I ordered linguine with pork. I tend to order lots of pork when not in Qatar! The desert was a kind of cake covered in chocolate. Given my lack of enthusiasm for chocolate, I should have ordered something else. Overall, I loved the food and the experience and only wish I had been there longer to have a chance to taste more of the menu.

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum

Location

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum is located in Assisi just inside the historic gates of Assisi. Look for the white church across from the parking lot next to the bus stop. The exterior is plain white stone, so it blends in, and the sign is not obvious. The entrance is actually through the garden as I discovered after I entered through the spa. The hotel does offer parking, but I am not sure of the price as I parked in the public parking lot, which was not expensive for the 24 hours I was there.

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