Browsing Tag

Umbria

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.

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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.

Europe, Food, Hotel/Accommodation, Italy

Visiting Friends in Italy

August 3, 2015

SONY DSCWhen you are an expat you make friends quickly, but oftentimes people leave to move to another country or back home. Sometimes you never see those people again. Then there are the people you keep in contact with and see if you are able to get together. This is the case with my friends in Italy. I met them while living in Grand Turk. They would have me and other people over for long lunches that sometimes led to dinner or dinner that led to lots of wine. Both times I went to Grand Turk in 2011 I paid them a visit. I even brought them tortilla chips in my carry on once because they couldn’t get them or tortillas in the store there. We have kept in touch over the years. Eventually, they left Grand Turk to move to Italy where he is from. Even before they made the move, we had talked about me coming to visit since I would be so close. I was determined to make it there this year as they are always showing me lovely photos of their village and I missed my friend’s cooking!

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I have now decided that visiting friends should be the only way to travel! They showed me things I would never have found without them and it was also very relaxing. Also the area, Umbria, they live in is absolutely stunning. They live in the village of Alviano, Italy. The historic part of the village is small, but there is plenty to do in the surrounding area. You will need a car to visit some of these places and possibility even to visit Alviano. In Alviano Scalo, there is a train station, but you would need to arrange a taxi to take you to historic Alviano. Only a few of these things are in Alviano, but are in the surrounding area. I highly recommend you rent a car and explore Umbria or all of Italy.

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The castle! It seemed every village I went by had a castle on a hill. Alviano was no exception. The castle is still used as the city hall, but has it’s own history. It was built in the 15th century. Inside the castle is a small chapel with frescos from the 17th century. Unfortunately, I decided to be technology free this afternoon and had no camera with me, not even my phone so I didn’t get pictures of the frescos. There is also a small museum in the castle that you can visit. However, you might want to bring a translator app as I am guessing the labels are all in Italian like they were in the rest of the castle. Here is a link to the castle’s website. Behind the castle is the church. The church bells ring in Alviano all day, which is charming till you are trying to sleep! The people of Alviano take great pride in their village do lots to maintain it. Saturday is market day and there were fresh fruits and flowers to buy. Go early though as it ends around 1pm.

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They also took me took a local cold sulfur spring. I did some research and there are many spas in Umbria with natural springs both cold and hot. The local spring was ice cold. I could barely put my feet and legs in at first. Slowly you get used to it and it was so hot outside, it started to feel good. I did manage to dip myself up to my middle but no further. My friends were much braver and one of them went under the water. The pool they have created isn’t deep but you can lie down and immerse your whole body. Since there was no air conditioning and Italy was having a heat wave, I began to appreciate the cold. My legs were numb when we got out. My friends say this is a local secret, so I won’t tell you the name of the spring and I couldn’t tell you where it was anyway! So if you make it to Alviano then ask a local and they might tell you where it is. If not, I am sure you can experience this at a local spa.

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Being Italy, there are numerous restaurants in the area, but you may not be able to find them without some guidance. Many are on small roads and don’t always look like restaurants. My favorite was Il Fontanile. Another place I wouldn’t have found without my friends. I ordered the Stinco. It has a longer name on the menu, but I didn’t write it down. Don’t worry if you want to order, just say Stinco and they will know. It sounds terrible right?! However, stinco is the word for pork shin. The pork shin is slow cooked all day with seasoning. This one had rosemary stuffed inside it. This is by far the best thing I have ever eaten. The portion is large though and I couldn’t finish it. Il Fontanile makes everything homemade and the meat is acquired locally. The homemade pizza looked amazing and they handmade everyone I saw as we were sitting by the pizza oven.

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Get out and explore. My friends took me to several towns that had many historic sites, i.e. more castles! I recommend Amelia, which is a larger town. The historic part of Amelia had streets so narrow, I wasn’t sure how we were going to fit down them in the car. People walking the street had to press themselves into the walls so we could go by! They also were having a festival that weekend. Many of the small towns have festivals or sagras throughout the summer and you should try to find out where before you go. Another town that was worth exploring was Goive. The castle in Giove was at one time owned by the famous Italian family Farnese.

Where to stay? There are too many options in Alviano itself. I looked and there were only two Airbnb options in Alviano proper. The newer part of Alviano, Alviano Scalo may have a hotel, but I couldn’t find one. Il Fontanile has six rooms though and is very close to Alviano. The restaurant was so beautifully done; I am sure the rooms are the same. Bonus is dinner is easy to find. If Il Fontanile isn’t your thing, then I recommend looking into Airbnb to find a house or apartment to stay in, as you will feel more like you live there and can experience Umbria in all its glory.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post when I talk about the best attraction in the area!