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davidx Spello - A travel report by David
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Spello,  Italy - flag Italy
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davidx's travel reports

Spello, Assisi and Perugia – an Umbrian break

  14 votes
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We stayed at Spello and visited Asisi and Perugia from there. Spello has least obvious tourist appeal of the three but compensates for this by having much less in the way of crowds.

Typical street in Spello
Typical street in Spello
In Umbria, as far as I have yet seen, only the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi attracts the dense crowds to be seen in the famous Tuscan resorts of Firenze and Pisa – and no doubt others. Perugia attracts a fairly large number of visitors but is still very manageable. Spello is in the anonymous position of being a place increasingly recommended by guidebooks as the place to go to see Umbria without crowds – so it’s becoming ever fuller of people who don’t want to see many other people! No doubt it will eventually be crowded with them. The view of these places from the railway is not a real reflection of their values. Perugia around its station is, like many other places, not very attractive. Assisi doesn’t look much at all because it’s so far from the train but the first sight of Spello going south is extremely impressive, largely because it’s the first hilltop town close to the railway that is reached. I am sure if we’d stopped there on the way south, I should have been more excited with it. The upper part of the village doesn’t, to my mind, compare with Spello or some of the hilltop places we saw in Abruzzo but the entrance around the city gate at the bottom is great and I wish we’d had time to look at what seemed an interesting market there the day we left. There is no trace of a bus at the station and the one taxi was just leaving. Fortunately our hotel was at the bottom of the hill so I don’t know how frequent buses may be from the square at the bottom of the village to however high they go. We walked up but the top part was really quite an anti-climax. One road that was normally closed to traffic coming downhill was open under police control and a priest was standing outside the largest church throwing [holy?] water over the cars. I presume this was in connection with some sort of occasion rather than a daily occurrence.

Favourite spots:
Cathedral and Fontana Maggiore [1278!] - Perugia
Cathedral and Fontana Maggiore [1278!] - Perugia
Perugia, capital of Umbria, is a delightful city once you have taken the bus from the station to the top of the city. I suppose we should have expected the main city of Umbria to be palatial if guidebooks did not stress so ardently the claims of Toscana. In fact it was far more palatial [literally] than we expected and the Piazza di Italia at the top with the capital building of the province is quite spectacular. The cathedral, closed during our visit, is nearby and it seems that almost every building was an impressive palace. Behind the main palace is a park area with the most spectacular views over sundry of the city’s churches below, of which the Monasterio di San Pietro with a fine slender spire, practically in line over two other impressive church complexes. We didn’t have time to visit but the tourist brochure for Perugia claims that it has a particularly impressive picture collection.

What's really great:
Basilica of San Francesco at Assisi
Basilica of San Francesco at Assisi
How could Assisi not provide something special? We went there expecting something spectacular from the Basilica di San Francesco, surely the best known Italian saint. We also expected formidable queues. Both the positive and negative exceeded our expectations. However the number of small lanes and narrow streets inviting closer inspection and the number of other excellent churches was not something we anticipated. Perugia was still to come and the crowds made us glad enough to keep our visit short but I’m glad we stayed on the bus until the terminus at the top of the city and we very much enjoyed the walk down to the Basilica. The basilica itself consists of two churches, one on top of the other and it is, as you might expect, the lower one that has the associations with the saint and is by far the more interesting. To find the bus [C] back to the station simply leave the complex through the arch at the end of the cloister area and turn right.

Above the Rocca Paolina - seat of Umbrian government, perugia
Above the Rocca Paolina - seat of Umbrian government, perugia
One particular sight at Perugia demands a section to itself. This is the Rocca Paulina, a fortress built into the rock below the parkland area at the back of the main palace in the Piazza Italia. It is reached by a long escalator beside the palace and there are huge chambers and a small museum [€1] There is then a whole series of escalators through the rock to a lower exit. This was started as early as 1540 when Pope Paolo III commissioned an architect to build fortifications to secure Perugia from attack. There were five floors with facilities for cannon. Now, of course, a considerable number of people just use the escalators as an easy way to and from work.

View towards city from near the hotel, Spello
View towards city from near the hotel, Spello
The Prato Paolucci was, as I’ve already suggested, fairly close to the station at Spello and this avoids the need to trudge up the steep hill with packs on. It would be ideal for a family with young children as there are some good play facilities and it’s set back a bit from the road allowing a fair area for them to use their energy.
Bedrooms are in single storey adjacent buildings, not attractive from outside but spacious and comfortable en-suite rooms within, giving a fine view out at the back.
There are no telephone facilities unless you have a telephone card and the breakfast in the main building is just about adequate but its one of the cheaper places and its position makes it a good choice..

Detail of door panel, San Francesco, Assisi
Detail of door panel, San Francesco, Assisi
I suspect that the walk up to the top might have been better once the flood-lighting was on. We are early birds for bed but there were seats and a table outside each of the rooms at our hotel and a number of guests were taking advantage of them to sit outside well after darkness and enjoy the view of the town. These included a couple from the Netherlands. The man was talking to us about where we lived and asked if we didn’t have too many fleas to attract tourists! He meant midges – and we don’t anyway.

A street in Assisi
A street in Assisi
The main area in Spello for the residents to congregate seemed to be the large square at the entrance to the village, where the buses to other villages start and the market is held.

Colourful corner but the light was going fast! Spello
Colourful corner but the light was going fast! Spello
Of the three places Spello was the only one where we had more than an ice cream. We went there the night after a veritably huge meal [that will be described in a later travelogue] at Monte Reale in Abruzzo and we didn’t want too much to eat. Therefore we chose a pizzeria near to the bottom of Spello, meaning to try a trattoria higher up the following night. As the next day went on, we found ourselves increasingly thinking of the night before and decided to return to the same place and have something other than a pizza. We went and looked at the menu carefully and guess what we had. That’s right; pizzas again.
The pizzeria is Il Frantoio. If you go to Spello at all, you are bound to see it and I warmly recommend it, pretty cheap and quite delicious.
A general point for eating in the area is that truffles don’t command the absurd prices they do in France. I neither know nor care whether you get the same thing. I simply love the Italian truffles.

Other recommendations:
Spello's most distinctive tower.
Spello's most distinctive tower.
I’ve mentioned Bill Thaler’s website on Umbria already in my Trevi report but he himself says that Spello has the fullest report of all there and it’s fine on the other places as well. Cosiderable information on Perugia and Assisi can also be accessed from http://www.italiami

Published on Sunday June 4th, 2006

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Sat, Jun 17 2006 - 01:15 AM rating by downundergal

I love this area and I loved ypur report especially as I seem to have a thing for photos of small alley's filled with flowers and no I didn't get sick of this is after being in Spain neither!

Tue, Jun 06 2006 - 11:16 PM rating by st.vincent

Three delightful towns David and it seems a bit quieter than the likes of Firenze

Sun, Jun 04 2006 - 03:25 AM rating by marianne

It looks as if there were not too many tourists about when you were there. May is probably the best time to visit. Beautiful view from your hotel. Spello looks very attractive, I like the first photo in this report. It must have veen lovely to wander about these narrow streets.

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