Assisi – A breathtaking day in Umbria

From where we were staying at La Pievuccia  (Castiglion Fiorentino) it took us about 55 minutes to drive to Assisi. Once we’d left the motorway, we followed fields full of sunflowers, along winding, tree lined lanes, making our way toward what looked in the distance to be something from a film set. A beguiling destination that many a religious pilgrim has travelled to since the 13th century, in honour of St. Francis. The ancient town of Assisi is a sight to behold.

With it’s narrow streets, steep hills and stunning piazzas you could easily imagine you had stepped back in time whilst exploring Assisi. The views from every laneway are breathtaking, the little ornate doors on every building promising even more beauty behind.

You can’t visit Assisi without making your way to the vast Basilica di San Francesco complex, home to an unimaginable collection of medieval frescoes as well as the tomb of St. Francis.

The Basilica di San Francesco. 

The Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi is named after St. Francis who was born here and founded the Franciscan religious order in the town in 1208. UNESCO collectively designated the Franciscan structures of Assisi as a World Heritage Site in 2000, and it’s obvious why. This is absolutely the jewel in Assisi’s crown! The majestic Basilica has to be seen to be believed. The whole complex is magnificent.

The upper church – Basilica Superiore, is decorated with 28 frescoes by Giotto and are the stand out artistry in the church in my humble opinion. Each fresco depicts a scene from the life of St. Francis. They are stunning! It’s hard to believe these vibrant frescos were completed centuries ago, and almost incomprehensible for the kids!

The lower church – Basilica Inferiore, is home to more frescoes, this time by Cimabue, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini. In the lower sanctuary is the Cripta di San Francesco – the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi.

The upper church definitely has a different ambience to the lower, undeniably more about the celebration of life. The lower rooms are darker and seemingly solemn, more of a reflection of the spirit of St.Francis and his Franciscan order.  Note: There are plenty of worshippers and people who have obviously come here solely to pray, so it’s vital that visitors are respectful of that.

Whatever you plan for your day in Assisi, give yourself plenty of time to explore this incredible church. Take your time, breathe in your surroundings, and I promise you will be blown away!

According to the UN, the town of Assisi has a singular importance for its role in the diffusion of the Franciscan Order and for its “continuity of a city-sanctuary” from its Umbrian-Roman origins to today.

Top tip: Out of respect, you mustn’t take photographs or make too much noise inside the The Basilica di San Francesco. 

Like most of Italy, Assisi has a long history of local artisans. You can see throughout the town that many are still going strong today.  **Save your holiday money and spend it on local crafts. There is plenty for the kids to buy too, so make sure you set their budget before going!

Small delicatessens are bursting with regional specialties like local cured meats, dried pasta. Umbrian chocolates are a MUST. We spent a whole day wandering the lanes of Assisi, making our way in and out of beautiful churches, and of course eating our way through some of Italy’s finest nougat, gelato and cakes. Even with young children, Assisi is an easy and ‘must do’ day trip.

Note: Your shoulders must be covered in The Basilica di San Francesco

The town of Assisi is spotlessly clean, and filled with many cafes and restaurants for when you need refreshment. Make sure you find out what the restaurant cover charge is, as it can be really pricey to sit and eat in some places.  We visited in September, which I imagine was one of the quieter times of year, yet it was still hard to get a seat in the restaurants, without a huge surcharge.

Top tip: No matter what, stay in town for an early supper and watch the sun set, overlooking the valley.

I highly recommend Assisi, not only for the incredible scenery, but also for a huge learning experience for all ages. This is a place steeped in incredible history, which you can feel with every step you take.


 

Other highlights in Assisi

Rocca Maggiore – a 12th-century fortress perched high in the hills, and the Roman Temple of Minerva and Roman Forum. The Rocca Maggiore is a majestic castle which dominated, for more than 800 years the citadel of Assisi and the valley of Tescio, constituting the most viable fortification for their defence.

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Rocca Maggiore – Visit Assisi

Duomo di San Rufino – The San Rufino Cathedral or simply Assisi Cathedral is a favourite spot among pilgrims due to its connection to St. Francis’ life.

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Duomo di San Rufino

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva –Not to be confused with the church of the same name in Rome, this church is built inside a converted 1st century BC temple dedicated to the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva.

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Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Santa Maria degli Angeli- St. Mary of the Angels is a 16th-century, domed church located about 2.5 miles down the hill from Assisi.  We drove down and parked very easily. This Basilica is most famous for being home to the Porziuncola, a tiny stone building believed to be the home of St. Francis and his followers. Today the Porziuncola is a small church on the inside of Santa Maria degli Angeli with qeues of devout Catholics waiting to get inside and say their prayers. This incredibly ornate building is thought to be the house where St. Francis founded the Franciscan order and also where he died. This church is not only a must see for the devout and for pilgrims but also anyone with an interest in history and history of the Catholic church.

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Fun fact: the Porzuincola isn’t the only building within a building owned by the Catholic Church. The Holy House of Loreto is a structure that was brought to Italy, with some difficulty, all the way from Jerusalem because it was thought to be the house of the Virgin Mary. Like the Porziuncola, it’s a major pilgrimage site.

Spot : The gold-plated statue of the Madonna degli Angeli (“Madonna of the Angels”), will watch over you as you enter the square.

 

Whatever time of year you decide to visit Assisi, make sure you do your research online beforehand. There are many religious festivals, which increase visitor numbers hugely.

Have a beautiful time!

Liv xx


 

Getting to Assisi

Flights – We flew Royal Brunei from Melbourne to London (approx. $4,500 for us all), then British Airways, London Heathrow to Bologna (approx. £500 for us all). Flights to Italy were hard to come by as we left it fairly close to lift off before we booked. We checked our luggage in when we left Melbourne, and it went all the way through to Bologna which was awesome, and saved us the hassle of checking in again!

Drive – We hired a car with Budget/Avis and collected it at Bologna airport. We drove from our Farm Stay in Castiglion Fiorentino which was a little under an hour away from Assisi.

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. – St. Francis of Assisi

A few days in San Casciano Val di Pesa

We are the sort of travellers who won’t usually visit the same place twice. Well, why would you? There’s a wide world out there, waiting to be explored! That was until we took the children to Tuscany and fell in love, not only with our surroundings but also the Tuscan people. They are renowned for being laid back life lovers, filling their days with hard work, and their evenings with great food, family, and impeccable wine. So, Tuscany drew us back and boy did we have a wonderful time again.

Tuscany is a wonderful destination for a family holiday, not just because of the splendid vistas and the impeccable wine, but also the huge variety of things to do and see. From outstanding cities and art galleries to pristine beaches and boat trips to incomparable museums and churches, Tuscany really does have it all.

Over the next few posts, I will fill you in on what we did on our latest adventure to Italy.

First stop San Casciano Val di Pesa.

San Casciano Val di Pesa – 15km Southwest of Florence

We stayed in San Casciano Val di Pesa for a few nights at the very start of our trip, as we were heading to a wedding at a nearby castle. Like all of Tuscany’s small towns, it is incredibly beautiful. This is a truly authentic Chianti town, and an easy trip to or from Florence by car, bus or train.

The medieval walled town of San Casciano Val di Pesa is very easy to get around on foot, with plenty of fashion boutiques, restaurants, cafes, churches and museums. Luckily for our Gelato loving kids, there was plenty of that on offer too! The play park could easily win a medal for having the best view of any park in Italy and is perfectly placed in close proximity to great cafes. Always a winner! There were a few market stalls dotted about the park selling local cheese, fruit and veg, and freshly caught seafood. There was another selling what can only be described as Nonna’s underwear which the children made a beeline for! We purchased some cheese but sadly had no space in the case for Nonna’s Knickers.

IMG_6127Top tip: Have a look online at the long list of events held here throughout the year, as it’s a busy little town with plenty to share with tourists! Market day (on a Monday) is definitely worth a peek!

Eating out in San Casciano Val di Pesa is easy! When we asked our B&B owners where we could eat a good lunch, we were told “here, everywhere is great”. They weren’t lying! We ate three meals out and each one was impeccable. Oh the tomatoes in Italy!!!!

The Wilson’s Top Picks in San Casciano Val di Pesa

STAYB&B Art – This small B&B is traditionally Tuscan. The rooms are quaint tuscan style, spotlessly clean and have just the things you need in a room. (Yay for a decent hairdryer). Breakfast was an array of cured meats, cheeses, fruit, cereals, yoghurts and homemade croissant! Delish! IMG_6239

EATLa Cantinetta del Nonno (Via IV Novembre, 18, 50026 San Casciano in Val di Pesa) Most definitely  the best lasagne you’ll ever eat! Yes, quote me on that!

SEE“Giuliano Ghelli” Museum of Sacred Art, located inside the Church of Santa Maria del Gesù (enter through the library on Via Lucardesi, 6). The museum hosts many religious-themed paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries, and is made up of a sacred art section, an archaeological section and a section dedicated to primitive dwellings. The museum hosts a rare piece from the Master of Cabestany, an anonymous sculptor active in the second half of the 12th century. It’s a sculpted column representing the birth and the Baptism of Christ, with plenty of details. His figures are peculiar: they have long faces, almond-shaped eyes and many are folded in drapery.

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La Cantinetta del Nonno

 

SPOT– Make a beeline for the piazza, and see if the kids can spot the majestic silver stag standing atop the Medieval town wall.  This is a contemporary artwork by Mario Merz that represents the freedom of nature. 

Top Tip: Coffee is always cheaper if you stand at the bar to drink it, plus, it’s a really local thing to do, so you’ll fit in like a gem!!

All in all Casciano in Val di Pesa is wonderful place to stop for a few days. If you are thinking of visiting Tuscany you can easily day trip to Florence and Sienna from Casciano in Val di Pesa, whilst also making the most of this historic town and it’s surroundings. If you’re travelling to Italy soon, have a wonderful time! 

Liv xx 

Getting to Casciano in Val di Pesa

Flights – We flew Royal Brunei from Melbourne to London (approx. $4,500 for us all), then British Airways, London Heathrow to Bologna (approx. £500 for us all). Flights to Italy were hard to come by as we left it fairly close to lift off before we booked. We checked our luggage in when we left Melbourne, and it went all the way through to Bologna which was awesome, and saved us the hassle of checking in again!

Drive – The drive from Bologna to Casciano in Val di Pesa is a little over two hours. We hired a car with Budget/Avis and collected it at Bologna airport. The whole process was painful. It took about 90 mins to collect the car, there were huge queues (make sure you get a ticket to be in line), not many staff, and it was all just a headache after such a long journey. They did the usual ‘upselling’ of all sorts of insurance this and insurance that, trying to baffle everyone stood at the counter, so beware! Make sure you know what you need and what you don’t so that you’re ready and armed with all the facts! Our friends hired with another company and got hit with a HUGE insurance add on which hadn’t been made clear at all! You have been warned!

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Viaggiare amplia la mente