We picked up our car (a lovely little Nissan Micra this morning and successfully navigated Firenze traffic back to the Residenze Johlea I. We then found a typical Italian parking space (i.e., stopped the car in such a manner that other vehicles and pedestrians could get by!), loaded the car and left for the Italian countryside.
It was a perfect day for driving and the hills of Tuscany are as beautiful as advertised. We stopped for lunch by the road on the outskirts of Cortona. This is the area that Frances Mayes wrote about in her popular work Under the Tuscan Sun. There were some great views from our impromptu lunch spot.
Then, on to Perugia, where we met Suzanne. We had not seen her for nearly five months, so we had a great reunion. Unlike Pisa and Firenze, Perugia is a hill town, so getting around (on foot) means a lot of up and down. And, these hills are steep!
Assisi is a very lovely town and today was the last day of Calendimaggio, a mediaeval spring festival held each year at this time. Two town teams (Parte di Sopra – the high town and Parte di Sotto – the low town) compete against each other in various ways – archery, flag tossing, choir-singing, etc. There is a great pageant with many people (we figure between 500 and 1000!) in costume. It is truly a family affair with people of all ages participating. The music was beautiful and there were many interesting things to see, particularly in the back streets which served as staging areas for the main event.
Suzanne packed us a great picnic lunch which we ate in beautiful surroundings – overlooking Umbrian countryside and being overlooked by various remnants of old Assisi town walls.
Assisi is probably best known for San Francesco (St. Francis) and of course there is a huge basilica devoted to him. The lower church contains his tomb. The upper church contains many beautiful frescoes by Cimabue and Giotto, some of which were damaged in an earthquake in 1997. Outside the basilica is a lovely walk past a rose garden, overlooking even more beautiful Umbrian countryside.
The hills of Umbria provided the backdrop for today’s circuitous drive to Orvieto and back. Southeast of Perugia (our current HQ), Orvieto is physically situated on a volcanic plug. Of course, there is the local Duomo, which is particularly well known for its façade. Orvieto is an especially lovely town (definitely worth a return visit), with some spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
A very nice dinner tonight (with the exception of the unimaginative Perugian bread) in our hotel (they have an excellent restaurant), where we have another great room/suite. We’ve been very fortunate with our accomodations thus far.
And, speaking of food, contrast this mobile food stand with our Canadian chip trucks. Yes, that is a whole roast pig (porchetta) that you see! It is a common sight in these parts.
We didn’t leave Perugia today. Laundry in the morning; then after a slow climb to centro storico (did we mention that it is hilly here?), we met Suzanne after her morning classes. She attends the Italian University for Foreigners.
While we had been in centro storico (did we mention that it is hilly here?) a couple of times for dinner, Suzanne gave us a more extensive tour today. Perugia is another lovely hill town (one of the largest), including old Roman aqueducts. The centrepiece is Piazza IV Novembre, with the Fontana Maggiore, built in 1278 CE.
On a very clear day (it was a little hazy today), you can easily see Assisi on the other side of the valley. And, we eventually left (after some wonderful gelato) through the Porta Santa Susannah, which, of course, required a photo of Susan and Suzanne. Great pizza tonight at a little ristorante-pizzeria (La Nuit) we discovered near the hotel.
Today we went on another day trip out of Perugia with Suzanne playing hooky from school. First we went to Gubbio which is YAVAHT – Yet Another Very Attractive Hill Town. Somehow it seemed even prettier than the others, probably because it was such a gorgeous day – sunny and clear and about 25º.
Tomorrow is May 15, when Gubbio holds the annual Festa dei Ceri, which the Michelin Green Guide translates as Candle Race. The ceri are strange wooden poles each topped with the statue of a saint which are raced through the streets from the centro storico to a basilica which is way up a hill. Gubbio also has the remains of a Roman amphitheatre near which we ate a picnic lunch.
After Gubbio we drove a small hilltop village called Montone which we wanted to see because it contains a small apartment that can be rented weekly which we think we might like to come back to at some point. It’s a lovely spot with views in all directions as it seems to be at the very top of the hill that it is on. We think we might go for it!
We liked dinner so much at La Nuit last night that we went back again! And, tonight was our last night in Perugia, and therefore with Suzanne. It’s been a wonderful visit and we’re sorry it’s been so short. But she will be back in Canada in about seven weeks.