A short distance away from Perugia, on the Mount Subasio it is located Assisi, the hometown of Saint Francis the founder of the Franciscan order. This spiritual atmosphere catches tourists and pilgrims from all over the world.
In the city centre is located the Piazza del Comune with monuments that go back to the 12th and 14th century and the ancient pagan Temple of Minerva: the temple itself dates back to the 1st century, although the Christian church of Santa Maria has been added in the 9th and the tower in the 13th century. The interior is baroque but nearby the altar there are still some Romans remains. Close by, under the square there’s the Roman Forum and a bit further the Pinacoteca with pieces of art, mostly frescos, from the 13th to the 17th century.
The Basilica di San Francesco rises over the once called Hell Hill, it was used for executions and was the place where St. Francis wanted to be buried, so this hill is now called Paradise Hill. The Basilica consists of the Lower Church, the Upper Church, the Crypt of St. Francis and the St.Tomb. The Lower Church was built in the 1228 and is where are located astonishingly beautiful frescos from Maestro delle Vele, Lorenzetti and Cimabue. The Upper Church has been built between the 1230 and 1253 and is where you can admire the 28 part frescos all around the walls of which Giotto is presumptively the author. Worthy of attention is also Cimabue’s Crucifixion. These frescos have revolutionized the art world with a new naturalistic representation for people and places, leaving behind the old gold Byzantine representation. The Crypt of St. Francis is where he is laid to rest the St. together with its four closest friends.
Another great religious personality of Assisi is St. Clare to which is dedicated the Basilica di Santa Chiara. This Umbrian Gothic church is where are enshrined the Saint’s remains, furthermore, in one of the chapels is located the wooden crucifix which changed St. Francis life.
Another great and renowned church is the St. Mary of Angels Basilica (Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli) dates back the 16th century and was built over the tiny Porziuncola chapel which was given to St. Francis after his conversion and it is now under the dome of the church.
The Cathedral of St. Rufino, Assisi’s Patron, dates back to the 11th century, has a roman style and a Neoclassical interior, also it contains the fountain where have been baptized both St. Claire and St. Francis.
The massive Rocca Maggiore (Great Fortress) dates from the 14th century and offers a stunning view on the Umbrian countryside.
What/where to eat
A trip to Assisi is the best opportunity to taste the delicious Umbrian gastronomic specialties: cheeses, including pecorino, and salumi are a must try for an aperitif or as an appetizer, but don’t forget first courses such as umbricelli, thicker spaghetti , and stringozzi to be seasoned with tomato sauce or truffle. Desserts are also not to be missed: the rocciata is a cake of medieval origin typical of Assisi, filled with apples, nuts and dried fruit, while the tozzetti with almonds are similar to the Tuscan cantuccio. In the city you will find many alternatives: small traditional taverns, restaurants made from historic buildings and modern wine bars and clubs. For a lunch or dinner based on local specialties, I recommend:
Bibenda Assisi. A wine shop that offers tastings of typical products to combine with excellent local wines, in a welcoming and intimate environment.
Locanda del Cardinale. Restaurant in the historic center of Assisi, housed in an ancient building decorated with splendid 16th century frescoes. Next to the proposals of the territory, also excellent modern dishes.
Il Vicoletto. In a small street near the center, an oasis of tranquility where you can savor refined dishes made with simple and genuine ingredients.
Osteria Piazzetta dell’Erba. A rustic and familiar environment that offers local dishes revisited in a modern key, with creative combinations. Hostaria Terra Chiama. An osteria-enoteca excellent both for an aperitif and for a dinner to discover the flavors of the Umbrian land, thanks to the use of km0 ingredients.
Enoteca Mazzini. A nice restaurant in the heart of Assisi, typical Umbrian dishes and an assorted cellar are the right mix for an aperitif or dinner.
Eat Out Osteria Gourmet. To surprise is not only the menu of refined dishes but also the splendid view from the panoramic terrace. Ideal in good weather.
What/where to buy
The olive trees surrounding the landscape of Assisi are the source of some of the city’s finest products, such as the Umbrian Olive Oil to try (and buy) with visits and tastings at the local mills. The same olive trees are also known for the particularly resistant wood, used by the skilled local artisans to produce excellent quality furniture and tools for sale in the small shops of the city. Around Assisi there are not only olive trees, but also vines from which the much appreciated Umbrian wines originate: among the most famous brands are Sagrantino di Montefalco, Rubesco, Grechetto, classic Orvieto, etc.
Dessert lovers cannot leave Assisi without having tried the local delicacies: in addition to the mentioned Rocciata and Tozzetti there are many types of perfect biscuits to give. Baci di Assisi are delicious almond paste pastries that go well with coffee or wine, while Mostaccioli di San Francesco are dry biscuits with must. Finally, since it is a place steeped in spirituality, there are also numerous religious-themed souvenirs, including the tau, a Franciscan symbol that recalls the letter T and has a meaning of peace and brotherhood. Among some of the most characteristic shops of the cities there are:
Franco Prosperi. The workshop-laboratory of this talented sculptor also houses a museum where you can admire works made with olive wood.
The Bottega dei Sapori. In the historic center, it is perfect for buying local gastronomic products and having a taste.
D’Olivo. A recommended shop to buy a handmade souvenir, with many products and household items made with olive wood.
Bottega del Monastero. A shop near the Basilica of Santa Chiara specialized in religious objects handcrafted in various Italian monasteries.