Rome Travel Guide

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Umbrian Spring: Following St. Francis and then some - Assisi to Spello hike

Looking back at Spello
Spring in Rome always makes us take to the hills. The itinerary described here is a wonderful round trip from Rome via train. And even better (I say) are the start and end points – the historical and beautiful Umbrian towns of Assisi and the lesser known Spello.

Not sure what St Francis would think of the tourist spot
his hermitage has become
We warn you the hike is not easy. The ascent is over 2600 feet – and, if you can’t imagine what that amounts to, you probably shouldn’t do this hike. It’s about 9 miles of hiking, the first part straight up for what seems like an hour (even if you take the bus from the train station to the top of Assisi). The total hike will take you 6 or 7 hours.

St Francis in the Desert, in the Frick Collection, NYC
That first steep pitch takes you to St. Francis’s hermitage, a frequented spot with a tiny church. You can walk through the carved-out rock and see his bed of stone. It’s remarkably like Bellini’s 1480 painting “St. Francis in the Desert” in the Frick Collection in NYC.  And, for an interesting take on this painting, with lots of detail, see this blog.

There’s a road leading up to the hermitage too; so you have to handle all those pilgrims who drive up and playfully skip around the hermitage, while you’ve just worn yourself out and want only to sit.

Signs of Spello's flower festival
Pinturicchio painting in St. Andrea church
From the hermitage the path wanders past a refuge and to the top of the rather flat-topped Monte Subiaso. It’s blissfully downhill from there to charming Spello, which has an annual month-long flower festival and six (yes, six!) 12th-13th century churches.

Trail markers leave a little to be desired
We found this hike in Gillian and John Souter’s Walking in Italy and we recommend you buy the book, because the markings and directions are not easy to follow without it, and even with it. This is quite an open hike and so best in Spring and Fall.

Buy a bottle of wine in Spello, splurge on a first-class ticket on the train (the differential isn’t much from here because the ride is only a little over 2 hours) and enjoy yourself on the way back to Rome.


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