Assisi, known as the birthplace of Saint Francis, is one of central Italy’s most picturesque medieval hill towns. While you can visit Assisi on a day trip from other parts of Umbria, Assisi is a great place to spend a couple of nights (or more). This allows you to enjoy the atmosphere in the evening and following morning without so many tourists.
Start your day at Saint Francis Basilica. The church looks beautiful in the morning light and if you’re early enough you can beat the tour groups. You’ll have to pass through a simple security check to enter the area. The lower church, completed in the early 13th century in Romanesque style, is the oldest part. Inside are 13th and 14th century frescoes and stairs leading down to the tomb of Saint Francis. The Basilica Superiore, or upper church, has big Gothic arches, frescoes, and stained glass panels. The famous fresco cycle, the Life of Saint Francis, contains 28 panels painted from 1296 to 1304. The Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
* Optional guided tour: See the highlights on a 3 hour small group walking tour of Assisi.
Go to the Bosco di San Francesco, a trail through the woods that starts outside the upper church. This is a pleasant, mostly downhill, walk that ends in the valley below at a small visitor center and church. Crossing the bridge, stop for lunch at Osteria Il Mulino. If you want to walk further, there’s another part of the trail that goes along the river. Otherwise eturn up the hill to town, where you’ll see good views of the Basilica on your way.
Go underground at Assisi Sotterranea to see the excavations of the ancient Roman Forum. Also ask at the tourist office (in advance) if there are any tours going to see the Roman house excavations. Under the glass floor of the restaurant at Locanda del Cardinale, you can get a look at part of an excavation too.
Visit the Romanesque Cathedral of San Rufino. Inside is the baptismal font where Saint Francis and his follower, Saint Clare or Santa Chiara, were baptized. Below the church, visit the crypt where Saint Francis went to pray. Then continue walking to see the Church of Santa Chiara.
In the evening stop for an apertivo at the bar in Piazza del Comune, the main square of Assisi.
Start your morning with the locals for a cappuccino and an excellent pastry at Bar Sensi, on Corso Mazzini, off Piazza del Comune. Perched above Assisi, you can see the Rocca Maggiore, 14th century castle ruins, on the hill. Walk up the hill to the castle where there are beautiful views of Assisi and the valley below.
Day Trip to Spello option: If you’d like to visit another pretty medieval town, take the short train ride (about 10 minutes) from Assisi’s train station to Spello. Since Assisi’s station (connected to town by a bus) is near Santa Maria degli Angeli, you can also visit the church (see below) before or after you go. Spello is a charming medieval town similar to Assisi but with much fewer tourists. Tiny picturesque lanes, steep staircases, crumbling Roman ruins and sweeping views over the valley below make Spello a picture-perfect spot.
Monastery hike option: To hike to the Eremo di San Francesco, a small monastery on the slopes of Mount Subasio, walk from the Rocca Maggiore towards the Rocca Minore, a single tower, then down to the Porta Cappuccini (or you can just start here). By the Porta, look for signs pointing toward the Eremo. It’s a 4 kilometer hike with a climb of about 250 meters. If you decide to take the hike, you might want to shop in town first and pack a picnic lunch. At the monastery you can visit the small cave that Saint Francis used as a retreat and walking paths in the wooded area.
Easier walking option: From Assisi, you can walk downhill toward the train station, 3 kilometers away, and visit the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Inside the big church is the tiny Porziuncola chapel where Saint Francis and his followers worshiped and the Cappella del Transito with the cell where St Francis died in 1226. Outside the Basilica is a rose garden. If you’re doing the walk in summer, you’ll probably pass fields of sunflowers in bloom. You can take the bus from the train station back up the hill to town or you can walk back and enjoy the views of Assisi. Of course you can skip the walk altogether and take the bus both ways.
Wine Tasting Excursion: Wine tasting in the Umbrian hills with transportation, lunch, and a visit to the pretty village of Montefalco.
In the evening, go to Bibbenda to taste wine served with cheese, cold cuts, or bruschette.
Recommended Lodging: Brigolante Guest Apartments are in a historic palazzo overlooking the main square, a perfect location with great views and a helpful owner.
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