Spoleto - city of hills

On the return to Papiano from the Plains of Castellucio we dropped in to Spoleto in order to view the Ponte del Torri a spectacular ten-arcade aquaduct work that connects Colle Sant' Elia with Monteluco.
The tourist view of the Ponte del Torri
Built in the fourteenth century, and defended by towers (hence the name), this functioned as both a bridge and aqueduct; apparently a route led directly up to the Rocca to allow for quick escapes over the gorge in times of siege.

It can be reached after a long fine-view walk around the Rocca. However getting to the Rocca from the car parks, in the city, used to mean a long hot climb. But now the city has installed an enormous escalator that takes all the sweat out of the climb - which in that heat even I would have thought twice about doing, (maybe I'm getting old). Nonetheless it had been a long day and while I explored around the aqueduct - trying to find the best viewpoints - the others settled down at a roadside bar (with the tourist view - above) to a well deserved cold drink.

A view hidden from the road
I wandered down the road - not really having much luck, as the further down hill I went the more the view was obscured by roadside trees. Until I found  a break in the roadside railings allowing access onto a small hillside olive grove. Exploring further I came to a rocky overhang that provided virtually face on, unobstructed views through the aquaduct arches.

My picture of the day
I then had a long sweaty climb back uphill, to the others, where fortunately they had a long cool beer waiting for me.

Below is the viewpoint for my Picture of the day.

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Norcia and the Plains of Castellucio

Refreshed after a night at the Enoteca Piazza Onofri we headed south to Norcia - a small town located close to the Subillini National Park in SE Umbria.

Palazzo Comunale, Statue of St Benedict & Basilica of St Benedict dominate the town square
At first I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but I was immediately attracted to this small town - it seemed quite unlike the others we'd visited. Just as ancient but quite different - more homely, none of the smart shops, and that Italian style was a little more understated.

The town is completely surrounded by still intact walls that have stood since at least the 14th century - over 600 years. The town walls and those of the more important buildings are much thicker and obviously fortified. And - apparently after several eathquakes in the 18th century a Papal bill forbade any buildings within the town walls to be over 12.5m high.

So - clearly the look and feel of Norcia is at least in part due to a history of eathquakes (1328, 1567, 1703, 1730, 1859, 1971, 1979) which have over time erased much of its older architecture and created a range of subtly different 'earthquake' resistant styles.

But - while the architecture is striking, so also is the number of shops selling hams, cheese and truffles. Norcia is literally synonymous with salumi and black truffles, with the winter months being devoted, by the locals, to the hunting of wild boar and truffles.

Although we didn't have time to explore the resaurants here I'm sure that with such a wealth of local produce they would have been more than a match for the previous nights fare (although perhaps no match to the wine). Instead we purchased some bread and Porquetta with the intention of having a small picnic on the Plains of Castelluccio........

First view of the Plains with the 'Cloud Maker' in the background
While the Plains are best seen in the Spring, they still have an atmosphere about them in late September.

From our first viewpoint I could imagine Ghengis Khan and his hoardes of warrior horsemen charging across the Plain - making for the small hillside town of Castellucio. This image was later reinforced as we descended into and drove across the Plains and passed a small herd of horses that are apparently hired out for a days riding.

Castellucio rises from the Plains
 
Castellucio - gateway to the Sibillini Mountains

In my minds eye - Ghengis Khan and his Mongolian Hoardes gallup across the Plain
 

Bevagna - Enoteca Piazza Onofri

While Bevagna, surrounded by its ancient city walls, is an interesting and quite enchanting place. It's greatest secret is a most wonderful and welcoming Inn and Wine cellar - the Enoteca Piazza Onofri, located just off the Piazza Onofri (see Google Map at end of post).

In order to take advantage of a full night of wining and dining we had taken rooms at the Inn. These were spacious, comfortable, clean and quiet, and very reasonably priced. What more could you ask for? Good Food & Wine, that's what! And we got it and more!

We were the first group to arrive  in the small intimate restaurant, (it was a Thursday & early evening - too early for the locals). Normally this would make me feel conspicuous and uncomfortable, but  not here. The atmosphere and staff were warm, friendly and inviting.

Our hosts for the evening
We knew from the start that we were going to order the 'tasting' menu. These menu's are offered with  matching wines for each course - a great way to experience the full spectrum of flavours that Italy has to offer. The alternative would be to select from the extensive menu - helpful advice was always on hand (we made use of it anyway) - but choosing appropriate wine would have taken skill and lots of time as the wine list exceeds 400 wines!

If you love wine and esp. Italian wine take a look at the list here, (WARNING - link opens a 120 page wine list).

The food, wine and service were all beyond expectations, but to top it all we had the pleasure of witnessing the Art of the Sommelier........

We're all used to the rather pompous and pretentious rituals of the English wine waiter - showing us the bottle and offering a small tasting (and daring you to reject it), before pouring the wine. NOT here. Be prepared for pure theatre performed by a knowledgeable, friendly and thoroughly unpretentious and endearing young Italian Master, who clearly enjoys every moment of his job.

So what did he do, that others don't? Put simply he primed the glasses.

That is he took   a very small amount of wine and proceeded to rinse out each of our 'clean' glasses, by swirling the wine to cover the glass to the rim before discarding it. At the same time he observed the colour, viscosity and odour of the wine to make sure it was fit to serve.

After all this theatre, which took about a minute per glass, he knew the wine was in perfect condition and all that was left was for me to taste and agree to it being served.

The purpose of this ritual is to purge the glass of all chlorine (from the water used to wash the glass) and any odours from the environment where the glasses were stored. Furthermore when you come to taste the wine the glass is coated in a fine film which enhances the sight & bouquet of the wine. Try it for yourself - I have and it really does make a difference, even to a relatively inexperienced palette such as mine.

The perfect location for a quiet evening of fine food and wine

Full marks, alla salute, cin cin, cent'anni Enoteca Piazza Onofri!
   

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Marmore Falls - A waiting game

Iconic Marmore Falls shot - seen from Vasi square, along the Valnerina road
I had been waiting for this excursion all holiday and although it didn't dissapoint, the waiting around and my photos did.

Tourist Map of the Falls Complex
We started by visiting the top waterfall (upper outlook on the map) with a view to taking route 1 down to the lower outlook later. Unfortunately route 1 - below the viewpoint was closed. 

 At first it was just a slow trickle, ......

then after about a 20 min. wait the 'tap' was turned on....

 As route 1 was closed we knew we wouldnt have time to get down to the lower viewpoint before the 'tap' was turned off. Never mind - so we took route 5. This should have given us fine alternative views before the flow was stopped. No such luck - every viewpoint was blocked by overgrown shrubbery and the path itself had nothing else to recommend it. By the time we got back to the top car park the 'tap' had been turned off so we headed for the only 'restaurant' for lunch.

Please dear reader don't make the same mistake unless you like greasy slop (although the Germans did appear to enjoy it). Instead head straight down to the lower car park where Porquetta is on offer all day every day.

Feeling a little queezy after luch, we headed, by car, down to the lower outlook. However we still had at least an hour before the tap would be turned on again,
A great viewpoint on Path 4

so we decided to explore path 4. This was quite good and provided what I would later realise were perhaps the best viewpoints, esp. if you had a good zoom lens. But the 'tap' was off.

Back to the lower level just in time for the 'tap' to be turned on. I took lots of pictures and managed to get the one shot that seems to feature on all the postcards, calendars, etc.,
My, (one and only), Picture of the Day
but most were ruined by the spray from the upper fall. As the rate of flow increased the spray developed into a thick fog making all photography an underwater activity..... I spent the rest of that night cleaning my camera and lens. The lens in particular was quite difficult to clean - if I hadn't known better I would have said it was coated in honeydew.

So.... impressive falls - that I wouldn't have missed - but the photos were a disaster.

Link to Official Site: here (with opening times and admission prices) and wiki for all that important background information.

Assisi

A Panorama of Assisi
  We had intended to walk up Mount Subasio, and time permitting explore the city later. But it was so hot we decided instead to just enjoy a leisurely exploration of the city. Fortunately in the Piazza del Commune we came across a large group dressed in medieval clothing - drummers, crossbow-men, lords & ladies, etc. They attracted large crowds and created a lot of excitement, esp. among the photographers among us. Later we discovered that it was all a prelude to a crossbow competition between Assisi bowmen and another Umbrian city. (we like to think the opponents were from Gubbio, as we saw a practice session earlier in the week when we explored Gubbio).




 

 It's a wonder the drum skins didn't break given the 'wellie' these guys were putting into it - terrific!




Rocca Maggiore dominates the skyline of the back streets of Assisi

Rocca Minore
 In the past the Small Fort was also of a certain military importance: standing on the hill to the right of the Great Fort, to which it was once connected and which predates it.

Statue of 'Pilgrim' overlooks the Basilica from Piazza Superiore di S. Francesco
 

Papiano


Medieval Borgo Papiano

On arriving in Papiano, after our trip from Borgo di Vagli, we rested before going out in the early evening light (the golden hour) to take photos of this wonderful old village. Unlike most of the old Umbrian towns we've seen, that sit on the top of a hill, this lies in a valley rising up the valley side. It looks like a hillside town that's slipped down the side of a hill to hide in the valley. 
The light is gradually changing the colours of the buildings .....  

 until at last the buildings take on a pink glow.

typical narrow lanes flanked by ancient doors and buildings
(look at the thickness of the doorway wall)

someone up there isn't pleased with the church of Papiano

The old station hints at the location of a spaghetti western


Gubbio - An ancient city built on the side of Monte Ingino

We parked outside the city walls next to the ruins of the Roman Theatre. Once inside the city we walked around the Church of San Francesco.

Statue of St Francis outside the Church of San Francesco

To be totally honest I found little of any interest in the church - just one more of many, many Italian churches. The most interesting feature was the statue of the man himself outside the church.

Looking up towards Palazzo dei Consoli from Via Piccardi

We started our exploration of this most hilly and beautiful city by walking up Via Piccardi and taking the elevator up to the Piazza Grande and the Palazzo dei Consoli.

the Panorama from the walls of the Piazza Grande
In the foreground is the bell tower of the Church of San Giovanni,
in the background the Church of San Francesco and
the long arcaded building between the two is the Logge dei Tiratori

Having been built on the side of a hill the photo opportunities were many. Unfortunately I was snapping like a lunatic and not really looking. I guess I missed a lot and many of the shots I did take were spoilt by distracting power cables, etc.. When will I ever learn!! Argh!!!

The Cable-car links the city with Monte Ingino (908 metres above sea-level)
and the Basilica of Sant’ Ubaldo.
 We explored many of the small streets until we arrived at the cable car that took us in a birdcage basket to the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo (patron saint of Gubbio) at the top of Mount Ingino and overlooking the city - breathtaking.

After a meal of Porqetta and a beer we had a short wander around the church - there was a continuous stream of visitors paying respects to the mummified remains of Saint Ubaldo in a glass sarcophagus - gruesome. Clearly this church is a little different to the usual Italian churches we've seen.
My Picture of the Day
The Cathedral (Duomo) seen through one of the arches of the Roman Theatre
 Then we wandered back through the streets to the car park. But before leaving we took a quick tour around the Roman Theatre.

Borgo di Vagli - Monte del Croce Circular Walk


The start of our walk
 After a lazy, relaxing breakfast we headed out from Vagli (pronounced Valley) to climb Monte del Croce.
Borgo di Vagli from Dinah's Path
Dinah's path, the start of our route, lead straight out from House 1 (top right) where we were staying. Within a few hundred yards we started to pick up sign of Boar and Deer (the valley is a popular hunting ground for the locals), and the intense scent of wild mint - intensified further with every step we made as we brushed against the plants all along the track.

At first the going was easy with magnificent views: to the rear, Vagli, and to the right across the valley, Pierle Castle and the locals pottering in their small immaculately kept olive groves. The first tricky bit was a steep descent down damp shale finishing up by a small stream in an ancient wooded dell. The rest of the track took a gradual climb to the next waypoint. 

We continued to marvel at the views across the valley; the wonderful flora (we really felt the need for a book to indentify the numerous species - all new to us); and still the track was littered with sign of the local wildlife.

At the first waypoint we met a metaled track rising steeply uphill to our left and marked Private. This marked the start of what becomes an increasingly steep climb to the summit of Monte del Croce. 

Towards Lake Trasimeno
 The next waypoint, after passing through a group of perhaps 6 small holiday homes, turns left through mature oak woodland. The track at first level rises steeply with underlying ground rock exposed by streams formed after rain on the mountain - and perhaps made worse by motercycles or 4x4's heading up to the hunting grounds. But the rough climb is worth it for at the top are magnificent views of Lake Trasimeno. (However the views are, each year, becoming obscured as the trees grow higher).

From here the trees become a treasure for the forager - sweet ripe plums, blackberries, elderberry, sloeberry, etc.. You could easily make a meal for yourself.

The Monastery (& deserted village - top left)
On the final stage of the walk - from the small deserted hamlet above the monestary - the clouds opened; the wind blew, and we got wet. WET beyond anything we had experienced before (raindrops like golf balls - and just as hard - but not hail). After donning our 'waterproofs' we hid from the rain under the eves of a hunters cabin (tethered by huge chains to oil drums filled with concrete and semi submerged into the ground). It barely helped though as there was a massive waterfall gushing from the roof.

Eventually the rain stopped and we made our way back to House 1 at Vagli where we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening drying out our clothes and shoes (spread out in the now hot sun, on the roof). But not before .....

we shooed away a huge female Boar and her offspring who we found making a pig of themselves on the ripe figs in the garden.

What a place! I should have taken more photographs!
  


Siena


Picture of the day - Archangel Michael looks out over Siena from atop of the Cathedral Facade
The weather was set fine for the day and after 90mins travelling from Borgo di Vagli we arrived without incident at the Il Campo car park in Siena.

Every street was festooned with flags and ornate street lights.
This flag belongs to the Tartuca (tortoise) contrada. Traditionally, its residents were sculptors
Immediately outside the car park we were faced with a street full of flags - each ward (contrada) is represented by an animal or mascot, and has its own boundary and distinct identity.

Window shopping
Apart from the flags and colourful street lights, the streets were typical narrow streets of old Italy, bordered by lovely 'smart shops' selling everything from hand made paper to vegetables.


Ornate sculptures decorate the facade of the Cathedral
Eventually, after much window shopping, we reached the Cathedral Square. The architecture, and its decoration, is fabulous and lots of photos were taken. Alas none worthy of show, lots of converging verticals - oh for a tilt & shift lens. Never mind I'll have to make do with postcards and calenders.

Although we did eventually go inside the Cathedral, (I don't particularly enjoy churches etc., I'm usually dragged round them though by Barbara, who enjoys the atmosphere), we agreed the priority was to visit Piazza del Campo, the tower (Torre del Mangia), and have some lunch.


Piazza del Campo and Torre del Mangia - taken from our lunchtime Cafe with the 'superior' view.
On reaching the Piazza del Campo (of Pallio fame), we took many photos before being enticed into a Cafe - by its superior balcony view. There we had a very pleasant beer and a peppery ham & mozzerella panini. Very relaxing but on reflection it would have been better eating and watching the world go by from one of the tables in the Piazza.


One of the many obstructed viewpoints from the Torre del Mangia
After lunch we made our way to the Torre del Mangia and queued for 20mins for the privilege of climbing the 300+ steps to the top - hopefully for great views of the rooftops of Siena and surrounding countryside.

It wasn't a difficult climb just warm, and there were some great views but most were obscured by safety fencing or netting. 


The Torre del Mangia makes its presence felt wherever you go in Siena
On returning to terra firma we made our way back to explore the Cathedral, Crypt, Baptistry and finally the 'Panorama' - the original East wall of the Cathedral.

(The Cathedral was originally intended to be the largest in existence, with a north-south transept and an east-west aisle, as is usual, but after completion of the transept and the building of the east wall  the money ran out and the rest of the cathedral was abandoned).
The 'Panorama'provided the best uninterrupted photos of the day, esp. of the Torre del Mangia and the Piazza. But my favourite was the sillouette of the Archangel Michael - my Picture of the Day.  
 
My Picture of the Day

Finally another image I'll never forget - Siena has a large music school and all day we were serenaded from hidden music rooms and various street performers. However this poor girl (photo taken from the 'Panorama') just could not get it right. She insisted playing classic pieces at 33rpm instead of the normal 45rpm - so mournful. Never mind she kept us entertained all day. I hope she graduates, eventually, with honours.


A street entertainer who just couldn't get it right



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