The Palladian Traveler rolls on with Insight Vacations on its “Country Roads of Italy” journey through Umbria and Tuscany. In his seventh dispatch, he details his visit to a town noted to have more saints-per-kilometer than anywhere else in the world: ahs-SEE-zee.
Two night’s sleep and one-and-a-half days of touring now in the rearview mirror, our band of merry media — guests of Insight Vacations’ “Country Roads of Italy” journey around Umbria and Tuscany — climbs aboard the business class motorcoach without a care in the world, unless you consider the filing deadlines set by editors back home, the collective Perry Whites who gave the okay to go on this familiarization trip in the first place, who wait impatiently for their travel writers-photographers to start dispatching ink and frames that are fit to print.
Belinda, our tour director-slash storyteller, greets us at the landing above the stairs with a smile and a hearty BUONGIORNO! Buckled in and all accounted for, Carlo, the skipper of our ship, gets the nod and puts the sleek cruiser in gear and we pull away from Perugia’s Sangallo Palace Hotel.
Destination? Assisi. All together now: ahs-SEE-zee. Very good!
It is here, in the Umbria of central Italy, the epicenter of medieval Italy, one of just five regions that are totally landlocked – cut off from the seas that straddle the Bel Paese’s coastlines – where there are more saints-per-kilometer than any other spot on the planet. And, the one city that symbolizes this saintly stature is Assisi.
Noted Umbri sons and daughters who hailed from Assisi and were canonized include Saints Agnes, Gabriel, Rufinus, Sylvester, Vitalis and Giovanni di Pietro di Bernadone, better known as Francis.
A former soldier and the son of a rich textile merchant, it was St. Francis who renounced all his worldly possessions and his “noble” family name and began his new, simple life in the service of the Lord by forming an order of friars, which took his name, the Franciscans.
Look, when you think of Assisi you can’t help but think of St. Francis, one of the Catholic Church’s most revered saints.
Houses of worship and their associated art abound, but there’s more than just religion that’s left an imprint along the undulating streets of Assisi. Well before Christianity arrived, Umbrian tribes settled here around 1000 B.C., followed by the Etruscans, the Romans, the Ostrogoths — who laid waste to the city — the Lombards — who rebuilt it — Napoleon and his French armies — who pillaged some more — and, finally, the Vatican, which annexed Assisi under the Papal States flag.
Off the motorcoach and up an escalator, we’re now on the cobblestone with our ear bobs in place attached to radio receivers following behind Marco, Insight’s Umbrian art historian, who chronicles the history of Assisi as we make our way from one end of this UNESCO World Heritage site to the other.
It’s a leisurely stroll that takes us inside landmark churches and past Roman and Etruscan ruins, bustling Piazza del Commune and the Temple of Minerva, artisan food shops, art galleries and open-air cafes, and ends at a lush greenbelt that leads down to the impressive Basilica of St. Francis.
Ninety minutes later we’re back on board the Insight motorcoach, reviewing our photos and notes of the town where saints did come marching in, and wait anxiously for new GPS coordinates from Belinda.
What do you say we head for Spello and make fresh olive oil followed by a late lunch that’ll turn into dinner?, she asks.
The collective reply from the peanut gallery? SI!
To learn more about traveling in style on one of Insight Vacations’ 12 Italian premium and luxury escorted itineraries — where you’ll meet great local personalities like The Etruscan Chef along the way — or one of its 100 other journeys around Europe, visit insightvacations.com, or call toll-free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
Now, I’ve got to hook up to the onboard WIFI and get this dispatch emailed to my editor or I may not be riding on this motorcoach for much longer. See you soon in the olive groves!