During October this year, I had the good fortune to attend a professional conference in Gubbio, a small town in Umbria.
Umbria is a landlocked province to the east of Tuscany. It is the province of Perugia and Assisi. It has many of the same attractive qualities that Tuscany has: rolling hills, an agricultural economy, and friendly people. In my opinion, the countryside isn't as pretty as in Tuscany, but it does have one major advantage and that is that it is less traveled by the tourists.
In Umbria we stayed at a lovely
4 star hotel called the Ai Cappuccini. It is located a short (about 10-15
minutes) walk from the edge of the city walls. It takes another 5-10
minutes to get to the center of the old town. It's a sprawling hotel which
used to be a monastery. While the conference was in session, the spouses
were taken on tours of Asissi, Perugia, and Gubbio. The following is
Alisa's description of these towns.
In 1999, Steve and I visited Assisi (right after the earthquake that destroyed
parts of the main church). Then we could see only the part that had been
restored. On this visit we could see the WHOLE thing! It was a wonderful visit.
The church was not crowded (the way it usually is during the tourist season). We
could visit every part. It is HUGE! ...and very beautiful. The story of St. Francis (a
rich youth who deserted everything to devote his life to Jesus) is touching. The
paintings around the church describe his life. You can also see remnants of his
clothes and other memorabilia related to him. Unfortunately, the Italian guide
didn't explain much about the town. She talked mainly about the saint and his
life... The day was cold and rainy. The group (we were the spouses) was happy to
spend the time inside the churches and around the savory Italian food served at
a nearby picturesque restaurant.
A much more enjoyable tour was
that in Perugia. It happened to be on a day when the traditional
festival was in progress. Hordes of schoolchildren filled the town and
stalls selling chocolate from different countries around the world lined
the center of the town. You could smell the sweet aroma of chocolate at
every corner! The most difficult part of this tour was the decision which
chocolates NOT to buy! Fortunately, Steve wasn't with me on that tour. I
bought some chocolates that looked good. Luckily, they tasted even BETTER than
On the third day they took us to visit Gubbio. It was a lovely, sunny day. I decided to try the funicular to the top of Mount Ingino. Luckily, it was operating! I went all the way up in one of those open "cages" by myself! The views were thrilling! I wished Steve had been with me to take some great photographs. Click on the picture to the right to see the "funicular".
At the top of the mountain there was a church with an open casket and a .....corpse in it........... scary! Coming out of the church, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw an elderly lady walking up the stairs holding the hand of what seemed her little grandson. Who is crazy enough to live at the top of the mountain? "due, tre, quattro....." I heard her counting the stairs with the little boy while going up, up, up.... She was teaching him how to count...
The church which Alisa visited at the summit of Mount Ingino is the Basilica of St. Ubaldo, the patron saint of Gubbio. The church is considered the religious center of the town and the corpse Alisa saw was the remains of St. Ubaldi. The remains are unmummified but inexplicably well preserved. A traditional race called the "Race of the Ceri" has been held in the town for centuries and culminates at this church. Considering the slope leading up to the church (justifying the erection of a "cage" lift), and the fact that the entire town populace takes part, it must be quite a site to witness. Here's a short description I found on a web site - ...."In this breakneck race, twenty men called ceraioli carry enormous wooden constructions called ceri on their shoulders up to the top of a hill and the basilica of the town's patron, Sant' Ubaldo." This race is held every year on May 15. Click here for some more information about Gubbio and the Race of the Ceri.
We found Gubbio to be a delightful town, very similar to towns in Tuscany, but far less spoiled and with far fewer tourists. This is true for most of Umbria. We found a wonderful restaurant which we ate at twice. It is called La Fornace di Mastro Giorgio. It is located in the heart of the old town. The story of what happened to us at this restaurant tells it all about the restaurant as well as the tourist industry in Gubbio. The hotel where we stayed is only a few minutes walk from the center of the old town, but the walk is not very pleasant as you have to walk along the side of a busy road without a sidewalk. So we ordered a taxi to get to the restaurant. We had a wonderful meal with wonderful service. We decided to walk back to the hotel but when we got outside, we saw that it was pouring. We stepped back into the restaurant and asked them to order us a taxi. They called but no answer, so no taxi.... After a few more tries to find a taxi, the owner of the restaurant simply drove us back to the hotel in his own car. When we came back the second time, we were a party of seven. I specifically ordered a large taxi to take us to and from the restaurant and ordered it all in advance. A four passenger cab came to take us to the restaurant and the driver indicated that it wasn't very far and that we should double up and sit on one another's laps. I complained to the hotel concierge and he pulled the hotel shuttle out of the garage and drove all seven of us to town. For the way back, a regular cab showed up again, but this time we weren't surprised, so we sent the ladies home first and we gentlemen waited at the restaurant for the cab to return for a second run. While we waited at the restaurant we were treated to ouzo and "vin' santo", with cantucci of course (a traditional dessert wine with almond cookies for dunking). The restaurant owner wouldn't accept any payment!
When the conference was over,
we rented a car and drove west. We visited Pienza which is one of our
favorite places in Tuscany. Check out Pienza on our
Tuscany page. In
Pienza, we buy pecorino cheese and wine (Brunello or Vino Nobile). We
were on our way to Lucca, just about the only area in Tuscany we hadn't
yet visited. On the way we stopped off in Montecatini, which is a spa
resort. We weren't interested in the spas, so we had our coffee and went
on our way.
Lucca we stayed at a very
pleasant B&B named
It is excellently located for visitors with or without a car. It is about a 2 minute
walk from the city walls, and about another 10 minutes from the main shopping area
within the walled city. The owners are super helpful and we enjoyed our stay
very much. Lucca is a wonderful town to visit, with the city walls themselves
the most amazing feature. The walls are perfectly preserved, have a total
length of over 4 KM, and are wide enough to accommodate a road its entire
length. In many areas, it is about 100 meters wide. The entire way is
covered with trees and parkland. We walked the walls during the day as
well as late at night. Lucca has lots to see and lots of good shopping. The
main shopping street is very looong and is called Via Fillungo. We enjoyed
going up the Guinigi tower with the trees on top -
here's a picture.
a wonderful view of the entire town and surrounding area. We ate at several
nondescript restaurants, and one which was memorable -
La Mora, a restaurant with a michelin
star located a few kilometers outside
of town. We had an enjoyable country meal in elegant surroundings. In town
there is an excellent and highly recommended restaurant called
Buca di Sant' Antonio. It also has a Michelin star, and we couldn't get a reservation. We did eat twice at a nice family run establishment
called Restorante Giglio, located on one of the biggest and busiest squares
within the walled city. Very well prepared fish and very reasonable prices.
While we were staying in Lucca, we visited Pisa. Pisa didn't disappoint us since we didn't expect very much. The leaning tower and the surrounding grounds and buildings are very impressive, but there's not much more to see than that. On the other hand, there are some nice views and here's one to the left. Click on the picture to get a better view of one you won't see on any other sites since everybody else is too busy taking pictures of the leaning tower.
The highlight of our trip came on Sunday when we took a trip up into the mountains directly north of Lucca. This area includes the Garfagnana and the Serchio valleys. It is a beautiful area and one of the main towns is Barga. We got to Barga and found the entire village population in costumes with the village products displayed on huge tables, bands playing, cameras rolling - in short a giant festival. We thought that we had happened onto some autumn village festival, but the actual event was somewhat more mundane. It was actually part of a very popular Italian television program - a visit by national channel "4" to a different village every Sunday. Each village displays its character and its products. We just got lucky that day. We had a great time, following the TV cameras around, chatting with the locals, taking lots of pictures... Alisa was fortunate enough to be able to buy one of the BIG black truffles that happened to be on one of the displays! The town is beautiful with the Apuan mountains in the background, and the day was perfect. Things couldn't have been better!!!
Every trip has its "best day" and this was it on this trip!
Click here to see a few picture from this beautiful day...
While in Barga we ate at a restaurant called "Alpino". It is located outside of the old part of town and it was very good. We also visited another town called "Castiglione de Garfagnana". It was interesting but couldn't compare to the excitement we found in Barga. This entire area is absolutely beautiful, and should be very enjoyable for those who enjoy mountain scenery and unspoiled villages. While you're here, don't miss the local specialty - "Zuppa di Farro". This is a soup based on a local grain called spelt. I enjoyed it.
|Here are some useful links for Lucca...||
KNOWITAL (by far the best)
After Lucca, we went down to the coast. We visited Forte Dei Marmi, a fashionable resort in the summer, but in October, it's deserted. We continued up the coast and revisited Lerici, on the gulf of La Spezia. Lerici is a beautiful little village, and for a complete description, visit our page about our trip to this area. We drove up the coast, bypassed Genoa and drove directly to Novello. Novello is a small village in the region called the "Langhe", home of Barolo and Barberesco wines. We love this area, and a detailed description of our first trip there can be seen in the same page noted above. We stayed at a hotel called "Barbabuc" in Novello. There is some activity in the other area villages like Barolo, and Monforte de Alba, but Novello is very very very very quiet. Here's a picture of the center of town. The hotel is surprisingly elegant, very clean and well appointed and the staff very helpful. We took a tour of the area, visited a few wineries and bought some wine. There was one small winery in particular where the vintner was so friendly and gave us such a wonderful tour of his little winery. Here's a picture of him and Alisa whom he crowned as "Miss Barolo".
We also visited our very favorite restaurant - La Felicin. For a full description of this one star Michelin restaurant, go to the same page noted above. Nino, the owner and master chef was at his best and we had a lovely meal. We also ate at "Trattoria della Posta" another excellent restaurant in this area. We missed it on our last trip and on this trip we made sure to visit. It has moved to a new location a few kilometers from Monforte, and we had a lovely and elegant meal.
We were in Alba and missed by only a few days the "white truffle fair" which takes place there every year. Many restaurants serve dishes with white truffle during the fair.
After we said farewell to Barolo and environs, we drove north to Lake Orta, the smallest of the lakes in the lake district. We wanted to visit Orta San Giulio, a place we missed on our last trip to this area. We weren't disappointed. The day was beautiful, and the town is a real jewel. We took the boat to the "romantic" island of San Giulio. The island was deserted when we were there but it provided lots of nice pictures and great views. Click here to see a couple of pictures showing the island from the town, and below is one of the nicest pictures of the trip taken on the island.
After Orta, we had just one night left and an early flight in the morning from Malpensa airport. This is the second time I had to deal with finding a decent place to stay in and which is close to Malpensa airport. I think the town of Arona is the perfect spot. It's on Lake Maggiore, only about 20 minutes from the airport and it's a very pleasant place to visit. To be sure, it's not Belaggio, Stressa, or Orta San Giulio, but it does have some attractions and quite a few decent restaurants. On the other hand, the hotel was a disaster. This was the seediest hotel we've been at in a long long time - the Hotel Giardino. The hotel is right on the lake and does have a great view, but it has definitely seen better days. Here's a picture of the Piazza Popolo in Arona. We ate at a surprisingly good restaurant, but can't remember the name and can't find the receipt. It's located under a hotel at the northern end of the Piazza Popolo which is shown in the picture mentioned above.
This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa". It describes one of the many trips we have made together. We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can. Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.
Enjoy your next trip!! ~Steve & Alisa~