Small villages, humble churches, medieval castles, and wide expanses of land: these are the places in Umbria that are part of a larger story as well as of an itinerary that is a journey for the body but also for the spirit.
It was the winter between 1206 and 1207 when Saint Francis decided to move away from Assisi where he was accused by his father of dissipating their wealth by donating it to the poor and of ridiculing the family’s good name by wearing rags.
The Franciscan Trail follows, for nearly 50 km, Saint Francis’s journey to Gubbio, where he took refuge with a friendly family. He later repeated the journey endless times when, with his brothers, he would go between Assisi and La Verna, passing through Gubbio.
Credits: Cai Gubbio
The Basilica in Assisi is the place that has preserved and guarded the mortal remains of St. Francis since 1230. Moreover, it is also the mother church of the religious order that bears his name. Built at the bequest of Pope Gregory IX after the death of Francis and his immediate sanctification, the Basilica is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structure is formed by two overlapping churches a Lower and an Upper one featuring two different architectural styles: Umbrian Romanesque the former and French Gothic the latter. Extraordinary, in both cases, are the decorations on the inside. The Lower Basilica is used as a sepulchre while the Upper Basilica has served as a model for several other Franciscan churches and contains the most complete collection of medieval stained glass windows in Italy. Close to the south side rises the characteristic St. Francis bell tower.
The forest is located in the valley at the foot of the hill where the Basilica dedicated to the Saint of Assisi stands, and it is a splendid example of Italian countryside, 64 hectares in area and over 800 years old. The area has been recovered and is today safeguarded by the FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano, which has set up a trail that starts from the Basilica and winds through woodland and fields, pink stone walls, clearings, and olive groves. A microcosm inhabited between the 13th and 14th centuries by Benedictine nuns which have bequeathed us today with the monastery, the Romanesque church of Santa Croce, a bridge, a mill (active until the early 20th century), the remains of a hospital that assisted the sick and the pilgrims, and an old 14th-century tower (Torre Annamaria) erected in defence of a factory. The trail ends in a clearing in the valley of the Tescio torrent which boasts the LandArt masterpiece by Michelangelo Pistoletto titled Third Paradise: this is made of 121 olive trees arranged in a double row to form three large circles tangential to each other.
Surrounded by the Umbrian countryside, in a panoramic position as it is located on a sunny plateau a few kilometres from Assisi, the Castle of Petrata is an old 14th-century fortress now used as a luxury hotel. Completely renovated and furnished, this old historical residence is surrounded by a 20-hectare park, with orchards, thickets, and olive groves. The complex also includes a small church, and the view on the Umbrian valley and on Assisi is simply magnificent.
Located on the bank of the River Chiascio, Valfabbrica is a small medieval town whose territory was formerly disputed between Gubbio, Assisi, and Perugia. Around the mid-12th century the village was fortified with walls and towers, traces of which can still be seen today. Indeed, in the historic centre the old medieval castle preserves its 13th-century walls and majestic tower. Inside, visitors can admire the Church of San Sebastiano, once the Oratory, which was renovated in the 16th century.
The ruins of this old 11th-century fortress are located north of Valfabbrica, near a bend in the River Chiascio. Owned by the Bigazzini family of Gubbio, the feudal castle dominates a large stretch of the plain below, and in the past it was repeatedly attacked and destroyed in the war for the dominion of the area between the armies of Assisi, Gubbio, and Perugia. Saint Francis was often a guest of the Bigazzini family, his friend since before he turned religious.
Perched on a round hill and surrounded by thick vegetation, this imposing manor has been dominating the Chiascio Valley since the 12th century. Fief of the Earls of Coccorano which then passed into different hands including those of the family from Montefeltro, today the complex still features a grandiose air, given mainly by a high Guelph-style crenellated tower and a large entrance to the courtyard with a stone portal.
The reservoir was formed following the construction of the large dam of Casanuova, north of Valfabbrica, and subsequent damming of the River Chiascio in order to create a water reservoir for agricultural use. The work was completed in 1994. The area around the lake is very quiet, rich in vegetation (with reeds and submerged old trees) and constitutes the perfect home for many varieties of waterfowl and even birds of prey. There is no shortage of large fish, including pike.
The ruins of this theatre are a piece of evidence of the glorious past of the city during the Roman era. Indeed, it was built at the end of the Republican period (1st century BC), using squared blocks of local limestone. The structure, largely restored, still preserves the lower arches, part of the upper ones, the cavea (which could also contain up to 6,000 spectators) and the stage, with curved and rectangular niches. Currently, the theatre is used as an evocative setting for outdoor performances of the classics during the summer.
The hermitage is located at the end of a rocky ridge, in a prominent position and clearly visible from other fortified settlements of the Chiascio Valley. Since its construction, this Benedictine monastery looked more like a fortified complex rather than a religious building, perfectly consistent with the other towers, strongholds, and castles in the area. Indeed, the convent, compact and featuring a tower, looks like a stronghold and even the sombre limestone church which houses 14th-century frescoes perfectly blends in with the rest of the structure. The complex was restored in the 1990s. Still inhabited today, it offers hospitality and spiritual assistance to pilgrims and passing travellers.
Most likely built before the 14th century, Vallingegno looks out on the Chiascio Valley below, near the Benedictine Abbey of San Verecondo de Spissis, and it is surrounded by a strong wall. The fief of the Gabrielli family, the manor took on a significant role in the Middle Ages, as it served as a military base to control the road that led from Gubbio to Valfabbrica. The complex, now privately owned, features a central tower measuring 20 metres in height and two other smaller external towers. The central body is the residential part of the castle while the thick walls feature small arched windows. Above that is the walkway. The watchtower, called San Francesco, is the only example of polygonal tower in the area of Gubbio.
Gubbio is one of the oldest cities in Umbria, as evidenced by the Iguvine Tables (kept in the Town Museum) and by the remains of the Roman Theatre. A medieval city that was well-preserved over the centuries, rich in historical and artistic heritage as well as traditions, from an architectural point of view Gubbio is a masterpiece of medieval civilization and of 13th- and 14th-century society, divided as it was in guilds of arts and crafts. Still today it preserves monuments that bear witness to its glorious past such as Palazzo dei Consoli, the symbol of the city that overlooks the scenic Piazza Grande, the monumental Basilica of Sant'Ubaldo on top of Mount Ingino, the Duomo, and the Renaissance Palazzo Ducale. The older part of the town is full of craft shops where visitors can buy objects in ceramics, leather, iron, gold, and beautifully-embroidered fabric. Last but certainly not least, the area of the Park of Monte Cucco is of great naturalistic interest, as is the Bottaccione Gorge.
City of departure: Assisi
City of arrival: Gubbio
Length (Km): 49
Type of Itinerary: Long Weekend
Motivation: Art & History