The treasures of Umbria
Our itinerary starts from Assisi, birthplace of St Francis and St Clare, an international centre of art and religion, but also of fine dining. Assisi is a feast of history, art and superb architecture, from the famous basilica dedicated to St Francis with its cycles of frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue and the great masters of the Florentine and Siena schools of the 14th century to the San Rufino Cathedral, the Palazzos of the Consoli, Capitano and Priori and the Gothic basilica dedicated to St Clare.
Just a few kilometres from Assisi lies Spello (with its wonderful extra-virgin olive oil), on the slopes of Monte Subasio. The town is famous for its flower festival on the feast of Corpus Christi. Not to be missed are the magnificent town walls dating back to Roman days, the imposing town gates and the Baglioni chapel in the church of S. Maria Maggiore, with its incomparable frescoes by Pinturicchio. Next stop is Foligno, with its many imposing palazzos. It is well-known for its cakes and sweets (for example its rocciata, a sort of Umbrian strudel) and its delicious cured meats and salamis (barbozza and ciàuscolo). Generally a bustling town, Foligno downs tools and is en fete in mid-June and mid-September for the “Giostra della Quintana”, its traditional medieval tilting tournament for knights in armour!
Passing Trevi and Spoleto briefly we now climb the Valnerina, towards the peaks of the Monti Sibillini National Park and the Castelluccio basin (home to the famed lentils), the sight of the carpets of lentil plants blossoming in late spring alone is worth the trip. The Nerina valley is home to saints, fascinating towns and villages, salamis and truffles. The last stop on our tour is in the medieval town of Norcia, both the birthplace of St Benedict, the patron saint of Europe and a draw to all gourmets. The narrow streets of this enchanting little town, where time seems to have stood still, are redolent with the intense perfume of its wonderful black truffles interwoven with its pecorino and salted ricotta sheep’s cheese, salamis, cured meats and the superb Prosciutto di Norcia. Norcia’s own ham is considered such a masterpiece that pork butchers in Italy are universally known as norcini.