Part of: The Great European Road Trip
We loved Spoleto, a smallish town in a beautiful location overlooking the Umbrian countryside. It is filled with old and interesting churches, the streets and buildings have an authentic medieval feel, and the shops and restaurants are excellent. But they aren't kidding when they call it a hill town - those streets were some of the steepest we've encountered yet! Unfortunately a lot of the town was under renovation and there was scaffolding everywhere, but at least it wasn't on the churches.
And the churches were fantastic. Lots of good-and-old ones scattered about the city, nearly all with pretty Romanesque facades, interesting crypts, sculptures, and frescoes. First there was the lovely Spoleto Cathedral, near the top of the town:
Inside, the general view is uninteresting but there are some great treasures in the details. One is the apse fresco of "Scenes from the Life of the Virgin", which was painted by Fra Filippo Lippi in 1467-69:
Further on in the same side chapel is some very different 15th-century art, and one that looks rather out of place in a church! This is the style called grotesque, which you can read all about at Wikipedia.
Very close to the cathedral is Sant'Eufemia, a very plain and atmospheric Romanesque church. You can only visit it as part of the Diocesan Museum, but the admission is reasonable and it has some interesting artworks. David opted out of this one as it was towards the end of a long day of hill-hiking! He waited patiently for me in the bookshop.
San Gregorio overlooks a plaza that became very lively in the evenings. It's not too exciting on the outside, but inside are pretty Romanesque arches, some really good medieval frescoes, and a nice little crypt:
In addition to these churches in town, there are three outside the walls that are probably the most interesting of them all. Two of them are very close together on a hill to the west of the city: San Ponziano and San Salvatore.
It was closed for some major renovations, but we managed to tiptoe around the construction materials to check out the wonderful sculptures on the facade, inspired by medieval legends as well as the Bible. Good thing it was Saturday and the workmen weren't there!
To get to San Pietro (the last church), we walked a loop around the castle, across a medieval aqueduct-bridge, and down a forested road. The walk was glorious, with perfect weather and the most beautiful views of the Umbrian countryside.
The food was fantastic in Spoleto. Lovely little food stores were everywhere, selling mouth-watering varieties of meat, cheese, fresh pasta, and truffles. And all our restaurant meals were delicious. The main Umbrian specialties seem to be truffles (*tartufo), a long square-edged pasta called strangozzi, and wild game. There are two different types of truffles: black and white. The black ones must be cheaper because we got to have them grated on various dishes without much increase in the price! We never saw a white one in any form. The only food we didn't like much in Umbria was the bread, which was rather spongy.
One of our best meals was at the little Osteria dell'Enoteca on a steep street leading to the cathedral. It had inviting torches outside the door and an even more inviting menu. Inside it was cozy and rustic, the music was nice Pacific-Northwest-style guitar strumming, the staff were incredibly friendly, and the food was amazing.
Another great meal was lunch at Il Tempio del Gusto near the Piazza Mercato.
The starter - the best bean soup ever. The beans were cooked just right, al dente like Italian pasta. That stuff on top that looks like cheese is actually lardo di colonnata - think slices of pork fat. A delicacy maybe, but not for us.
For dinner we ate twice at a casual place not too far from our hotel, the Trattoria Pecchiarda. It had a strong family feel - one night we shared the restaurant with the local football team, and another night three generations were playing cards at a table outside the kitchen. The food wasn't as spectacular as our lunches but it was quite good.
We stayed in the Hotel San Luca at the bottom of the hill just inside the city walls. It was highly recommended on TripAdvisor and rightly so. Our room was spacious, the bed was huge (2 meters wide!), and the bathroom was lovely, complete with a nice tub. And we had a nice view over a small grassy courtyard.
We got lots of useful information about the city from the friendly hotel staff and parking was free right next to the hotel. And they have a resident cat. But I only saw him once, in the stairwell. The only drawback was the poor wireless internet connection in our room. But it worked well in the lobby and was reasonably priced at 5 euros for 5 hours.
And now we are in Assisi, which is even more beautiful than Spoleto! We've extended our stay by two nights, so will be here until Saturday morning. More soon...