Weekend in Assisi
Shortly before the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4) I spent a magical weekend at the birthplace of St. Francis (Patron Saint of Italy), St. Clare and St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Assisi is the perfect weekend destination, or even daytrip, to take a break from the chaos of Rome. Assisi does get busy, but its perfectly manicured, rubbish-free streets allow you to breathe in the holiness of this town ideally situated halfway between Rome and Florence. Here are some of my tips for dining, wining, shopping, coffee and a lovely spot to rest your head.
HOW TO GET THERE
My friends Donna, Molly and I took the fast regional train from Rome’s Termini station on Saturday morning and two hours later we pulled into Assisi. I highly recommend spending 34 euros for a return 1st class train ticket. Always book using the official Trenitalia site. Walk outside the train station and you’ll find plenty of buses or taxis to take you up to the divine hilltop town. Jump off the bus (after five minutes) at the “Piazza Unità d’Italia” stop and walk up the hill another two minutes. PS It’s too far to walk from the station!
We only decided the day before to take this weekend getaway. Hotel Sorella Luna is only two minutes walk from the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. It’s a gorgeous three star property which feels more like an art gallery than a hotel. You can enjoy a rich buffet breakfast on the hotel terrace and there’s even a second small terrace with day beds for taking some sun. This is my second stay at Sorella Luna and each time I’ve found a very appealing and spotlessly clean, light room and bathroom (decorated with glass mosaic tiles). We were fortunate to get the last available junior suite which was a great deal at only 130 euros for the night. There was ample space for the three of us. I’ll definitely stay there again!
EAT - DRINK - BE MERRY
We lunched at Enoteca Mazzini, which is also - as you can probably guess from the name - a wine shop! After a bottle of very good Franciacorta, abundant cheese platters and spelt salads, we were extremely satisfied and ready to wander again.
Just next door we stumbled onto Gran Caffè which has the perfect espresso and an impossibly large selection of local sweets and cakes. It’s a beautiful setting (ie. very Instagrammable) to enjoy your coffee and cake surrounded by art.
Our restaurant for dinner on Saturday night was highly recommended by a local friend. Ristorante San Francesco is normally a place I’d avoid because of its sensational position overlooking the Basilica. But thanks to my friend’s recommendation we ate very well (risotto and roast pork amongst other delicious dishes) and the bill was very reasonable. Just look at this view!
Sunday lunch at Osteria La Piazzetta Dell’Erba. Here we were overwhelmed by the delicious fresh pasta, matched with local wines which they allowed us to taste before filling our glasses. The restaurant was nearly full when we arrived (as was the Enoteca yesterday) so I recommend booking. Today there was a young girl’s First Communion being celebrated at the restaurant’s long table and her mother insisted on showering us with confetti (the chocolate and sugar-coated almond kind) as we left the restaurant. Gotta love meeting the locals!
The Osteria is conveniently located next to Bibenda Wine Bar, a place where you could lose an afternoon becoming an expert on local wines, chocolate, olive oil and truffles. Too much wine, not enough time!
You’ll be spoilt for choice if you’re souvenir shopping. There are also lots of lovely little galleries and jewelry shops to break up the churches spotted all over town. I’m a big fan of local artist Norberto (Proietti), a famous painter and sculptor who died in 2009. You’ll find his prints in many galleries and shops but my personal favorite is the Galleria d’Arte San Francesco in Via A. Fortini. I admit I’ve succumbed to Carlo and Claudio’s charms on more than one occasion and we have a beautiful Norberto hanging inside our aprtment in the Vatican.
For once I had no difficulty locating a Mass whilst on holiday. On the noticeboard of our hotel was every Mass time within a 2km radius. That’s a long list! We settled on the midday Mass at the Upper Level Altar of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi - where I underwent quite a spiritual experience. There was a large pilgrim group of mentally and physically handicapped people, each accompanied by one or two able-bodied elderly people. I had already spotted them while exploring Assisi (it’s a small town) and I was able to study them more closely throughout the Mass. There was one severely handicapped wheelchair-bound man who really drew me in. Though he clearly had difficulty with the simplest of movements, he beat his breast with such a passion during the Confiteor (“I confess”) that it brought a tear to my eye. And he almost seemed to crumple in half in reverence when he couldn’t kneel at the appropriate times. When reciting The Lord’s Prayer I’m inclined to pray it in a traditional manner with hands clasped in front of me, while being surrounded by Italians who either have their arms up mirroring the priest or even holding hands. The pilgrims were all holding hands and on the end of the aisle next to me I could see one of the mentally disabled men in a wheelchair holding hands with the woman on his left and he was waving around his right seemingly searching for someone to take it. Needless to say I couldn’t resist. By the end of the Mass I was a blubbering mess and went up afterwards to chat to some of the volunteers from ‘La Sorgente’ association who had accompanied the group from Sassari, Sardinia for a week-long pilgrimage in Assisi. They were inspiringly humble and grateful for the interest and the experience was my take away from the weekend. Be sure to say a prayer at the tomb of St. Francis on the lower level of the Basilica!