(Perugia, Assisi, Spello, Bevagna, Montefalco, Spoleto & Orvieto)
May 2023
More photos here


Wednesday 3rd
Having spent the night at the Heathrow Hilton the 10.30 flight to Rome Fiumicino did not require a crack of dawn wake up. So I woke to a sun-drenched room and had a bright walk to Hatton Cross tube station. BA's unautomated check-in was slow, security pretty quick and the acquisition of the Pret Americano and almond croissant even quicker.

At the airport our group, numbering 24, transferred to a coach, which took us along the Tiber Valley into Umbria. This took about two and three-quarter hours, with a comfort stop. In case you're wondering why we flew to Rome when nearer airports are available, it seems that British Airways not flying to those airports is an important factor for tour companies. Discoaching in Perugia we checked into our hotel, the Brufani Palace. It seems a big an swanky dark-wood kinda place, but my room is handsome, tall and quiet. The telly is too big but the bed is refreshingly free of cushion. After a rest we met at 7.30 to walk to our first group dinner at La Taverna 1988. The food wasn't special but the chat was good.

Thursday 4th
After an unspecial breakfast we were issued with our Wispa/Vox devices and left the hotel at 9.00 to spend a day in Perugia, all in the centre, never more than a five minute walk from our hotel. The cathedral's Piazza (see right) has a special fountain, created by Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni - yes THAT Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. Paula's voice, ailing yesterday, had given out completely overnight. Geoff took over explaining the fountain. In the Duomo Paula was able to whisper into the Wispa to tell us about the Barroci Deposition altarpiece. It was special, the Duomo not so much. The coffee break I spent wandering and buying a tasteful painted mug. Next up was the church of San Severo and the chapel fresco of the Holy Trinity, a mixed up collaboration where the work of the pupil, Raphael, got completed by his master, Perugino. It shows how slow Perugino was to learn from his own pupil.

Group lunch was at a restaurant called Il Cantinone and it was, you guessed it, not special. I had my first gelato on the way to our next visit, though, a perfectly fine pistachio and lemon. First up was the Sala di Udienza del Collegio del Cambio, a guild meeting hall with more frescoes by Perugino. Then to the National Gallery of Umbria, in the Palazzo dei Priori, long closed but last year reopened all reorganised and bright. We began with the special exhibition devoted to, you guessed it, Perugino. Then into the main gallery sequence, highlights of which include a lovely little panel by Duccio, a polyptych by Ottaviano Nelli, an obscure favourite of mine after a trip to Gubbio a few years back, and a Piero altarpiece. The discovery of the trip though , for me, was Benedetto Bonfigli, for being an fascinating mess of varying influences. Here he has some impressive in situ frescoes, in the Chapel of the Priors, and two rooms devoted to him, with an Annunciation I fell for (see right), odd for having St Luke and his bull included, with the bull swathed in scrolls, looking like a cat playing with ribbon.

We then broke up and I staggered back to the hotel. I decided I needed more gelato, and so picked up a magnum-type of thing with an amareno (sour cherry) gelato filling and a nutty white-chocolate covering, which was very nice. We had a free evening but I ended up remaining in a heap in my room watching some new Star Wars cartoons on my tablet and not feeling hungry enough to be fussed with dressing.

Friday 5th
I have waited so long to see Assisi, done so many courses, seen so many slides and PowerPoint presentations the danger of disappointment was very real, but I didn't need to worry. The coach took about an hour, the Piazza as we approached was blissfully empty and our allotted friar guide, Father Patrick from Zambia, was warm and welcoming and more than happy to let Paula cover the art whilst he provided the spiritual perspective.

We started in the lower church, where Simoni Martini and Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti reign supreme. A quick circle of St Francis's modest tomb in the crypt was dutifully done. The controversy over what Giotto personally painted rages through books and courses, but when you're here you just soak it all up. I did notice, though, that the plastic guide boards often said 'Giotto e Giotteschi' which is fair enough. After Patrick covered the crossing, which is covered by vault frescoes that do not look like the work of the man himself, we made for the upper church, with the wall frescoes of the Life of Saint Francis which very much mostly do. After seeing so many reproductions the real things seemed oddly big. But great stuff.

Duly spiritually sated we made for our group lunch at La Locanda del Cardinal. This too was special - the best meal of the trip so far with some very imaginative veggie courses, all very photographable too. But the glass floor through which the remains of a roman villa floor could be admired several feet below was more than a bit unnerving.

Our planned visit to the ancient Roman remains of the Temple of Minerva in Assisi’s main Piazza got cancelled as the Piazza was full of one those Italian battle commemorations involving drums and blokes in medieval costume chucking flags about. We did get a quick and quiet visit to the Basilica of Santa Chiara though, which has a shrine to St Claire, Francis's female follower and founder of the ‘Poor Claires’, striking in its grandeur in comparison to Francis's. The exterior gives good flying buttress though.

We returned to our hotel crawling with film crews, making a Dutch Netflix comedy called Dadchelor. After a rest I decided I'd been too slobby last night and went out for a wander. I got, I confess, totally lost, just following my nose up picturesque streets and stairs. I ended up going into a wine shop and pleading for directions in fractured Italian. The guy understood my predicament if not my Italian and directed me back the way I'd came, downhill to the Etruscan gate, which I remembered and had photographed, as it was so pretty. By this stage I'd noticed he also sold jams so picked up some fig, apple and pear, and jar of apple, cinnamon and chilli mostarda, before bidding my man a weary farewell. Back in the centre I found nothing snacky enough, thinking that what I needed was a branch of Capatoast, the toastie shop I'd found in Ferrara. Then I turned a corner, and there was... you guessed it. Having scoffed a Vegano on integrale - hummus, rocket, mushroom and vegan cheese - I headed back, getting myself an amarena and cocco cono too. What a day!

Saturday 6th
The puzzle of the morning at breakfast were the five Italian ladies dressed up like Jane Austen characters. I was tasked with asking and it turned out they were dressed up 'for Charles', this being Charles III’s Coronation Day.  The tour company had decided to rearrange the day's visits so that our group could watch the coronation in a meeting room in the hotel, with complimentary prosecco and nibbles. Sigh! As the actual crowning didn't start until 12 our time, and we weren't all royalists, Geoff gathered a breakaway group to meet at 9.30 to visit the oratory of San Bernardino next to the church of San Francesco. The former's façade being a polychrome marble and sculptural gem. We then returned to the centre where a couple of us had coffee and a cake. By the famous fountain we'd seen our Jane Austen group with many dressed up pals promenading, ahead of their ball in our hotel this afternoon. I then decided to revisit the gallery, but five minutes in an unmoving queue was too much for me, so I wandered back north, found myself up the hill overlooking the church we'd visited earlier, visited a couple more churches, returned to the gallery, where the queue was much shorter but no less stationary, and so I returned to the hotel for a rest.

We left our hotel at 3.00 pm and coached it to Spello and Santa Maria Maggiore, to see the very fine, recently restored, frescoes by Pinturicchio in the crowded Cappella Baglioni (see above right). There's also a weird altarpiece sculpture of the Virgin's Holy House being transported (see right). Refreshment (beer, coffee, wine, tea, gelato) was then taken in a bar's huge garden, which Geoff had found on a previous trip.

We then drove the short distance to Bevagna for a wander in the main Piazza Silvestri, including the church of San Michele Arcangelo (see stone detailing, right) followed by dinner at Ristorante Piazza Onofri, recommended by Marco our coach driver, and another one of the trip's best meals. Francis of Assisi's alleged preaching to the birds took place in a field outside Bevagna.

Sunday 7th
The hotel's breakfast cakes have been a bit unspecial, but this morning I tried a slice of the apple sponge, which had a lovely cinnamon kick to it. This morning on the coach at 9.30 again to Montefalco. After a coffee break (me I had a (very thick) hot chocolate), we made for Montefalco’s Civic Museum, which complex includes the church of San Francesco, with some special frescoes of the Life of Saint Francis by Benozzo Gozzoli in the apse. The nave features a tasty variety of murals too, of very varying dates and states of fragmentation, including an illusory painted altarpiece in the Capella San Girolamo (see right) also by Benozzo Gozzoli. A fresco treat for fans.

Lunch was back in the main square. I had a bufala pizza and our table of four shared a bottle of the stout local rosso. In the afternoon we took the coach and two escalators up to the duomo of Spoleto in another handsome square, to admire more fine apse frescoes, this time of the Life of the Virgin by Filippo Lippi, his last work, as he died in Spoleto and has a fine memorial here designed by his son Filippino.

Back in Perugia we congregated for prosecco on the rooftop terrace before dinner in the hotel restaurant where I was finally faced with the mozzarella and tomato salad main course, but it was at least a nice fresh one.

Monday 8th
After checking out the coach took us to Orvieto and the medieval Duomo with the masterpiece facade sculptures by the Sienese Lorenzo Maitani. Inside I was commissioned by Paula to take good pics of the Gentile da Fabriano's 1425 Virgin and Child,  then we went into the Chapel of San Brizio with its Last Judgement frescoes by Luca Signorelli which are not favourites but have their points of importance and interest, the vaults frescoed by Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli amongst the most. Then to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo next door, which has panels by Simone Martini and the original sculpture of the Virgin and Child from the cathedral facade.

Our final group lunch was at the nearby Ristorante Maurizio, which prides itself on its own locally-produced olive oil and wine and the balsamic vinegar which a friendly company in Modena makes using the Maurizio people's grapes. So each course was preceded by a sample of these vinegars, of increasing age, ending with one that was 59 years old. And a bit of an acquired taste.

After which there was some time to wander, and buy table linen. Me I got a fridge magnet and tasteful keyring from the Duomo shop. I had got the impression that Marco our coach driver was a cat person, which Geoff confirmed by reporting that he'd said he always has cat biscuits in his pocket to feed the cats that live in the car park we were using in  the old barracks. Showing him a photo of my two, Lily and Minnie, on my phone he repaid with a photo of his fluffy tortoiseshell called Mimi.

The coach to Fiumicino Airport took about two hours, our flight was scheduled to depart at 9.00 pm and seemed to be only running 20 minutes late. I don't want to talk about the nosy and kicky little girl in the seat behind mine, as even more  of a nuisance was getting in so late that only the Heathrow Express to Paddington was taken before it was too late for any other tube options, necessitating a black cab from Paddington to Tooting in torrential rain. The lateness and wetness and desperation to get home making the 40 quid fare seem not unreasonable.

Perugia - The Tuscan Gate

Assisi - San Francesco

Assisi - Santa Chiara

Spello - Santa Maria Maggiore

Bevagna- San Michele Arcangelo


 Spoleto - the Duomo and the
tomb of Filippo Lippi inside, designed by his son Filippino.


Trip reading

Michael Dibdin Ratking
It's been a while, since Michael Dibdin died and since I've read one of his novels, which were amongst the founding books of this site, mostly read in the early 90s, and written about here. So it's appropriate to finally read this, the first in the Zen series, as this site celebrates it's 25th anniversary and I finally visit the city where it's set. The story begins with Zen based in Rome but doing a job that's more admin than criminal investigation. The Aldo Moro kidnapping and murder is a hint dropped. But he's suddenly assigned a kidnapping in Perugia - more his old line of work.  We're in the early 1980s here, then, so there is still a shop in Perugia selling bootleg cassettes and when Zen needs to report a robbery on his train he has the wait until he gets into the station so he can find a public phone. The days may have been simpler but the plot, people-reading, allegiances and motives are not. Reading it before visiting Perugia sure whetted my appetite to climb the streets and stroke the rough stone the author evokes. It was a frustration having no idea which churches Zen was spotting through his office window, though. The concentration on psychology rather than action will remind you of Donna Leon, where the churches outside windows are much easier to identify, but Dibdin is even more cynical, bordering on the bleak.
The idea of the ratking was aired this year in an episode of the excellent post-apocalyptic TV series The Last of Us, so it's references to that series that currently dominate Google searches.
For more crime in Umbria see The Last Enemy by Grace Brophy and The Assisi Murders by Timothy Holme. Also on topic is Tinney Sue Heath's Lady of the Seven Suns: a novel of the woman Saint Francis called Brother.

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