Walking the Franciscan Trail, Umbria, Italy
- Explore the beautiful Umbrian countryside, including sites special to St. Francis
- Hike in regional and national parks and along part of the Franciscan Trail
- Visit Lake Trasimeno's island bird sanctuary, nature preserve, and an olive oil production center
- Lodging with private bath in small inns and an agriturismo
- All meals (except one dinner)
- All gratuities and on-trip transportation in an air-conditioned bus
|Dates||May 7–18, 2013|
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Called "Tuscany without tour buses," Umbria boasts a rich history, picturesque villages, and beautiful countryside. Our outing combines the mysticism of the Franciscan Trail with the history of an influential Italian family. We will be introduced to the region by its locals -- a respected priest, a titled contessa, and an assortment of villagers who approach the world with a medieval perspective. We will walk parts of the Franciscan Trail and discover Umbria's most enchanting but lesser known places, explore a few regional and national parks, and possibly view one of Gubbio's medieval festivals from the balcony of our guide's palazzo. Our tour includes a day on Trasimeno Lake visiting a bird sanctuary and a special island nature preserve. We will stay in small hotels and an agriturismo (countryside cottages with pool and sauna) and sample the regional cuisine. Hikes will be three to six miles a day, with gains of 1,500 feet at the most -- a moderate trip.
The leaders will make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the group.
Day 1: After meeting in Rome, we will be transported by private bus to the beautiful village of Orvieto, a picturesque hill town built high on a plateau of tufa rock. Besides its spectacular cathedral, Orvieto is known for its mysterious Etruscan caves and delicious wine. We'll have time to explore the town on our own, perhaps visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale and sample local cuisine at a small restaurant in town.
Day 2: This morning we will explore the beautiful, crumbling, historic village of Civita Bagnoregio, and hike through the countryside to enjoy the stunning landscape. We will also sample typical bruschettas and local wines at an old mill before returning to enjoy Orvieto's duomo (cathedral). We will then try the region's best gnocchi (potato dumplings) at a local restaurant. Walking distance: 4 miles.
Day 3: An early departure from Orvieto will take us to Parco Fluviale del Tevere, the Tiber Park, where we will enjoy a hike and learn how the locals are preserving two separate river basins. If time allows, we will visit Todi, another exquisite Umbrian hill town. Then we will drive to a beautiful countryside agriturismo situated in the peaceful Umbrian countryside near Gubbio, where we will have time to get settled before another delicious dinner. Walking distance: 5 miles.
Day 4: Today we will enjoy Gubbio, one of the best preserved medieval villages in central Italy, located at the base of the Appennines. By special invitation, we will visit an ancient palace, now an historical monument, where our hostess Alessandra will transport us back in time and tell us how the locals used to live, eat, pray, and die. She will also explain Gubbio's famous "Ceri Festival" and what the people from Gubbio are doing to protect their cultural identity and traditions. A direct descendent of the first person to preserve St. Francis's basilica in Assisi, Alessandra will share the history of St. Francis and describe the various trails walked by the saint in his lifetime. We will then hike the local mountain, Monte Ingno, and visit the St. Ubaldo Monastery. From this point on, we will be on the Franciscan Trail. Walking distance: 4 miles.
Day 5: Today we will visit the highest mountain in Umbria, Monte Cucco, part of Parco de Monte Cucco. Hiking the "ring route," we will enjoy incredible views of surrounding mountains. The flower varieties here are diverse and, on a clear day, we may see the Adriatic Sea. The park has mineral springs, healthy beech forests, and deep caves accessible only to small groups of travelers. It is also home to wolves and golden eagles. After our walk we can enjoy the quiet of a tiny church where St. Francis frequently prayed. Walking distance: 5 miles, 1,500 feet elevation gain.
Day 6: Assisi is a mountain town situated just above the setting where the Franciscan movement started. We will climb to the mystic Eremo delle Carceri, a monastery hidden among holm oaks. This is the single most important part of the Franciscan Trail, and the birthplace of the modern Italian environmental movement. In the 1970s, the World Wildlife Fund launched its "Operazione San Francesco," to save the very last wolves in the country, a tribute to St. Francis's love of and devotion to nature. During our tour of Assisi we will see the treasures that adorn St. Francis' basilica including the tomb of the saint and Giotto's frescoes. We will enjoy the evocative atmosphere of Assisi's roads and piazzas, and a panoramic view of the Umbrian plains. Walking distance: 3 miles, 1,000 feet elevation gain.
Day 7: Today we will walk the trail called Gubbio Double Ring from the top of Monte Ingno down into town through the prettiest unspoiled countryside in Umbria. The trail winds through a forested canyon and past a small stone shrine and chapel that were recently used in filming a movie about St. Francis. Wildflowers here are identified on park display plaques. We follow a stream through a rocky area of exposed (calcare) limestone. At the end of the hike, it's possible to enjoy time on your own at the unique Gubbio shops in the afternoon.
Day 8: We will drive by bus to the beautiful hill town of Spello, where we will see incredible frescoes and walk through the cobblestone streets. We will then go to La Spella church, on top of a hill, to start a very scenic walk on the hillsides of Monte Subasio, the mountain of St. Francis. On our way back to Gubbio, we will stop at Santa Maria delgi Angeli, a pilgrimage site, where a tiny church sits within a large cathedral, all dedicated to St. Francis. Walking distance: 5 miles, 1,000 feet elevation gain.
Day 9: Today we explore a mystical abbey and one of the most important monasteries in Italy. Surrounded by chestnut trees and wildlife diversity, the Fonte Avellana was an important learning center at the time of St. Francis. It is regarded today as the place where "history was remembered" by monks who worked long hours transcribing ancient documents. Walking distance: 3 miles, 1,500 feet elevation gain.
Day 10: Today we will move from Umbria to Tuscany, the region of Italy that's most familiar to Americans. However, instead of staying on the beaten path, we will visit Trasimeno Lake, part of Trasimeno Park, which is also home to the Oasi Naturalistica La Valle, a bird sanctuary and environmental research center. Here we will take a local boat to the island of Polvese. We will also visit what is arguably the best olive oil production center in Italy. After tasting here, you will never think the same way about olive oil again. Tonight we will sleep in a picturesque small hotel. Walking distance: 3 miles.
Day 11: Today we will walk the Franciscan Trail to La Verna, the other famous Franciscan center of Italy. Here you will visit the site where St. Francis received the stigmata. After a visit to the monastery where we will see the art of della Robbia, we will drive back to our inn for our farewell dinner. Walking distance: 3 miles.
Day 12: We'll take a morning transfer to Arezzo where we will arrive just before 11 a.m. From here you can get by train to Rome or Florence, where you can either fly home or further explore the wonders of Italy.
We will meet at 10 a.m. at a meeting place in Rome on Tuesday, May 7. The trip will end mid-day on May 18 at the train station in Arezzo, where you can catch a train to Florence, Rome, or other destinations you might want to visit following the trip. It will probably not be possible to fly back to the U.S. from Florence or Rome that same day.
Accommodations and Food
We will be staying in small inns and an agriturismo (a countryside cottage with pool and sauna). We stay at two small inns for two nights each and at the agriturismo for seven nights. The lodging is double-occupancy with bathrooms in each room or cottage. Singles will be assigned a roommate. If the accommodations have a single room available and you prefer a single room, there will be an extra charge. In the agriturismo, couples may be sharing a cottage with another couple or singles, but will have a separate bedroom.
All meals are included except one dinner, when we will either have the choice of exploring various restaurants or we will create a group dinner potluck-style at the agriturismo, at participants' expense.
This is a moderate trip. Daily hikes will be 3-6 miles, with elevation changes of up to 1,500 feet. As with all trips, the better shape you are in, the more you will enjoy it.
Equipment and Clothing
A detailed equipment list will be sent to each participant. Plan to bring hiking boots, spring/summer clothes for hiking, a day pack with water bottle, first aid kit, sunscreen, raingear, and, perhaps, walking sticks.
- Alvarez, Walter, The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events That Shaped Our Earth, lst edition. W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.
- Evans, Adele, Italy (Eyewitness Travel Guide).
- Francke, Linda Bird, On the Road with Francis of Assisi: A Timeless Journey Through Umbria and Tuscany, and Beyond. Random House, 2005.
- Kerper, Barrie, Central Italy: The Collected Traveler: Tuscany and Umbria. Fodor's, lst edition.
- Nabhan, Gary Paul, Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves: An American Naturalist in Italy. Penguin Books.