I can’t remember when we discussed it or when we made the decision, but at some point, between America and the Middle East, we decided.
“We’re going to Italy,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “We’re really going to Italy.”
We were deployed then, when we made the decision, that much I do know. He was in Jordan, I was in Kuwait, and we needed a distraction, some event on the horizon to look forward to and Italy was it. I ordered travel books, had them sent to me and him and we started planning.
Assisi was on my list of cities to visit from the start. I knew I wanted to experience Umbria, the region that Assisi is part of, and I knew I especially wanted to see Assisi, home of famed Saint Francis, a friend of animals and one of the patron saints of Italy.
So, after five days in Rome, that’s where we went, to Assisi and a two-bedroom apartment on the walls of the city.
5 REASONS I FELL IN LOVE WITH ASSISI, ITALY
Italy is, of course, full of delicious food. Assisi, and the whole region of Umbria, is the only region in Italy that doesn’t touch the coast or another country. The food of Umbria is full of earthy flavors, like mushrooms and truffles and delicious, incredible meats.
There we were, me and him, walking down a hill in Assisi, our first day there. We kept catching views of the Umbrian hills and shop after shop filled with cured, delicious pork products. He was hungry, like always, and stopped at a counter for a snack while I took pictures. For €5 he got a to-go cup of wine and a sandwich stuffed with porchetta and it was maybe the happiest I’ve ever seen him.
In addition to street meat, we ordered a plate of meats with nearly every meal, and all these months later, I’m still scouring my grocery store for Italian meats to round-out my cheese plates.
2. THE VIEWS.
Italy is full of little towns perched on hilltops and Assisi is one of those towns. It’s an old walled city and from the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, you get the above view. Hike up to Rocca Maggiore, the citadel of Assisi, and the views are even grander.
Tuscany tends to get all the praise for rolling, vine-covered hills, but the hills of Umbria are just as lovely.
3. SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI.
I’m not even Catholic, but there’s always been something that’s drawn me to Saint Francis. He’s one of Italy’s most famous saints, was the first person to receive the stigmata and he’s often closely associated with animals and nature, which is probably why my little Snow White heart loves him so much.
He was born in Assisi to a wealthy family and eventually gave it all up. Stories of Saint Francis tell of him speaking the gospel to birds, all of them going silent to listen to his words, and his mediations between a man-eating wolf and a terrorized village are part of his legend.
The Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi is, of course, in Assisi. It is very different from the gilded, ornate cathedrals and basilicas of Rome, but no less majestic or commanding.
After the bustle of Rome, Assisi was a welcome change. Like many of the towns outside of Italy’s trifecta of much-visited cities – Rome, Florence and Venice – Assisi is typically busy by day and quiet by night. Tourists arrive by the busload starting mid-morning, wander a small area around the Basilica, grab some lunch and then leave. By dinner, the town is quiet. Even by day, wandering off the main path will lead to empty streets and quiet corridors.
On our last day in Assisi, we hiked four kilometers up a mountain to visit Eremo delle Carceri, an isolated sanctuary where Saint Francis would go to pray in nature.
A small friary sits on top of a gorge up there and, mostly that’s it. There’s walking trails and a handful of small circles for gatherings and wilderness that has been left wild since Saint Francis first visited in 1205. After being so busy for so many days, the escape into nature was well-timed and refreshing.
We ate really well in Italy, of course. It’s easy to do. Our first night in Assisi, we asked our Airbnb host for a dinner recommendation. It was rainy and a little cold, so he pointed us to a restaurant a few minutes away from our apartment, Trattoria Da Erminio.
We arrived early, just after they opened around 7:30 p.m. We didn’t have a reservation but were seated quickly. We sat, ordered wine and stared at the menu, trying to figure out what, exactly, we should eat. In the corner was an oven where Italian grandmothers turned meat and other deliciousness over an open flame and we knew, in that moment, that whatever we ordered would be good.
It was our first meal after Rome and it felt so much more real than anything we had encountered in the capital city. Nearly everyone who came in seemed to know the staff, with hugs and kisses passed between patron and proprietors.
“This is Italy,” we said to each other. “This is the Italy we were looking for.”
And it was. It was the food experience we wanted, where sons sliced prosciutto in the middle of the dining room while their mothers spooned sauce over fire-roasted meat, following generations-old recipes.
In 20 days we visited 14 cities, and it’s hard to pick a favorite, but Assisi didn’t disappoint. It’s worth an overnight or two, worth it to see the city by night without busloads of visitors and worth it to eat all the meat and all the incredible cuisine that Umbria has to offer.