Published: May 21st 2010May 18th 2010
We arose early and walked to the train station to leave for Gubbio
at 7.15am. We shared a carriage with a bunch of schoolkids going to Bologna and then travelled along the Adriatic Coast to Ancona. Most of the coastline had been manicured within an inch of its life, and the tractor-raked beaches with thousands of deck chairs and umbrellas in perfectly symmetrical lines were far from the wild and untouched beaches I have known all my life. I hate unrestrained coastal development.
This was to be our longest train trip so far, arriving at the industrial port of Ancona at 12pm. After a quick stopover at the station, we boarded a second train, backtracked slightly up the Adriatic Coast before heading west into the heart of Umbria, arriving at Fossato di Vico at 2.15pm. This was a beautiful trip through the Umbrian countryside, enhanced by our third straight day of warm sunshine. When we arrived, we were treated to a short history session with an international journalist who just happened to be on the same bus as us. I love the way Intrepid Travel encourages locals to join the tourist trail...
I spoke too soon. The
heavens opened. After a failed laundry attempt, we retreated to the hotel drenched, cold and tired. We headed out for a quick orientation tour of Gubbio before returning to the hotel for a quick 30 minute nap before heading out for dinner. The antipasto
was exceptional, the primo
was fantastic (ravioli with goose sauce) and the secondo
of rabbit and lamb was exceptional. We finished the meal with an amoretti liqueur and espresso - this is by far the best meal I have had yet in Italy. I love Gubbio! I love Italy. I love the intimacy and culture of this country. If I could rise above the language barrier, I could live in this village!
We woke early and headed out for breakfast and a morning stroll. We walked back to the hotel for a group meeting and then set out on a quest in groups of three to purchase a picnic lunch for no more than €15. We succeeded! We struck up a conversation with an old local man who walked us to a fantastic delicatessen where we purchased panini, pecorino and local salami (the woman in the shop made up our paninis as we waited). We
packed our provisions and jumped into the Funivia Colle Eletto (a cable car resembling nothing more than open birdcages barely big enough for two people) to ascend the steep vertical hillside to the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo; climbed the steep path to a crumbling watchtower for an unforgettable view of Gubbio; and then walked for about an hour to a green hilly crest that provided an incredible panorama of the Umbrian landscape. On the final leg of our ascent we ran into an old Italian man with a basket full of wild mushrooms - he had driven up from Gubbio to pick his own, as he wasn’t terribly satisfied with the mushrooms available in the local shops.
It had been perfectly sunny on the ascent, but ominous thunder began erupting in the distance, so we scurried back to the cable car and lunched on our provisions at a picnic table overlooking Gubbio (hampered slightly by the strong winds accompanying the thunderstorm). The cable car attendant began packing up for the day, so we raced down to the landing and jumped into separate birdcages before they stopped running (luckily, or we would have been forced to walk the steep descent). On
the way down I saw bolt lighting rising in the distant Umbrian hills, and I suddenly realised we were 20 metres above the ground on one of Gubbio’s highest points, swaying precariously in metal cages attached to long metal cables spanning tall metal towers - not the best place to be in a lightning storm. While the view on the descent was breathtaking, I was glad to jump out of my birdcage when it touched down in Gubbio.
We walked around the village, visited the Roman amphitheatre and then headed back to the hotel for a quick nap before venturing out to the Piazza Grande for a tour of the Palazzo dei Consoli. The highlight of this tour was a sculpted Pieta which used distorted perspective and simplistic realism to convey the absolute devastation and sorrow that Mary felt as she held her crucified son in her arms. We were told by our local guide that Michelangelo was inspired by this sculpture to craft his own Pieta (now housed in St Peter’s Basilica). For me, there was a significant difference in interpretation between the two artists. Michelangelo’s Mary appears lifelike and serene - she is sad yet composed as
she holds her dead son. In complete contrast, the desolate and mournful expression of Mary and the agonized face and contorted body of Jesus in this sculpture seemed uncharacteristically human for such a ubiquitous Christian image. I have seen many works of art during our travels in Italy, but nothing has affected me as much as this sculpture. It reminded me of the raw power of Goya’s 3rd of May
, one of the most poignant works of art I have studied (and am still yet to see).
We then walked to the local TAB (filled with young Italian men betting on greyhounds, old Italian men discussing politics loudly and old Italian women playing poker machines) to access the only public internet connection before heading back to the hotel for dinner. The triangoli
pasta with truffle sauce was sensational, and we were joined after the meal by the journalist we had met on the bus the day before. We discussed left wing EU politics (or at least anti-Berlusconi politics) over a bottle of red wine, finishing the night with an altar wine and biscotti dessert before retiring for an early morning start to Assisi. SHE SAID...
was a long travel day to Umbria - the ‘green heart of Italy’. Getting here was more tricky than tedious, and it was days like this and other such long travel days (especially when things went wrong) that made us so very very grateful for Alvaro’s efficient organisation and knowledge of local transport! It was an early start and we spent about seven hours on two trains and a bus inland to get to Gubbio
, which is perched high on the side of Monte Ingino. Gubbio is a gorgeous medieval town whose steep streets are filled with stone towers and houses with browny-orange tiled roofs. All of this set against a gorgeous mountain backdrop.
The obvious lack of tourists on the trains had given me an indication that we were heading well off the beaten track. We shared a local bus with a few locals from the train station, and in true Alvaro style he convinced one of the passengers - Maria-Laura, a political and economics journalist from Belgium visiting her family home in Gubbio, to give us a brief talk about the locality and the major celebration we had just missed on May 15th. Festa dei Ceri
a annual celebration where icons of the town’s three favourite saints -St Ubaldo (patron saint and protector of Gubbio), St George (patron saint of masons and artisans) and St Anthony (patron saint of farmers and students) are carried on 300kg ceri
(candles) in a race up the steep mountain to the Basilica di Sant'Ubaldo at the top...the race is rigged and St Ubaldo has to win (it’s his cathedral after all), but there is a free-for-all between the St Anthony and St George teams. Three days on from the festival, coloured banners are still hanging from almost every window in the town - red and yellow for St Ubaldo, red and blue for St George and red and black for St Anthony. It was interesting to note this has been a pagan festival in Gubbio for centuries before the church claimed it by adding the saints icons on top of the ceri
Our hotel in Gubbio - Hotel Grotta dell’Angelo
is an old world hotel and our cute room is in the attic of a very old stone building, with our little square windows looking straight onto the mountain. Apart from the masses of TV antennae and satellite dishes
on every roof, I imagine this town still looks like it did two hundred years ago. The orientation walk of Gubbio, as with every other orientation walk we’ve had in Italy, was done under rainy conditions. However this time it was also cold, so we did a quick circuit of the main square and noted any buildings and sights of interest that we could come back to the next day and then hurried off to dinner.
Apparently being a Tuesday, and a Tuesday after a long boozy festival at that, most restaurants were closed. However Alvaro asked a few locals where their favourite dinner venue was, and we ended up at the very newly opened Ulisse Letizia
. Umbria has world renowned ‘yummy food’ status so our dinner that night was eagerly anticipated. The Ulisse Letizia
Ristorante was most excellent and the cuisine certainly rated as one of the best of the trip so far. Umbria is home to the black truffle, game foods like venison, pigeon and rabbit, and ancient foods like Spelt (a high gluten wheat product) that I really should not have indulged in, but hey, how many times in my life am I going to find
myself in Gubbio? That night for antipasto
- HUGE and gorgeous tasting plater of cheese pastries, a tabouli like salad with spelt, and at least five salamis and cheeses; primo
- ravioli with goose sauce for Andrew and tagliatelle with asparagus for me; secondo
- roast rabbit and roast lamb and while the rabbit was exception, the lamb was way too salty for me, but Andrew loved both very much; dolce
- Andrew’s meringue was good but a little too sweet, but my panna cotta was the best panna cotta I have ever eaten! Really! Even better than the one in Lucca!; Andrew finished with a shot of Amoretti (almond liqueur) but I opted for a macchiato
(espresso with a dash of milk) instead. This restaurant experience was totally absolutely fabulous! We happily retired to our hotel, only to be woken up a little later by Mick, Jennie, Pete and Susie who could not get into the hotel’s ‘night service’ door and had to resort to calling out to us to let them in. The door was indeed open, but they were ‘so happy’ they couldn’t work it out...it was hilarious!
The next morning after buying supplies for a
picnic lunch, we walked to the Funivia cable car station to experience the high swaying ride to the Basilica di Sant'Ubaldo. The cable car is really more ‘open top wire cage dangling on a cable’ than ‘cable car’, however the ride itself was not half as scary as it was getting on and off the thing - a little like a ski lift but with precise red dots you have to stand on before you get unceremoniously pushed into the cage as it swings by. It was a gorgeous ride up the mountain.
Up at the Basilica, the views across the Umbrian countryside are breathtaking. From there you had amazing vistas of the Umbrian mountains and valleys, and also a great view of the terracotta roof tops of Gubbio. After climbing to the top of the ruins of a castle near the Basilica, a few of us from the group - Alvaro, Jim, Pete, Susie, Andrew and I, hiked for just over an hour. Along the way we met an old man hunting for mushrooms in the pine forests, but his pickings were slim and he complained that the ‘young bogans’ (this was Alvaro’s translation now having learnt
a few Australianisms) were picking too many and picking them too young, thus wrecking it for everyone. We hiked to the next hill top from the castle and were rewarded with views of Gubbio, other small Umbrian hill towns and open countryside. The Umbrian countryside is similar to Tuscany but the land is greener, slightly harsher and more angular than curvy Tuscany- the hills do not have that ‘rolling’ feel to them. Hiking is so much more enjoyable if your destination has such fabulous views and the promise of a picnic with gorgeous paninis with pecorino
(sheep’s cheese) and procuitto
Later that day we went wandering around Gubbio, we climbed uphill to spend some time at Piazza Grande and Palazzo dei Consoli which dominates the square. We visited the Museo Civico inside the Palazzo that houses the very important Eugobian tablets (100 BC) that documented the customs and laws of the times. They were unearthed in 1444 and are the only source of an ancient Umbrian language. The museum also has a selection of art that I found very interesting as it chronologically explained the Gubbian school of art which I was a little sketchy on.
There were more steep steps and narrow streets that led to the Duomo and the Palazzo Ducale. This is going to sound blasphemous, but we are a bit Duomo-ed and Palazzo-ed out at the moment…so we looked but did not explore any further. We wandered around the handful of tourist shops on the main street, and although we didn’t buy anything we were fascinated by the replica male and female chastity belts for sale. I suppose you get that in a medieval town! For those of you who love pottery and ceramics, this is a destination that you should consider - the ceramics of Deruta fame are plentiful here and quite reasonably priced when you get off the tourist paths. I fell in love with beautiful handmade plates and I could have bought the whole shop, but carrying large fragile articles in an already full pack would probably have not been a very good idea.
After a well deserved nana nap, we ate at our hotel’s restaurant Ristorante Grotta dell’Angelo
to celebrate our last night in this gorgeous town. Our plates loaded with truffle delicacies such as triangoli al tartufo
(fresh triangular ravioli stuffed with porcini with a
truffle sauce) and lasagne tartuffe
(the thinnest pasta sheets layered with truffles and mushrooms), and our goblets full of vino, we both decided that we love this town and can easily live here. Yes indeed, as previously suspected, we are definitely experiencing la dolce vita
We had a surprise guest at dinner...the journalist we had met on the bus took us up on an offer to have drinks and joined us for dessert and wine. Maria-Laura is a fascinating woman who didn’t suffer fools and was quite vocal about her views on Silvio Berlusconi and the European Union. It was a fascinating insight into a power structure I know little about. A few dinner companions retired early; I suspect their politics did not align with the conversation.
We have to admit that even though the rain has not dampened our travelling too much, a bit more sun would have been lovely. Travelling in May should have been relatively rain free and a little warmer than it has been...but hey, it’s only water and we haven’t melted (or frozen) yet.
We travel to Assisi next - my Grandma would have loved the fact that I am visiting the birthplace of St Francis.