Bella Tuscany Bellissima Umbria
Right after having visited the charming town of Cortona, eastern Tuscany, close to Arezzo, we'll put our classic convertible to a good use heading to the Lake Trasimeno in Umbria. The roads next to the lake shores enjoy a beautiful view on the calm village of Castiglione del Lago, overlooking the lake. Next we'll be visiting Perugia the stunning capital of this region and Assisi where Art and Spirituality are closely tied in a number of sublime masterpieces.
Cortona clinging on a steep hill overlooking the Lake Trasimeno has clear Etruscan origins. The most striking aspect of this small town is the elegance of its buildings and the sense of discovery when you walk in its narrow, steep streets. The best suggestion here is to take your time, relax and enjoy your visit without rush, something the Cortonesi are very good at.
The town centre is divided into two separate squares, framed by medieval buildings: Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza Signorelli.
The Town Hall, which dates back to 1236, dominates Piazza della Repubblica. Opposite is the fourteenth century Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo (Mayor). In the adjacent Piazza Signorelli we'll find the Palazzo Casali or Palazzo Pretorio and the Signorelli Theatre. Further ahead on the square, you will reach Piazza Duomo. There are many other places of interest in Cortona such as the Church Santa Maria Nuova (Vasari), Church of San Francesco, Santa Chiara, San Benedetto, and the Basilica of Santa Margherita.
Off the city walls there are two valuable sights, the Convento delle Celle, founded by San Francesco (S. Francis) and the Madonna del Calcinaio (Vasari), in a church about 1 mile down the valley. Back at the wheel we are heading towards Castiglione del Lago. The road is best enjoyed with a classic convertible thanks to the scarce traffic and the scenic drive. Castiglione del Lago is a walled town of Etruscan origin. Still the three old town gates are the main access to the city. Not to be missed are the Rocca del Leone (from which Castiglione derives) with its 5 towers and the wall walk with a striking lake view. Other main sights: the Palazzo Ducale and the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena.
Back on the road for a short drive along the south coast of the Lake Trasimeno until Magione. A small town with one of the most beautiful example of military architecture of the area: the Castello dei Cavalieri di Malta (Castle of the Malta Knights) dating back to the XII century.
We are now finally leaving the lake behind us, leading to Perugia, the Umbria capital city, boasting fantastic treasures of art and architecture. Still showing its Etruscan heritage (Arco di Augusto, Pozzo -well- Etrusco, Porta Marzia), the heart of the city has now a renaissance flavour. The most beautiful buildings adorn the elegant Piazza 4 Novembre: the Palazzo dei Priori, hosting the Umbrian National Gallery, the Collegio del Cambio (Board of Currency), the Collegio della Mercanzia (Board of Trade), the Cathedral and the Maggiore Fountain. Other major attractions: the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo (Mayor), the San Pietro Abbey, the church of San Domenico and the Temple of San Michele.
Not very far from Perugia, on a side of the Monte Subasio, we'll find Assisi. Assisi, originally founded by Umbrians, received its status of World Heritage Site by Unesco thanks to the beauty of its old town, the Basilica of San Francesco and the other Franciscan sites. The most notable religious monument is the Basilica with its Giotto frescoes. Although the church rates among the 5 most important in Italy, there are other beautiful churches to mention, the Basilica di Santa Chiara and the Cathedral of San Rufino. Assisi is not just religious art. Walking on the steep hill up to the Piazza del Comune (Town Hall) we'll find the Palazzo dei Priori (Parliament House) and the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo (mayor) with its tower. Worth mentioning is the Temple of Minerva dating back to I century BC and stunningly preserved.
Off the city wall the mighty Rocca Maggiore dating back to 1367 dominates the city. The other Franciscan sites in the area are the Eremo delle Carceri (Hermitage) and the Convento di San Damiano (cloister). Further afield, the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, built to protect the so called Porziuncola a small church and a chapel where the Franciscan communion was born and where the Saint himself died in 1226.
Umbria offers much more sights to those travelling with a classic car. But that's part of other itineraries...