The region of Umbria is filled with sites that were important to Francis of Assisi and his brothers. Francis, it seemed, was always on the lookout for places of solitude and spectacular natural beauty. And one of the great rewards of living here is to discover them – especially with friends and students. Of course, places of solitude are by necessity hard to reach, and by the same token, places of spectacular beauty are worth the effort. One such place is Monteluco and we’ve been there twice already. (I got this picture of the moon zooming over Monteluco on a bright sunny February afternoon! On the right is a hazy shot of the Spoleto valley seen from Monteluco. If you look closely you can see a small white strip on the hillside at the center of the picture. That's Assisi, about 23 miles away, a view I am sure that Francis himself once enjoyed.
The first was organized by our colleague and ex-pat extraordinaire, Cindy Clough. “Cinzia” had emailed the entire Umbra community with an invitation to a communal hike. Knowing that this was an important Franciscan spot I encouraged my students to join us on the trek. Sure enough, that Saturday about three of them spilled into the last early train to Spoleto seconds before it left the station. Arriving at Spoleto, a wonderful town that merits a blog post of its own, we walked from the station to the Piazza della Liberta, where our plucky gang of pilgrims had gathered and we begain the hike proper. The weather was wonderful – one of those spring-like February days that often happen in the Italian February -- but I am sorry to report that the hike itself gave new poignancy to the question, “are we there yet?” as we walked switchback to switchback up to the 2,700 foot summit. Awaiting us were the spectacular views of the Spoleto Valley, the Sacred Grove, forbidden to woodcutters by an ancient Roman law, and the Primitivo Convento, established by Francis who visited in 1218. But our primary objective was Ferretti’s trattoria and its famed porcini-stuffed ravioli in lemon sauce. (On the left above is a shot that helps explain why this grove has been considered sacred for thousands of years; on the right is the graffitti fresco over the door to Francis's cell in the Convento Primitivo; the door is about a meter high, mattress a plank, and his pillow a log as you can see on the lower left.)
Sadly, our slow climb (and ravioli) plus our concern about making the last train back to Perugia did not allow us to linger at the peak. I was able to break away from our pranzo long enough to walk through the convento and the sacred grove, but not long enough to take in the view which was just beyond the woods and convent. Meanwhile, back at Ferretti's gli studenti await their secondi piatti. (That's Andrea, second from bottom, followed by Heather in center.)
The following week we returned with our friend Gilberto, for a more leisurely – but much colder – experience of this most remarkable place. To the left is a picture of a triumphant Gilberto, having conquered Monteluco in his Fiat Panda and trusty GPS. Bravo Gilberto!