The treasures of Umbria lie deep within stone and the quiet mountains of the region. The villages of the area are old, (and by that I mean dating back to the 9th – 4th centuries BC!) but ever so charming. Every step taken along the cobbled stones of the ancient alleys is a passage into an antiquity I have trouble wrapping my head around.
Tucked away in a valley and hidden by olive tree orchards, Montefalco is even older than Assisi, having already been settled by the Umbri. It is a small village that has grown over the years, adding layers and depth to the history, and retaining much of the original structures that you can happily get lost in. I remember being very impressed with Florence earlier this year with all it’s Medieval history, but nothing beats this region. One guidebook offers the perfect description to Umbria: it lacks the elegance of Tuscany and the power of Rome, but the people here are down to earth, as is reflected by their typical cuisine of wild boar and truffles. I’ll let you digest that for a minute. It’s true – the landscape, like the people, is unpretentious, the soil tough, but this is where you will taste some of the best olive oil in the region, not to mention the Umbrian wines.
A few centuries “younger” than Montefalco, Spoleto is more Roman in nature, with structures that are a clear reminder of who was in power. Embraced by two rivers on both sides, this is a place that has allowed far more modern comforts into its fold in comparison. However, in spite of the modern conveniences, you will find it almost impossible to find an open restaurant or cafe on a Sunday afternoon between 2:00 and 5:00pm, or basically, anything after 1:00pm once the few open restaurants have rid themselves of the Sunday lunch crowds.
If you are an ancient history buff or even mythology fan, you will definitely hit the jackpot in Todi. Originally settled in the 8th century BC, this mountain town commands a view that is hard to beat. The steep walk up to the main piazza, however, will have you cursing every possible Umbrian and Roman that ever walked through the cobbled stones. One thing is for sure, if you are not fit to hike up, take one of the local buses that will drop you off near the piazza, but I can guarantee that you will miss out on the gorgeous little alleys along the way that make every panting breath worth the trouble.
Legend has it that Hercules built Todi and named it Eclis. How this legend came about is still a mystery, as is the person who supposedly documented it. Historical fact, on the other hand, will confirm that the Umbria and the Etruscans set the foundations for what later became the Roman town with a wall strong enough to stop Hannibal after the Battle of Trasimeno in 217BC.
The Cathedral of Todi is said to have been on top of an ancient temple of Apollo. I had to smile when reading the history of this church when it is referred to as the “new, reconstructed structure” because “new” refers to something that began in the 12th century and was finally finished in the 15th century. It is probably one of the darkest cathedrals I have ever set foot in, but the simple interior is conducive to prayer. The few people walking around and exploring are easily filtered out.
Mind you, Champagne has been a most excellent travel companion throughout it all. When I huff and puff up a hill, or she bounces around on the downhill trudge, Champagne peacefully looks out her backpack and soaks it all in, not asking for food or water for as long as we are on the go. She will be the silent observer in cafes or restaurants under a table, and somehow understands that a church is not the place to make a comment either. The only time she did complain was when she slid off the seat (backpack and all) while zigzagging through the mountain roads!