Truth be told, we had no idea what to do with our final 4 days of the trip. We intentionally left it open with no hotel or travel accommodations. We simply needed to go south from Milan in order to get back to Rome. Some options included going far south to Naples or Sorrento; maybe the Amalfi Coast; or revisiting Tuscany [Siena is always a favorite]. After looking at a map, it was pretty clear…we were being called to the hilltop town of Assisi. Strange for us, we didn’t do any research on the city; we were aware that St Francis was from this area, that we’d likely find a church [or two] and train to bus transportation was clearly spelled out in Rick Steves’ Italy book. With confidence, we stepped off the train and made our way [by bus] to the top of the city.
Assisi is one of those places in Italy that’s easy to fall in love with–after you’ve conquered the fear of opening new blisters on already tired sore feet. The main basilica is located at the far end of the city, and it’s pretty much a steep walk up to the church steps. One morning, we passed a man wearing a simple robe, making his way on his knees, bloody and disheveled, up to the basilica. And, going in the opposite direction across town, it’s also a steep uphill climb with 4 more churches to catch your attention and time. We did a lot of walking in Assisi. There is a convenient small bus that runs a circuit around the town to deposit weary travelers at the far ends; by the second day, we were among those looking for any little help to make it through to the dinner hour.
One of the highlights of our time in Assisi was making the short pilgrimage to the hillside cave that St Francis often visited. I thought it was going to be a short 3 mile walk; but it turned out to be more like 8 miles, UPHILL, in the pouring rain. But I have to say, it was one of the sweetest things we did during our whole Italian excursion. We were soaked to the bone, tired, cold; and then we come upon a stark, dark cave…the exact same place St Francis came to when he was looking for direction, meaning and perhaps a little shelter from the storm. We stayed about an hour in that area wandering the footpaths, finding an altar marked with a Tau and just breathing in the atmosphere. It was magical and exceptionally spiritual.
Our meals in Assisi were among the best we’ve ever had in Italy. Perhaps it was the plentiful tables, the friendly English-speaking waiters, the free-flowing table wine or the sheer hunger we had after hours of walking. But perhaps, it is that Assisi is a rare city that seems touched by the angels and everything seems to just fit right.