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Another Great Wine Tasting - But the Highlight is Assisi
Today is perhaps the most spectacular day of our week. We end today in Perugia, the capital of Umbria, and by far its largest city. Before then we visit Assisi.
Assisi was the home of St Francis, the Patron Saint of Italy, and the most important religious figure to have come out of Italy. To enjoy Assisi, it's worth knowing a little bit about St Francis, how important he was, and why. As a youth he was involved, inevitably, in one of the interminable wars between Assisi and Perugia, and spent some time in a Perugian prison following his capture. One chronicler said at the time that he was '…the first instigator of evil, and behind none in foolishness.'
He went on to became an immensely significant religious figure, dominating even the Papacy during his life. His faith was based on poverty, plus the usual trappings of chastity and obedience. His great innovation was the glorification of God through the wonders of the natural world, summed up best in his beautiful 'Canticle To The Sun. Living a solitary life in Lazio, he invited local shepherds to worship with him at Christmas. They arrived to find that Francis had set up a scene complete with crib and local cows and sheep. This was the first ever Christmas crib - they all derive from St Francis.
He also established a women's order, the Poor Clares, but died aged only 44. The Basilica at Assisi now houses his remains, and therein lies a story.
The Basilica is enormous. From below Assisi it looks like a scene from The Lord of The Rings. It consists, literally, of two cathedrals, built one on top of the other, and having arranged to place the body in the completed Basilica, the Franciscans arranged that Papal troops accompanied the body to deter Perugia from snatching Assisi's emblematic figurehead. Arriving at the Basilica, the head of the Order asked permission to enter the church alone, and promptly locked the door and disappeared for hours. The body of St Francis had been hidden, again as a safeguard against Perugia, and it stayed hidden until improved technology led to its discovery only in the 19th Century.
The monks at the Basilica are quite serious. Short trousers and short-sleeves are frowned upon, and silence is maintained, but it is an amazing place.
Assisi's great enemy, Perugia, lies only 20 Km away, but our route takes us back across the Tiber valley to Torgiano, once again in pursuit of a very interesting wine. The Torgiano Rosso Riserva is one of only two DOCG wines in Umbria, along with the Sagrantino of Montefalco. There is the less exalted, but still highly regarded DOC wine of Torgiano, but best of all is the museum created by the Lingarotti family, the most famous of all Umbria's winemakers. The museum is one of the best of its kind anywhere, and certainly worth our while.
Leaving Torgiano, hopefully sober, we head into Perugia. This is a spectacular city built on steep hillsides. The centre of the city is a bustle of shops, restaurants and bars with the inevitable Duomo, huge town hall and ornamental fountain. Perugia is a busy and thriving City, and it's impossible to get there without cycling on some main roads. We take the best route in that we can, ending up at the Hotel Fortuna, close to the centre. My description won't prepare you for the dramatic location of Perugia's centre.