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In the Footsteps of Hannibal's Elephants
Once again we're deep in the Umbrian countryside, passing to the north of Lake Trasimeno, Italy's largest inland lake, and back into Tuscany, ending our bike tour of Umbria in the beautiful town of Cortona.
It was from Cortona that the Roman General Flaminus led his army to disastrous defeat against Hannibal and his solitary elephant. Between Lake Trasimeno and the hills around it is a narrow plain. Hannibal had gambled that Flaminus would send ahead a vanguard, with the body of the Roman army following behind in their familiar and hitherto invincible formations.
At Passignano the flat plain becomes a narrow gap, and as planned Flaminus' vanguard was able to see the rearb of Hannibal's army just disappearing over the top of the slope. Later, as the main body of the army passed, Hannibal's troops descended onto the Roamns from the surrounding hills. When the vanguard returned several hours later, having pursued and skirmished with a handful of Carthaginians, they found 15,000 dead Romans.
This significant event very nearly became even more significant. Hannibal anticipated that the subject states of central Italy, the Umbrians and the Tuscans, could be encouraged to rise against the Romans. He released all non-Roman prisoners and set off down the Vale of Spoleto (which was then a lake) toward the city of Spoleto. Here, surprisingly, the city of Spoleto stood against Hannibal, winning Rome the time to organise and to strengthen their resources. This all took place 200 years BC - and how different it might all have been.
Leaving Trasimeno behind us we approach the ancient Etruscan town of Cortona, cycling the last five kilometres through vineyards and olive groves. Anyone who has read Frances Mayes 'Bella Tuscany' will be familiar with Cortona, and it doesn't disappoint. It's a beautiful little town, with steep narrow roads, fantastic restaurants and commanding views across the Val di Chiana toward Montepulciano. We stay at the Hotel Oasi Neumann, a converted convent just outside the medieval centre.