A view of Assisi from the valley, as you approach.

On Monday, our driver Giovanni picked us up at the villa at 9 am and we drove over to Assisi. Assisi is not in Tuscany – it’s in Umbria. On Sunday, our guide Giovanni, when we were standing at the top of the hill in Cortona, had pointed south and said, “Over there are the poor Umbrian people – they don’t get to live in Tuscany, they are stuck in Umbria.” Sadly, he shook his head.

A view of Umbria from the hill town of Assisi. (Click photos to enlarge and see detail.)

I have news for you, Giovanni; Umbria is every bit as beautiful as Tuscany. We loved it!

Assisi is, of course, the home town of St. Francis, and therefore it’s a big pilgrimage site for Catholics. I expected to see lots of Catholic tour groups but instead we saw lots of children visiting on school trips.

Alessandra shows us the outlines of the buildings that made up the town Forum.

This is the front of an ancient Roman temple, from before Christian times.

We were met in Assisi by our guide for the day, Alessandra. She is a native of Assisi and, to all appearances, a believing Catholic. When she spoke to us about Francis, Clare, and the church she did it with a great deal of respect for the faith and the tradition.

Alessandra took us first to the St. Clare church, then through the town to the St. Francis church. Use of cameras was forbidden in both churches, so unfortunately we have no indoor photos. But I found both churches fascinating, and Alessandra was very helpful with her descriptions and stories.

Walking through the town was frustrating for some of the people in our group because there was no time allowed for shopping. Assisi gets a lot of tourists, and has some great-looking shops, but we didn’t get to go in them.

Down near the basilica of St. Francis is the old Roman temple that predates Christianity. That was terrific to see. In Roman times they used to have a Forum out in front of it, like the one in Rome, but those buildings are gone. They have painted lines on the pavement to show where the buildings were, and if you have time (we didn’t) you can go in the museum that is next to the temple, and go underground to see some ruins.

We walked down to the St. Francis basilica, which is huge, and has two complete sanctuaries, one on top of the other. We toured both (alas, no cameras). The interior walls are covered with frescoes, everywhere you look, so there is a lot of beautiful artwork to see. Alessandra explained it all to us and she did a marvelous job.

A cloister (covered walkway) between the monastery and the basilica.

Karen poses next to one of the temple columns.

After the tours were done we got back into the bus and were taken to a winery down in the valley, where we had an excellent lunch. It had originally been planned as a picnic, but we’d had a lot of rain and the area was too wet, so we ate indoors. They had a fine lunch for us with some excellent wines.