Story and photos by Tom Weber
night's sleep and one-and-a-half days of touring now in the rearview
mirror, our band of merry media guests of Insight Vacations'
"Country Roads of Italy" journey around Umbria and Tuscany
climbs aboard the business class motorcoach without a care in
the world, unless you consider the filing deadlines set by editors back
home, the collective Perry Whites who gave the okay to go on this familiarization
trip in the first place, who wait impatiently for their travel writers-photographers
to start dispatching ink and frames that are fit to print.
Belinda, our tour director-slash storyteller,
greets us at the landing above the stairs with a smile and a hearty
BUONGIORNO! Buckled in and all accounted for, Carlo, the skipper
of our ship, gets the nod and puts the sleek cruiser in gear and we
pull away from Perugia's Sangallo Palace Hotel.
Destination? Assisi. All together now:
ahs-SEE-zee. Very good!
It is here, in the Umbria of central Italy,
the epicenter of medieval Italy, one of just five regions that are totally
landlocked cut off from the seas that straddle the Bel Paese's
coastlines where there are more saints-per-kilometer than any
other spot on the planet. And, the one city that symbolizes this saintly
stature is Assisi.
Noted Umbri sons and daughters who
hailed from Assisi and were canonized include Saints Agnes, Gabriel,
Rufinus, Sylvester, Vitalis and Giovanni di Pietro di Bernadone, better
known as Francis.
A former soldier and the son of a rich
textile merchant, it was St. Francis who renounced all his worldly possessions
and his "noble" family name and began his new, simple life
in the service of the Lord by forming an order of friars, which took
his name, the Franciscans.
Look, when you think of Assisi you can't
help but think of St. Francis, one of the Catholic Church's most revered
Houses of worship and their associated
art abound, but there's more than just religion that's left an imprint
along the undulating streets of Assisi. Well before Christianity arrived,
Umbrian tribes settled here around 1000 B.C., followed by the Etruscans,
the Romans, the Ostrogoths who laid waste to the city
the Lombards who rebuilt it Napoleon and his French armies
who pillaged some more and, finally, the Vatican, which
annexed Assisi under the Papal States flag.
Off the motorcoach and up an escalator,
we're now on the cobblestone with our ear bobs in place attached to
radio receivers following behind Marco, Insight's Umbrian art historian,
who chronicles the history of Assisi as we make our way from one end
of this UNESCO World Heritage site to the other.
It's a leisurely stroll that takes us inside
landmark churches and past Roman and Etruscan ruins, bustling Piazza
del Comune and the Temple of Minerva, artisan food shops, art galleries
and open-air cafes, and ends at a lush greenbelt that leads down to
the impressive Basilica of St. Francis.
Ninety minutes later we're back on board
the Insight motorcoach, reviewing our photos and notes of the town where
saints did come marching in, and wait anxiously for new GPS coordinates
What do you say we head for Spello and
make fresh olive oil followed by a late lunch that'll turn into dinner?,
The collective reply from the peanut gallery?
For complete information on Insight Vacations'
12 Italian premium and luxury escorted itineraries and over 100 journeys
throughout Europe just click HERE,
or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
Now, I've got to hook up to the onboard
WIFI and get this dispatch emailed to my editor or I may not be riding
on this motorcoach for much longer. See you soon in the olive groves!
Me Home Country Roads; The
Olive Groves of Ragani; Orvieto's
Historic Center; Orvieto
and the Etruscan Chef; Underground
in Perugia; Rome
- Caput Mundi; Vatican