Day 34: Perugia – Assisi

Distance: 23.92 km

Time: 1 hour 24 minutes

Average speed: 17.0 kph

Cumulative distance: 1741.77 km

Cumulative time: 86 hours 14 minutes

Word of the day: ‘rosa‘ (rose-ah) – pink

Dinner was taken on the small terrace of our lodgings in Perugia, with an accompanying buzz of chatter from the neighbouring apartments – all the buildings surrounding Perugia’s hilltop are squeezed tightly together, often separated by tiny alleyways and stone staircases.

This morning we had to haul the (newly cleaned) tandem down two flights of stairs and back out onto the street, then up a further flight of steps at the end of the alley. That warmed up the muscles nicely! Initially we wheeled the tandem down the steep rutted streets until encountering a road surface we thought was more suitable. Off we pedalled, downhill, around hairpin bends, with, at one point, a good retrospective view of the centre of Perugia.

Then the Stoker called a halt. She had realised that she wasn’t wearing her cycling sunglasses. Furthermore, they were back in the apartment, sitting on top of the fridge, and we no longer had the keys! We pedalled back uphill for a while, having sent a message to our host, but when we received a reply it was to say that the host wasn’t available today. Oh dear! Still, we have a non-prescription pair spare, and the host offered to forward the sunglasses to a future stopping point, so all is not lost.

Back downhill, then! It was fiercely hot today, and the descent steep. Occasionally we had the benefit of dappled shade, and sometimes even a slight breeze. After a while the descent slackened off, and we were able to relax. At the town of Ponte Valleceppi we reached the valley floor. Not just any valley floor, though, this is the valley of the Tiber (Tevere, in Italian). We crossed the river for the first time – I suspect we will make its acquaintance a few more times in the near future.

Once we were on the valley floor we could see back to Perugia, and make out the pattern of streets at the centre of town.

In front of us, looming increasingly large, was the striking town of Assisi.

For about fifteen kilometres we cycled mostly on the flat plain, on beautifully quiet roads. Today’s journey was short, but we knew it would end with a steep climb. So it turned out – after a none-too-brief wait at a level crossing we arrived at the bottom of the climb, and set off up the hairpins. For eight kilometres we pedalled steadily, gaining height all the time. We were frequently passed by coaches and buses bringing the faithful and not-so-faithful up to the town. It was very warm work, and something of a relief to find our lodgings just outside the town walls.

After a quick shower we donned our civvies and walked into town through Porta Nuova. Assisi is a spectacular town. Clinging to a steep hillside, it’s an elegant place built with pink and white limestone, sometimes both of them together in an attractive striped pattern. There are piazzas, fountains, viewpoints, and, of course, churches. Lots of them!

Our first priority, though, was lunch! At Gli Orti, we enjoyed salads accompanied by endless supplies of fizzy water, while sitting in a pretty piazzetta. Suitably fortified, then, we marched onwards.

It was a slightly surreal experience, to be honest. The streets were full of nuns and friars, most of the shops sold religious ‘tat’, giving the whole place something of an air of unreality. Set against this the sheer beauty of the place, the architecture, the views down to the valley and across to Perugia, and the ever-present white and pink stone buildings.

After a long walk we arrived at the Basilica di San Francesco. The church itself is not too large, but the whole complex is massive, and best appreciated from below.

Inside there are freschi by Giotto, azure blue vaults with stars painted upon them. Oh, and a friar who periodically utters the word Silenzio into his microphone, followed by Shhhhhhhh! In the courtyards at the far end we found an exhibition about the 1997 earthquake, which caused a considerable amount of damage to the Basilica. The restoration work was impressive, but there are areas inside where the original frescoes are absent, presumably irreparably damaged.

After meandering and enjoying the sights we headed back to our lodgings, via a nearby supermarket where we acquired the ingredients for a barbecue this evening.

Tomorrow we head south, following the Tiber to our destination, the hilltop town of Todi.

Here’s today’s track.