For a while now, we have been wanting to tell you what we think constitute the benefits and challenges of ‘slow travel ‘. If we left some cities a little disappointed not to have visited everything from top to bottom, admittedly, when travelling with children, it is them who set the pace. There is a big difference between a vacation with family and traveling as a family, imposing a certain rhythm for a week is one thing, imposing it for a longer period of time is another. Naturally, we must take care of the daily tasks; cleaning, washing clothes, picking-up groceries and preparing meals, unfortunately these tasks continue even when you carry your house on your back. We must also take care of the home schooling which takes considerable amount of time. Finally, we must allow some “me time” for everyone, whether it is to read a book for older ones or to play for children. This routine is hardly possible during short stays, if we have only two days to visit a city, we must maximize our time.
One way to adapt to those needs is to plan longer stays. Staying in the same place for several days allows us to integrate this routine with exploration activities and museums. If it would be unthinkable for us who can’t stay put on vacation, but this way of travelling enriched our family life and allows everyone to slow down, relax and enjoy the environment where we put our feet for a few days. Assisi, for us, is the perfect example of what ‘slow travel’ should be, living the Italian “Dolce vita”.
With four weeks in Italy, we absolutely wanted to rent a larger apartment in a small community and live like the locals for a time. We wanted to know the streets of the neighbourhood, talk to the neighbours, go grocery shopping at the little market, the produce shop & the butcher around the corner, we wanted to cook and speak Italian. When we were planning our trip, we had first explored some of the small communities without finding a way to get there. Assisi seemed small enough to meet our needs and was allowing us to visit this city that Simon’s father had described as the most beautiful city in Italy. We have made an excellent choice because we did all that and more in Assisi. It’s in an old tower dating from the 12th century (found on Airbnb) that we have established our home this time. This medieval building made everyone happy.
Assisi is a city that is simply magnificent. Located on the flank of mount Subasio, in the region of Umbria (also known as the lung of Italy by its greenery), this city retained its medieval character. The incredible amount of narrow streets that cross the city like a labyrinth, the buildings old and streets of cobblestones are sometime a thousand years old. All of this is embellished by magnificent fortresses and grandiose churches that make this place majestic. This city is also a place of pilgrimage, being the place where lived none other than St. Francis of Assisi. If the majority of visitors are there for short day trip to Assisi, this town has much more to offer than the traditional tourist routes.
For a relatively small community, Assisi has a disconcerting amount of churches. We visited several churches, all beautifully preserved. The most populars being the Cathedral of Assisi, the Basilica of Santa Chiara of Assisi and the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is one of the most popular and the most admired Saint of Christianity. He was made popular by rejecting his great wealth and material comfort to dedicate himself to God and to live in the image of Jesus, i.e. poor, simply and in respect for others and nature. This being truly revolutionary at the time because the Church then, like today, was in rather good financial condition and certainly gentrified. The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, although it was only built following the death and sanctification of St. Francis, is proportional to the popularity of this holy man, grandiose and rich. Although it is completely contradictory with the vision of St. Francis, this place was built to pay tribute to the greatness of the man and his teachings. When visiting the Church, you get a chance to see the tomb of St. Francis and and to see some huge murals made by Giotto & impeccably. This church is simply beautiful.
The Basilica of Santa Chiara is also very interesting. Santa Chiara was a friend of St. Francis and made a relatively similar gesture than him by rejecting her wealth for the benefit of simplicity and devotion. More modest, this church is beautiful and its terrace offer a magnificent view of the city or to enjoy the sunsets Suns over the fields of Umbria.
Hiking in the Bosco di San Francesco and Climbing Mount Subasio
One of the reason why we wanted to stay longer in Assisi was the opportunity to do a little hiking in this magnificent wooded place. We first took advantage of the beautiful trails of Bosco di San Francesco that you can visit on the edge of the St. Francis Basilica. This is really a true gift from heaven since these lands, that had been left abandoned, were offered to the community about a dozen years ago. The people in the community got their hands dirty to clean the place and create trails to give a chance to the visitors and the locals to visit the places where St. Francis and the brothers of his order were communing with nature. We took our time, enjoyed the nature and visited a few restored buildings (Tower and Chapel), this was a well appreciated getaway.
Another day Simon and Hugo went for a hike on mount Subasio. This hike of about 10km each way, included a visit to Eremo delle Carcei, a small monastery and oasis of peace where St. Francis would go to pray. The view from the top was pretty good, but Hugo mostly enjoyed the climb to update his dad on his new activities in Minecraft and for them to play imaginary superheroes.
Since Kolya had been sick the night before, it was agreed that he wouldn’t make the trek with Simon and Hugo. The other two members of the family decided instead to go visit the Maggiore castle, dating from the 12th century. Built in the fortress of Assisi, the castle is well preserved and several rooms are open to the public. Kolya loved his visit to the Castle since it is certainly the most authentic Castle we have been able to see since we arrived in Europe. It is possible to observe among other tools, weapons and furniture of the time. Karine even had to explain to Kolya how to operate a chastity belt that was on display. There is not a lot of sings or information about the use of all the rooms, but it was fun to discover all the different passages, corridors, and towers of the Castle.
Although this city is rarely cited as one of the places to absolutely visit in Italy, even less to stay there a few days, our stay in Assisi will certainly be one of the highlights of our trip. We would absolutely recommend you to spend some time there on your next stay in Italy.