The View From Assisi – Weekly Travel Photo

Assisi - Cathedral and Fields

Situated in the heart of the rich Umbrian countryside the hilltop town of Assisi embodies the aura, charm, and personality of Italian hilltop cities.  The view from the historic city is enchanting and takes in a vista that includes carefully manicured fields, Assisi’s new town, Italian villas, vineyards, and a number of historic buildings including perfectly maintained cathedrals that are several hundred years old.  Despite the grandeur of the view, it is all flavored by the humble ideals and mentality of the Franciscans, who have served as the city’s dominant religious group for hundreds of years.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Fresh Food and an Italian Agriturismo

Umbria's Amazing Countryside

A few hundred (or perhaps thousand?) years ago the Italians figured out one simple truth: food is king.  At the end of the day if you want to win someone over you can offer them riches and fame with mixed degrees of success OR you can skip all that and feed them with an abundance of amazing food.  The more time I spend in Italy, the more convinced I am that Italy’s latest plan to re-conquer the known world stems not from boardrooms or council chambers, but rather small country kitchens across the country.

Umbria's Amazing Countryside

Our whirlwind tour of Umbria whisked us from the beautiful vineyards and olive groves I mentioned in my last post to a wonderful old villa and agriturismo in the countryside about 10 miles outside of Perugia.  Our hosts were the owners of the Poggiolo Villa who had opened their doors (and kitchen) to us along with a number of local business people, and poltico’s eager to share some of the area’s noteworthy attractions, foods, and wines.

Umbria's Amazing Countryside

As our bus rolled to a gradual stop in front of a large ivy covered gate I eagerly hopped down and out, skipping the last step and eager to dive into lunch. What greeted me was a tree lined gravel road that paused briefly at the gates before slipping through and winding up a cypress lined drive. As I paused to inhale a deep breath I was hit by a wave of rich scents. The flowers were all in bloom and the buffet of smells they offered were incredible. As I slowly inhaled – soaking up the fresh, natural scent, I found myself in one of those moments where you don’t want to pause to exhale, eager instead to keep gobbling down the sweet air until your chest refuses to take in and hold so much as another sniff.

Eating in Umbria

The sprawling villa was gorgeous; small fountains, green grass, flowers in bloom, vine covered walls, beautifully colored buildings. We paused briefly for a quick introduction in a small courtyard. Before long the general ambiance of the place left me itching to lay down on the grass, surrounded by a bed of small yellow flowers beneath one of the gorgeous trees heavily laden with bright purple blossoms. Instead, we were welcomed into the old villa and shown the way to a small living room. The ceilings were painted, the entire building decorated in traditional artwork, paintings and furnishings – it was as though we stepped back 2 hundred years into the past. Then as we passed into the next room we were greeted by a wonderful spread of locally grown food, all of which seemed freshly harvested. It included great breads, fresh tomatoes, spices, eggplant, beans, delicious shaved onions in olive oil, wild boar, and then a series of pasta dishes that left my mouth watering.

Eating in Umbria

Before we devoured our meal, however, we were introduced to two house specialties.  They were thick juices – the type you’d get at a juice shop…almost pulpy, thick-but-smooth.  They were fresh and frothy. It was obvious that they had just been pressed. Sweet. Refreshing and the perfect way to re-hydrate.  Our hosts explained that they were packed with natural vitamins and every bit as good for us as they were delicious.  I quickly noticed that my glass was empty and couldn’t help but go back for 2nds and thirds.  Then, we were introduced to each of the different plates displayed artfully on the table nearby. Introduction complete it was time to sample the local wines, fill our plates, and to dive into lunch and rich conversation.

As we enjoyed our meal (which was fresh, flavorful, and embodied the spring weather we were enjoying), a light storm blew in offering us a wonderful view of the Umbrian countryside. The light rain combined with a soft breeze to enrich the scents of the nearby fields and served to magnify the sweet, potent scents of all of the blooming flowers located around the villa.  Somewhere over the course of the meal, I made a mental note that at some point in the future I’ll have to return for a a few days – enough time to relax, slow down, unwind, acclimate and to properly soak up the complete experience.

For those unfamiliar an agriturismo is typically an agriculturally based facility which has been expanded to include hospitality options for visitors.  In Italy these usually include old converted villas, farms and ranches. Often the food made available is grown/raised/picked either on the spot or in the immediate area.  Many have started offering organic options, and they offer a chance for wonderful local food in a fresh and very personalized way.   While not always super budget oriented, they offer a great option for people looking for a more intimate experience and interested in enjoying Italian food in a truly natural environment.

I’d like to extend a hearty thank you to our hosts for their wonderful hospitality, sharing their local cuisine, and a fantastic taste of another aspect of Italy’s rich culture.

A Visit To Picture Perfect Perugia With Ken Kaminesky

Streets of Perugia

Nestled atop a prominent hilltop in the heart of Umbria about two hours north of Rome, the medieval city of Perugia stands constant vigil over ancient trade routes.  The current capital of the region, Perugia has a long and storied past that pre-dates the Romans and stretches back to the Etruscan period.  With a population of just under 170,000 the city serves as home to a large university, and a plethora of wonderful festivals and events.

Perugia - Metro Line

My visit to Perugia occurred as part of an afternoon photo workshop and walking tour with Ken Kaminesky as part of the Travel Bloggers Unite Umbria conference.  Ken is a fantastic photographer with a specialty in HDR (High Dynamic Range Imaging). He was speaking at the conference and had offered to host one of the workshops which allowed a small group of us to pick his brain and discuss the simple (and not-so-simple) subtleties of advanced travel photography.  After Ken’s initial presentation filled with great info, we piled onto a bus and were shuttled to the foot of Perugia. Once there we were greeted by the city’s futuristic mini-metro cable-driven cars which quickly ferried us up past ugly modern buildings and into the gorgeous heart of the old city.  In a way, it felt as though we had boarded a time-ship and were pulled back hundreds of years in time.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

We had parked and ascended on the side that was marked by modern structures – hotels, office buildings, and the types of structures you would expect.  The first views as we exited the MiniMetro however,  were breathtaking.   The far side and the overlook were mostly natural and almost completely historic.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

As we paused to gather our group together and lay out our plan of action I was immediately taken by the rich textures and colors of the surrounding buildings.  Buildings that embody the very image of what I think of when I think “Italy”.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

There’s something about the brick and earthen tile work on Perugia’s old buildings that really add to their character and charm.  It gives them a mottled aged look, but in a way that still seems fresh, vibrant, and strong – only tempered with depth and added character.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

One of the things I love about hilltop towns is the varied rooftop levels that result and the crazy quilt juxtaposition of building shapes.  These can be gorgeous to behold. Hilltop towns offer the added depth of windows, portals, and views down partially obscured, winding streets. Each small alleyway begs exploration and beckons enticingly. There is mystery and magic unfolding in the twisting streets below. I pick out a few distinctive elements that I would later search out once I began my exploration of Perugia’s environs.

Perugia - Atrio Postale

With more than 2,000 years of rich history and a far from insignificant role in Italy’s history, Perugia’s streets are decorated with small but historically interesting highlights. There are lots of features to photograph and enjoy.

Perugia - Street Scene

As we wound in towards the city’s core Ken paused periodically to discuss framing, best conditions for lighting different shots, how to hunt for good people shots, and shared what he looks for when capturing a moment. Our path took us past the old palatial city hall before we paused in Piazza IV Novembre by the Fontana Maggiore.

Perugia - Building Textures

I mentioned previously that the city is awash in wonderful textures. Those textures go far beyond the mottled reds and grays of the roof tiles on the city’s building’s. They permeate all aspects of the city, from the wonderful local Italian foods, deserts and famed candies to the marble decorations that highlight the walls of the local buildings.

Old Buildings in Perugia

It is only when you pause and look closely at the buildings that you start to realize just how old the city is! These buildings have stood for centuries and sustained a myriad of renovations and updates.  Closer inspection reveals bricked in doorways, windows, arches, and building dividers.  I find my eye is often drawn to the contrasting elements of  modern plumbing and electrical lines attached to the surface of these ancient stones.  All integrated into the crumbling (and oft repaired) brick walls that support foundations that have seen the passing of countless generations.

Perugia's Rooftop Textures

As we continued to cut across the crest of the hill we were soon met with by another wonderful overlook and a steep staircase that cut down into the small saddle where the majority of the city’s residential districts sit.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

One thing that made me chuckle were all the satellite dishes. They serve as an interesting reminder that behind the facade of history and tradition lies a thriving, modern, 21st century city that is busy relaxing, working, and engaging with the rest of Italy and the world at large.

The View from Perugia

As we made our way down the staircase, our luck with the weather began to turn.  We had driven through a light rain before arriving at Perugia.  About 2/3 of the way through our walking workshop, the rain decided to make a light (but bearable) return.  While we were all less than thrilled with the prospect of it turning into a more aggressive rain, it did serve to bring the colors out of all of the city’s stone and vegetation.  It left sparkling water droplets on blades of grass and the city’s many flowers adding to their crisp and natural beauty.

Winding Roads of Perugia

The downside to exploring Italy’s incredible hilltop cities is, of course, that they’re actually on hills. Not just any hills – but usually quite steep ones. I can’t imagine what sort of adventure the streets turn into in the rare event that the towns get snow or rain-turned-ice. Regardless, it makes for wonderful curving streets that catch your eye and race with it down and away towards the flat plain below.

Perugia in Bloom

If you find yourself planning a trip to Umbria, definitely consider late April and early May. You avoid the conventional high season, the flowers are in bloom, and the air is fresh and crisp. It is just right for casual walking.

Perugia - Man and Umbrella

Just make sure to pack an umbrella and a sense of relaxed time. The weather in the region often seems to come in waves with a brief afternoon rain that quickly gives way to movie-perfect clouds and drifting skies. While animated, the Italian pace of life in these cities is often fairly relaxed and serves as a wonderful reminder to pause and enjoy the moment before setting aside an hour or two for an amazing meal.

Perugia - People Wandering

Thanks again for Ken for the fantastic tips, TBU, Umbria on the Blog and the Umbrian Tourism Board for a great look at the city of Perugia.

These photos were shot on my new Canon T3i (600D) dSLR Camera with an 18-135mm lens.  My time in Italy was the first opportunity I’ve had to experiment with the camera “in the wild”. It has been a wonderful upgrade to my trusty Canon G11 (which I still love) and I look forward to truly mastering the camera in the future.