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Saturday 24 April

(Part 2 of 2)

Thursday morning clearer thinking prevailed: I realized the thing to do was to end the day at Montefalco, which after all I'd only seen briefly, spending half my time eating, on a most unpropitious day; and for example I hadn't seen the Benozzo Gozzoli frescoes in S. Francesco. Called the Hotel Ringhiera Umbra, no answer; called the sole other non-4‑star hotel, got fax noise: so though I'd eliminated the doubt and pressure of an uncertain train schedule, I substituted the doubt, once again, of no firm hotel.

Fortified myself with 4 large paste and a cappuccino, since I wouldn't have time for lunch in Giano, and, paying my bill of just over 150E — the room was a very good deal at 26E a night, maybe the best room on this trip, certainly the best price-value — and expressing compliments, thanks for their particularly warm reception, and good wishes to Daniela, left at 1030.

Another day of glorious sun, 95% blue sky and at one point 100% cloudless: an awkward hike route — S 10 km to go see Giano, which I knew would not be much (although with the abbey of S. Felice on the way, but would it be open?) — then N 11 km on an only slightly divergent angle, with nothing at all to see, just get to Montefalco: but Giano was the whole point of the by now 4‑day walk after all, to be my 85th comune, so Giano it was.

The climb to Giano was steady and pretty gentle, the landscape lovely, and my legs fine with only the very slightest reminder of the Pietralunga knee; and before I knew it I was at S. Felice.​a It's a big unattractive hulk of tall blocky building along one of the more characterless stretches of road, and with a huge mawkish statue of the 2d founder of the abbey (in the 19c after the expropriations), S. Gáspare, right smack across the untravelled road from the main door of the church, looking almost Stalinist. The inside of the abbey, however, a different matter altogether; thru a dumb confusion of mine, I rang a bell and was admitted via the (17c?) cloister when in fact the door of the church was open: but I'm glad I saw it in this odd order: the cloister a very pretty place rather garishly painted yet at the same time serene, in which I must have spent twenty minutes; the church an austere Romanesque space, quite monumental, with very few distractions like frescoes; and a crypt of fair interest, with Roman spolia and early medieval incised capitals of a primitive type. It's a beauti­ful church.

[image ALT: A partial view of a small cloister, austerely built with massive rectangular pillars but decorated with wall paintings and flowers; in the center of it a well with a sort of metal baldachin. It is the cloister of S. Felice di Giano, an abbey in Umbria (central Italy).]

The cloister of the abbey of S. Felice di Giano.

About an hour later, then, I was back outside S. Felice and heading up the road to Giano, with to my right, on the next hill over, the hamlet — walled and towered, medieval, but still not that exciting to look at — of Castágnola. A kilometer out of my way, a right turn at a fork in the road, then the same kilometer back: but this close and not go look just wouldn't be right, and it's not what this trip and I are about, so I went, if somewhat duti­fully.

First surprise, in the hollow of the curve round to Castágnola, a pleasant church ("19c, with 15c fresco"), couple hundred meters more detour, but — The Madonna del Fosco closed although three workers, two having lunch, one up in the belfry making lots of noise; unfortunately the belfry is what they were working on and they themselves had no access to the inside where the fresco was, so no fresco. [How exactly can there be a 19c church with a 15c fresco? Several solutions present themselves, but no indication which was the right one here.]

And on to Castágnola, from the outside of only mild interest, although all stone, but the structures undistinguished and the whole of a uniform brown; still, a plaque at the entrance, with the story of the place (which is fairly unusual for so small a place); then, inside, a rather pretty little place — if not Barattano — including a touching War Dead Memorial: the place is so small there was only one soldier killed — although that's still one man killed (WW I of course) and multiply this across the face of Europe — so the plaque took on a personal character, a monument to Antonio Monini with his likeness.

Finally during my dogged, systematic round of Castagnola, I found a framed plaque on a wall with a sort of poem in which the Paese speaks to its children and tells them never to forget or abandon it, and explains why. Having seen so many dying or even completely abandoned little places, and sharing the sentiment, I found this struck a chord with me: some people were chatting in a clearing ("piazza" would be far too much) and I went and found them and told them so, and we talked about young people — there seem to be none here either, if a German family bought one house and an English person just recently another — and as I was preparing to leave, found myself invited to lunch by one couple, Carlo Bassetta originally from Rome and his wife Maria Angelini, from Castagnola, in their seventies although both of them looking considerably younger.

Well I was hardly hungry, and I was still a bit worried about schedule, but theirs was such a kind offer and you don't get to know a place by running somewhere else, that of course I wound up having lunch with them. No way I was going to have a large dish of pasta, but I nibbled on three small slices of good lonza, and a blood orange and a glass of red wine completed the meal for me; although then the neighbors — Peppino and Angela also Angelini, brother and sister (and I think Maria's siblings) came in bearing a bottle of Asti, so a bit more booze — very careful though, don't like hiking with too much alcohol in the system — and lots more talk about all kinds of things: cameras, Umbria, sculpture (Carlo sculpts things in olive wood and builds furniture), depopulation of the paesini, etc. Got up to leave, in come another woman named Dina, and Raul Monini, grandson of the soldier honored on the plaque — more talk — and finally I left (well past 3) but I'd had such a pleasant warm friendly time here that I asked them if it would be OK if I took a group photograph: anyone who knows me knows this is very, very unusual! and they all clumped together for me along a wall against the Umbrian backdrop, S. Felice and blue skies, and in fact I have a very nice souvenir of Castagnola, which I'm sure I'll remember fondly for years to come.

[image ALT: A group of two men and three woman, in their sixties and seventies, smiling and leaning against a metal balustrade overlooking a wide swath of low hills. They are friends of mine in Castagnola, a hamlet in central Umbria (Italy).]

My friends in Castagnola:
Peppino, Carlo, Maria, Angela and Dina.
In the Umbrian countryside to the left, the abbey of S. Felice.

In a couple of kilometers, Giano; even less than I'd thought — two churches closed, one open but nothing much, and the only sign of life although 4 P.M. past, a dingy little bar: drank a couple of aranciate amare and fled. Not quite that bad, but curiously depressing despite bright blue skies and not an ugly town, if also much smaller than I expected.

From there, a fairly steep though winding descent thru Formicaro (where the cemetery is) and Fabbri with a small chapel, stone door dated 1692, right along the road; then a bit of plain and a long if not very steep rise into Montefalco and its suburb Cerrete, now a single agglomeration.

I was in town by a few minutes to 7; just before, I called the Ringhiera Umbra again, zilch, no answer. Now I wasn't going to stay at the only other hotel, the 4‑star Pambuffetti, partly of course because of the price, but mostly because that awful woman [. . .] has something to do with it, although a bit of discrete inquiry yielded nobody who'd ever heard of her in connection with the Pambuffetti or in any other connection.

So I found the Coccorone and asked them ya got rooms? Why yes, just 300 (later: 500) m from here, my son will drive you there — alarms started going off, my legs were quite stiff and I wanted no more walking for the day — and ten minutes later, I'm walked to the piazza and put into a car, young man drives me outside the walls and where are you taking me? wave towards Camiano, an E suburb or tentacle of Montefalco, fully 800 m maybe 1 km out of town, but more importantly down a very steep chunk of hill. Me: gosh I'm very sorry and very embarrassed, but that's much farther than I thought, I've been hiking for days, is there any other possibility? Young man at the wheel, no problem, drives me back into town to a pizzeria, say, you guys got a room? Sure — and out I hop at . . . the Ringhiera Umbra.

Phone? Ah yes, in the morning we're not here, and at 6:45 P.M. — all of 20 minutes earlier — I guess the music was too loud, we didn't hear it ring: an odd way to run a hotel.​b Room, check in, pay in advance (no, not mistrust; they just close up shop in the evening and sure enough, sleep late in the morning), second floor, last occupant of room must have smoked like a fiend: air out room, take hot shower, and slowly feel better. A brief walk around town — legs better, but let's not overdo it — then, hardly inclined to reward the Ringhiera for the cliff-hanger, plus at the Coccorone one eats well plus no need to make them feel bad for their kind if deceptive offer of Camiano: and did indeed have a second good meal at the Coccorone.

Sat at a little table in a corner, ordered, including a bottle of rosso di Montefalco — wine list huge and with wines at prices quite commonly ranging 100, 200, 300 euros, some few considerably higher: and even the local Sagrantino at prices way out of line (50% higher than the exact same vintner and vintage elsewhere in Umbria, for example at Hotel Dany in Bastardo​c but elsewhere as well) — so a bottle of rosso Arquata Adanti it was.

Somehow I fell into conversation with the foursome at the next table — one couple from the Piemonte the other from Milan on a 4‑day Umbrian jaunt — and served them some of my Arquata, no way I was going to drink more than half the bottle — and soon invited to sit with them at their table, much easier than hollering across the room. Mario and Luisa, Maurizio and Anna, we talked about the usual safe mix of subjects — I had no pasta, but a first secondo of snails in kebab, and a second secondo of filetto al Sagrantino (a wine and beef reduction a bit salty, the pitfall of any reduction, but not excessively) both of which B+; artichokes, fried potatoes; tiramisú. Grappa di Sagrantino (my bill 56E), then a bit of a walk together to the piazza, a coffee there, then found my hotel, wished my pals buon proseguimento, and went to bed, and slept instantly: an odd day in which I ate both meals with people who'd previously been total strangers; I continue to be amazed at the social, generous, and welcoming Italian character; we Americans are sometimes hospitable, but I think this goes past it.

Friday a much simpler day: I let myself out of my room, visited S. Agostino and the Museo S. Francesco, tried to visit S. Illuminata which I remember from last time as being well worth it but for some reason I have few or even no photographs but this time it wasn't open; and walk to Trevi.

The Museum is a lapidary museum (nothing particularly interesting: best item the tombstone of a 12‑year-old Roman boy on which the parents found nothing better to inscribe than he didn't do anything awful!), a small museum of painting with some pretty good stuff, mostly medieval, though again nothing extraordinary); but these are mere appendages to the church, which I hadn't seen, and which was worth the extra time spent in Montefalco and the stay at the Ringhiera. The S side of the church is a series of beauti­fully restored chapels with very good frescoes, if no unusual subjects (a nice vault for example with the Four Evangelists better than the Cappella Tega if not the liveliness); there's a Perugino which is the usual vibrant luminous presence from all the way across the church, but from up close left me cold; but mostly there's the wonder­ful St. Francis cycle in the choir by Benozzo Gozzoli, in which among other things there's a whole parallel between Francis and Jesus: Francis for example is made to be born in a stable, and Jesus himself points it out to people at the time! The Miracle of the Birds is explicitly stated in the legend below it to have occurred in Bevagna — All the inscriptions comfortably readable, which is nice for a change.

And from there out via Cerrete then turn left down to S. Fortunato, which I remembered quite clearly from last time, with the added feature that this time there were no friars holding their devotions in the main church, so I got to look at that part of the complex this time as well.

[image ALT: The plastered interior of a small single-nave church with wooden pews, looking toward the altar under a rather gently pointed Gothic archway from which hangs a crucifix some 2.5 meters tall. Against the left wall are two ornate monuments, each consisting of a painting framed by marble or faux-marbre columns capped by a pediment: one of them is nearly three times the size of the other. It is a view of the church of S. Fortunato near Montefalco, in Umbria (central Italy).]

The church of S. Fortunato di Montefalco.

The walk down into the plain was short and relatively bland (as was the walk all the way from Giano into Montefalco on Thursday, although had I walked it in the opposite direction I think it would have been much more attractive); a small hill up to Fabbri — the second Fabbri in two days — where it's all taken over by the Cantina della Rocca di Fabbri; then down quickly into Trevi de Planu.

Despite Franco's book, I was still worried about train schedules, and decided, wisely as it turned out, to forgo any long triangular southwards loop to Picciche and back: but I did look carefully at what I was seeing and went into Cannaiola and looked at the sanctuary of the Blessed Pietro Bonilli, who had a special devotion, encouraging it in others, to the Holy Family, and an aversion to swearing such that he left as one of his 5 planks of a Christian life that one must not swear, and advised every family to post in their living room a placard, he explicitly says, writ in large letters, "In this house we don't swear."

[image ALT: A large stone church with a square belfry. The front door, at the top of a flight of 10 steps, is immediately surmounted by a separate window shaped like a square with a pediment. It is the sanctuary of Don Pietro Bonilli, in Cannaiola di Trevi, Umbria (central Italy).]

Cannaiola di Trevi: the church of S. Michele Arcangelo,
also known as the Santuario del Beato Pietro Bonilli.

From Cannaiola a straight shot into Borgo Trevi, with a bit of highway spaghetti to cross over the superstrada; I got to the station at about 2:25, with a train due out to Foligno at 2:43, and in the interval sat on a grade-school bus chatting with its driver, who lives in Cannara and was, predictably, surprised that this foreigner should know where Cannara was, but also about the church of the Buona Morte, the September Sagra della Cipolla, and Collemancio and Limigiano etc. [. . .]

The automatic ticket machine in Trevi station worked — 1E00 to Foligno — and in Foligno the train to PSG left at 1507, about ten minutes after I got there; further, at PSG, I stepped off my train and onto the Sansepolcro train, so got home in very short order, by about 4:20. A spot of grocery shopping, and started the laundry and offloading my photos, etc.

My four-day excursion was the best part of my stay to date: the weather was lovely, I filled in lacunae (and in the case of S. Terenziano, repaired a long-standing mistake), I ate well, I met all those good people along my whole route, and most of the route was thru some of the most beauti­ful scenery in Umbria; altogether I feel refreshed and like I make a bit more sense than a few weeks ago.

Later Notes:

a You should not confuse this beauti­ful church (S. Felice di Giano) with another beauti­ful Romanesque church of S. Felice, also with a Lombard plan (S. Felice di Narco).

b I was later told by a local who knew the situation that the hotel used to be fine, but since the death of the original owner, a son took over without having his heart in it, and it's gone considerably downhill; information which I've been unable to verify.

c Just in case you didn't see my note in the previous entries, in my eleven years of traveling thru central Italy, the Hotel Dany has been my best hotel experience so far, so I'm going to go out of my way to recommend it to you; and no, I have no financial interest in it, alas. Granted the little town of Bastardo has nothing to detain the visitor, but most foreign visitors rent cars anyway: you might as well stay somewhere pleasant, untouristed and traffic-free. Bastardo is in the center of the Colli Martani, one of the two or three loveliest areas of Umbria — rolling hills, fresh air and dotted with dozens of Romanesque churches — yet 10 minutes from Bevagna and Montefalco, 20 minutes from Todi and Trevi, and 30 from Spoleto and Assisi. Not only is the Dany extremely reasonable, but more importantly the Falcinelli family are proud of what they do, and the restaurant is very good: I couldn't recommend them more warmly — and ten days after this entry, I took my own recommendation and was back again.

Hotel Dany

Largo Alcide De Gasperi, 7

loc. Bastardo

06030 Giano dell' Umbria (PG)

Tel/Fax (same number): (+39) 0742 99120

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Page updated: 23 Feb 22