A deeper dive into Italy: Perugia and Assisi

Experience transcendence through Italian art & architecture, or at the altar of gourmet chocolate, or at the tomb of a gay saint

Are you ready to go beyond a mere flirtation or vacation fling with Italy? To become more intimate with this beautiful country, we decided to learn the under-publicized charms of smaller Italian towns. This year, our post-cruise explorations led us to Perugia and Assisi.

Perugia has an elegant vibe. The town boasts wonderful upscale shopping and terrific food — it’s definitely not a mere a museum town. Stuffed with beautiful architecture of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque eras, Perugia offers visual delights around every corner. If you enjoy travel photography, or just have an artist’s eye, you’ll find Perugia visually thrilling with amazing viewpoints in every direction. As with many Italian cities, you’ll have great fun getting lost and coming across something quirky, surprising, breathtaking or all three!

Photo ©Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard

MMOB TIP:  Perugia is the mother of all hill towns. If you enjoy climbing, or want to work off some gelato and pasta , you can get ample exercise. However, if you prefer not to exhaust yourself, you can skip the climb. Upon your arrival at the train station, take an immediate left to the MiniMetro. These cute little cars run every 3 minutes or so, whisking you to one of two stops on the hill for 1.5 Euros Round Trip.  Worth it!

Perugia’s MimiMetro, an inexpensive and convenient people mover.

Perugia & Chocolate

If you’re a connoisseur of fine chocolate, you’ve already heard of a company called Perugina (and their Baci brand)  You can find a chocolate purveyor on nearly every corner of this city. Beware! Unless you’re one of the unnatural people immune to the delights of this rich, dark substance, the scent wafting from these shops can send your cravings into overdrive.

Cioccolata. More festive with with whipped cream.

Cioccolata. More festive with whipped cream. Photo ©Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard

North American hot chocolate bears little resemblance to the Italian beverage “cioccolata.” Full of rich, thick, real chocolate, Italian hot chocolate may be the country’s best culinary invention since pasta. A wintertime specialty, this drink should be so thick you need to eat it with a spoon, with a texture almost like pudding. The best versions, served steaming hot, have a perfect balance between sweetness and bitterness.  Cups of cioccolata provided the perfect pick-me-up during cool, rainy March afternoons exploring the city.

Dale avoids the hill climb on a “Scala Mobile” in Perugia. Photo ©Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard

MMOB TIP: If the MiniMetro doesn’t take you directly the shop that sells your favorite cioccolata, try one of the enormous outdoor escalators, or “scala mobile.”  Several of these operate to get you up and down the hill with ease.

Day trip to Assisi

This beautiful little town is where St Francis spent his life, and has been a pilgrimage site for centuries. Although we’re not well versed in the lore of saints, LGBTQ Catholics (or those raised in that tradition) tell us historical scholarship indicates the saint known for his gentle charity may have been gay.

The effect of this little village wrapping itself around the mountain is magical. We were enraptured by this spotlessly clean city and its friendly, courteous residents.

Shopping abounds in Assisi. Everything from these beautiful scarves to upscale art, and what seems like hundreds of tiny stalls selling St/ Francis kitsch. Photo ©Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard

MMOB TIP: How to get there:  When you arrive at the small train station, you’ll see the hill in the distance. Take the bus up the hill, purchasing your tickets inside the station. The signs at the bus stop are quite clear. Once you arrive at the top of the hill, simply stroll, explore, and enjoy the beautiful views of the countryside below.

It was heartwarming when we saw a group of nuns from Asia, still carrying their luggage, scurrying up the steps to the Basilica. They giggled with joy and wonder, even after their long journey. Photo ©Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard

The actual tomb of St. Francis in the crypt of the Basilica was one of the few places in Italy where we encountered a truly devotional setting. The small, plain chapel provides a place for quiet contemplation, or prayer. Whether you consider yourself religious, spiritual, or simply a human being aware of your connection with other beings, the famous “Prayer of St. Francis” certainly has great relevance today:

“….Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy.”

excerpt, Prayer of St Frances