The landscape around Gubbio is marvellous. I often think that it has something of a hidden valley north of Umbria’s centre. For those who come to Gubbio by car, I can highly recommend two tours through this marvellous part of the of Appenine mountains. Especially the tour via Pietralunga is one I like most. The road winds up through thick forest with the occasional house in the clearings. At the highest point of this road the forest gets thinner and opens a magnificent view to the east, many small other hidden valleys, all seemingly farmland, given the dotted houses and livestock. Very peaceful. I was so captured with the views that I completely forgot to take photos..... Shortly after this, the old village of Pietralunga comes in sight, very romantic with its setting on a hilltop. The village is completely walled and dates back to Roman times. It is said that a lot of remains of Roman villas are left in this part of Umbria. The road to the south continues through forest and another valley and passes another hilltop village: Montone, which is also on the list of Borghi più belli (beautiful villages). The road continues further on to Umbertide and from there back to Gubbio (Strada statale, SS219).
Montone on Google Maps,
Pietralunga on Google Maps.
The other tour is into the valley parallel to Gubbio, the valley of Monte Cucco. The villages of Scheggia, Costacciaro and Sigillo are located on SS3 (road from approx. Urbino to Foligno). Costacciaro is not only a cute small walled old village but also entry point for the marvellous hiking and hang glider paradise and into the caves of Monte Cucco. CENS (Centro Nazionale di Speleologia, Speleological or cave research centre) offers excursions to the latter.
Costacciaro on Google Maps
© Ingrid D., December 2010 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)
continue with next review => Gubbio's symbol is everywhere
Abbazia San Verecondo or Vallingegno is a magnificent old abbey south of Gubbio. It also has a connection to San Francesco, he was here after he fled from Assisi and worked as a kitchen worker for the Benedictine monks who lived here for quite a time.
I wanted to visit it during my second stay in Gubbio (Oct/Nov 2009) but somehow didn’t manage to do so. But then my Italian teacher Edvige Galasso and I had a lovely day out on November 1, visited Bevagna and had dinner in the best of all restaurants, Redibis (in discussion and preparation of a special event next year). On our way to Bevagna we passed this abbey and decided that we will have a closer look on our way back home. When we left the Perugia area and turned north into the little road to Gubbio I almost killed my poor teacher because I screamed of joy when I saw this huge full moon which is so majestic when it is still low. I raced (against my habits) northward because I wanted to take photos with the moon still so huge. Of course this was not really possible, since we had to drive another 30 km to arrive at the abbey but I am still satisfied with the result despite it was smaller now. But next time during full moon I will come earlier and then sit and wait like a “hunter” at the parking spot directly next to the street. With this marvellous colonial style belltower it makes for a really good photo!
The fate of the abbey is sad though. Edvige told me that it was an agriturismo until recently and I have read a wonderful review of it on the Slow Trav website. I have no idea why they went out of business. It is a prime location although a bit off the usual ways. But then, almost the whole planet wants secluded agriturismi in Toscana…. Well, Toscana is only a region and has the better marketing strategies. Maybe Umbria will get some more fame one day. It deserves it, especially for all the locations which have connections to San Francesco.
From Gubbio drive south along Via Perugina (that’s the road which leads south from Piazza Quaranta Martiri) and follow this road (SS298). Already when you pass the village of Mengara you can see it on the top of a hill to the south.
San Verecondo on Google Maps.
© Ingrid D., November 2009 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)
continue with next review => Road trip through the hidden valleys north of Gubbio
On a lovely sunny afternoon Ingrid took us on a drive in the hills around Gubbio. Our route took us first through the Gola del Corno – “gola” being a gorge. The scenery here was fantastic, although there was only one spot on the road where we could stop the car, so my photos perhaps don’t do it justice.
This is a spectacular landscape as you can see I hope, despite that. But if you come, do drive carefully. Ingrid warned us before we set out that on a particular stretch of road she would have to ask for silence in the car. Why? Well, the road is so narrow and twisting, and with a sheer drop on one side, that drivers are required to sound their horn at each and every bend, and she needed to be able to hear if another car was approaching. But don’t let this put you off. From what I could see, the road was not busy and any reasonable driver could manage the drive. Just keep your eyes on the road, and wait for the pull-off (on the right towards the end of that tricky stretch, if I remember correctly) before you turn your attention to the view!
Nearby is another gorge, the Gola del Bottaccione. This gorge has been designated a site of scientific importance worldwide because of its deposits of iridium. It was here that US professors, Luis Alvarez, (winner of the Nobel Prize for physics) and his son, Walter, an honorary citizen of Gubbio, made a discovery that led them to develop the theory of "planetary disaster"; that is, that 65 million years ago a huge asteroid or meteorite impact caused the extinction of dinosaurs. Their theory was based on the fact that the iridium is only so highly concentrated in the one centimetre layer of clay that marks the boundary between the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods, which is known to be when the great extinction occurred. They checked similar deposits elsewhere and found the same phenomenon. Knowing of no terrestrial source which could produce and deliver so much iridium, they concluded that the source had to be extraterrestrial. Having explored all possible explanations they concluded that the only feasible one was that it was the result of a direct impact on the earth by a comet or an asteroid and that it was this that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Although derided by the scientific community at the time, further evidence has since emerged to support their theory, which is now widely held to be the most likely explanation.
~~ next tip: the next stop on our day out
North-east of Gubbio – see this Google map link.
Another place we visited on our afternoon excursion from Gubbio was this fascinating old church near Sassoferrato. I had already read about it on Ingrid’s Sassoferrato page, and was keen to see it for myself – plus, Ingrid had heard that this Saturday the church (which is usually closed to visitors) would be open while they prepared for a special procession and Mass that evening. This information turned out to be wrong ... we could not get in. But the church was well worth a visit in any case!
The church is built on the site of a Mithraic temple dating back to 300 BC, and some of the stones of that temple are supposed to have been used in its construction, as well as some from a Roman settlement here. The current building dates from 1000 and is a Knights Templar church. In the Middle Ages there was a pilgrim's hospice nearby, presumably also run by the Knights. I have read that had we got inside we would have seen stunning frescoes dating from 1300 and an altar dating from 1600 with a fresco painted in 1524 so this is a must for a future visit if at all possible!
But even from outside you can admire the wonderful porch! Deeply recessed, it is surrounded by old carvings, some of which must come from that early temple I’m sure. I found an interesting website about the church. Well, I think it is interesting but as it is all in Italian I can’t be absolutely sure of all it says, though Google translate has helped me work out a fair bit! It explains some of the carvings around the porch and their symbolism. The bird in my main photo is an eagle, and it holds a human arm (something to do with Mithras protecting from danger – perhaps those with better Italian can help here?), and the one on the other column (though they look the same to me) is apparently a sparrow-hawk who holds a hare in its claws. Next to the birds are lions (my third photo) which, the website says, are “quite different from those in the Catholic churches of the Middle Ages used to symbolize the lions of Judah”. It explains that “The followers of the cult of Mithras rose to the highest levels of the hierarchy took the names of sacred animals. And the "Lion" was one of the seven highest degrees of society, namely the Fourth.” Fascinating – I wish I could make out more, and also that I had this website with me when I stood and looked at this porch!
Apart from the porch the exterior is fairly plain, and also under restoration so you cannot walk right round. But there’s an air of peace here, and in May there were plenty of my favourite poppies that make this season so special in central Italy.
~~ next tip: the final stop on our little tour
Google map link.
Another lovely stop on our afternoon drive was at this beautifully located abbey. As with the church of Santa Croce, we could not go inside, but I loved the tranquil setting and the views of the surrounding countryside.
As a stone in the grounds (photo 4) says, the abbey dates from the eleventh century – between 1014 and 1021 to be precise. The monastery here was originally founded as a hermitage by San Romualdo, a monk from Ravenna who instituted a movement to reform the monastic structures and culture. He later added the abbey church and monastery.
The church has been restored and (I later discovered) can be visited only by prior appointment, arranged through the monks of the order founded by San Romualdo, the Camaldolese Congregation of the Order of St. Benedict, in Fonte Avellana. It is Romanesque-Gothic in style, and fairly simple inside, with a single nave separated from the presbytery by a stone staircase of eight steps. The apse has a 17th century fresco of the Crucifixion by an unknown artist. In the crypt is a small cell in which San Romualdo is said to have been imprisoned for six months by his own monks, having been wrongly accused of a scandalous crime by a young nobleman he had rebuked for living a debauched life.
But while the church has been restored, the adjoining monastery (on the right in my photos) is in very poor condition. It was fenced off when we visited – perhaps for safety reasons, but possibly a sign that one day work will be done to restore or at least protect what little remains?
I found a nice local legend about San Romualdo. It concerns a kind of small fish (capesciotti), very good to eat, that lives in the rivers here and which can be either greyish white in colour or a rosy hue. The story goes that in the time of Romualdo all the fish were grey. One day he was served a plate of these small fried fish, but not liking to eat them, he put them back into the river saying, “Return to the water, fish, grow and multiply”. In the cool water the fish immediately revived, shook off with w wiggle the salt and oil in which they had been cooked, and swam away to thrive and multiply as the saint had told them. But the cooking process had turned them a little pink, and this they could not shake off. To this day the rivers here have two related species of these fish – some grey, some pink.
~~ next tip: more ideas for days out
Directions Between Scheggia e Pascelupo and Sassoferrato. This link is to a Google map that has the pin for the abbey just a little down the road from the correct spot, but you should be able to spot it!
The scenery around Gubbio is lovely, and if you have a car with you, or can hire one for a day, do get out and explore. I’ve mentioned a few specific sights in my other tips in this section, but there are plenty more, and just driving around and keeping your eyes open will provide you with lots of photo opportunities – scenic views, pretty hilltop towns, interesting churches and more.
My first three photos are of the Hermitage of San Girolano in the national park of Monte Cucco. Four monks live there, and men who wish to can arrange to visit, but if you’re female don’t waste your time – no women are allowed here.
This is my last tip; please click here to return to the intro page as I would love to read your comments – thank you :-)
While lost among the cobblestone streets, we came upon a lovely park filled with olive trees, tower remnants, classical and modern displays, all in a very wooded serene setting. After following a twisting/ turning mulched path, we ended up on a beautiful green expanse flanked by a small temple. We could have easily wondered for hours, and taken rolls of film (or filled memory cards). It was hard to believe it was right in the town!
In the center of the town, don't limit to follow the main street looking for the wellknown monuments on your map. In the secondary, narrow streets you can find nice street-views and street life scene. I can't remember the name of the street in the picture, however it's near Palazzo dei Consoli, then down the main street, on the right you find a narrow stair between two buildings and you are there.