It all began with a leisurely lunch the other day at home at Bellaugello and subsequent digestive stroll in the valley…. “why don’t we walk to Assisi?” Maybe it was the good lunch, maybe it was the bucolic afternoon, but the decision to trek to Assisi following the Sentiero Francescano was made, and now with sore calves and aching joints I sit at my computer to recount yesterday’s all day adventure.
My alarm went of before six am. I fell out of bed and stumbled across warm cotto flooring to the bathroom to splash water on my face in an attempt to open my eyes to be able to make a mug of tea. A squint outside, still dark but promising to be a lovely morning. Thermos filled, wholemeal toast and home made marmalade downed, layered clothing donned I locked the house and set off to join four friends for the walk to Assisi.
For those of you who have not been to Bellaugello Gay Guest House in Umbria, we sit high on a south facing slope commanding huge views over the Chiascio valley looking to the far distance and horizon where slumbers Monte Subasio, the hill (seen on the right of the photo) on the other side of which nestles the rose pink stone town of Assisi. In ‘linea di aria’ – as the arrow flys, Assisi is some twenty five km from Bellaugello but we had decided to walk along the pilgrimage route “Sentiero Francescano” which passes through our valley on its way to Rome and it turned out to be a long thirty eight kilometres.
We set off as the sun rose in the east, the morning colours spectacular and warm. We walked along the dirt road, down past the tiny chapel of “Madonna delle Ripe” with its ancient but still fresh frescoes.
What is it that possesses people to tie plastic ribbons and clip padlocks and tie twigs with plastic strips in the form of crosses to the bars of monuments? This chapel is tiny, so stunningly simple, built by a farmer thanking the Madonna for saving his land from tumbling into the valley below, but now surrounded by tacky trinkets from people who will never return. Oh if only passers by would adhere to the ethos of Chief Seattle; “Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.“
We continued past a farm with a huge amount of huge loudly barking dogs and to the Eremo of San Pietro in Vignetto. This old monastery was until a few years ago lived in by a very anti-social hermit, who refused people even a cup of water. Reportedly now awaiting a new custodian and to be opened as a hostel for pilgrims and hikers, it is a stunning setting.
The track is now downhill, through a lovely wood and at the bottom of the hill there are two options; To branch off right and climb high and steeply to the abbey of Biscina, over a new but temporary path or to climb over a barrier and follow the original route down to the River Chiascio and along the airport smooth road in the building site. The building site is a continuation of forty six years work on the dam at Valfabbrica, a blousy project to create a lake to supply water to Rome, and when finished will be seen in all its glory from Bellaugello. I love the view from my house, but a lake will make it even more special. Alas the dam leaks, and for the past forty years they have been trying to fill the holes. The latest tranche of sixty six million euros has supplied huge amount of earth moving equipment, trucks, and created a road smooth and large enough to land a jet plane. Work is in progress and they are now talking of beginning to fill the lake next year.
On past the abbey of Biscina, its walls standing tall on a bluff. It is part repaired but empty, one room of which seems to be used for the ‘dark arts’ very spooky indeed. The route continues down onto an abandoned asphalt road then, getting ever nearer Valfabbrica, reverts to a strada bianca.
We pass abandoned houses, climb up hill only to descend again, the countryside is beautiful and the first signs of spring are in the air. We stop and eat greedily from Rosa Canina, those sweet succulent red rosehips that with much hard work make great jam.
The path now climbs past two or three agriturismi, all closed and offering no welcome, and we find ourselves a delightful stopping point at the small shut church of San Marco in Sambuco. Alas! the adjacent water tap is also closed for the winter.
Delicious paninis prepared by Matteo are greedily devoured. A few practice tugging on the rope and tolling the bell before we head off once again down a muddy track to be met by the huge works of the dam.
We head steadily downhill past yet another delightful chapel. As well as being a delightful hiking trail this really is a pilgrimage route. A few more kms and we are into the small quiet town of Valfabbrica. Having by now walked over 20km time for a well earned coffee and rest stop.
Refreshed, we leave the town through deserted side streets and continue the trail walking up a very long and exceedingly muddy track to reach a saddle from where I have my first, all be it distant, view of Assisi.
The trail continues on field borders and olive groves. We pass small well tended trees, happy livestock and then once again begin to head downhill. It seems that we have to go way way down to then have to climb way up again to reach Assisi. The route is attractive but our unprepared and tired muscles are beginning to feel the strain. We all take note of the goat, it has the right attitude!
Passing yet more agriturismi, we finally arrive at the valley bottom and begin the long climb up to Assisi, the Basilica of San Francesco complex in all its imposing enormity comes into sight.
Finally our goal is achieved and we are at our destination. Matteo’s running watch tells us by the time we find the car which we had left here yesterday we have walked 38.11 km, in 10:37 hours at an average speed of 16.43 min/km. On the route we have climbed up 1,072 metres and gone downhill some 1,241 metres, and it has taken over 51,000 paces. Hey, we have burned 2,404 calories so all well deserve a good meal and glass of wine when we get home.
This is a trail I have long been wanting to do. Looking wistfully along the valley and hills from Bellaugello to Monte Subasio, I wondered often if it would be possible for me to do the walk, and yes, it is possible. Possible also for guests of Bellaugello Gay Guest House. Parts are utterly glorious, others less so, and in some places a bit of serious maintenance would not go amiss. The singeage is a bit haphazard, some are so faded by the sun as to be white, but with common sense one does not get lost. I enjoyed a fabulous satisfying day out in the company of amazing friends.