Bevagna, Umbria, Italy, Thursday, June 2, 2011
You can definitely have too much culture, so after our visit to Perugia we had a quiet day at the campsite, catching up with the "housework" and generally relaxing. We enjoyed a swim in the pool, which we had almost to ourselves. Today the
Jacuzzi was up and running – the campsite is gradually working towards its high season. Later we tried to update the blog but, as in so many campsites, the WiFi is erratic. However, John finally got it sorted. We enjoyed chatting to our neighbours,
a Dutch couple with a friendly Airedale called Nielchen (or something similar!) All the campsites so far have been predominantly populated by Dutch campers and we have seen very few Brits.
After a breather, it was time for more sightseeing, so on Tuesday we set out for Orvieto. The weather today was pleasantly warm with a little hazy cloud – much as we'd expected it to be this early in the summer. The heat wave we experienced at Chioggia must have been an anomaly. En route we passed through a small town called Bastardo. I wanted to stop and take a photo of John standing under the road-side sign, but for some reason he wasn’t keen on the idea. We pressed on to Todi where we stopped for coffee. It’s another splendid hill-top town with Etruscan origins and grand medieval buildings. We parked at the base of the hill and got a funicular up to the town centre. We headed for the Piazza del Popolo, the usual square complete with Duomo, Palazzo del Popolo, Palazzo del Capitano and Palazzo dei Priori. Unfortunately there was a lot of work going on in the square – tomorrow there’s a Tango Festival, and workmen were busy erecting a stage. Overhearing a conversation next to us asking why a tango festival in Italy, we learned that Buenos Aires has the largest Italian population outside Italy and of course the tango is Argentinian! After our customary shot of caffeine we had a walk round, looked inside a couple of churches, then back down the funicular to the car.
Continuing towards Orvieto we followed the valley of the Tiber along a corniche-type road, the river at this point flowing through a deep rocky gorge, before widening out into the man-made Lake Corbara. Arriving at Orvieto, we found it was like Perugia in that you park at the base of a cliff and go up a series of escalators. It’s another Etruscan town, built on a sheer tufa outcrop. We headed as always for the main square, stopping for a lunch of excellent home-made pasta on the way.
We admired the extremely ornate and colourful exterior of the Duomo, which is in the Siennese style. We were surprised to find it almost empty inside, perhaps because, alone among all the churches we have visited so far, it charged an entrance fee. The interior was lofty and impressive, with black and white striped pillars and no pews to distract from the vast open space. There were some interesting frescoes, especially those of Luca Signorelli, whose Last Judgement contained many muscular buttocks and some nice blue devils. The Chapel of the Corporale was also interesting, containing a relic of the miraculous Mass of Bolsena – when a priest who doubted that the bread really became the body of Christ during the Eucharist was amazed to find blood coming from the wafer when he broke it, and the blood-stained altar-cloth is preserved here as proof. This is the origin of the feast of Corpus Christi.
Then we had a long walk through the town in search of another of Orvieto’s wonders, the Pozzo (or well) of San Patrizio. This is an extraordinary feat of 16th century engineering, an immensely deep well with one spiral staircase going down and another coming up, both of 247 steps, and built for donkeys to carry water up for the city. It did wonders for our leg muscles, as did the return trip to the car park – although there are escalators going up, it’s stairs only going down, so I reckon we climbed and/or descended about a thousand steps today!
Our next task was to find the Etruscan necropolis called Crucifisso del Tufo. Like the one outside Perugia, it wasn’t well sign-posted, and again we were the only visitors. This was a fascinating place laid out like a miniature town, with straight streets of small stone tombs shaped like houses. Each tomb had an inscription over the door with the name of the occupant.
The journey back to the campsite took us through the usual lovely Umbrian countryside, which is very green at the moment, with patches of bright yellow broom everywhere. Later in the summer there will be fields of sunflowers. I think it’s even prettier than Tuscany, and a lot less commercialised.
Next day was to be another culture- free day, so after a lazy morning we went into the local town of Foligno to do some shopping. Here in Umbria even an ordinary little town has Roman origins and a great medieval history. Although most of the town is modern and not particularly attractive, having been extensively damaged in the war, the old town square, called, as usual, Piazza del Popolo, has its Duomo, palazzo and assorted old buildings. It was in this square in 1206 that a certain Francis took his vow of poverty, donating his horse and worldly goods to assist in the rebuilding of the church, thus helping his chosen career path of becoming a saint within 18 months of his death.
Thursday was to be our last day in Umbria, and we had not yet visited Umbria’s most famous natural landmark, Lago di Trasimeno, the lake where, as we all learned at school, Hannibal routed the Roman legions during his invasion of Italy over 2,000 years ago. Hannibal, perhaps an ancestor of Colonel Gaddaffi, had surprised the Romans by taking a short cut from North Africa to Italy, via Spain, France and the Alps, marching a herd of elephants with his army. Today there is no sign or memory of that infamous battle. The lake remains though, calm and serene in its hilly setting, bordered by vast reed beds, small resorts, marinas, campsites and café/restaurants. It was at one of these lakeshore cafes that we had a late morning coffee, so late in fact that Lesley’s was a beer. The sun was out, the lake was blue and the shore was liberally sprinkled with bikini clad sunbathers. As soon as we sat down the clouds arrived, the sun disappeared and they all got dressed. As soon as we got back into the car the sun was out again!
The main town on its shores is Castiglione del Lago, a hill town with a splendid castle at one end and an insignificant Duomo at the other. From the bottom of the hill, below the Duomo, the old Roman road heads westwards to the horizon, in contrast to the main street heading eastwards towards the castle, lined with restaurants and food shops. Three shops out of four were selling various mixes of local beans and herbs for soup, pasta in all colours shapes and sizes, wines and olive oils, cheeses and every imaginable variety of prosciutto and salami. One of these was so proud of its wares they had set up an osteria in the back and we were tempted in by tasting samples in the shop. We had a plate (I should say a wooden platter) of mixed cold meats, cheeses and bruschetta, washed down with a glass of robust house red.
So by late afternoon it was time to go back to the campsite to pack up. As we passed Perugia and looked up the valley towards Bevagna we could see the dark clouds and the rain. Sure enough it was tipping it down at the campsite, ensuring that all our gear was nicely soaked before we packed it! The couple next door said it had been raining since lunchtime, so I suppose we had been lucky for our day out, at least. However, a couple of hours later it cleared up and, being so warm, the awning dried off quickly and we were able to take it down and pack it away ready for an early start next morning. We shall be sorry to leave this site, which had seemed disappointing at first but grew on us the longer we stayed. The best thing about it was how quiet and peaceful it was, though I doubt the same would be true in August. This is why we prefer to go away in low season – even if not all the facilities are up and running, and sometimes maintenance work is being done, it’s so much nicer to have room to spread out in and just a few fellow-campers, usually old fogies like ourselves!