A Little Country… Enjoying History and Beauty in Italy’s Golden Umbria Countryside: Assisi

Last updated on May 15, 2023

Florence is a gorgeous city, one of my new favorites in the world. With the Tuscan countryside begging for bike rides and wine tours, art history breathing in every corner, and delicious food, I thoroughly loved the week we spent exploring the city. But it’s time to move onward and continue this trip. No round the world trip can happen if you stay in one spot, and so we chose one other area of Italy to explore. Since my cousin and I had visited the classic iconic spots on past trips, we all decided to head deep into the center of Italy, to the heart.

Jenn’s uncle had raved about Assisi; he told stories of gorgeous countryside and a warm welcome from locals, and that was enough of an incentive for us to head straight for this small Italian city.

Getting to Assisi

The Italian train system works well and it’s convenient to rely almost entirely on trains to navigate Italy. Unlike buses, trains forgo highways and instead dissect the remote and untouched areas of the country, affording spectacular views. Just a few hours after leaving Florence, the train coasted to a stop at a tiny train station surrounded by wheat fields.

In the distance, we spotted the glittering walls of Assisi, a city perched on the hillside and presiding over the rolling wheat fields. Then, it was time to walk to our hostel.

Waving wheat fields on the walk to Assisi's city center

Our hostel was nothing to write home about. The reviews online were highly polarized and although we were a bit nervous about what to expect, frankly, Ostello della Pace is the only budget place in Assisi.

Had a budget place like Bed and Breakfast A Casa delle Fate existed on this trip, we would have stayed there—it looks just a bit toward mid-range budget, but is clean and convenient.

If you’re traveling solo, or on a mega budget, however, the hostel suffices, but that’s the most I will say about it. An older woman owns the place and she runs it in the mornings—she doesn’t seem to enjoy the hospitality industry and was downright rude in most interactions. That said, the young woman running the reception in the evenings is sweet and the place is exceedingly clean.

umbrian countryside from the fortress

History in Assisi

Refusing to let the hostel dampen our spirits, we took a short walk into the city center. The walk is beautiful. The path snakes through golden wheat fields that gently sway in the breeze far into the horizon. As a city, Assisi is significant in the Catholic faith, and the crowning jewel is the Basilica of Saint Francis. Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals and founder of the Franciscan friars. While I’m not Catholic, my grandmother ensured that I have a good foundational knowledge. This served me well as I learned more about Saint Francis of Assisi, his life and actions.

Rocca Maggiore is a massive fortress more than 800 years old. Constructed in 1316, the fortress presides over the city. Sitting on the highest hill in the region, the walls are still in good condition and it’s a focal point from anywhere lower in the valley.

And while the fortress is a must-visit, Saint Francis’ Basilica is the highlight of an visit to Assisi. The detail and architecture in this UNESCO World Heritage Site is gorgeous inside and out. Inside, the spectacular ceilings have a dark, intricate design offset with diamond-shaped ceiling beams. Pope Gregory IX laid the first stone in 1228, and the entire church is built directly into the hillside. For this reason, there is both an Upper and Lower portion of the church, and both contain gorgeous frescoes and intricate artwork from many eras of Italian art. 

Photos are forbidden inside, so these two are WikiCommons photos.

Best Things to Do in Assisi

Jenn, my cousin, and I wandered the cobbled streets for the entire day. At one point, we were royally lost. We had somehow left the city and walked for 45 minutes around the lower city walls. Eventually, we found a small unmarked trail that lead to the Fortress. We had all assumed that this path—filled with underbrush and no signposts—would lead us back into the city.

It didn’t.

Somehow, we had truly trapped ourselves outside of the city’s tall walls. The only way we found back into Assisi was to follow the highway to a small, quaint arched entrance that had clearly served as a primary entrance for hundreds of years. We hunted down sweets as a snack once we reached the city center once agian.

These are the best things to do in Assisi—besides getting lost!

Assisi’s Old Town

Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

From the square, venture into the narrow, winding streets that wind their way through the town. As you meander through the charming alleys, you’ll encounter medieval houses adorned with flower boxes and inviting artisan shops. The medieval architecture is beautifully preserved, creating a captivating atmosphere that we just loved.

While wandering, keep an eye out for the Temple of Minerva, a remarkably preserved Roman temple that stands as a testament to Assisi’s rich history. Step inside and marvel at the fusion of ancient and medieval influences. The temple has been repurposed over the centuries and now serves as a church.

To really get the lay of the land, join a guided walking tour of Assisi’s Old Town. They’ll lead you through the labyrinthine streets, sharing fascinating stories and historical insights. They can also point out hidden gems and lesser-known attractions that otherwise go unnoticed.

And if you’re looking for souvenirs, Assisi is renowned for its local craftsmanship and delicious cuisine. Explore the artisan shops, where you can find beautiful ceramics, handmade textiles, and intricate woodwork.

Basilica of San Francesco

As noted, the Basilica of San Francesco is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Italy. Explore the Upper Basilica, adorned with beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Saint Francis. Descend to the Lower Basilica, where you’ll find the saint’s tomb. The spiritual atmosphere and artistic grandeur of this place are awe-inspiring.

Rocca Maggiore

assisi Rocca Maggiore fortress
This photo of the Rocca Maggiore fortress is blurry, like our understanding of how to re-enter the city.

Perched on top of a hill, Rocca Maggiore is a medieval fortress that offers panoramic views of Assisi and the surrounding countryside. Walk along the ancient walls, climb the towers, and imagine the historical events that unfolded within these walls. The vista from the top is gorgeous.

Eremo delle Carceri

Escape the hustle and bustle of the town and visit Eremo delle Carceri, a peaceful hermitage located in the woods on the slopes of Mount Subasio. This sacred place was chosen by Saint Francis and his companions for contemplation and prayer. Take a leisurely stroll through the peaceful paths and visit the small chapels and caves carved into the rock.

Basilica di Santa Chiara

Dedicated to Saint Clare, the founder of the Order of Poor Ladies, the Basilica di Santa Chiara is an important religious site in Assisi. Admire the beautiful Gothic facade and the impressive rose window. Inside, you’ll find the saint’s tomb and a serene atmosphere that invites reflection.

San Rufino Cathedral

Located in the heart of Assisi, the San Rufino Cathedral is another significant religious site. Marvel at the Romanesque architecture, the beautiful rose window, and the grand interior. The cathedral houses important works of art and offers a glimpse into the town’s historical and religious heritage.


Located within the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Porziuncola is a small chapel of immense significance. It is here that Saint Francis founded his order, the Franciscan Order. Step inside this humble chapel, breathe in the peaceful atmosphere, and learn about the history of this sacred place.

Eat all of the Things

When it comes to culinary delights, Assisi offers a tantalizing array of traditional Umbrian dishes that are sure to satisfy any food lover’s palate. Indulge in the hearty flavors of regional cuisine, such as the savory torta al testo, a flatbread filled with delectable ingredients like cured meats, cheese, and fresh vegetables.

Sample the local pasta dishes, like strangozzi or umbricelli, served with rich sauces made from fresh ingredients like truffles or wild mushrooms. Don’t miss the chance to savor roasted meats, such as porchetta or game meats, paired with aromatic herbs. And, of course, complement your meal with a glass of Umbrian wine, known for its robust character and distinct regional flavors. In Assisi, every bite is an opportunity to discover the authentic flavors of Umbria.

On the whole, Assisi is a charming city on every level. The unique religious history is just one reason to visit, it’s also simply lovely. Tiny streets wind along the hillside, passing houses with windowsill flower boxed bursting with bright red, brilliant pink, a riot of spring colors.

The calm and relaxed vibe means that Assisi seems to draw older tourists and those on bus tours across Italy. For that reason, it’s not on the backpacker circuit. That is both refreshing as a change of pace, but also a bit pricier than cities with ample budget accommodation and food options. It was the perfect stop between Florence and our next misadventure in transportation, taking the ferry from Ancona to Split, Croatia—but that’s a story for another day.

Essential Travel Planning Resources:

Booking.com: Essentially the only hotel booking site that I use. It has a wide and affordable selection of traditional hotels, but also hostels and vacation rentals, too.

Rome2Rio: Super handy to assess the full range of transport options between two cities—shows everything from flights to trains, buses, minibuses, and more.

Expedia: Best site, hands down, for low-cost flights in the region.

IMG Global: A travel insurance option I’ve used for well over a decade and recommend for many other travelers.

2 thoughts on “A Little Country… Enjoying History and Beauty in Italy’s Golden Umbria Countryside: Assisi”

  1. Don’t you just hate grumpy people. At least the girl at night is nice, so you can go to bed with a good feeling. Ooh, Croatia, I hear it is amazing! Have a good journey there!


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