It’s a long way to the top if you want to see Rocco Albornoziana, the fortress/garrison atop Sant’ Elia Hill but the classic views over the Umbrian countryside and the town of Spoleto make it totally worthwhile. A gleaming, air conditioned travellator also helps, particularly in summer as the mechanised route delivers us to Spoleto’s many piazzas for a pizza, gelato or Aperol spritz.
Along the way, the remains of a 2nd century BC terraced wall and a 15th century house can be seen, archaeological remnants from the 2011 excavation uncovered during construction of the moving walkway that visually link ancient and modern worlds.
Perhaps best known for the Two Worlds’ Festival of Spoleto created in 1958 to unite old and new worlds through music, dance, drama and visual arts, every May/June the Spoleto Festival is awash with concerts, performances and art. However, this picturesque town hosts a busy events schedule year-round that augment its stunning heritage attractions so here are some suggestions for first-time visitors.
HIGH AND MIGHTY
It’s midday and bells from a nearby church toll over a peaceful patchwork landscape of corn yellow and olive green where parchment stone buildings and signature terracotta roofs are set under a cerulean sky.
Taking a fast escalator ride from Via della Ponzianina, we arrive at Rocco Albornoziana, a former papal fortress that contains the Museo Nazionale. Built in 1362 to protect the Church State and once the seat of regional power, its sun-drenched courtyard, cool stone rooms and chapels reinforce a sense of impregnability with deeply set windows providing defensive views over the landscape.
Don’t miss the jaw-droppingly elegant, 10-arch bridge Ponte delle Torri, once captured on canvas by Turner, on the shady walk back.
BEAT THE HEAT
A Spoleto Card will set you back just 8 Euros and provides access to seven museums which, along with eating and drinking are great options during hot summer days.
Abutting St Agata church at the edge of Piazza della Liberta, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Spoleto has a carefully curated collection of antiquities from Roman and Etruscan periods. From here you can access and wander through Teatro Romano, a 1st century Roman amphitheatre which hosts performances during summer.
Aristocratic finery from the 15th to 20th centuries is on view at Musee del Tessuto e del Costume, much donated by Spoleto’s leading families while Casa Romana is a 1st century BC home on Via Visiale.
Luxuriously appointed with an internal columned porch garden and mosaic floors laid in linear black and white patterns, it’s attributed to have belonged to Vespasia Polla, the Emperor Vespasian’s mother. Documents reveal that she gave the house to Emperor Caligula although I suspect that what Caligula wanted, he got!
Early mornings and evenings are the best times to roam Spoleto’s hilly streets that open onto piazzas or squares that have been public meeting places for generations. Still thriving today with local restaurants and gelaterias, quaint streets lead to Piazza del Mercato, Spoleto’s beating heart that was once the Roman Forum.
This great square is framed by walls of blush pink, ivory white, burnt ochre, green, and blue – faded by a thousand sunsets. Brown wooden shutters absorb the sun’s glare and sturdy nut-brown doors lead to a multitude of apartments.
From here it’s a short stroll to Casa Romana, the Archbishop’s Palace and splendid views of the Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta where broad steps sweep down to an imposing pale stone cathedral originally built during the 11th century.
COOLEST GELATI Gelateria Yoguteria Primavera on Piazza del Mercato is a daily pick-me-up.
PRIME PEOPLE WATCHING The patio at Bar Canasta on Piazza della Liberta where locals gather in the early evening’s golden sunlight for aperitifs and dinner.
FINE FOOD Il Tempio del Gusto is an un-missable fine dining experience without the price tag. Food is sourced, cooked and presented with local pride in either a kerbside courtyard or intimate interior. www.iltempiodelgusto.com
STAYING POWER Housed in a former tannery and now beautifully decorated in Umbrian residential style, Hotel San Luca is a splendid family-owned small hotel that’s polished to perfection. Courtyard breakfasts at tables laid with bright napery, an on-site bar and free WiFi, it’s just steps from the moving walkway. www.hotelsanluca.com
GETTING THERE Spoleto is around 1.5 hours from Rome by car or train. www.rome2rio.com provides travel options but train is a highly effective, not to mention stress-free, way to travel throughout Italy.
WANT MORE? www.spoleto.info.com www.italia.it/en/home.html
Tags: Bar Canasta, Casa Romana, Duomo Spoleto, Hotel San Luca, Il Tempio del Gusto, italy tourism, Italy Trains, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Spoleto, Ponte delle Torri, Rocco Albornoziana, Spoleto, Spoleto Festival, Teatro Romano, Umbria