We left Assisi, picked up our rental car in Perugia, and (using the GPS navigator our younger son brought from Los Angeles with a chip for Italy), headed toward the villa, wondering if it would work out.
Surrounded by an olive grove, Casa della Ginestra sits on a promontory with views toward the little medieval town of Bettona (“our” hill town) in one direction, and the conquered Mount Subasio in the other. We loved it.
Our floor of the villa had a large living room, kitchen, dining room, four bedrooms, and a terrace or balcony to either view. In the morning, a breeze rippled gauzy curtains, bringing a musical bird chorus and the scent of jasmine. Afternoons, a tiny swimming pool offered respite from the heat. Three cats live at the villa, along with kind and welcoming hosts.
The evening the Alaskans arrived we sat on the terrace as the setting sun lit up Bettona in a golden glow. We ate fresh pasta and gnocchi from a market, a salad from a fruta e verdura shop, bruschetta made by our sweet friend, and drank wine from Sagrantino grapes that grow in the fields where we walked. (It’s impossible to avoid clichés about good things in Italy because they are all true and right – la dolce vita for sure.)
At the villa I felt most strongly the traveler conflict of savor or explore. Stay put and laze the day listening to the bells of Bettona or tour northern Umbria and the east of Tuscany (within easy reach).
We chose the latter and St. Francis makes a worthy focus for day trips. In this part of Umbria, he touched all the nearby towns. Giotto’s famous frescoes are in Assisi’s Basilica, and many churches have relics from his life. On our hike we missed the turnoff to the grotto, the cave where St. Francis often retreated to mediate. But our resourceful daughter-in-law drove us there. It’s a quiet and reverent place – far from the crowded-with-tourist cathedrals where “silencio” seems to have little meaning.
In Umbria’s capitol, Perugia a large walled city full of students and the capital of Umbria, an escalator rises from parking places outside town to the central square. It passes through a medieval town, a once-buried now-excavated city with walls and streets and doorways (if you have a flashlight you can explore).
The trail boss became also tour guide this year, and he seeks always the highest point – a challenging but appropriate goal for visiting Italian hill towns. The high point in Gubbio required a lift in a “gondola” – a slatted metal basket holding two people. But oh the view – in one direction toward the wild part of Umbria and the often snow-peaked Apennines, and in the other, the cultivated valley floor.
Touring days were exciting and exhausting, but home to the villa felt great!