Sunday, 21 December 2008

Spoleto - the perfect hill town? Part 2

Umbria is rich in cathedrals. Assisi with its basilica and Orvieto with its Signorelli chapel are perhaps the best known and attract hoardes of visitors in the summer. By contrast Spoleto's cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta sits nestled and relatively undiscovered at the foot of steps and a stone-paved square in the centre of town. At this time of the year the square and the cathedral are deserted save for a few townsfolk heading off to mass or enjoying a quiet stroll. In the summer its a very different picture as the square is used for a series of popular evening concerts and set out with chairs. Much of what we can see in the cathedral today was built in the late 12th century particularly the campanile and the facade with its colourful Byzantine style mosaic. Both were begun in or around 1175 to replace earlier structures destroyed when the Emperor Frederick Barbarosa sacked the town. What a luxury it is to be able to saunter through the town in the absence of crowds - this is what the grand tour must have been like for previous generations visiting Italy.
Our favourite restaurant in Spoleto is the Apollinare located in a 12th century monastery facing the ruins of the roman amphitheatre.The food there is some of the best to be found in this part of Umbria and the wine list although short has some interesting choices. A good alternative is the family run restaurant on the market square. This is well worth a visit in summer amid the hustle and bustle of the market stalls and shops. Friends have stayed in the Villa Milani on the outskirts of town which has the benefits of commanding views of Spoleto and ( a must in the summer ) cool terraces and carefully maintained gardens but it is a twenty minute walk from the sights and the shops. In the centre of town there seems to be a dearth of anywhere memorable to stay but we've heard from someone who stayed there last summer that the Hotel Palazzo Leti is interesting.

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