Thursday, June 20, 2013


Villa La Grotta
Vlad & Simone manage Villa La Grotta
Cathedral of St. Lorenzo in main square of Perugia
About 12 miles from the city of Arezzo is a villa built in the late 1700s as residence for a noble family.  It is now a guest house and we had 5 pleasant days there as part of a Travelzoo package.  Slightly away from the main tourist areas, this is truly the heart of Tuscany -- the air is crystal clear and the countryside gorgeous. The package included a visit to an organic farm and winery and to an elegant estate and winery owned by the Ferragamo family, but it was the managers of Villa La Grotta, a young couple from Romania, who made this stop memorable with their warmth, kindness and humor. 

Fontana Maggiore between cathedral and Palazzo dei Priori
Then it was on to Perugia.  Best known for chocolate, Perugia also has a wonderful old city. Built atop a hill, it is best reached by parking below and taking a series of escalators up.  They pass through the ruins of a medieval fortress.   A beautiful fountain built 1278-80 stands between the cathedral and the building that housed the original governing bodies of the the province.       

Convent of 1700s converted to apartments
Our second floor terrace overlooking pool 
We stayed just outside the city in what has to be the most beautiful setting of our various lodgings.  A convent of the 1700s was converted into modern apartments.  Since it was not too busy, the owner upgraded us to the 2 bedroom terrace apartment which had a fantastic view of the surrounding meadows and mountains.  We could even see the old city.

Spoleto was our favorite old town.  Different parts of the city are connected by narrow alleys with arches and cobblestone streets. They go in every direction but all alleys eventually lead to a piazza and a way back to where you started.   

Spoleto began as a colony in 241BC.  Our hotel overlooked the ancient Roman Theater. Today it is best known for The Festival of 2 Worlds, an incredible 17 day cultural event with opera, ballet, concerts, cinema, workshops etc. held in venues all over the old city. 
Typical Alley with arch in Spoleto

The Arch of Druso 23Ad
Spoleto is also renowned for Rocca Albornaziana, a fortress that was  commissioned by the popes around 1360 to win back the Papal territories that had been lost to Avignon, France during the approximately 70 years that Avignon was the papal seat.   From here you can see the city and far beyond.  St. Francis of Assisi said, "Never had I seen anything more pleasant than my Spoleto valley." In 1817 the fortress became a penal settlement and eventually a high security prison.  Massive restoration led to its opening as a museum in 2007.  
Rocca Albornoziana

Rocca Albornoziana courtyard
The Bridge of Towers which was built in the late 1300s is outside the fortress.  It was the aqueduct that carried water from the mountain into the city.  We walked across it one day marveling at how they managed to build the columns so high.  It is  considered one of the greatest masonry constructions of the ancient world.  

Frescoes on 2nd floor walkway overlooking courtyard
At the foot of a long, wide staircase, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is a stunning sight.  It was built in the late 12th century over the remains of other churches.

Summer has finally arrived and we are happily heading toward Italy's east coast and a couple of beach towns.  But Spoleto was a wonderful city in which to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary on June 18.  

1st century Roman Theater 
Bridge of Towers Aqueduct
Cathedral of Santa Maria Asunta