Gita Italiana 2010: How to Really Love Assisi

Welcome back to another day on the Gita Italiana — do you need a rest yet? Sorry, you won’t be getting one until August is over!

Today we’re spending time getting to know and love Assisi with Rebecca Winke of Rebecca’s Ruminations; you may also know her as one of the driving forces behind the Agriturismo Brigolante in Umbria. Welcome Rebecca!


There’s a tipping point on the eternal scale of love.

At the beginning, you fall for the love of your life for the big things—her eyes, her smile, the way she walks—in short, those same things that have smitten every guy who has come before you and are still what make heads turn. But slowly, over time, your focus shifts and at a certain point you realize that what you love about her now are the little things, details so small and intimate that you feel like you, and only you, know.  The way she looks sad when she talks about her grandfather, how she bites her lip when she’s nervous, her secret stash of Phil Collins albums. And though she may be admired the world over for the big things, it’s those little ones that make her yours.

Assisi with Rocca Above by Gunnar Bach Pedersen

Assisi with Rocca Above by Gunnar Bach Pedersen

This is where I’m at with Assisi. Years ago I fell in love with her for the big things—the Basilica of Saint Francis, the winding alleys lined with pink stone houses, the pretty piazza—all of those things that have struck visitors for centuries before me.

But now, after almost 20 years of living here, I love her for the small things, my private collection of quirks that makes me feel like we belong together.

Her Checkered Past

Sure, your woman is a staid mater familias now, admired for her domestic organization, professionalism, and civic activism. But you know. You know she shies away from tank tops and sundresses because of that tattoo on her shoulder, the one she now finds tacky and slightly embarrassing, but which is the only remaining evidence of a ten-month long teen rebellion that involved quitting school, thumbing it to California, hooking up with a ne’er-do-well group of hemp activists, and finally having to call collect from a biker jamboree in one of the Dakotas for money to fly home and shower. And you love that tattoo.

Assisi is all peace and love and Saint Francis now. But I know. I know her past as a scrappy little warmonger, wreaking havoc in neighboring Perugia and Arezzo and taking up arms at the drop of a hat (for better or for worse) against Rome, the Byzantine empire, and the Lombards (amongst others). Today, Assisi is admired for her Basilica (the one dedicated to Saint Francis who was, before his religious conversion, a fierce merchant-warrior who survived numerous battles and captivity), but I love to visit one of the only vestiges of her bellicose past: the captivating and dramatic Rocca Maggiore, her stone fortress set above the town. I wander through the semi-restored tunnels and turrets, and climb the far tower to gaze over the whole of the Umbrian valley with a conquerer’s eye. I know.

Crucifixion by Cimabue via Wikimedia Commons

Crucifixion by Cimabue via Wikimedia Commons

Her Chipped Tooth

Everyone loves her smile because it’s perfect; you love it because you know it’s not.

Whenever I visit the Basilica, I always stop to admire the famous fresco cycle in the upper church documenting the life of Saint Francis, with its breathtaking first steps towards conveying depth and perfect rendering of facial features. But what I spend most my time in front of is Cimabue’s magnificent Crucifixion decorating the apse, with St. Francis on his knees at the foot of the Cross. Because the artist used lead oxide in his colours, which were applied when the plaster was no longer fresh, the frescoes soon suffered from damp and decay and deteriorated to photographic negatives. Somehow seeing a great master’s “Doh!” moment makes all the perfection just a little more human and lovable.

What’s Really Important to Her

You’ve heard her hold forth at dinner parties about travel, food, wine, shopping, and all six seasons of SATC. But you’ve also listened to her read pages from her diary out loud to you in bed. You know what she would run back into the burning house to save.

Assisi has shops, restaurants, music and arts festivals, religious feast days, nattily dressed inhabitants, and many, many cell phones. But if you really want to see what makes this town tick, take the pretty walk past Porta San Giacomo to the cemetary.  Aside from being architecturally lovely in that way that old monumental European cemetaries so often are, here you will discover the soul of Assisi. Notice the names on the stones that repeat over and over, as generations live out their lives in this small town. See the carefully tended graves, as women return every week to freshen flowers and polish marble. Watch as they tenderly touch the portraits attached to the graves and quietly greet their loved ones. Assisi would run back into the burning house to save her family.

Assisi in Fog by Raniero Tazzi

Assisi in Fog by Raniero Tazzi

How She Sleeps

Nothing is more intimate than looking down on your love’s face while she sleeps, and, indeed, the winter months when the tourists have left and Assisi seems to have fallen into quiet repose is when I feel closest to her. I wander her silent streets on a misty February night, hear the echo of my footsteps, discover alleys and winding staircases, and have only the occasional cat or church bell tolling as company. Everyone loves her when she’s awake and vibrant in the sunshine; I love her when she’s all shuttered up in the fog.

She Can Still Dazzle You

Yes, you are over the big stuff. But every once in awhile she comes down the stairs dressed for an evening out and manages to leave you breathless and head-over-heels in love again.

I see Assisi every day. I admit I get inured to her beauty after awhile. And then there will be that one magical fall evening when I’m headed up the hill and the light is just the right shade of dusk to set the whole town ablaze in pink and orange and the sky is an improbable azure and the mountain she perches on is an autumn firestorm and the air is so limpid that you can see every detail to postcard perfection and I am so smitten that I pull the car over and put my life on hold for ten minutes to watch my beautiful Assisi in all her glory. And I think, “It’s you and me, baby.  We’re in it for the long haul.”

Assisi at sunset by Roberto Ferrari Campogalliano (Modena) Italy

Assisi at sunset by Roberto Ferrari Campogalliano (Modena) Italy


Rebecca moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter opened an agriturismo in her husband’s renovated family farmhouse at the foot of Mount Subasio near Assisi, Umbria.  She spends her time taking care of guests at Brigolante, blogging about the lovely region she now calls home at Rebecca’s Ruminations, and wondering about what strange winds blew an urban vegetarian to a pig farm in Umbria.

17 Beans of Wisdom to “Gita Italiana 2010: How to Really Love Assisi”
  1. Gil

    I learned more reading this than I did when I visited Assisi! Although I got to Assisi from Spello by taking the very scenic route over Mt. Subasio.

    The scenic routes are always more fun, right?! 😉

  2. 08.26.2010

    Many thanks Rebecca – we just got back from 3 days in Assisi as part of our ferragosto vacation. Fell in love with the town and reading this has made me want to go back – I wanted to anyway but I think I’ll look at it next time with a different slant because of you. Grazie.

    Thanks for coming by, Willym!

  3. Wow! Rebecca ~ what an awesome description.

    I loved it. I could especially relate to the fog picture and story of enjoying the beauty when everyone is gone. It is a love affair with a city in the end, isn’t it? Hope she never betrays you.


    Open my heart
    and you will see
    graved inside of it,
    Italy <3

    Agreed Julie 🙂

  4. 08.26.2010

    magical. just. magical. sigh.

    Agreed 😀

  5. 08.26.2010

    Hi Rebecca,

    As someone who has always loved and dabbled in creative writing, I am in awe of your writing. You are extremely talented and always inspiring…and fun… to read. This is another winner in your long series of great articles!

    So glad you enjoyed Mary!

  6. 08.26.2010

    Love your story! I can relate as well, as I never thought it was possible to fall head over heels in love with a country until I came to Italy.

    Your beautiful love story with Assisi reminds me of the honeymoon period when every flower, fog and funghi were filled with magic, and the sound of Italian was simply the most bewitching music I had ever heard.

    How truly wonderful that your destiny on a pig farm in Umbria is also the place where you can literally kiss the dew with all your heart and soul. Fortunate indeed!

    Beautiful thoughts, Keren…thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. 08.26.2010

    Loved the writing! Loved Assisi – wonderfully told and beautifully illustrated with stunning photos! Bravi! Bravi! Bravi! We had the pleasure of gazing at Assisi from our hilltop perch in Perugia and being able to visit this beautiful city numerous times. Grazie!

    Thanks so much for reading, Rosemary!

  8. 08.26.2010

    To Gil and Willym…thanks! It’s daunting to write about Assisi, as so much has been said. I’m pleased that you found something “new”!

    To Julie…ah, that’s the kicker. Assisi, like all small towns, has her dark side of forked tongues and cold shoulders. Luckily, I’ve stayed on her good side so far!

    To Diana and Mary…no compliment sweeter than that of a fellow writer! Thanks….

    To Keren and Rosemary…Only those who have lived in this captivatingly fickle country can understand how it is to fall head over heels with her.

  9. 08.26.2010

    What a beautiful love letter, Rebecca. Michelle, this series really does just keep getting better and better.

    So happy you’re enjoying, Katja 🙂

  10. 08.27.2010

    beautifully written, really enjoyed reading this. Thank you 🙂

    Thanks for coming by, Madeline 🙂

  11. 08.28.2010

    I loved the framing device you used here. Just lovely article about your love of your adopted home.

    Agreed, Jen 🙂

  12. 08.30.2010

    Thanks, Madeline and jen. Jen, and here I thought it was a shtick and come to find out it’s a framing device. I need to take a creative writing class so I know the lingo. 🙂

  13. Katie

    Hi Rebecca,

    I loved this post! My partner and I recently decided to marry in Assisi next summer. His grandparents are from Italy and while he was traveling throughout Italy a few summers ago, he fell in love with Assisi. We are so excited about it and have already started contacting the Basilica and some restaurants in town to start planning. Neither of us speak Italian very well, so planning so far has been a bit stressful, but your post made my day and reassured me that we made a great decision. You’re a beautiful writer!


  14. 09.03.2010

    Katie, super congratulations on your wedding! I planned an overseas wedding, and it was indeed stressful…but worth every minute. Let me know if you need any suggestions!

  1. [...] of Umbria which I hold particularly dear (the largely undiscovered Valnerina, for example), but Assisi i...
  2. [...] of the most beautifully written articles about Assisi that I’ve ever come across is by the author...



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