Our journey to St Leonard’s on Sundays takes around 45 minutes in the car with a 10-minute walk through Assisi. It might sound like a long way, but if there was a competition for one of the most beautiful journeys to church ours must surely rank near the top.
After leaving the village of Cerqueto behind on the SS444, the road winds upwards past hamlets, the odd house, farms and woodyard. We pass two beautiful Art Nouveau villas before the village of Osteria Morano, then on through Morano Madonuccia, which consists of one main street with a bar and a church, but where each year a rally for old cars and motor bikes is held. We once saw a stream of them making their way from Assisi, leading me to the conclusion that the main colour for 1960’s Fiat 500s was cream!
The road continues upwards and goes along a ridge with magnificent views on either side, across green fields and woods to hills many miles away. Sometimes you can see as far as the Sibillini mountains of Le Marche which have snow on the top for most of the year. The road continues to curve this way and that, through sloping banks of trees and broom bushes which in June are a mass of yellow flowers. We often spot the farmer who has painted up his collection of old farm implements to display in his front garden, while in the back his row upon row of hives are painted yellow and green.
After Montemezzo at 850 metres above sea level we start our gradual descent towards Assisi and soon I see a rather scruffy agriturismo reminiscent of H E Bates Larkins’ farmyard but with large stone lions atop the gate posts. Another large stone house with large stone eagles reminiscent of those on the old German or Russian flags. More breathtaking views before the approach to Assisi, where the wooded slopes change into volcanic hills like a lumpy counterpane. Then in front of us Mt Subasio with its great folds where you can imagine volcanic ash running down millions of years ago. More bends, then the road goes along the side of a canyon and look — we can see the pencil pines by Assisi cemetery.
Suddenly, there is the magnificent outline of the Rocca, the medieval fortress guarding the town, which in May at the time of the Calendimaggio, will have huge banners flying from the towers. Another couple of bends and through a very small arched gateway (one car at a time, please!) and we’ve arrived.
If we park in Piazza Matteoti at the top of the town, there is another treat in store: a walk through a recently unearthed Roman cistern out onto a balcony overlooking the valley below. Then it’s into the lift down to Via San Gabriele dell’Addolorata, followed by a short walk down to the main Piazza of Assisi with its fountain and, depending on the time of the year, crowds of tourists. Then it’s down through some of Assisi‘s narrow streets and lanes, before we arrive at St Leonard’s.
The return journey is just as beautiful. This time I look for the field where the small herd of goats live. The large house that never seems to be occupied. The house that‘s been up for sale as long as we’ve lived here! But as we near Gualdo Tadino, there to the right is Valsorda looming up behind the town and, further on, the Monte Cucco range, which will have snow on the top long after it has gone from the valleys below. Coming home in the winter dark we can often just spy the giant ‘Christmas Tree’ outlined in lights on the hillside behind Gubbio. We know we are very fortunate to live in such beauty. But visitors can also enjoy the scenery: just drive up the road around Assisi to the top, go through the Porta Perlici arch after Piazza Matteoti and if you wonder why the houses on the right seem to be built in a curve, it’s because originally this was where the Romans had their theatre. They certainly knew the best places in which to build!