A Day in Medieval Spoleto

Spoleto

The journey time from Terni train station to Spoleto is a short 30 minute train ride, making it an easily accessible Umbrian hill town. From the train station, the walk to the Old Town (centro storico) takes about 10 minutes and is along a straight and flat road. I was staying the night at Hotel Clarici, located just outside the gates to the Old Town. The accommodation was basic, but served a rather large breakfast (for Italian standards), and being an easy walk to and from the train station, it made a great option for a one night stay in town. For a visit longer than one day, I would probably pay a bit more and stay in the Old Town.

With a fairly compact centre, I was able to explore most of the town despite only arriving around 1pm and having a mid-sightseeing two hour rest in my hotel room (thanks to a head cold that arrived over night – bleh!).

My top sights for a one day trip to Spoleto:

  • Getting lost within the town itself, with its windy cobblestone streets
  • The Duomo (Cathedral) of S. Maria Assunta and its grand piazza
  • The Spoleto Fortress (La Rocca) and the views of the countryside in all directions
  • The Tower’s Bridge (Ponte delle Torri) and the road the circles the base of the Fortress
  • The Roman Theatre
  • The Roman Arch
  • Piazza Del Mercato

Walking Spoleto’s streets and piazzas

I initially found the town’s layout using a map to be confusing. I shortly gave up trying to walk in any specific direction and adopted the “let’s see where this next street takes me” approach. It worked out well as I was able to unexpectedly find the Duomo (Cathedral) and its grand piazza. For the most part, I relied on my pre-loaded map of Spoleto on my Google Maps app on my iphone to get around town. (tip – load a map on your google maps app when you have access to WIFI. Since GPS doesn’t require data / wifi, it’ll show you where you are and which direction you’re heading on the pre-loaded map).

Duomo (Cathedral) of S. Maria Assunta

Spoleto’s Cathedral dominates the piazza and is also easily seen from above at La Rocca. Due to the windy streets, I didn’t see the Cathedral until I was walking up to it from the side. Similar to many of the churches in Umbria, the Duomo is over 700 years old, with its construction beginning around 1175 and completing in 1227.

The piazza has a few restaurants lining one side where a few people were enjoying a drink in the sun, but unlike many hill towns, this piazza was refreshingly quiet. I was walking around town during the late afternoon, when many restaurants and stores are closed, so there are very few people out and about as you can see in the photo below.

The Duomo and the Piazza del Duomo
Beautiful mosaics on the Duomo
Beautiful mosaics on the Duomo

The Spoleto Fortress (La Rocca)

My next stop was La Rocca, sitting up above Spoleto. Constructed in the 1300s, the fortress was turned into a jail in the 1800s and was used as such until the late 1900s. After extensive renovation it was reopened as a museum in 2007. While I didn’t go inside, I thought I’d try the escalators down from the Rocca to see where they would take me. I ended up coming out at the bottom and had no idea where I was. Something to look into next time!

My main purpose for climbing to the Fortress was to walk around the (flat) pathway around its base to see the bridge on the opposite side. The views from around the fortress, particularly down to the town below, are worth the trek.

La Rocca – imagine showing up here when it was a jail. Pretty intimidating! 

The Tower’s Bridge (Ponte delle Torri)

The Tower’s Bridge is accessible by a pathway / road that loops around the Rocca (Via Gattaponi). When I visited (in October 2016), the bridge was closed to pedestrians due to recent earthquakes. Seeing as the bridge is at least 700 years old, I was happy to stay on solid earth and not try to make the journey across!

Ponte delle Torri – while it may not look impressive in the photo (since no one was allowed on it, trying to get something as a scale reference was tough!) its about 80m tall and 235m across. I have to admit that I stayed for awhile nearby staring at it in awe. It’s a beautiful site!
Looking down at the Basilica San Pietro in the distance

Along the loop on the south-west corner, you’ll find a small cafe called Bar Gelateria La Portella, serving drinks and gelato. I highly recommend it as a good stopping point to have a drink or a coffee and take in the beautiful views!

Seating for the bar / gelateria. A perfect spot for a coffee break!
Looking down at the Duomo from Via Gattaponi.

After my stroll I headed in the direction of the Roman Theater. It was interesting enough for a quick look, but I decided to take a peek through the gates and continue onwards instead of getting closer for a better look. By this time I was getting hungry and made a gelato stop at a nearby gelateria. There are several in town and I didn’t care much for the gelato I had, though the lady let me buy one with the money I had on me (I was about 50 euro cent short). Thanks gelato lady!

Teatro Romano

In the evening I decided to do a bit of shopping since the shops were now open again (most close for a few hours in the afternoon). I loved the walk from the main gates along Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi. While steep, it’s lined with shops, restaurants and, in the early evening, filled with (mostly) teenagers out for their Passigiata.

Thanks to a quick look on Tripadvisor for the top sites in Spoleto, I ventured around until I found the Arch of Drusus and Germanicus, a Roman arch built in 23 AD that led into the forum (now Piazza del Mercato). Spoleto, like many towns throughout Italy, was once a Roman settlement. No matter how many I see, I never tire of seeing ancient sites. While watching people strolling under the arch, it was hard not to picture the people who have have walked the same path thousands of years ago! I have a soft spot for cobblestones 🙂

Arch of Drusus and Germanicus – apologies for the blurry photo

I also used the opportunity to have one final stroll through my favourite of Spoleto’s piazzas – Piazza del Mercato. At the end of the piazza is the Fontana di piazza del Mercato. The facade is of a former church, which was converted to a fountain in the 1700s.

Piazza del Mercato – a popular spot for dinner at one of the many busy restaurants 
La Fontana di piazza del Mercato or Fonte di Piazza, just in time to see a young couple having their wedding photos taken.

Being my last night in Umbria, I really wanted a nice pasta, but I was feeling so unwell with a cold, I decided on a local speciality – a soup made with farro (spelt), followed by what the trattoria owner told me is a speciality of the dessert variety – Crescionda.

Zuppo di farro (spelt soup) – it tasted a lot better than it looked!
Crescionda (Umbrian cake special to Spoleto)

Full of soup and pie, it was back to the hotel for my onward journey to Rome in the morning.

Getting to Spoleto

After a week in Umbria, including two days in Perugia, a week in Todi with short trips to Orvieto, Assisi and Spello, I arrived in Spoleto from Todi using the Umbrian regional train to Terni and then a Trenitalia train from Terni to Spoleto.

I would love to say my trip to Spoleto from Todi was uneventful, but the 50km or so journey took about six hours! (It should have taken less than three). Upon arriving at Todi’s train station on a Sunday (using the town’s bus to travel from the town centre to the station), I saw a sign (written only in Italian) that said ‘due to construction (starting that day) on the rail line, ‘delays’ were to be expected’. The train that normally takes an hour from Perugia to Todi (cost ~ 3 euros), took two hours. Being an hour late, and then moving very slowly all the way to Terni, I wasn’t even close to catching the train to Spoleto I had originally planned on taking. Since the train was so late, it resulted in ‘only’ a two hour layover in Terni. I decided to leave the terminal and walk about 10 minutes into town. I found a cafe (Bar Malu) with free wifi and an owner that was more than happy to let me sit there for almost two hours drinking coffee and using his internet! Grazie Mille!

If you’re arriving from Rome to the South, the train journey on the intercity Trenitalia train takes about an hour and a half (assuming no delays).

I visited Spoleto in October 2016. Have you visited Spoleto? What were some of your highlights? If you have any questions about Spoleto or other towns in Umbria, leave me a comment below. 

 

 

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