Assisi is a quintessential Italian hilltop town worth visiting. However, it is also one of the most visited towns, so it can be very busy and crowded during the day. It is not considered to be off the beaten track and is generally set up for day trippers who keep the town going.
It is all so beautiful: stone and terracotta, steep hills and potted window boxes wherever you look. The town is exquisitely preserved and is actually quite small. No cars are allowed except those belonging to residents, but you can walk around the whole city at least twice in one day so that really isn’t a problem.
We opted to stay here for 2 nights so I could capture the pre-sunrise views from our belvedere. We travelled in September and found the afternoons from 2 until 5 to be very hot and draining, so we did our walking early in the morning. We used the hottest times to eat way too much gelato and watch the locals melt into the benches on the piazza, nodding off and hardly moving to peel themselves away from slumber.
Late in the day we climbed to the fort at the top of the hill for the best views of all. On the way down we found a little bar that was actually someone’s family home with a big balcony which they had decided to open to the public and serve the usual Aperol spritz and chips as snacks to the tourists.
My advice on where to eat is generally to stay away from the main street restaurants with large signage. Find somewhere out of sight or small, where the locals are. For a list of where to eat in Assisi, read this.
The main attraction for folk is the Basilica of St Francis. It cliffs at the end of the main strada and is truly spectacular in its vastness. On the opposite end of the village is the Santa Chiara (St Claire) which is made from the same pink stone of the region as the fort. It is a very pretty church, but more importantly, it has a beautiful story of the female saint who was partly responsible for the evolution of this pious village becoming a pilgrimage site, not only to St Francis.
Strolling, supping, shopping, absorbing and pondering are the main activities in this perfect little village.
We travelled by train and took a taxi to the top, and did the same on the route out. Assisi is mostly seen as a day trip and this is entirely possible. Staying overnight will allow you the quiet streets to yourself early in the morning and late in the evening. I enjoy seeing how the shop owners get their produce delivered and how the streets are cleaned, and what time people start opening shops and having their first smoke of the day with espresso. Seeing how the locals live is far a more educational way of getting to know a place. As usual in Italy, as the sun goes down and early diners have emerged from work or home, the main piazza becomes the gathering place for the daily passegiatta. Pre-dinner spritz or after-dinner gelato for dessert drives folk to be outside and strolling the town square. Often locals chat or watch their children splash in the fountain. I love this tradition about the culture of Italy. It’s very joyful and festive and solidifies the idea of community.