If you feel the need to escape from hectic city life and spend some time in calm, natural surroundings, the medieval town of Gubbio in Umbria is a great option. It is not as easy to reach by public transport as other Umbrian towns, as you have to catch a train to nearby Fossato di Vico and then wait for a bus or a taxi ride that takes a good half an hour. But once you are in Gubbio, you feel like you are truly in the countryside, where you can relax and just enjoy the beautiful nature around you.
Gubbio has a history stretching back to ancient times, so there are many interesting places to visit in the town. It is also the setting for some significant legends, including the Christian narrative of the Wolf of Gubbio. According to the 14th century Italian text, “The Little Flowers of St. Francis”, a large wolf used to terrorise the town, during the time that St. Francis of Assisi was living there. However, when Francis plucked up the courage to go and confront the wolf, he managed to tame her, and the beast lived the rest of her life in peace and harmony with Gubbio inhabitants.
A church now sits on the spot where Francis is said to have met the wolf. In fact, there is a plaque marking where the miraculous meeting took place. It says in Italian “Here is where St. Francis pacified the pernicious wolf”.
The church on the site, Santa Maria della Vittoria, is a true little gem. The original structure was built in the 9th century to commemorate a Gubbio victory over a Saracen army. The present church was dedicated to St. Francis in the 13th century by the Benedictine monks. It sits on the Franciscan way, a route St. Francis took when he left Assisi and moved to Gubbio in 1206-1207, which pilgrims have retraced ever since.
Close by, on the way back into town, there is a dainty statue portraying the moment Francis greeted the wolf and tamed her.
Another important saint connected to Gubbio is its patron saint, Ubald. He was a bishop there in the Middle Ages and is often depicted carrying a small model of the town. Despite coming from a noble family he had a reputation for being close to the poor and living a pious life. Here is a statue of him in the centre of Gubbio:
The basilica dedicated to him sits on top of Mount Ingino above the town. Visitors can take a funicular up to see it– quite a fun journey that may be scary for some. In this photo you can just about see the church in the middle of the hill:
When you arrive at the basilica you pass through a very pretty entrance courtyard:
Inside, it may come as a surprise to see the body of Ubald, said to be “incorrupt”, in a glass case above the high altar. To the right side of the church you can see the “Ceri”– hollow wooden machines used during the town’s main festival in May when they are topped by statues of saints and paraded around in a procession.
Coming up to the top of Mount Ingino is well worth-it, also for the views and the peaceful countryside walk you can take back down into the town.
During one visit to Gubbio in July last year I was surrounded by fluttering butterflies on the pathway that winds down the hill, often big and colourful ones!
The route is also a chance to spot some wonderful wild flowers and birds. I really enjoy the feeling of being back in nature, and I appreciate the healing effect that can have on someone who is used to living in a big city.
The town of Gubbio itself is also pleasant to wander around, and contains some interesting churches and museums. After my visit to Urbino, the seat of a former duchy run by the Montefeltro family, it was fascinating for me to see the sites connected to the famous lord and mercenary Federico III da Montefeltro, who was born in Gubbio. You can tour the Ducal Palace here for example, whose courtyard bears striking similarities to the one found in Urbino’s palace.
Federico made sure to leave his mark here too.
The 12th century Duomo, opposite the Ducal palace, has a beautiful rose window surrounded by the symbols of the evangelists.
For the rest of the day you can stroll around the small streets in the medieval centre of town and visit some of the churches, including the Gothic 13th century church dedicated to Saint Francis:
You are unlikely to miss the imposing 14th century Palazzo dei Consoli, from where consuls used to govern the city. Here is a view of the Palazzo from a narrow street:
All in all, Gubbio is a delightful place to spend a long weekend, away from the stress and bustle of the big city. There are countless restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy some delicious local delicacies, including truffles and cold cut meats. I also highly recommend the steaks at La Locanda del Cantiniere. In the evening you should take some time to admire the views at sunset, and at night-time, look out for the glowing fireflies!