When I went through my confirmation as a child, I chose St. Francis to be my saint. I always felt a connection to him because of our shared love of animals. He abandoned his life of luxury and is now known as the patron saint of animals and the environment. Making a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy has always been on my bucket list. When I was visiting Rome, I looked into day trips that I could join.
There were so many tours to choose from with such a variation in price that it made my head spin. I finally found Viator, which is a company owned by Travelocity. I paid $125 for the 12 hour trip which visited Orvieto and Assisi.
I was picked up right in front of my Airbnb which was great because the tour left very early in the morning. We were brought to the tour agency, who checked us in and we were transferred into a larger vehicle. We had a very comfortable small-sized bus and our tour guide seamlessly switched between each language she had to cover. There were about 10 people with us, so a relatively small group.
We drove for an hour and a half to reach Orvieto, which is a small medieval hill town in Umbria. We had to ride a funicular to reach it.
We only spent about an hour getting a short history and then wandering on our own. There is a beautiful cathedral in the city center featuring Luca Signorelli’s frescoes of the Day of Judgment and Life after Death. After seeing the work that inspired Michelangelo himself, I head down the alleyway that leads down to shops and cafes.
Orvieto is known for their bright colored ceramics and Classico wine.
If you have more time in Orvieto, I would suggest exploring the rich underground world. You can walk 496 steps down inside of St. Patrick’s well which to this day is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance engineering. During the Sack of Rome in 1527, Pope Clement VII took refuge in Orvieto. The well was constructed so they had a water supply in case of a siege. Thanks to the double-helix design, a person traveling down one staircase will never bump into a person coming up in the opposite direction.
After a quick cappuccino, we were back on the road. We drove for another hour before reaching a restaurant for lunch. As many of the other reviews also commented on, it was the least memorable meal I had in Italy.
What not to miss in Assisi
After almost two hours of driving, we had finally reached Assisi. Most medieval cities built during this time were strategically placed on the top of hills for protection. We climbed a steep staircase to reach the walls of the city and then began our journey of walking in the footsteps of St. Francis, or San Francesco as they call him in Italy.
We started in the chapel where St. Francis went to school. Our guide used whisper microphones which hooked over the ear so that we could hear her point out important artifacts and explain their significance in a crowd.
1. The Basilica of Saint Clare- (Basilica di Santa Chiara)
St. Clare was a follower of St. Francis and founder of the Order of Poor Ladies. The Romanesque-style Basilica was built in her honor in the 13th century and houses her remains in the crypt. The Basilica also houses the Byzantine crucifix, which Francis was praying to when he reportedly heard the voice of Christ.
While the inside of the Basilica of St. Clare was simple and almost austere in appearance, it is where I felt the most connected to St. Francis. I expected to feel that in the grand Basilica of St. Francis, but really- the saint has never stepped foot inside of it. It was designed by the Pope in honor of him. While the giant Basilica is large and ornate, we joked that St. Francis would have hated it because after all, he had vowed to live a life of poverty.
2. Oratory of San Francesco Piccolino
This religious building in the center of Assisi is said to be the actual location that Donna Pica gave birth to St. Francis.
3. Chiesa Nuova
This “New Church” was built in 1615 on the site of the parental home of St. Francis. It is also where his father kept him imprisoned in a tiny cell before his mother rescued him.
4. Duomo di San Rufino
The place where Saint Francis, Saint Clare and many of their original disciples were baptized.
5. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
The former temple of Minerva is now the Catholic church of Santa Maria Sopra. The 2,000 year old church faces the Piazza del Comune and Palazzo Dei Priori.
6. Basilica of St. Francis
7. Rocca Maggiore
This medieval fort built in in the 12th century sits on a hill far above Assisi. While I didn’t make it to the top, it is a grand sight to see.
8. Santa Maria della Angeli
This large church at the bottom of the hill is where St. Francis founded the Franciscan order and later, where he died on October 3, 1226. This tour did not visit this church, but I wanted to mention it since it has such an important significance in the like of St. Francis.
Dress Code & Photography
A dress code is required to enter places of worships. No shorts or sleeveless tops are allowed. Knees and shoulders must be covered for both men and women. No pictures are allowed in a place of worship, even without a flash on.
Assisi was the most beautiful place I have visited in Italy. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. If time allows, spend more than a day here just so you can take it all in. Those alleyways were made for wandering. Just look at this winding staircase called Vicolo di Sant’Andrea.
Assisi is really about 2 hours from Rome, but traffic can her horrendous. We came back during rush hour so the traffic was heavy. I was dropped off near to my Airbnb and given directions on how to get home. It was less than a 10 minute walk.
Final thoughts on day tripping with Viator
I am so glad I went day tripping from Rome to Assisi with Viator. In fact, I wish I had another day to do their trip to Pompeii. If you are looking for day trips from Rome, be sure to check them out. My only complaint is that it was a very fast paced tour. Even though it was 12 hours long, we covered a lot of ground. If I did it again, I would probably choose a tour that just went to Assisi so I didn’t feel so rushed.