Italy Trip

Spoleto Italy a Hidden Gem for Art Lovers

Spoleto is off the beaten tourist track in the lush, rolling green belt of Umbria. The Spoleto Cathedral a Roman theater and the Festival of the Two Worlds await.

Spoleto is known to Italians as a city of culture and the arts. Italians know, they have something special, something unspoiled in Spoleto. It’s not just the Umbrian cuisine, local white wine, or even the UNESCO world heritage site nestled secretly away in Spoleto. It’s more of a feeling. The one that says, you just found a hidden gem.

Surrounded by hills, olive groves and vineyards. Dating from the 12th century, Spoleto Cathedral has a porticoed facade embellished by a mosaic. Inside is a cycle of frescoes by the medieval artist Filippo Lippi. The National Archaeological Museum complex displays items from the Bronze Age and Roman times. It also includes the restored Roman Theater.

While Italy has plenty of mass tourism, in Spoleto you can wander into a restaurant and be casually led to a terrace that opens up over Roman theater ruins. No lines or tickets or fighting crowds to see them. As if it’s no big deal to have Roman ruins afoot while sipping a glass of Trebbiano. From posters for concerts and plays to abundant frescos, religious and modern art. History is comfortably juxtaposed with modern art on display throughout the city. Wherever you walk in Spoleto, Art is just around the next corner.

Spoleto Italy Photography

Here is a collection of some of my favorite sites in Spoleto starting with the Basilica of San Salvatore in Spoleto which dates back to the 4th century and is one of seven UNESCO world heritage sites in central Italy.

Explore Italy, Umbria, Spoleto Cathedral
Spoleto Cathedral, Umbria

Ponte delle Torri in Spoleto, Italy

Ponte delle Torri is an imposing structure spanning 754 feet and the epic panoramic views of Monteluco. Nine pillars of local limestone stand 262 feet tall making for one very impressive structure. Cardinal Albornoz put in place many building initiatives during the 14th century including Ponte delle Torri. The bridge not only brought the Sant’Elia Hill and Monteluco together but also served to transport water to the city from Cortaccione springs.

Ponte delle Torri in Spoleto Italy
Ponte delle Torri in Spoleto Italy

The views looking outside Spoleto are breathtaking. On our first visit to Spoleto, Italy the surrounding views from the historic city center made me turn to Paolo and say “You know we have to live here right?” In the end we moved to the Italian Alps, but Spoleto remains one of my favorite places to visit in Italy.

Views from Spoleto
Views from Spoleto

Part of the reason why is that Spoleto is as peaceful inside the city wall as it is outside. Spoleto is peaceful as cars are few in the historic city center.

Spoleto Italy
One of a few cars in Spoleto Italy historic city center.

Spoleto is a bright, magical city full of inspirational art. Some new, some historic.

Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral in Spoleto Fresco
Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral Frescoes by Filippo Lippi and his assistants, depicting stories of the Madonna.

Even the tourist information kiosk is adorned in art.

Art on a Newstand in Spoleto Italy
Just Your Everyday Newstand. Except This One is in Spoleto Italy

In fact just about every flat surface is used in Spoleto to display art.

Modern Art on the Streets of Spoleto
Modern Art on the Streets of Spoleto

Look closely and you can see the history of Spoleto’s connection to the arts found in frescos throughout the city.

Fresco in Spoleto Italy
Fresco in Spoleto Italy
Frescos on a home in Spoleto Italy
Frescos at night on a home in Spoleto Italy

Spoleto Italy Festivals

For many years Spoleto Italy was truly one of Italy’s hidden gems. Festivals changed all that. In the summer music lovers flock to Spoleto for dei Due Mondi or the Festival of the Two Worlds. Founded in 1958 the annual summer music, opera, and dance festival is the most popular in Spoleto.

After spending the day on foot in Spoleto, especially after exploring Piazza del Mercato and the surrounding markets, restaurants, and pizza shops, food is in order. To get a sense of regional cuisine, go for a tipico (typical) restaurant. While “tipico” might sound boring in Italy, it’s anything but. Tipcio is simply a way to say, local recipes served here. In the case of Spoleto we’re talking Umbrian Cusine.

Umbrian Cuisine

When it comes to food, being off the beaten tourist track in Italy means Spoleto has held tight to traditional grape varietals and recipes. Many recipes remain untouched or pure if you will. Paolo and I were fortunate enough to be in Spoleto in Winter which is prime black truffle season. One day at lunch, a table of four retirees behind us went for it! I watched their glee as each coarse was snowed upon tableside with hand-shaved, paper-thin slices of pungent Tartufo. Other local specialties include Torta al testo an Umbrian flat-bread sandwich. While it sounds a little less exciting than black truffles, don’t skip it. Torta al testo is what the locals eat regularly for a reason. A great reminder that when in Italy, the most humble foods are often the best.

Strangozzi

One of my absolute favorite things about Italian cuisine is that pasta is never just pasta. Noodle is not a word that translates to Italian. Instead in Italy, each pasta shape has a story behind the name. Each pasta shape also has a very specific purpose which correlates to any sugo (sauce) it’s traditionally served with.

Strangozzi which loosely translates to ‘strangle’ is the regional pasta in Spoleto. The name comes from a rebellion against papal domination in the 14th century.  As the story goes, the clergy were attached in the streets, strangled with whatever was at hand, including shoelaces. Thus the name of the pasta.

Brutal but no less delicious, Stangozzi is a rough, long pasta similar to tagliatelle, perfect to deliver rich sugo made from local seasonal ingredients clinging to each strand.

Now I’m hungry. Oh wait, it gets better.

Bruschetta Umbria

While mortadella and charcuterie are in no short supply in Spoleto, one thing they really do well is bruschetta. Two things to know about bruschetta before ordering it in Italy. One, bruschetta is not a side dish with pasta. Nor is bruschetta is not Italian garlic bread. That bread slathered in butter and garlic that’s cooked in the oven is also an American thing. In Spoleto bruschetta typically comes heavily drizzled with local olive oil and is served on a platter of seasonal grilled vegetables or regional salumi and cured meats.

Trebbiano Spoletino

Spoleto has only been an Umbrian wine DOC since 2011. Now, I’m still an Italian wine novice but even I know, that means Spoleto has only recently been recognized for producing Trebbiano Spoletino. This seems funny considering Trebbiano is one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world. Here’s the hitch. Trebbiano vines give quantity over quality. Thus earning it a bad name for being an undistinguished wine.

“After Trebbiano Spoletino achieved critical success, Italy established a tiny Spoleto appellation in 2011 allowing for dry, sparkling and sweet wines made from a minimum of 85 percent of the grape variety.” –Robert Camuto in Wine Spectator.

Trebbiano has the potential to be a bright, fresh yet complex, light to medium-bodied white wine with hints of minerals and salinity. All of which came out in the bottle we tried at lunch making it a wine I will always remember discovering in Spoleto!

After indulging in Bruschetta, Strangozzi, and Trebbiano, we walked it all off walking to one of the most inspiring historic bridges I’ve ever seen. You guessed it Ponte delle Torri. Ponte delle Torri can be reached from Piazza Campello by heading down Via del Ponte, which runs alongside the wall of the Rocca Albornoziana fortress. Okay I know, that doesn’t sound easy and it’s not really. The path to Ponto delle Torri is not marked from inside the historic city center but the view is well worth finding.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Rome and Florence but there is so, so much more to Italy than its big cities. Some of the smaller gems like Spoleto and the surrounding areas are worth the trip to Italy all on their own. Who knows, maybe one of these days Paolo will finally cave and we won’t come back. We’ll just stay, in Italy.

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