Along the path that goes from Gubbio to his city, which according to tradition Francis of Assisi traveled between February and March 1206, it is said that the friar was attacked by a group of brigands who pushed him into the snow . Francesco therefore asked for a welcome from the rich inhabitants of the place and found asylum in the castle of Coccorano. From the episode, contained in the biography of the saint by Tommaso da Celano, it is clear that Francis did not walk these paths only in good weather and that these harsh and wild lands are inhabited by hospitable people.
Eight centuries after the landscape of the Chiascio valley, the tributary of the Tiber that winds along the wild route between the two medieval cities, not much has changed, apart from the dam built in 1980 and never completed, which in any case fails. to spoil the archaic beauty of the valley.
Dante Alighieri in canto XI of Paradise wrote: “Intra Tupino and the water that descends / of the hill chosen by Blessed Ubaldo”, referring precisely to the Topino and Chiascio rivers (“the water that descends from the hill chosen by Blessed Ubaldo”), while the “chosen hill” is Mount Ingino, above Gubbio, from which this river springs. Without a doubt, walking through the ancient Franciscan streets reminds us of the eternal union between earth and sky, the majesty of the “plant sisters”, that silence that someone has defined as metaphysical and which, especially in the cold months, never leaves the walker even in the areas more populated.
The pilgrim’s passport
Net of all the fashionable reinterpretations, name changes, vain attempts to make our way to Santiago, that of St. Francis, formerly the Franciscan Path of Peace, now renamed more secularly The Way of Francis, it should be called in only one way: the path that heals.
The path, which for the friar was a path of liberation towards the spiritual life, goes from La Verna, in Tuscany, to Rome, passing through Umbria and Sabina. This itinerary consists of two stages of the so-called via del nord: the Gubbio-Valfabbrica (38 kilometers) and the Valfabbrica-Assisi (about 14 kilometers). But the first leg is better to divide it in two, staying overnight in Valdichiascio, which makes the trip last three days and two nights.
After all, even a single stage of the journey is enough to request the “pilgrim’s passport”, a free certificate that allows you to have easy access to the reception facilities along the way. In all cases, even the most disinterested walker in the events of the patron saint of Italy knows that the Umbrian stretch, especially the one that reaches Assisi, has a particular charm due to the presence of a powerful and disproportionate nature. It would not be too dangerous to call this sort of canyon a huge one healing gardenborrowing the term used for those gardens built inside nursing homes or rehabilitation centers.
Turkey oak, downy oak, black hornbeam and ash are the plants that surround the paths where it is not difficult to cross porcupines, fawns, wild boars, squirrels, foxes, hares. And of course the presence of the wolf is still alive. Autumn and winter here can be windy and humid, but the smells that are released are more intense than those of the summer season, they are the scents of vegetation that invades the paths, the walls, the houses.
Leaving behind Gubbio with its austere elegance, there is nothing better than making a stop at the little church of the Ripe, a tiny parish church lost in the valley: this is one of the most suitable places on the way for meditation and meditation. Not far from here is Pratale, the farm managed by Etain Addey, British but Umbrian for almost half a century, well known among the “deep ecologists” of the Italian bioregional network.
Addey, author of magnificent books written directly in Italian as The life of the white mare (Magi editions) e A silent joy (Fiori Gialli), hosts anyone who wants to stop at the farm, as long as they help out with the activities of the countryside and animals. Addey has had a cell phone for some time, but email is still better. Unfortunately, or fortunately, in the guide Francesco passed through here (Terre di Mezzo Editore), the bible of the walker, is not the only place that a hypothetical modern-day Francis would visit for sure.
A few hours’ walk from Pratale is the Hermitage of San Pietro in Vigneto, once a Benedictine abbey and a perfect refuge for pilgrims. More like a fortification than a religious place, it has retained its charisma despite the somewhat invasive restoration done in the 1990s. Over the last few years, the management change has finally made the hermitage a welcoming place, unlike when it was inhabited by the hermit Don Basilio Martin. Today it is animated by the brotherhood of San Jacopo de Compostela of Perugia: you can stop for a coffee or stay overnight.
A coffee under the pergola
Year after year along the way, the structures that improvise ad hoc hospitality increase, as if it were enough to write “pax et bonum” at the entrance, but overall this area of Umbria is still safe from mass tourism. Although this is not true for the historic center of Assisi, which has now become a sort of unique souvenir shop.
Continuing the itinerary you will find the church of Caprignone, which in 1223 hosted the first chapter of the Franciscan order. The church is made up of a unitary space, the surfaces are bare, the style is essential according to the aesthetic canon of the order. Too bad it is only possible to visit it on August 15, when the bishop of Gubbio comes to celebrate mass.
Along the road from Caprignone to Biscina, you come across a pergola right on the edge of the road and if you arrive immediately after lunch, around 2 pm, the elderly Sparrows will gladly offer you coffee. In exchange for just a chat. You will be tired: the walk, especially the stretch from Gubbio to Biscina, is decidedly demanding, not recommended for those who want to do it with children. Perfect for dogs but they are not welcome in all facilities, it is always better to ask. In Biscina it is worth visiting the castle, a wonderful place despite the state of abandonment and the brambles that grow inexorably.
From Biscina you get to Valfabbrica, the only inhabited center you meet on this route. Valfabbrica is simple and welcoming, but you will soon forget it. The Franciscan hostel in the center of the village is perfect, clean and with a nice garden. The last kilometers, those between Valfabbrica and Assisi, are almost all flat and for the most part on paved roads, but the route is still enchanted.
The last hour of walking is worth the whole trip: during the long road full of olive trees you can see Assisi on the side of the mountain, with the huge basilica that gradually becomes more and more majestic. The climb to get to the top is just as beautiful: normally the city is never reached from this side, as the car parks are all on the opposite side.
Getting to Assisi on foot from Valfabbrica is like landing on an island in the middle of the ocean. The emotion is completely different, the city reaches out to welcome you but also to warn you and then, suddenly, after crossing the San Giacomo gate, the marvel of the basilica’s portico opens up.
Going further towards Piazza San Francesco, the light, the wind and a sky that always makes us think of something very high, will return that sense of completeness, of compensated effort, to our small business of lay pilgrims. Pilgrims from another time, but from the same places as Francis.
Where to sleep
Free offer hospitality
In the historic center, the friars of the San Francesco complex provide the guesthouse of the convent and the Don Bosco Oratory offers hospitality to individuals or groups, a large garden and courtyard.
The Franciscan Hostel is run by Anna Rita, who also cooks excellent meals for guests for 12 euros. At Casa Betania, in the parish of Santa Maria Assunta, the sisters offer 27 beds for individuals or self-managed groups.
The Fontemaggio Hostel is ten minutes from the center and surrounded by greenery. You sleep in private rooms or in a common room with 40 seats.