While on an artist’s residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle, I’m getting to know the town of Assisi a little bit more. December seems to be a lovely time of year to do this.
Umbria has become quite popular in recent years, and in the summer Assisi is jam packed with tourists and pilgrims (superfans of Saints Francis and Clare). In early December the city is still lively, but not overcrowded. We had no trouble getting into popular restaurants (such as Osteria dei Priori) which would have required reservations in the high season.
One of my favorite things was the Focaraccio dell’Immacolata, part of the lead-up to the Immaculate Conception on December 7th. (Apparently the Virgin Mary was pregnant for a mere 18 days, or possibly 12 and a half months. I couldn’t find anyone who could confirm the facts for me either way. Luckily this ambiguity didn’t ruin our enjoyment of the festivities.)
The people of Assisi have decided that the optimal way to celebrate the anniversary of their god’s impregnation of a virgin is with roasted chestnuts, mulled wine, and a dangerously large bonfire. I can’t think of any possible improvements on this plan. Did I mention that the mulled wine and roasted chestnuts were both free and plentiful? My kind of party.
The bonfire takes place at Rocca Maggiore, the castle that looms over the town of Assisi. When we arrived at the castle, the bonfire flames were whipping all over the place in the strong wind. Fortunately the fire department decided to show up a little after we did, so we could enjoy our free chestnuts and wine knowing that they surely had the situation under control.
Down in the main town square (Piazza del Comune) there was a so-so Christmas market on for the weekend. The more interesting market was the one in Piazza Santa Chiara, which contained mostly edible wares: fresh-pressed olive oils, Christmas cookies, cheeses, cannolis, that kind of thing.
The Germans usually win when it comes to Christmas markets, but they have nothing on the Italians when food is involved.
No post about Christmastime in Assisi would be complete without a mention of the exceedingly creepy life-sized nativity scene in front of the Basilica of Sant Francis. It went up in early December, and stays through early January. It might cause nightmares.
Edited to add: best pizza of this trip was had at Il Menestrello.