I usually spend Christmas with my English family and return to London for a few days to visit them. Last year though, was a totally different Christmas experience. For the first time in years, it was just me, my parents and a family friend who decided to take us to spend Christmas in a relaxing ancient nunnery turned SPA in Assisi. It is something I would never have thought of, but it was a great idea.
Assisi has an aura that is special all year round, but at Christmas, it feels like being inside the set of an old film. Cobbled stone streets intertwine through the old city buildings, many kept together with large iron supports following the terrible earthquake that struck the area in 1997. The iron supports are the only trace of the Earthquake, as everything has been restored exquisitely. The care for the details in Umbrian villages is quite unique to this region and Tuscany, unfortunately not everywhere in Italy people take such care, but here, in this ancient town, it seems like time has never passed.
The nunnery I was staying in, today converted in a luxury hotel, had a wonderful SPA which is where I spent most of the holidays. The SPA was built next to an ancient sanctuary with Roman ruins inside, a perfect combination of SPA set inside a museum. It is no coincidence in fact, that the word SPA is the acronym of “salus per acquam”, meaning “health through water”.
We were staying in the opposite part of Assisi from the famous Basilica of St Francis, which gave me the opportunity to discover the city thoroughly, by exploring its alleyways and little squares, opening between pink stone buildings with hints of Roman ruins. I'm a lover of calligraphy and to my amazement, I found a tiny shop selling every possible colour of sealing wax. I bought pink and purple but would have had them all! Obviously I haven't used either of them yet...
The route to St. Francis' Basilica was downhill, the wind was strong and would channel through the small streets biting bitterly, making me wish I was in the calidarium of the SPA at every gust. Nevertheless, the walk was absolutely worth the visit, the town is rich in interesting architecture, blending mediaeval with Roman, for example the splendid colonnade of the Roman temple in the main square, or the niches with paintings, ancient doorways with flower pots everywhere and delightful cosy little restaurants welcoming guests with their delicious local menus. Once arriving at the Basilica, the view is breathtaking. The Basilica stands tall at the end of the town and the background leaves the viewer to enjoy the Umbrian rolling hills. I was lucky enough to find a clear blue sky due to the wind, and if I thought this vision was beautiful in that moment, I hadn't seen it on Christmas eve!
Hundreds of people gathered inside the church to listen to the Christmas mass, to the point that it was difficult to even get close enough to admire Giotto's frescoes, a Holy experience for the perfect holiday!
The journey continues...