Gubbio is a town full of hills, wolves and chastity belts. We arrived with eight solid hours to explore and, upon arrival noticed the towns temperature gage. It was reading 6 degrees Celsius. I couldn’t believe it, we had come to Italy and it was freezing! But we began the march up the hill towards the centre and started to warm up, passing many shops full of tourist tat along the way. Along with the usual postcards, magnets and religiously themed memorabillia there was a surprising amount of model Wolves. This was due to the legend of “The Gubbian Wolf.”
Historically there was once a Wolf that lived in the forests surrounding Gubbio and, during the night, would stalk into the town, attacking everything in its path, eating pets and children and causing general terror; the usual demonic, murderous opinion of Wolves. So along comes San Francesco, otherwise known as St Francis of Assissi, patron saint of animals, to deal with the problem. He has a conversation with the cantankerous canid and convinces him to calm down. After their conversation St Francis kneels down and the Wolf sits beside him, offering his paw for the Saint to shake. And so, the rest of the Wolf’s life is spent in protection of Gubbio, living harmoniously alongside the people. I love the story, whatever truth my lie within it but sadly the opinion of the Wolf as a creature of nightmares still prevails within the locals today. To honour this historical occurrence there is a statue of St Francis sat with the Wolf just behind the San Francesco church. We visited both and the church was incredible, both intimidating in stature and peaceful in nature.
Exploring further on within the town we kept coming across ancient and painful looking chastity belts, both for males and females. At first I thought the pair we saw hanging from the wall of a tourist shop were purely for theming but they kept cropping up in various points within the town. Eventually it all made sense; St Francis’ three virtues were poverty, obedience and, you guessed it, chastity.
We were getting higher up, meandering through the alleyways and the buildings were getting even more impressive. We finally reached the main square and walked across it to see the view over the edge of the wall. It was beautiful but nothing to what we would see later. The square itself is huge and every May hosts a massive festival to celebrate the local Saint Ubaldo who helped saved the city on two separate occasions. From the footage I have seen it looks like quite a colourful and certainly energetic event with many ceremonies taking place on the very square we were stood on. We eventually decided to warm up with local pizza and then continued on with our exploration, getting even higher up the mountainside until we reached the cable car, rather by surprise. I had read about it but could not have envisaged anything like this. Imagine an old traditional type of bird cage but just about big enough for two people to stand up in. Several of these were floating their way up the side of the mountain at regular intervals and back down again. It looked like great fun and was mercifully devoid of tourists or queues. We jumped aboard (at quite a terrifying speed) and glided gracefully upwards with the stunning view growing ever more awe inspiring with every metre. Eventually at the top the whole region of Perugia was laid out before us with a weak Italian sun shyly peaking its way through a few of the thinner clouds in a very determined fashion. To our left was a stunning landscape of mountains and trees, somewhere I imagined our ancient Wolf friend to have inhabited. The entire view took a while to take in, such was its vastness. We eventually made for the church which would tell us more about Saint Ubaldo and cause both myself and Peter to be separately yelled at by the rather overzealous Italian shopkeeper. The gondola ride back down was equally fun, stood inside our birdcage watching the ground and the town coming up slowly to meet us.
One final thing we wanted to see before we left was, what our host termed “The mini colosseum.” A ruin of an ancient theatre down in the valley of the town. As Pete and I made our way towards it the sun decided to make a final announcement and burst through the clouds in a strong fireball highlighting the ruined building wonderfully. It was quite a sight to see, especially seeing the old stones silhouetted against the sunset and looking back up at the town on the hill, now highlighted in the low evening light. And finally it was time for a last meal before being picked up. We found a restaurant without English menus or speakers therefore hoped it was a slightly more authentic experience and enjoyed a fantastic meal with a confusing painting of, what appears to me to be Kevin Spacey smiling down on us the entire time.
And this was just one of our Italian adventures. The next day I was excited because we were to be trekking through an Italian mountain on horse back. The website declared our ride leader was multilingual and it was not too far from where we were living so it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. After driving up the mountainside for what seemed like an obscene amount of time we finally made it, met with the horses and got to work grooming them. They had recently rolled in mud so it proved quite a challenge. I was riding a brave dark bay mare named “Hovier” and Peter’s steed was a greedy bright bay mare whose name we couldn’t pronounce properly but sounded a little like “Sarah” said with a lisp.
We set off along the wide track following the dark palomino horse of our leader and enjoying the scenery and stillness of the afternoon. The trek was two hours and truly phenomenal. I got to know Hovier and we had some interesting conversations but she was very respectful and responsive to all I asked of her and she built up my confidence immensely. We were at the back of the ride so we would slow in our walk until we were a fair way behind and then go ahead into a trot until we caught up again. She was a strong girl too, carrying me up very steep hills with barely a drop of sweat to register on her. The evening was becoming cool but still balmy for this time of year and we relaxed into the rhythm, Pete even feeling confident enough to have a trot too and enjoying his western saddle immensely. The leaves around us were finally showing signs of being kissed by Autumn but most foliage was still lush and green with astounding views down the mountainside and back up to the top again once we had reached the valley at the bottom. As we looked up to the path ahead there was a stunning castle glinting at us in the evening sunlight, stood out within the backdrop of yet more lush hillsides. It was such a stunning yet serene place to be, especially being able to appreciate it all from horse back.
Hovier did end up spooking at something in a narrow gully surrounded by foliage but it did not make me nervous for she recovered herself quickly. Judging by the scat and tracks we were seeing we thought it might have something to do with the “Wild Pig” of the area. Cutting across the middle of the mountain to get back to base (you couldn’t really call it a stables) the track become more difficult but sure footed Hovier tackled it with no trouble at all. For someone who loves describing landscapes it is difficult to put this one into words but it was a lovely ride and Peter seemed to have enjoyed it as much as I did. I was so glad we had come and, despite the steady pace, it had been exhilarating and enjoyable in equal measure. Just another beautiful end to another beautiful day in this Italian slice of paradise.