A vacation in Italy with kids is not complete if you do not feel at least once the beautiful atmosphere of Umbria and Tuscany: history, nature, wonderful people and good food. Spoleto, a tiny little town up the hills, is a short drive from Florence (about two hours further south) and from Rome (1 and a half hours north) and is one of the oldest cities in the Umbria region: a wonderful mix of treasures from Roman and Medieval times, although its history goes back to the Bronze Age.
What to see with kids
You will never get bored in Spoleto: this is one of those places to be discovered slowly, walking through its narrow streets, breathing its ancient feel, enjoying the wonderful landscape: green hills and ancient forests all around. A walk through history, with modern knights: your kids!
The most beautiful part to visit is the Upper Town, a walled city which offers stunning architectures, romantic corners, fresh food and homemade pottery. I suggest starting your visit from the Tourist Office in Piazza della Libertà, where you can find lots of useful information and brochures about Spoleto and the surrounding area.
Up to the early 19th century, Piazza della Libertà was a sort of private courtyard, belonging to the Ancaiani family, who owned all the buildings situated in the square. Most of these buildings were demolished, when a new internal road was built to replace the existing path outside the city walls.
The Teatro Romano is just off the Piazza, in the narrow Via Sant’Agata. To get a true sense of the past, though, I suggest visitingt the adjoining Museo Archeologico first (entrance in the same street). The exhibits include ancient statues and primitive artworks. From the small museum, you can then enter the Teatro Romano, built in the first century and very well-preserved.
In the old times, the theater was partly destroyed, but in 1891 a local archaeologist – Giuseppe Sordini – began excavating. In the 1950s, it was extensively restored and today it is open to the public and is also used as an evocative stage during the famous Spoleto Festival (see below).
Kids will love to climb the original spectators’ benches or to explore the intact vaulted passage way, under the cavea behind the seats, pretending to be brave centurions or modern super-heros…
Right besides the acient theatre, there is Bar Canasta, a nice old Cafe (also Restaurant) where you can enjoy a real espresso and fabulous traditional food, with a stunning view on Teatro Romano. From Piazza Della Libertà, walk up towards Piazza Fontana and through Via Dell’Arco Di Druso. From there, reach Piazza Del Duomo and pay a visit to the beautiful Cathedral. Both the square and the cathedral are spectacular. When the buildings are sunwashed and take the colour of bread, the view is just stunning. The outside of the Church is elegant and simple at the same time, and inside you will fall in love with the amazing mosaic on its main facade and a wonderful mural behind the main altar.
After visiting the Cathedral, walk up the lane on the left, through Piazza del Mercato, Piazza del Municipio (the Town Hall) till Piazza Campello. Take your time, do not rush. Let the kids explore the smallest details: the water in a fountain, an ancient clock in the wall, even a puddle in the middle of the street. You will treasure those moments once back home…
From Piazza Campello, proceed up the hill following the beautiful Giro dei Condotti. This is a picturesque, circular promenade facing St. Elias hill. Along the path, you will find lots of exercise stations, with instructions for all fitness levels.
Following the path, you can stop at Rocca Albornoziana, or you can continue through the woods and olive groves, and eventually back to the escalators, near the Fortress. It is a beautiful, scenic walk and a great way to spend the afternoon. Please note that the path is not lighted, therefore might not be ideal to take a walk there at night, especially if you are travelling with kids.
I do suggest not to miss a visit at the Rocca, a wonderful fortress built from 1359 to 1362 by Gubbio’s master architect, Gattapone. In 1499, the beautiful Lucrezia Borgia lived there, sent by her father, Pope Alexander VI to get her away from her second husband, Alfonso of Aragon. The fortress was built at the top of an oldest prehistoric settlement and was used as a prison until 1982. It’s now open to the public as a museum. The castlehouses some lovely frescos and very interesting sculptures. I have found extremely valuable, especially if you are visiting the place with children, that one can get really close to the exhibits shown in the fortress, while they would be hidden behind safety glass or barriers in most museums.
What makes it all worthwhile, however, is La Rocca’s position at the top of the town. There are stunning 360 degree views around the area, which stretch for miles. Hence… do not forget to bring your camera along!
After the visit inside the castle, walk around the building. At some point, you will eventually see the famous Ponte delle Torri, (Tower Bridge). This bridge is 80 metres high (262-feet) and 228 metres long (748-feet) and dominates the valley and the green forest around. It was probably built in the 13th century, by the same architect that raised the fortress, Gattapone. However, the two most central pylons contain traces of older masonry, supporting the long-held theory that the bridge was built on a Roman Aqueduct.
This place is just amazing. Coming from La Rocca, you can walk across the bridge and enjoy one of the most stunning views you will ever see in Italy! Once you have reached the other side of the bridge, you can take a walk in the woods and live Spoleto as a local. This is in fact one of the favorite places by the Spoletini for a nice Sunday stroll.
When to go
The temperature in Spoleto is moderate, making it nice to visit during almost any time of year. However, its annual summer Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds or Spoleto Festival) is known all over the world and might be a fantastic opportunity to visit this beautiful part of Italy. The Festival takes place during the first two weeks of July and is a mixture of dance, music, and theatre performances enriched by wonderful street food, street art performers and lots of activities for the whole family. For more information on the event and for the complete activity programme, visit www.festivaldispoleto.com.
Although the Spoleto Festival is the big event of the year, there are other events taking place in Spoleto, well worth a visit. Spoleto a Colori (Spoleto in Colors), for example, is another art event (music, dance, photography, etc), which takes place at the end of April (this year, it takes place from 25th April to 1st May 2013). For more details about these and other events in the area, For more information, visit the event website (google translate): www.spoletoacolori.com
For wine lovers, do not miss the Vini nel Mondo Festival, which takes place from 31st May to 2nd June: three days full of events, dedicated to the world of wine. Meetings, exhibitions, tastings and lots of other activities attracts every year the best wine producers, sommeliers, opinion leaders and wine lovers. More information on the event website (google translate): www.vininelmondo.org
Finally, Umbria is famous for its olive oil. Every year, in conjunction with the olive oil production, this region organises the Frantoi Aperti Festival: for 6 weekends, between November and December, oil mills open their doors to the public, making it possible to visit their production sites, learn how olive oil is made, squeeze olives and, of course, taste freshly made oil on bruschetta bread! Lots of collateral initiatives, shows, art performances and various activities spread throughout the region and Spoleto is one of the places not to be missed! More information at www.frantoiaperti.net
For practical information on how to get to Spoleto, have a look at our guide here! Lots of juicy suggestions to organise the perfect stay in this beautiful little town!
For more information
Tourist Office Spoleto
Piazza della Libertà 7
06049 Spoleto – Perugia, Italy
Tel.:+39 0743 220773