27km (17 miles) E of Perugia; 190km (118 miles) SE of Florence; 175km (109 miles) N of Rome

St. Francis is still working miracles: His birthplace remains a lovely Umbrian hilltown, despite a steady onslaught of visitors. Many pilgrims come to pay homage to Francis at the Basilica di San Francisco, and almost as many are drawn by the frescoes celebrating his life with which the painter Giotto decorated the church. You’ll also find a blend of romance and magic in Assisi’s honey-colored stone, the quiet back lanes, and the mists that rise and fall over the Val di Spoleto below the town. With its saintly presence and pleasant ambience, Assisi is an essential stop on any Umbrian tour.

The World’s Favorite Saint

For Christian pilgrims the magic of Assisi is all about St. Francis, one of the patron saints of Italy (along with Catherine of Siena), founder of one of the world’s largest monastic orders, and generally considered to be just about the holiest person to walk the earth since Jesus. Born to a wealthy merchant and a spoiled young man of his time, Francis did an about turn in his early twenties and dedicated himself to a life of poverty. His meekness, love of animals, and invention of the Christmastime crèche scenes have all helped ensure his popularity. Though Francis traveled as far as Egypt (in an unsuccessful attempt to convert the sultan and put and end to the Crusades) he is most associated with the gentle countryside around Assisi, where he spent months praying and fasting in lonely hermitages.