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Panicale Italy - Wild times in a Medieval Village

Panicale is a gem of a medieval hilltown


panicale italy

Panicale - a view of the medieval hilltown

James Martin

Panicale Highlights:

  • A great tourist environment in Umbria featuring a medieval hilltown with streets arranged in an interesting oval pattern.
  • Many apartments available to rent in the heart of town, just off the main piazza--there's great food and wine as well.
  • Painter Masolino da Panicale lived here.
  • Preserved are the city wall, towers, the church of Saint Michele Arcangelo, the Palazzo Pretorio and the Palazzo del Podesti.

A story of Panicale

Some things you do with friends and lovers. Travel may be one of them. I leave the rest up to you.

In 2001, six of us took apartments in a little Umbrian hilltown called Panicale. It's 6 km south of Lake Trasimeno, where in 217 BC Hannibal was making a name for himself by ambushing Roman legions along the banks. Over 15,000 legionnaires died. The Romans were not pleased.

But today the natives are pretty much over their loss, and welcome most any visitor with open arms.

While Panicale was probably inhabited since Etruscan times, it was a medieval castle built on the peak of the hill that formed the city into what you see today. The town's narrow roads form concentric ovals around the Piazza Podesta at the hill's peak, a defensive measure when they were built.

But the main event happens in the Piazza Umberto 1, the big piazza on the south edge of town. That's where Gallo's bar is located. Aldo Gallo makes a mean cappuccino in the morning, and every Thursday night during the summer there's an evening jazz concert there sponsored by the Gallos. And if you rent the apartment the Gallos own across the pizza from the bar, they'll even make you a special pitcher of "long drinks" to go with the free music.

(Do Italians like jazz? They're rabid fans in these parts, where Umbria Jazz has made its mark. In fact, they'll go nuts over any American who sings or plays in their Thursday night jam sessions.)

So it's Thursday night and Gallo has the whole piazza full of tables. Each one of them has a candle on it, flickering in the evening breeze. We take our own table outside the Gallo apartment rented by our friends Mike and Alice so we can eat dinner together before the show.

Funny thing about commerce in Italian hill towns. There are almost no signs indicating that something is a business. You just have to look for the obvious indicators--a restaurant has outside tables, a grocery has bins of vegetables stacked outside, a family casa has a little old grandmother dressed in black weaving baskets or gossiping to neighbors hanging out of upper story windows. So when we make our table and set the pasta down in the center--stealing a couple of candles from the nearby bar tables to make it all romantic and all--people start streaming into the apartment, thinking it's some kinda new tourist restaurant. Mike says, "let 'em go. Let's see how far they get."

So we wait. And a little while later a couple file out as if they've just taken the most delightful stroll. It's not like they're embarrassed or anything--they just saunter into the night as if to say, "gee, the atmosphere was nice, but the waitress never came and the kitchen was full of unwashed pots so I guess we'll just sneak some matches and stroll along, looking for the Burger King..."

(What the town needs, of course, is some cheap, plastic signs about the size of one of Hannibal's elephants saying "Eat Here!" or "Buy your Tourist Crap Now Before the Town Votes to Outlaw These Intrusive and Informative Signs!" Yep, signs would take care of the problem, especially if they're ringed by flashing lights that stay on all night for stragglers who might wanna plunk down some hard cash for a plastic gondola or something.)

Continued on the next page.

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