We are currently enjoying our stay in a vacation rental in Eastern Tuscany, and one of the advantages of the central location is that we can easily get to Umbria for day trips as well. A few days ago we made a stop in the city of Gubbio, a well preserved medieval hill town about an hour and a half from our home base. The town itself is off most of the major highways, so it takes a bit of time to get there, but it’s well worth the effort.
The only criticism I have about the town is it’s rather poor signage for visitors. We wasted a bit of time circling the town walls, trying to find the visitor parking lots without wandering into the central restricted access zone where we’d be fined for entering. Fortunately the lack of signs was more than made up for by the friendliness of the locals. When I went into a gas station to ask directions, the lady working there spoke no English, but she walked me out to the main road and did her best to make up for our lack of shared language with an abundance of hand gestures.
We finally worked our way to a parking lot hidden within a residential area just outside the walls and only then figured out that in order to get to the main parking lot you had to go past the first set of “do not enter” signs and make a sharp right into the parking lot before the second set of “do not enter” signs. Who knew?
Gubbio has a lot going for it, including well preserved medieval walls, some interesting churches and the remains of a Roman amphitheatre on the outskirts fo the city, but the real reason why we selected Gubbio over all the other cool Umbrian hill towns was the town’s funicular. I saw a clip on Youtube a few months ago showing people riding the funicular in Gubbio and immediately decided that it was something we had to do.
The funicular connects the main town to the St Ubaldo church on the top of the hill. It’s like a continuously moving ski lift except it has these two person birdcages instead of chairs. When you enter the lift area, you are directed by an attendant to stand on two red dots about 5 metres apart. As your cage swings around, the attendant quickly opens the door and the first person jumps in, followed by the second. He then swings the door shut and off you go! In the case of young children, the adult is directed to the second dot and the attendant lifts the child into the cage after opening the door, leaving the adult about a second and a half to scramble in after them. No pressure here!
The ride itself was longer than I had expected. You spend quite a few minutes gently swaying as you rise up over the beautiful Umbrian countryside. Once you get over the fact that you’re in a metal cage that looks like a medieval torture device of some kind, it’s doesn’t feel at all scary or precarious. The kids enjoyed waving at the people in the descending cages as they passed and watching the ground pass by underneath. At one point we passed over the edge of someone’s farm and my daughter was convinced that she saw a mountain goat. (Hey, it’s a goat and it’s on a mountain, so it must be a mountain goat, right?)
The church at the top was rather plain, but impressively large with a few interesting relics, including what appeared to be Saint Ubaldo himself enclosed in a glass case and definitely showing the affects of a few hundred years of wear and tear. (Is that what I think it is? Oh my goodness, it is! Hey kids, lets go into this little side chapel and light a candle, then head out the other exit, okay?) There were also a couple of little cafes a the top of the hill with tables out on the patio overlooking the town giving us a great place to stop for a snack while enjoying the view.
We would have liked more time in Gubbio, but we really enjoyed the parts we did get to see. It was great to be able to find an attraction that the whole family could enjoy together. The kids’ verdict was that the funicular was just as good as a ride at Disneyland and you can’t get a much better endorsement than that! We will definitely come back, and next time I think I’d like to visit in the morning since the angle of the sun setting in the early evening didn’t allow for the best light while taking pictures from the top of the hill and the town itself looks like it would be a great place to spend a night or two as well. If you’re ever in Umbria with kids, don’t miss a visit to Gubbio!