When I was on the Overseas Adventure Travel trip Tuscany and Umbria; Italy’s Rustic Heartland, we stayed in Spoleto while on the Umbria portion of the trip. We had an optional evening of folk music in the nearby town of Spello, but the flowers that graced that walled in city was music to my eyes. And so was our on-road transition from Tuscany to Umbria.
As we drove from Tuscany to Umbria, the landscapes look like they were each created by an artist, just a different artist. Pick any two artists, and there you have it. Cezanne and Monet perhaps. A work of art, yet different. That’s the landscape of Tuscany and Umbria in a nutshell.
We stayed in charming Spoleto which additionally highlighted the differences between Tuscany and Umbria. But the real highlight among all the Umbrian highlights for me, which is always the case, was the optional trip to Spello to see this unique town and hear folk music by local musicians in one of their unique homes in the walled in village. As they explained what each song was about, they literally covered every part of Italy we had seen so far. I love it when this happens. I’ve gone to art museums on the last day of a trip and have seen the art capture the very essence of the trip and all I saw. And so it was with the music surrounded by flowers. Beautiful.
A big highlight in Spello is their tradition of having flowers everywhere! Once a year they have a religious celebration on the ninth day after Easter (the Carpus Domini feast day) where they celebrate by literally carpeting the ground with art made of flowers. So many of the homes keep them up all year round. The first and second prize winners have arrangements of flowers outside of their homes more than most, but flowers can still be seen outside the majority of homes in this small walled in village. It was just beautiful to walk through the town, although it was very easy to start sneezing with so many flowers everywhere! It was a lovely addition to the ancient walls, in a city built by Romans.
The tradition for this festival known as Infiorate di Spello is that over a thousand people work to carpet the town with these floral arrangements, typically religious in nature. About one mile of the town is carpeted with florals, and the Bishop of the town walks through and reviews all the arrangements. This practice dates back to at least 1831 in Spello, when it was first recorded as a means of cleaning up the city and getting garbage off the streets and “spread flowers and greenery.” A religious procession follows because of the religious feast. A first and second place winner is determined.
In past times, the floral displays reflected the times and included both fascist signs and a swastika. Some social elements may still be part of the floral artistry today even though it’s really a unique religious event. As a traveler however, walking through the town uncarpeted with flowers but still seeing them adorn the exterior of the majority of homes, was a travel treasure.