Tucked away among the slopes of Mount Solenne in the dramatic and wild Valnerina lies one of the most beautiful spots in Umbria: San Pietro in Valle.
This former Benedictine abbey—now a four star historical residence – was established in 710 on the site of a Syrian hermitage and looks directly across the valley to the abandoned walled fortress town of Umbriano, which popular tradition holds to be the first city of Umbria.
Guided tours take visitors through the interior of the church, covered in frescoes from the 12th and 13th century (note the portrait of the Three Wise Men, one of whom apparently had second thoughts) and filled with stone work including an Etruscan altar, an 8th century Lombard high altar, and a Roman sarcophagus holding the remains of Duke Faraoldo II of Spoleto, the abbey’s founder.
My favorite detail: the original altar (now to the left of the central Lombard altar), with its semi-circular corridor which passes behind the tiny nave. Symbolizing the purification of the spirit, it begins with the wide opening level with the floor, and gradually rises to end in a tiny doorway a step above floor-level at the other end. I’m not sure if my spirit was actually purified, but having to squeeze my bulk through the final aperture made me ponder how often I commit the cardinal sin of gluttony.
The abbey is open to visitors October through March Saturday and Sunday only (10-12:30/2:30-4) and April though September every day (10-1/3-6). The church is not well lit, so be sure to choose a sunny day to visit otherwise you will not be able to see the frescoes well.