A Week in Umbria – the Great Experiment

Healthy basil with stems full of different sizes of leaves grow beside pots of lavender, sage, and oregano. In terracotta containers, red blooming geraniums line the brick terrace wall of our rented country house Assisi II Casale nella Natura. The smell of the nearby pine forest mixes with the spicy scent of the voluminous bushes of Rosmarin beside the house. A fig tree spreads its branches over the portable fire place beside the stairs, leading to the lower part of the house. Like many little balloons, the figs  pulp out of the stems waiting for their time to be ripe. It is a good year for figs, but not for olives, said Evaristo, the owner of this place. The olive trees grow in the nearby olive orchards, which follows the curves of the hill.  The golden color of the cut grass stands in stark contrast to the silver green leaves of the olives and gives the landscape this typical southern appearance.






Casale nella Natura, our country house, visible behind the trees to the left.








Casale nella Natura, southern side






Olive orchard near our house. Our host Evaristo told us that he owns 1000 olive trees, all organic. His olive oil is delicious.






Anna-Sophie looking down from the terrace







View from my bedroom into the valley






Assisi with Basilica di Santa Chiara  (1257 – 1265)






Rose window of the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi







West entrance of the Basilica. The whole church is decorated by frescos from Giotto di Bondone (painted between 1297 – 1300). It was not allowed to make photos.








A Romanesque lion in front of San Rufino biting off a head of a man in front of a church in Assisi









The wind carries the distant sound of a rooster up to the house. Birds seem to enjoy the cooler air the night rain has brought, their songs fill the air. Occasionally, cicadas start their daily music. The house is still quiet, but not because everybody is sleeping. Today, on the 6th day of our stay, the departure from this paradisiacal place has started – early morning, Susanne and her kids Benjamin and Annabella left for the airport in Rome, heading for the US. Anna-Sophie and Max took them there, they will come back again. Lorenz decided to spend the night in their home 20 minutes away from here. David enjoys his morning coffee in his room and Robert and Colleen are still sleeping.





Walking up to Rocca Maggiore, a 12th century castle built by emperor Fredrick II.




Dogs bark in the distant valley, as if they want to welcome the sun breaking through the dense, cloudy sky. The weather changes here quickly, but the fluctuations are always carried by a steady summer heat, never losing its warmth. It reflects the mood and energy of our family – there is a common ground of warmth and connectedness, despite the differences. The family consists of 3 nations, 3 generations, 3 different statues of relationships. Three different languages are spoken – German, English and Spanish.  A broad range of professions reflect the talents and interests in our family  – we have a medical doctor,  a consultant in economic development, a scientist in quantum physics and analoge astronaut, a student of biological agriculture and international relations, a psychologist, an architect, a wilderness teacher and musician, an art historian and author and a professor of International business. The world views stretch from Christianity to Buddhism and atheism and all kinds of ranges in between. On a small scale, we reflect the multiplicity of the world.












Every day gelato – not only for the kids.







Even the very inexpensive house wine was delicious!





Since our last family vacation 12 years ago, partners joined the family. We are now 11 people staying in Italy with different needs, expectations and preferences. This creates a colourful pattern of daily activities  like morning Yoga, intentisive workout, playing games, cooking, eating  and cleaning up together, hiking, sightseeing, going on night walks, eating out, playing guitar and drums, painting, drawing, reading and talking. One would think that not everything has space in hardly a week, but it does.





Walking trough the picturesque town of Spello






Clouds open up more, letting the blue sky come through. The cool morning air moves the baroquly  curved tendrils of the wild grapes on the pergola and shakes the leaves above me. Raindrops of the night roll down and some fall on my white cotton pants. The morning sun touches now the hill under me, carving out the silhouettes of the cypress trees like tall, green candles reaching up to the sky. It is not time yet for the lizards to speed along the stone walls and brick stairs. They love the heat of the day. But a dear on the meadow down below grazes peacefully on the edge of the forest. Yesterday, David saw a baby dear up on the hill.  However, the most common animals are ants. Two days ago, they formed a highway from the meadow into the house to a partially eaten cooky left underneath the sofa. After removing the cooky, we brushed the ants away and carried them out. They did not come back.





A modern sculpture with Renaissance paintings in the vaulting





Roman Temple of Minerva, now a church






Picturesque Assisi






House in Spello







Street in Spello




During our night hike through the pine and oak forest near the house, the kids saw fireflies for the first time in their life. They tried to catch them and indeed, for a moment, one landed on Colleen’s hand and settled afterwards in Benjamin’s hair. A tiny scorpion Susanne spotted on the house wall was not something the kids got excited or afraid of  – they know it from Phoenix/Arizona.






Crypt of the the church San Rufino with Roman sarcophagus






Part of a Roman sarcophagus depicting a shepard




The warmth and love in our family is supported by the energy field St. Francis has created  in this area 800 years ago. Already during his life he inspired many people with his deep connection to nature, his love for peace and beauty and his vow to absolute poverty. Many people followed his footsteps, which can be felt especially here.

















Waiting for the rest of the group




When we walked through the wild mountainous area where he meditated in a cave, chatty Annabella stayed silence for more than an hour. She sent a message to St. Francis in the place he is buried. I wrote it down. Please, she said, tell St. Francis that I will come back and that I love him.  She through the letter in a box with many other letters already addressed to him.






Place of meditation  with caves of hermits and the monastery Eremo delle Carceri with the cave where St. Francis stayed.





Max brought us  even further back into time by showing the kids how to make fire and pottery out of clay he collected on the hill hear the house. Benjamin could try to turn the stick to produce heat, which manifested by little smoke rising up from the friction point.

All three worked seriously to form something out of clay and created several objects. My favourite was a little bowl with lid in the shape of a heart Benjamin made.  Annabella formed a statue of St. Francis. She even made a halo around his head.






Preparing to start fire






Making fire in the ancient way







Annabella’s pendants with clay cups






Benjamin’s cup made out of local clay




Although there was not so much time and space to talk  and have conversations with only one person, occasionally it happened.

What did you learn from your 75 day long hike on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) Lorenz asked Anna-Sophie on one of our little hikes. She returned from her 2000 km long trek just a week ago in order to join our family adventure. On this trek she walked through the desert in California into the High Sierras still full of snow and even climbed Mt. Whitney.  A tiny white feather was suddenly floating down from the sky at the time of his question. This was her answer – to become like the feather, trusting the wind, and letting go.





Matteo da Gualdo, Madonna and Child (1475)


The art of letting go, of living in simplicity and being connected with nature is hard to practice in a city. However, there is a deep longing in many of the family members to live this kind of life. I myself will follow this longing in September by walking in the footsteps of St. Francis from La Verna to Poggio Bustone. It would be great if you could join me by following my pilgrimage on the blog.



Sculpture of St. Francis looking at the starry sky joined by part of the family




Born and raised in a village along the Danube in Austria, Traude Wild soon ventured out into the world. After a two-year program for tourism in Klesheim/Salzburg, she spent nearly a year in South Africa and Namibia. By returning back to Austria, she acquired a Master of Economics at the University of Vienna. After moving to the United States with her four children, she studied Art History at Arizona State University and stayed in the United States for fourteen years. Here, she was teaching Art History in several Universities like Webster University and University of Missouri-St. Louis. Now, she lives partially in Arizona and Vienna and works together with her husband for the University of South-Carolina, Moore School of business as Adjunct Professor organising and leading Study tours in Central Europe. She also teaches at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna. Since 1999, she is practicing Zen meditation in the lineage of Katagiri Roshi. She loves to hike and to write and is a student of Natalie Goldberg. During her often many weeks long hikes she brings her awareness into the Here and Now, describing her experiences in an authentic way. She loves to walk pilgrimages. The longest hike so far was the 1,400 km long 88 Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan in 2016.

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    • It was such a great time – and the food was delicious! We feasted on olives, dried tomatoes, prosciutto, cheese….. and the coffee – such a good coffee in the morning! I still can smell it! Love, Traude

    • Ja, die Bilder können die Schönheit dieser Landschaft gar nicht ausdrücken. Die Zeit war viel zu kurz! Freu mich schon dir mehr davon zu erzählen. Alles Liebe, Traude

  1. When I was about 21 and going through a religious crisis I was about as strongly affected by the movie “Brother Sun Sister Moon” as by any movie ever. It was about St Francis and so your actually visiting these places was really great. thanx

    • Hi Don, I never saw the movie, but I learned about his life, his philosophy and his actions – he was an extraordinary human being. He was so consequent living a life in simplicity and was so intimately connected with nature and all human beings – especially those who were rejected. I can imagine that you were inspired by his life. I am looking forward walking to places where he stayed and learning more about him.


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