Situated next to tourist-central Tuscany is the lesser known, less touristy but certainly no less fabulous Umbria, a region that abounds with natural beauty, sleepy hilltop villages, bags of history, and mouth-wateringly marvellous food.
We say let Tuscany take all the glory, as that leaves Umbria to be explored by the few who travel to Italy to wander off the well-trodden path. Only then can you discover the real, untouched Italy, unblemished by mass tourism. Pack your bags, book your travel insurance, hop on a plane and lose yourself in one of Italy’s most beautiful and unspoilt regions.
Where to stay
Umbria is bordered by Tuscany to the west, Le Marche to the east and Lazio to the south, so there are many different areas in which to stay. Before you travel to Italy the first decision to make is whether you want to base yourself in a big town or city, such as Perugia, or out in the countryside.
If you’ve always dreamed of staying in a typical Italian farmhouse surrounded by fields of golden sunflowers, a villa in Umbrias or agriturismo B&B will be perfect for you. Podere le Olle is a gorgeous Umbria villa in a converted farmhouse situated close to both Tuscany and Lazio, making it a great base. Set amongst their own fields of sunflowers, olive trees, vegetables and grazing sheep, the views are incredible from one of the large, sympathetically restored rooms, rolling gardens or sunken pool.
What to do
There is far too much to do than this article will allow mention of but there a few must-sees for those planning to travel to Italy and explore Umbria. The beautiful Basilica di San Francisco in Assisi is a meeting place for 13th century art, religion and history and should not be missed. Nor should the 13th century cathedral in Orvieto be – with its stunning golden Gothic facade decorated with large yet intricate bas-reliefs and statues, it is said to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Italy.
Etruscan and medieval Perugia is full of history and offers a great night out and there are plenty of gorgeous hilltop villages and towns to lose yourself in, including Gubbio, Todi, Spello and Norcia. Do not travel to Italy without a tour and a tasting at an Umbrian winery – Vitalonga, not far from Orvieto, is a good bet and chances are you’ll be the only ones there!
What to eat
As a region with few cities, that is proud of its agricultural heritage, Umbria takes its food very seriously. It’s not unusual for lunch or dinner to last two to three hours and consist of multiple courses. Cooking is based on traditions passed down through the generations – it is simple, home-cooked and bursting with fresh flavours.
Black truffles, abundant in the hills and mountains in Norcia and Spoleto, can be found on every menu. Pasta is flavoured with it, it is shaved onto buttery, parmesan-rich risotto and, unlike white truffles, it can be heated so it is used in sauces and pies without losing any of its flavour. Lenticchie di Castelluccio are the most desired lentils in Italy and are so tender they don’t require soaking – you’ll find them in the region’s legendary game and sausage stews. Sweet tooths will be in heaven too as Umbria, and especially Perugia, is famous for its chocolate, many believing it is better than the more famous Swiss, Belgian and French versions.
(Photo by houseofhall)