Umbria’s landscape is defined by the Apennine Mountains in the north and the rolling, village-capped hills and fertile Tiber River valley in the south. Known as ‘the green heart of Italy’, it’s the only region that borders neither the sea nor another country and consequently retains many ancient traditions.
On a volcanic ridge, Orvieto
rises from the cliff face. The 3,000-yearold town has a splendid Gothic
cathedral with impressive Renaissance frescoes (Piazza Duomo, Orvieto;
7.30am-12.45pm and 2.30pm-5.50pm; free).
Deruta is a hill town
whose ceramics industry took off in the 15th century. At the handicrafts store
Maioliche Nulli, artists still create ceramic items by hand. If they’re not
busy, they’ll show you how to throw a pot on a wheel (00 39 075 972 384; Via
Tiberina 142; 9am-5pm).
A fresco cycle
attributed to Giotto, in the upper church of the Basilica Papale di San
Francesco d’Assisi, revolutionised Western art. Gone were the stylised
depictions of the Byzantine era, replaced by naturalistic backgrounds and
realistic depictions of suffering humans (sanfrancescoassisi.org; Piazza di San
Francesco, Assisi; 8.30am-7.45pm; free).
The landscape of the
Valnerina – which means valley of the River Nera – is wild and uncultivated,
with narrow and winding valleys and jagged mountains. The area, nominated to be
a Unesco World Heritage Site, remains relatively undiscovered.
Before the Romans,
Umbria was home to the Etruscans. Perugia’s Museo Archeologico Nazionale
dell’Umbria houses an impressive collection of Etruscan artefacts, from
funerary urns to Bronze Age statuary (00 39 075 572 7141; Piazza Giordano Bruno
10; 8.30am-7.30pm Tue-Sun; £3.50).
Eat and drink
At Trattoria Pallotta, Umbrian
classics are served in a gorgeous setting of vaulted brick walls and
wood-beamed ceilings. Try rabbit, homemade strangozzi pasta and pigeon (00 39
075 812 649; pallottaassisi.it; Vicolo
della Volta Pinta, Assisi; lunch and dinner, closed Tue; mains from £6).
Pizzeria Mediterranea makes
the best pizza in Perugia, from simple margheritas to the 12-topping ‘his and
hers’. Queues form on Thursday and Saturday nights (00 39 075 572 1322; Piazza
Piccinino 11/12, Perugia; dinner, closed Tue; pizzas from £10).
Set in a 16th-century
palazzo, Ristorante Vespasia serves understated gourmet cuisine. An organic egg
is topped with Norcia black truffles, while locally grown saffron accompanies
risotto and local pork. Herbs come from the garden. In summer, dine alfresco to
live jazz or blues (00 39 074 381 7434; palazzoseneca.com;
Via Cesare Battisti 10, Norcia; lunch and dinner; mains from £12).
La Fornace di Mastro
Giorgio has a seasonal menu and 500 wines. Try venison carpaccio in salt, olive
oil and asparagus, or the signature dish of stewed veal (00 39 075 922 1836;
Via Mastro Giorgio 2, Gubbio; lunch and dinner, closed Tue; mains from £15).
Enoteca Properzio offers
wine-tasting accompanied by cheeses, cured meats, bruschetta and salads (00 39
0742 301521; enoteche.it; Piazza G. Matteotti 8/10,
Spello; 9am-11pm Apr-Oct, 9am-8pm Nov-Mar; wine tasting meals from £40).
Look for the iron statue of St
Francis and you’ve found Assisi’s St Anthony’s Guesthouse. As with most
accommodation in religious establishments, the rooms are simple but welcoming,
and six have balconies with enviable views. An 800-year-old breakfast salon and
ancient Door of Death add to the atmosphere (00 39 075 812 542; Via Galeazzo
Alessi 10, Assisi; from £55).
Torre Colombaia is a
fairy-tale cottage. Just 15 minutes by car from downtown Perugia, this former
monastery and hunting lodge was Umbria’s first organic farmstay. The owners
stock pheasants and hares and grow lentils and spelt (00 39 075 878 7341; torrecolombaia.it; San Biagio
della Valle, Perugia; from £70).
Hotel Corso, set back from
Orvieto’s cathedral, offers quiet elegance. The interiors feature wood-beamed
ceilings, terracotta floors and antique cherry-wood furniture. The breakfast
buffet is set up on the outdoor terrace with views over town (00 39 763 342
020; hotelcorso.net; Corso Cavour 343,
Orvieto; from £70).
Hotel Al Grappolo d’Oro is worth a stay for the vineyard view from the pool
alone. The rooms are smart, with exposed brickwork and beams and the hotel has
a large garden (00 39 075 982 253; algrappolodoro.net;
Via Principe Umberto 24, Deruta; from £85).
Residenza San Pietro
in Valle is located on the scenic SS209 road. This former nunnery has rooms
with stone fireplaces and views over the cloisters. Enjoy fresh bread and
homemade preserves on the patio before heading out to the countryside (00 39
744 780 129; sanpietroinvalle.com;
05034 Ferentillo Terni; Apr-Oct; from £105).
If you’re visiting congested,
medieval hill towns like Assisi or Orvieto, it’s often a good idea to travel by
bus or train (trenitalia.com). Regular
services run from Perugia throughout the region. To visit rural areas, a car is
best (from £28 per day; maggiore.it).
When to go
Visit in the spring and summer
for the best regional cuisine and many festivals. Taste Norcia truffles in early
March, see Gubbio’s spectacular Corsa dei Ceri – the ‘race of the candles’ – in
May, and enjoy Perugia’s and Spoleto’s music festivals in June and July.
How to go
Perugia’s Sant’Egidio airport
is served by Alitalia and Ryanair flights from Stansted (from £105). Other
airlines serve Pisa airport, 150 miles west of Perugia. A shuttle bus connects
Sant’Egidio airport with Perugia (£3) and a taxi costs £26. Car hire is
available at both airports.
The article 'Mini guide to Umbria, Italy' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.