Leave Rome its Colosseum and Venice its canals. Let Tuscany have its masterpieces, along with its long lines. Umbria is the slow food, slow travel capital of Italy. It is the Italophile's Italy, the green heart that rolls up its sleeves and gets to work with remaining authentically Italian.
agricultural region has an impressive share of art and history, but its
isolation as a Papal state during the Renaissance means its medieval history
has been well preserved. Tourism marketing? No way. Umbrians are too busy
lingering over dinner with friends and family, growing organic lentils or
strolling through the piazza during the evening's passeggiata.
of Umbrian tourism -- Assisi, Perugia and Orvieto -- sees the majority of
international visitors, but even four million sets of modestly-covered
shoulders cannot take away from the feeling of peace that permeates the air
over Assisi's Basilica
of St Francis. Visitors flock to Perugia for the dozens
of museums, the university culture found in cafes and on the cathedral
steps, and to wander through the hilltop cityscape of medieval stone. The glow
of Orvieto's golden cathedral
will make you appreciate a sunset like few other places in the world.
However, to see
the slow side of Umbria, step off the well-trodden path. With a bit of
pre-planning, you can sample traditional fare, find the eco-conscious
destinations that only locals know about and bask in the benefits of Umbria’s
The downside of
a less accessible destination is that it is, well, less accessible. Use the money
saved from not paying 40 euro a day to park at a Florentine hotel to hire a
guide for a day or join an excursion. Sample some of the region's famed olive
oil with a culinary tour, go horseback riding and wine tasting,
or spend a day cooking
with an agriturismo owner in the hills behind Assisi.
Take a vineyard eco-tour
Fasola Bologna family has owned their land in Perugia for generations, it is
only recently that heir Lorenzo has turned Castello
Monte Vibiano Vecchio Winery into a zero-emission vineyard and winery,
putting in place solar cells, electric-power vehicles and planting around
10,000 trees to lessen damaging carbon dioxide emissions. Plan on spending at
least three hours, taking a free tour of the vine- and olive tree-covered hills,
and tasting wines in their new Green Wine Bar.
After you have visited
the wine and olive oil
museums in tiny Torgiano, head around the bend to Ristorante Siro, where
you will be dining on pink tablecloths surrounded by local families. The bigger-than-your-head
antipasti plate gives you a taste of the famed Umbrian salumi and cheeses. Considering the restaurant’s location in the centre
of what we like to think of as Umbria's golden parallelogram of wine-growing --
the scenic stretch of wildflower- and olive-tree-draped land stretching from
Lake Trasimeno in the northwest to Todi and Trevi in the southeast -- Siro is
an ideal spot to try Umbrian wines.
Where to stay
200,000 beds available in agriturismos, villas, B&Bs, castles, country
houses and converted monasteries and nunneries, there is very little reason to
ever book a soulless chain hotel in Umbria. Because of this, “hotel”
restaurants are often some of the best around.
The country house
Did you say you
really want to get away from it all?
If your idea of heaven is lounging at the pool, strolling through olive
orchards and taking cooking classes, visit the Country House Montali, near Lake
Trasimeno. Your charming and erudite host, Alberto, and his Brazilian-born
wife, Malu, have recorded their vegetarian creations in a cookbook,
but here you can learn hands on.
The converted monastery
You know what
monks were missing 400 years ago? An in-monastery spa. And a shuttle service so
after all that monastic silence, they could pop into town in five minutes. Oh,
and perhaps an in-house restaurant with a menu filled with local ingredients
and wines. Take part in modern monastic living at the Park Hotel ai Cappuccini
outside the city walls of medieval Gubbio, a too-often-missed town in the
rugged northeast of the region.
The spa resort
It might not
have been St Francis' pilgrimage route, but you could just about walk to Relais
Borgo Brufa from Perugia's airport. If you do not want to drive the 15 minutes
to get to one of a dozen hilltop towns or two dozen family-run wineries, savour
a slow day under thousands of twinkling lights in the newly remodelled spa or
meander through the outdoor sculpture garden in the hamlet of Brufa. Hey, you are
in Umbria. Why hurry?
Alex Leviton, a Lonely Planet author
for the past decade, wrote all four editions of Umbria for the Tuscany
and Umbria guide book.
The article 'Slow Umbria' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.