Italy: A visitors guide to Umbria

A visitor’s guide to Umbria

Source: by Rowland Jones

Umbria, for many years has been one of Italy’s best kept secrets. The entire world knows of the great cities Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples and the delights of Tuscany, but fewer know about Tuscany’s quieter and less ostentatious neighbour. In fact, it’s been such a well kept secret, I’m wondering whether I should share it with all and sundry……. but seeing as it’s you.

The main cities of Umbria have a lot to offer. Perugia, the capital of Umbria, with the Corso Vanucci where you can stroll in the sunshine from the Duomo past the fountain to Piazza d’Italia with its magnificent view, possibly pausing for a coffee at Sandri, the 150 year old pasticceria. Further to the east, there is Assisi, which though a popular tourist location, still merits a visit to see the Duomo with the restored Giotto frescoes, and the austere church of Santa Chiara.  

If you are approaching Umbria from the south (and even if you’re not) for me Orvieto is a must. Perched on a rocky hill top, Orvieto is breathtaking. You can park in Orvieto Scalo at the base of the hill, and take the funicular railway and mini bus which drops you in front of the magnificent fascia of the Duomo – it literally reduced my wife to tears the first time she saw it. The ornate frontage contrasts strongly with the rather austere interior illuminated by the warm light coming through the alabaster windows.

Umbria has much to offer in terms of its food too!   In Norcia, you’ll find “Norcereria” a type of shop which sells purely the specialities of that region- pecorino, truffles, wild boar sausage and lentils from Castellucio on the plateau known as the Piano Grande. At Lago di Trasimeno you can sample the lake fish: persico (perch) carpa regina and  nearby at Lago di Chiusi they make Brustico – an old Italian word meaning ‘burnt’ where the fish is cooked wrapped in cane and covered in ashes.

When it comes to activities and events there’s plenty to choose from :- it’s not only Siena that has a Palio (which essentially means a competition). Citta della Pieve holds the Palio dei Terzieri every August, which involves two weeks of medieval pageantry (and food) culminating in a spectacular procession through the town followed by an archery competition between the three sectors (terzieri) of the town. As to the other sorts  of activities, there’s ‘Coloriamo il Cielo’ (Let’s Colour the Sky) in Castiglione del Lago, a spectacular kite festival, and many other local festas usually celebrating one type of food or another! For music lovers, there’s Umbria Jazz, now in its 37th Year, Trasimeno Blues and the Spoleto ‘Festival of the Two Worlds’ all featuring artistes of international repute.

So far we’ve only scratched the surface of Umbria: there are hundreds of small towns of interest, Panicale with the beautiful ‘Martyrdom of San Sebastian’ by Perugino, Monticastello di Vibio with the smallest theatre in Umbria, Montefalco famous for Sagrantino, Bevagna,  the list is endless. So if you fancy something a little quieter than Tuscany then try Umbria, but let’s keep it between us, O.K.?


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