A travel guide to Umbria

Umbria is one of Italy’s loveliest regions, as unspoilt as it is green, peppered with pretty hilltop towns that crown its rolling hills. It’s somewhere to come to relax as well as explore, a place that’s full of history, culture and traditions. Read on to discover where to go, what to do and what to eat!

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A short little introduction

Nestled between Marche, Tuscany and Lazio in the middle of Italy, Umbria is the country’s only region that doesn’t border the sea and, as such, is often referred to as the Green Heart of Italy. Topologically hilly, with the Apennines dissecting it north to south, and boasting Lago Trasimeno, the country’s fourth largest lake, it’s the perfect place to explore. Aside from the ravishing scenery, it’s Umbria’s delicious food, rich artistic heritage and fascinating history that exert the greatest pull, in cosmopolitan Perugia or the glorious hilltop towns. Umbria has managed to keep out of the spotlight, and a relative lack of tourists has helped keep it unspoilt, meaning that a first trip here is rarely the last.

Umbria: A brief history

Umbria has a long and rich history. It is named after the Umbri people who inhabited the region as far back as the Bronze Age. The Etruscans came next, putting Perugia and Todi on the map, and the Romans followed, conquering Umbria and adding it to their Empire, leaving behind architectural triumphs, such as the Ponte delle Torri, Spoleto’s magnificent former aqueduct.

During the Middle Ages, Spoleto, Perugia, Assisi and other cities fought for independence and territorial dominance, helping define the historical and cultural identity of the region. Meanwhile, Umbria became an important religious centre, with St Francis of Assisi and others helping spread Christianity and the ensuing sacred art, while the Renaissance saw artists such as Perugino, Pinturicchio and Raphael help put Umbria on the map. Commissioned by popes and local nobility, their surviving masterpieces are now priceless. During the Risorgimento of the 19th century, Umbria became part of the Kingdom of Italy and in the 20th century the region experienced slow but steady economic and social growth thanks to both industry and tourism.

And now? Visitors are still drawn to this inspiring landscape of rolling hills, medieval cities and pretty villages, enticed by its food, festivals and enduring hospitality.

  


Towns to explore

Umbria brims with lovely old towns and beautiful places to visit. Everybody has their favourite from an extensive list, so these are just a handful of our most-loved destinations. 

Foligno

Foligno, Umbria’s third largest town, is unusual in that it’s not perched on top of a hill, but don’t let that put you off. The centro storico is a delight of medieval streets, lively squares, including the Piazza della Repubblica, and fabulous buildings, such as the 12th century pink-and-white Cattedrale di San Feliciano, and the Palazzo Trinci, home to the Museo Archeologico and some incredible 15th-century frescoes. The town is known for its cultural events, exhibitions and festivals, with the Giostra della Quintana its most famous – an ancient jousting tournament held every year. There’s also a jazz festival in June. For art that’s not ancient, head to the former church of the SS. Trinità in Annunziata to see all 24 metres of Gino De Dominicis’ 1984 work Calamita Cosmica of a human skeleton. Then it will be time to combine lunch with a spot of shopping: this is the place to buy cashmere.

Montefalco

Montefalco is a walled medieval hilltop town best known for its breathtaking views, fresco-filled churches and delicious wine. Home to Sagrantino, a robust and complex red, there are numerous wineries that offer tastings. In the town itself, head to the Chiesa di San Francesco, which on the outside is an imposing medieval church but inside, you’ll find colourful frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli. Also, don’t miss the Museo di San Francesco, which houses a rich collection of medieval and Renaissance art.

Bevagna

Bevagna lies 15 miles southeast of Perugia and, while not a hilltop town, the feel is very much ancient Umbria, with its medieval wall, cobbled streets and ancient churches such as San Michele Arcangelo and the Gothic San Silvestro, both housing precious works of art. Bevagna is also famous for its main square, Piazza Silvestri, with the Palazzo dei Consoli. Don’t miss the Terme Romane, which are decorated with mosaics, and the Teatro Francesco Torti. The town is known for traditional crafts, including ceramics and wrought iron, and for the Mercato delle Gaite, a big medieval festival that takes place in June.

Spello

Spello is one of Umbria’s prettiest towns, thanks to its balconies brimming with flowers that bring even more beauty to its pretty cobbled streets and alleys. Among its most famous attractions are the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore, with frescoes by Pinturicchio, and the Cappella Baglioni, decorated with rare Renaissance works of art. Don’t miss the Infiorata, a beautiful annual Easter event that dates back to the 17th century, when the streets of the old town are decorated with carpets of flower petals.  

Todi 

Todi is one of Umbria’s most beautiful towns: an architectural jewel as well as an art destination, that has retained its ancient charm. Head first to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, and then the Chiesa di San Fortunato with its Renaissance frescoes. The Todi Festival is an annual celebration of classical music, while the Beverly Pepper Projects Foundation is an exhibition space in the centro storico. The Beverly Pepper Park, meanwhile, has 20 of the artist’s works on display. Another gem is the "Painted House" by Irish artist Brian O'Doherty, who, with his wife Barbara Novak, purchased a 19th-century house and began painting it, transforming it into a work of art.

Città della Pieve

Città della Pieve is a pretty medieval hilltop town with fabulous views towards Tuscany. Characterised by narrow cobbled streets, historic buildings and medieval towers, it retains its ancient charm. The town was the birthplace of Renaissance artist Pietro Vannucci, better known as Perugino, and you can admire his "Adoration of the Magi" frescoes in the Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Bianchi. The 12th-century Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore, with its bell tower and works of art, is also worth a visit. Città della Pieve hosts a Cocoa Festival, celebrating artisanal chocolate and its traditions. It’s a glorious place to potter, stopping for a coffee or lunch.

Spoleto

Spoleto’s skyline is dominated by the majestic Rocca Albornoziana, an imposing medieval fortress, and the Ponte delle Torri, a 13th-century former aqueduct overlooking the Tessino river. This is a jewel of a town that offers an authentic taste of Umbria. The Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta, with its Romanesque façade, and the Chiesa di San Salvatore, with frescoes by Pinturicchio, are just two of its must-see churches. It’s easy to wander the narrow streets, stopping in a piazza for an espresso. The town is also known for its Festival dei Due Mondi, one of the most prestigious art festivals in the world, which takes place every summer, attracting artists and visitors from all over the world.

Gubbio

Gubbio, another in a score of delightful medieval hilltop towns, is known as la città di pietra, or the town of stone. The Palazzo dei Consoli, an imposing Gothic building straight out of a painting, dominates the town and houses the Museo Civico which is full of archaeological finds and precious works of art. The Duomo di San Giovanni Battista is impressive, as is the Roman amphitheatre, a reminder of Gubbio’s glorious past. The town is best known for its Festa dei Ceri, one of Italy’s oldest and most spectacular festivals, held on 15th May each year in honour of Sant’Ubaldo, Gubbio’s patron saint. The festival centres around three ceri, or giant torches, that are about 7m high and weigh more than 400kg each. The Corsa dei Ceri is an exciting race and the festival’s highlight, with the torch bearers running at full speed, followed by thousands of enthusiastic spectators.

Città di Castello

Città di Castello boasts a rich architectural heritage, with numerous historic buildings, churches and museums to explore. Among the main attractions are the Palazzo Comunale, an imposing Renaissance building, and the Duomo dei Santi Florido e Amanzio, with its majestic façade. Città di Castello is also known for its lively art scene, housing numerous art galleries and artists' studios, and hosting cultural events throughout the year. Among the most famous is the Festival of Nations, a prestigious international festival of chamber and orchestral music. Città di Castello was also the birthplace and hometown of Alberto Burri (1915-1995), the Italian artist known for his abstract creations made with unconventional materials. The town has two museums dedicated to him: the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, that houses a large Burri collection, and the Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco, just outside the town centre, an old tobacco drying factory that has been transformed into an impressive exhibition space dedicated to the artist’s larger works. A massive sculpture by Burri called “Grande Nero” can also be admired inside the Rocca Paolina in Perugia.

Trevi

Trevi is a hilltop town that rises majestically from the olive groves and vineyards of the Spoleto Valley. Dominated by the Rocca di Trevi, the town retains an authentic atmosphere and medieval charm. Among its religious buildings are the Chiesa di San Francesco, with its 12th-century frescoes, and the Chiesa di Sant'Emiliano, with its impressive bell tower. Trevi is also famous for its prized extra-virgin olive oil, produced for centuries using traditional methods, and is home to the Museo dell’Olio as well as an annual Festa dell’Olio. 


Top things to do in Umbria

Shopping

Umbria has a rich history of textile production, with many artisans specialising in specific techniques such as weaving, embroidery and fabric dyeing. Perugia is known for its traditional textiles and the production of luxurious fabrics such as cashmere, wool and silk - we recommend a visit to the Museo-Laboratorio di tessitura a mano Giuditta Brozzetti. Montefalco, meanwhile, is famous for linen, while Solomeo is known for its high-quality leather goods and is home to the Brunello Cucinelli headquarters: a brand known for its luxury cashmere clothing as well as leather goods. Luisa Spagnoli founded her eponymous clothing and accessories brand in Perugia, in 1928, while Fabiana Filippi, based in Giano dell'Umbria, is a luxury fashion brand specialising in women's clothing and accessories and known for its understated elegance, minimalist aesthetic and luxurious fabrics. And if it’s menswear you’re after, head to cashmere specialist Della Ciana Cashmere.

Wines 

Umbria boasts a variety of wine-producing areas, each with a unique terroir and microclimate that influence the aroma and taste profiles of the individual wines. This, combined with the hard work of its producers, ensures Umbrian wine continues to attract the attention of wine lovers from around the world.

Umbria’s most important wine-producing areas include: 

Montefalco. Famous for Sagrantino di Montefalco, a robust and structured red produced mainly with Sagrantino grapes. This wine is synonymous with Umbrian viticulture and has obtained DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin) recognition.

Torgiano. Known for Torgiano Rosso Riserva and Torgiano Bianco, both DOCG wines. This area is famous for its high-quality reds and whites, often produced with Sangiovese and Trebbiano grapes.

Orvieto. This area is known for Orvieto white wine. Fresh and aromatic, it’s produced mainly with Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes. Orvieto was one of the first Italian wines to receive DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) recognition.

Assisi. Known for reds and whites produced with native grapes such as Sangiovese, Grechetto and Trebbiano Spoletino.

Colli del Trasimeno. An emerging wine-producing area around Lake Trasimeno, known for its fresh and fruity whites and reds, often produced with native grapes such as Grechetto and Sangiovese.

Umbria is also home to many natural and biodynamic wine producers who use sustainable agricultural practices to produce high-quality wines while respecting the surrounding environment.

Olive oil

Umbria, with its temperate climate, fertile soil and ancient olive-growing tradition, produces some of the finest olive oils in Italy. Characterised by a fruity and intense flavour, with herbaceous notes and a slightly spicy aftertaste, Umbrian extra virgin olive oil is appreciated for its quality and versatility. The olives are harvested by hand and cold pressed within a few hours which guarantees maximum freshness and preserves the oil’s individual characteristics. The region is known for several native olive varieties, such as "Moraiolo", "Frantoio", "Leccino" and "Dolce Agogia", which give the oil its unique flavour and aroma. These olives are cultivated in the Umbrian hills, and grow in full sunshine, resulting in the quality and richness of the final product. You can do tasting tours and can buy cans of the stuff, meaning you’re spoilt for life and will never buy supermarket-brand oil again.

Local food 

Traditional Umbrian cuisine is characterised by the region’s outstanding local and seasonal ingredients, such as vegetables, legumes, meat, cheese and truffles. The region is perhaps best known for its fine black truffles used to enrich dishes such as truffle strangozzi. Porchetta is another local delicacy and is made by slow roasting boned pork belly or shoulder that’s been stuffed with aromatic herbs, garlic and spices, until it’s tender on the inside and golden and crispy on the outside. If you wish to go full Umbrian, try any or all of the following specialties: local pecorino, wild boar, Pane di Strettura, Torta al Testo, Crescia al Formaggio or Pizza di Pasqua and any pork product, cured or grilled. Be sure to give the local legumes a try. They may be lowly by reputation but they taste absolutely delicious. We recommend the Castelluccio di Norcia lentils, the Fagiolina del Trasimeno, the Fagiolo Secondo del Piano di Orvieto, the Fava cottòra dell’Amerino and the Roveja di Cività di Cascia. And it goes without saying that pizza and gelato are always on the menu. Many of our properties have proper pizza ovens and we can organise a pizza chef to come to your villa – a guaranteed crowd pleaser.


Outdoor activities

Umbria’s rolling green hills provide the perfect playground for some outdoor adventures.


Where to stay

We have poured our deep-rooted love of Umbria, in all its hilly, verdant, foodie, sunny rich glory, into a carefully built portfolio of properties that are characterised by space, privacy, comfort and design. Some of these we have built from the ground up (Le More, Il Nido, Casa Collina), some we have rescued from ruins, while others we have restored and refurbished for an international client list who, like us, fell in love with this rolling landscape.

Gather family and friends and stay in a former farmhouse with impossibly pretty views of Città della Pieve, or, come with just your nearest and dearest and choose a modern classic (Casa Boronia, Casa Refogliano) not far from Lake Trasimeno. Surround yourself with modern Italian design in an ancient country villa, be charmed by the brilliance of this design-led reimagining of the owner’s grandparents’ farmhouse or bathe in the golden light of Val d’Orcia in a former industrial building made charming.

All our houses blend seamlessly into the rolling landscape and are close to the beautiful hilltop towns with their churches and restaurants, galleries and shops. Breathtaking views and a private pool come as standard, as does impeccable design. Antique furniture sits alongside modern design pieces from Italian brands, and local materials such as wood and marble take pride of place, often crafted by local artisans.

Book a stay with your family or with friends, come in high summer or in deep winter. If you have school-age children, the summer and autumn half terms are some of the loveliest weeks of the year. Party, relax or do both to the backdrop of food made from delicious local ingredients, indulging in the simple pleasure of cooking and eating outside. Our properties are a celebration of Umbria itself, which is as perfect as perfect can be.


When to visit

Umbria has the perfect Mediterranean climate of warm springs and long hot summers. Autumn arrives later than in northern Europe and is mild, and in winter the temperature rarely dips below 10*. The spring flowers, long hot summers, autumn colours, gentle winters and low rainfall are an inviting combination. It’s worth remembering that because of its hilly location, there’s usually a breeze and so summer is not as stiflingly hot as elsewhere in Italy and there are lots of festivals to enjoy. In autumn there’s the chance to taste the first of the spoils from the olive oil harvest, as well as fresh truffle - you can even join a truffle hunt, while a warming glass of Montefalco in front of the fire in winter is a treat. If you have school-age children, half terms, especially the less expected May and October ones, are a brilliant time to come.


Finding and buying a property

It’s very easy to fall in love with Umbria. We know, because it happened to us. We embraced this love affair and bought a plot of land on which we built our house. That was nearly two decades ago and since then, we have helped scores of clients buy, build and manage property in this glorious green heartland.

We are property experts and love nothing more than matching people to places, guiding our clients through the complexities of buying in Italy. Whether it’s finding the perfect plot, bringing a ruin back to life, restoring or building a beautiful villa, or buying a property you can move straight into, we know what to do and how to do it.

Take a look at our sales portfolio and get in touch with our expert team. Go on, you know you want to!


How to get there

Perugia, the regional capital, has its own airport which makes getting to Umbria easy. Alternatively, you can fly to Rome Fiumicino or Rome Ciampino, to Florence and to Ancona and still be within a couple of hours onward travel to Umbria. Italy’s trains are efficient but the easiest way to get around is by car and there are rental places at the airports, as well as at bigger train stations.


Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

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How long should I spend in Umbria?

The simple answer is, as long as you like. You can explore lots in a week, including hilltop towns, Lake Trasimeno and the big-hitters Perugia and Assisi, and still have plenty of time to relax, eat delicious food, drink world-class wine and jump in the pool. But if you can take two weeks, do. You’ll fit in more rest and more exploring. And if you can work remotely, rent one of our properties for a good chunk of time and discover that a work/life balance does exist.

What is the best town to stay in, in Umbria?

Umbria’s countryside is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and all our houses have a view of the scenery you’ve come here to admire. We pride ourselves on offering properties that are private and have room for a pool, a garden, and an outdoor dining terrace where you can chat into the night with no fear of disturbing anyone. In Umbria, you’re never far from a town and the likes of Perugia, Terni, Foligno, Città della Pieve, Città di Castello, Assisi, Spoleto, Gubbio are easy to reach. 

Can you get around Umbria without a car?

You can, but it’s a lot more difficult! While there is a good bus and rail network, a car gives you the freedom to go where you want, when you want and we always recommend our guests hire one which is easy to do at the airport or train station.

Should I stay in Umbria or Tuscany?

Both head and heart say Umbria. Although Tuscany is utterly fabulous, it can get very crowded and overpriced. Umbria, meanwhile, remains relatively undiscovered, has fewer tourist traps and feels like old Italy in a good way. Besides, the rolling landscape with its hilltop towns, combined with the phenomenal food and wine, are reason enough to visit and never want to leave.

What is the most beautiful part of Umbria?

It depends on personal preference. Assisi is definitely a highlight and the sight of the Basilica di San Francesco’s impressive architecture rising up from the hillside as you approach is a little precursor of the extraordinary beauty and stillness found within its walls. Between Assisi and Spoleto is a collection of delightful towns, all meriting a visit, including Spello, Foligno, Bevagna and Montefalco. If you prefer outdoorsy stuff, head for the area around Lake Trasimeno. The lake is beautiful in itself and the surrounding towns, such as Castiglione del Lago, Passignano sul Trasimeno, Panicale and Città della Pieve, are some of our favourites.


Learn more?

Don't miss the opportunity to explore this delightful region. We're fairly sure that once you've discovered Umbria, you'll want to keep coming back. Click the following links to find a fabulous villa to rent for your holiday and to discover more tips for visiting this beautiful region:

  

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