Umbria travel guide
2 MINUTE SUMMARY
Atmosphere is everything in Umbria, not mass tourism, and although Tuscany may have better marketing and more visitors, Umbria certainly matches it for untouched Etruscan landscapes and traditional hillside towns. Assisi, Spoleto and Orvieto showcase the region’s obsession with saints and cathedrals whilst smaller towns, such as Bevagna and Spello, are as authentically medieval as mead and jousting. Thanks to the secluded setting this is a pocket of Italy that has withstood outside influence and only just opened its first airport; although it's still very small and currently only accepts arrivals from Europe. Again, bucking the Tuscan trend, Umbria is best known for its white wine and if you can find the time to sit and stare over a glass of something crisp and peachy then there’s not much more to add, other than, perhaps, a slab of pecorino or dollop of fresh ricotta drizzled in raw honey.
Read on in our Umbria travel guide.
Umbria map & highlights
Make the most of your time
As Italy’s only landlocked region, Umbria more than makes up for the lack of coastline with Lake Trasimeno and the tributaries of the River Tiber offering ample excuses to roll up trouser legs and cool off during the heat of summer. Without a major motorway or a city larger than Perugia, Umbria is abound with unscathed Etruscan scenery and a visit to the town of Montefalco offers a superb natural terrace from where to survey all from afar. From Città di Castello in the north to Spoleto in the south, the Central Apennines form Umbria’s spine and grant walkers and cyclists countless Roman roads and ancient foot paths which lead up and down from one alfresco terrace or shaded beech grove to the next.
Two of Italy’s favourite worlds collide in Assisi as art meets religion in the ecclesiastical architecture of San Francesco and Santa Chiara basilicas, and the Romanesque facade of the Cathedral of San Rufino. As the birthplace of several saints, Saint Francis being the best known, the whole town is a UNESCO site and the medieval ruins of Rocca Maggiore provide a fabulous location to take it all in.
The slopes of Mount Ingino are on the map for several reasons, including: high pasture hikes, the gorgeously Gothic Gubbio and one of the world’s largest Christmas trees. Xmas and hiking aside, Gubbio is an atmospheric and slightly stern looking town with Roman ruins and a hilltop mausoleum adding to a confusion of narrow alleys and steep stone steps which never fail to lead to an out of the way cafe.
Montone is one of Umbria’s best preserved small towns and invites visitors to sample the sublime sluggish charm of central Italy. Elegant alfresco terraces and scenic hillside piazzas provide the setting for an afternoon of people or cloud watching whilst the constant clang of metal signals the start of May’s traditional iron forgers’ festival – perhaps a caffeine-free alternative to espresso?
A funicular railway dissects Orvieto’s volcanic slopes to reach the prized restaurants, narrow alleyways and Gothic cathedral spires that lie within. Some of the sheer cliff top views from the Pozzo di San Patrizio (St Patrick’s Well) are breathtaking, but descend deep below the soft volcanic tuff and you’ll find a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels and tombs, definitely worth investigating further.
Umbria’s capital rivals Volterra for Etruscan archways and secular structures, with the Palazzo dei Priori, Fontana Maggiore and Capella di San Severo all doing their best to tempt travelers from Tuscany. A closer inspection unveils frescos by Raphael and Perugino, plus the mysterious “underground city”, although these days it’s chocolate (Oct) and jazz (July) festivals that occupy space in the cultural calendar.
Rocca Albornoziana fortress surveys Spoleto’s Roman ruins from the Sant'Elia hills and can be accessed either by scenic escalator or steepish walking trail, if you’re feeling fit. An interconnecting bridge, the Ponte delle Torri, leads to the wooded mountain of Monteluco and encapsulates the valley setting as the trail extends to the hermitage of St Francis hidden deep within the ‘bosco sacra’ (sacred wood).