Often overlooked amid the craze for Tuscany, the villages and countryside of Umbria are every bit as interesting and far less crowded. Umbria is known as the green basket of Italy for its rich agricultural production and healthy, rustic cuisine. Not only is it green with pastures, dense forests and verdant valleys, but it is also dotted with exquisite hill-top villages that contain some of the greatest artistic and architectural achievements in Italy. Orvieto, Todi, Assisi, Perugia…each town has its unique character and traditions and you’ll find the list of amazing things to do in Umbria is endless. Enjoy your perfect week in Umbria.
In Assisi, admire the great frescoes by Giotto; Perugia offers chocolate indulgences and a lively university scene; Deruta is famed for its ceramics, and Montefalco for its exuberant sagrantino wine and fine linens. The ancient Roman town of Spello hosts a flower festival each year in June during Corpus Domini, where the main streets are literally paved with a carpet of blossoms. Bevagna holds a week-long medieval festival called Mercato delle Gaite, where the citizens dress in period costumes and demonstrate the crafts associated with that era, such as basket weaving, candle making, silk production and paper pressing, and taverns serve food prepared from medieval recipes. Nearby, Spoleto hosts an international music festival that attracts the greatest voices from around the world, as well as dance companies and theatre productions.
Venture further east toward the Sibillini mountains and you can experience a secret part of Umbria that is rich in natural beauty, pre-Roman settlements and gastronomic specialties such as porchetta (roasted suckling pig stuffed with herbs and spices) and dark, earthy truffles. Norcia, Visso and Gubbio are all towns off the tourist circuit that are also worth exploring.
Umbria is probably best known for its hearty soups made with locally-grown legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and roveliga (a bean that the Etruscans cherished) and homemade pastas such as strangozzi e taglietelle. Truffles, wild boar and game, fresh, in-season produce and the highly acclaimed, peppery-green first-pressings of olive oil are impossible to resist.
For your enjoyment this evening, a light arrival buffet will be laid out for you by your Local Host composed of regional favourites and delicacies. Please note this is sufficient for a large snack and exact foods will vary depending on the season. Enjoy this buffet while you settle into your home away from home and start to fall into life in Italy.
Splendidly sited on the peak of a hill at a sharp turn in the Tiber, Todi commands a far-ranging view of the valley. Its three concentric sets of gates and walls tell the tale of Todi’s pattern of growth; proof of the strategic importance of this location. The core at the top of the hill is the site of the original Etruscan and Umbrian settlement, and is surrounded by the remnants of the ancient Roman period, beyond which is the outer medieval layer. Enjoy a leisurely day of wandering around this historic town, stopping in and out of caffes and charming shops. Sit for a while in the Piazza del Popolo, one of the highest and most beautiful piazzas in Umbria. Take in the splendour of the Duomo, which sits defiantly alone at one end of the piazza, flanked by three medieval civic palaces.
After the piazza and your first taste of a truly wonderful coffee, take some time to explore the town’s side streets and meandering alleys. Cascading window boxes full of bright red geraniums and pots of fresh basil will most likely be a common sight in these lovely, provincial towns. Head back to the piazza and try another caffe bar for the pre-lunch aperitivo with a sparkling glass of prosecco or a thirst-quenching non-alcoholic cocktail.
La Passeggiata and Dinner in Town
The time between 17:00 and 20:00 is when everyone comes out to stroll the main pedestrian street or mingle in the square to catch up on gossip and socialize. Known as la passeggiata, this is a special tradition unlike anything you will encounter in North America. Meet your local host and head off to her favorite restaurant or Trattoria for some authentic Umbrian cuisine.
Monday is a quiet day in Italy, with most clothes shops and artisan shops closed until the afternoon. With this in mind, your local host can organize a few choice options to make sure you are getting everything possible out of your week in Italy.
Discover some of Umbria’s most beautiful landscapes with a guided Bike Tour. There is truly nothing like road riding in Europe. The roads are quiet and scenic. The drivers are respectful. And every few miles there is a shop, cafe or restaurant where you can get supplies or a bite to eat.
Skill level and interest will be matched with a customized tour that is designed to meet the experience levels of all guests and allow you to experience the diversity of landscape and beauty the region has to offer.
Your guide will meet you at the villa 1hr in advance to get the bikes prepared and then load everyone, bikes et al., into his van and drive you to your starting point if you are not biking directly from the villa (To be determined based on group experience level and discussed once you have arrived at the villa).
Umbria has a range of terrains for walking, hiking and trekking, with magnificent scenery along the way. In Umbria, the area around Spoleto is particularly good; several pleasant, easy, and well-signed trails begin at the far end of the Ponte delle Torri bridge over Monteluco.
Private Chef Dinner
This evening, one of our Regional Chefs will arrive at your villa to begin preparing your authentic Italian meal. Sit back and relax as plate after plate of delicious Italian fare is brought before you.
Wine has always been an element of Italian life. Over 3,000 years ago, the Etruscans cultivated vines here, made wine and left behind in their tombs delightful murals depicting happy wine-drinkers. Today you will follow in their footsteps on a full day wine tour. Your local host can arrange wine visits locally or further afield depending on your tastes and preferences. We can also arrange for a driver to pick you up and take you on this excursion so that everyone can enjoy the wine tasting and activities without worrying about driving. The perfect day would be to set off after breakfast and visit a winery with a complete visit including the vineyards, the cantina and the tasting room. After your first winery, head to number two where lunch will be served and then visit one more in the afternoon that might be focused on sweet, after dinner drinks.
The fabulous thing about having a Local Host included in your villa experience is that she or he can add some very personal and individual touches to your week. Visiting three wineries in one day is great but what if you also stopped off at a quiet, small hamlet to see a hidden fresco, or took a detour to visit a private estate with an Italian garden, or found a local cashmere shop with outlet prices? Your Local Host can make your wine day one to remember.
Dinner at the villa
After being out all day why not take it easy tonight by pairing some of the excellent wines you have purchased during the day with a take home meal — homemade lasagna, tagliatelle, or roast chicken are some of the options– from the local catering shop. Your Local Host will arrange and place the order for you to pick up upon return. Or if you are thinking that you want a full service meal, your local host can arrange for a local cook to come in and have dinner prepared for when you return from the vineyards.
Once the arch rival of neighboring Gubbio, Perugia has blossomed as the modern day capital of Umbria. Thanks to the energy of a major university and a vibrant artistic and music community, a visit here offers a refreshing big-city change of pace from the charming sameness of the region’s hill towns.
Start your day at the permanent covered food market at the Piazza Matteotti and load up on fresh cheeses, breads and produce (see the art of Marketing Shopping). Stroll over to the Palazzo Dei Priori, which is often cited as Italy’s most impressive civic space and which houses four separate buildings hidden in its grounds: the Sala dei Notari, Sala del Collegio della Mercanzia, Collegio del Cambio and the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, which houses a fine collection of Umbrian art from all eras. In July, Perugia plays host to Italy’s foremost Jazz festival, Umbria Jazz, whose stars have included Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Wynton Marsalis. During this two-week festival, hundreds of concerts all over Perugia offer a musical variety rarely seen and heard elsewhere.
For dinner, you can choose from any number of restaurants in Perugia, ranging from a simple trattoria to fine dining, and perhaps take in some after-dinner jazz.
Nothing is written in stone so every itinerary will be different for each and every person that comes to Umbria through Hosted Villas. Our local hosts are experienced in knowing their guests and finding the right mix of events and downtime for each unique group. These are just a few of the vast options open to anyone interested in exploring the riches that make Italy such a dynamic country.
A couple of our favourites:
Hot Air Balloon Ride
For those of you who have no problem waking up at the crack of dawn (even on holiday!) this is the event to do. Most hot air balloon departures are any time between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. but if the day is ideal then the trip is a memory of a lifetime.
Harvested as far back as Ancient Greek civilization, truffles are essentially a prized and very expensive mushroom and truffle hunts are a fascinating way to discover how these gourmet jewels are found (underground and sniffed out by trained truffle hounds) and used in Italian gastronomy. Join an expert (and his dogs), for a fun-filled day of hunting this Italian specialty.
One of the most interesting and least expensive ways to discover the different foods of Italy is to make a picnic for a midday feast, though you’ll have to go to a different shop for each item on your list. For bread, go to the panificio or forno; salami, prosciutto, and mortadella are sold in the salumeria; cheeses, butter, milk, and yogurt are found in the latteria. Fruits and vegetables are in the frutta e verdura and delicious sweets and pastries are sold in the pasticceria.
After you’ve picked up your fresh and delicious picnic ingredients, head toward the spiritual town of Assisi. Here the trickle of fountains and the chime of church bells float gently on the warm breeze. Wrought-iron balconies and window boxes overflow with bright red geraniums. Brooding over this serene display is the town’s main attraction, the massive two-tiered Basilica dedicated to St. Francis and his followers. The 14thC Rocca Maggiore (Grand Fortress) offers an unparalleled panorama of Assisi and the valley below and there are many other places of religious note nearby, including the hermitage of St. Francis, Eremo delle Carceri, and the Santa Maria degli Angeli, where St. Francis used to hold his meetings.
On the way home from Assisi, stop in Deruta, the ceramic capital of central Italy. Here you can visit shop after shop of ceramic factories and even watch them at work. It’s the perfect place to wind down your stay in Umbria with an authentic, handmade souvenir or two!
On your final day in Umbria, it’s nice to have some time at the villa to relax and reminisce on your trip. Tonight you and your guests will get creative, by learning some of the tasty secrets of authentic Umbrian cuisine from an expert chef in your own home! Gather around the kitchen for the lesson and then most importantly, to sample the finished product! This is an event that can be organized for any age group and any type of food preferences. We have a handful of wonderful local cooks and a few choice Italian chefs to please every type of request.
Come with a pen, a good appetite and a curious mind.
Time to pack up and say “Arrivederci” to your Local Host, the villa, and the Italian countryside.