This jewel of a destination known as the ‘green heart of Italy,‘ boasts lush countryside, medieval hilltop towns, fresco adorned churches, prized wines and olive oils and truffles to die for. Not to mention the acclaimed Spoleto Cultural Festival and Foligno’s fantastical Quintana, an Oscar worthy spectacular with ancient equestrian games and a lavish costume parade. With charming hotels, authentic villages and treasures around every corner plus less crowds and more value for your money than its more traveled northern neighbor Tuscany – picturesque Umbria offers a fantastic getaway for couples, families and friends alike.
Be sure to see Marmore Falls in Nera River Park. These famous man-made waterfalls date back to Roman times, and are set amid the splendor of Umbria’s stunning hills. A small spot at the top is known as the lover’s balcony. With a height of approximately 541 feet, their breathtaking beauty is a sight to behold.
The enchanting hilltop medieval town of Spoleto is renowned for its annual summer festival featuring top theatre, music, dance, art and opera with a host of international stars. Started in 1958, and still one of the most stimulating cultural events in Italy, it attracts visitors from around the globe. (www.festivaldispoleto.com) Stroll the town’s winding, cobblestone alleyways taking in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta: its facade adorned with Byzantine mosaics, the interior houses magnificent frescoes by Fra Filippo Lippi. Continue on to the ancient Arco di Druso to the former Roman Forum, now the Piazza del Mercato. Nearby lies the 1st century Roman Theatre. The colossal Ponte delle Torri Bridge, a 13th-century aqueduct, offers stupendous panoramic views. Dine on divine ravioli and truffles at local favorite Ristorante del Mercato.
Palazzo Dragoni, an elegant family run and beautifully restored period hotel charms with four poster beds, lovely antiques, handsome paintings and verandas with glorious views. It’s no wonder many of the principal artists at the Spoleto Festival were guests here. Anthony Quinn, Gerard Depardieu and Baryshnikov stayed in my very room.
Spello is another pretty hillside medieval walled town. Ever since the first Infiorata Festival when the whole place was decorated with flowers, the locals have carried on this tradition year round with colorful hanging baskets, vibrant flowerpots and floral balconies galore. Stop in at the Domiziani Ceramic shop, the best around.
Marvel at the spectacular Villa de Mosaics – a remarkable archaeological discovery. Unveiled just this March, a villa that dates back to the imperial age was discovered with 10 rooms featuring exquisite mosaic floors depicting wild and fantastical animals, personifications of the seasons, human figures, geometric patterns and more.
Ancient Trevi, perched on a hilltop, offers olive groves, an olive museum and impressive Villa Fabri. Savor an al fresco lunch of handmade pasta with mushrooms, tomatoes and artichokes with superb local wine at Taverna del Sette.
Montefalco is located in the center of the Sagrantino wine zone where high quality wines are produced. The popular Sagrantino Road Wine tourism itinerary runs through the beautiful hills of this area rich with vineyards and olive groves where visitors enjoy wine and olive oil tastings, cooking classes, organic picnics, nature strolls and an array of culinary and cultural delights. www.stradadelsagrantino.it/en/wineries/montefalco.php
Assisi, birthplace of the patron saint of Italy, though a hugely popular destination – still manages to keep its authenticity. Early morning en route to the famous Basilica di San Francesco, the town’s magic was on full display. Nuns and priests walked the twisty cobblestone streets under bougainvilleaed balconies of stone houses, gloriously illuminated by the first golden rays of the sun. Assisi offers the wondrous underground ancient Roman Form, majestic temple of Minerva with its striking Corinthian columns and the legendary Rocca Maggiore Castle. Enjoy a cocktail with scenic views on the terrace of the Taverna de Consoliglio followed by outstanding local cuisine in the atmospheric restaurant at the Hotel dei Priori.
Foligno, a captivating ancient town, has the original 13th century bell tower not far from Ristorante GUS serving yummy Umbrian fare. Marvelous Trinci Palace, former seat of the Trinci Lords, houses an archaeological museum and magnificent frescoes from classical history and medieval culture.
Every year Foligno hosts “The Joust of Quintana” one of the most popular horse races in Italy also called “Olympic Equestrian competitions.“ A thrilling medieval jousting tournament with knights on horseback is reenacted as the whole town cheers. On the night before, a spectacular parade marches throughout the town with hundreds wearing magnificent baroque costumes: nobles, ladies, dukes, knights on horses, carriages, trumpeters, drummers – all harking back to ancient times. The most fun I’ve ever had and reason enough to visit Umbria!
For more information on travel to Umbria visit www.umbriatourism.it or www.italiantourism.com