The Umbria region, in the center of Italy, has many Etruscan sites and medieval hill towns. Umbria is often called Italy's Green Heart for its nature parks; it also is home to one of Italy's largest lakes. Here are the top places to visit on your Umbria vacation.
Assisi is famous as the hometown of Saint Francis, or San Francesco, the patron saint of Italy. The Saint Francis Basilica in Assisi holds the tomb of Saint Francis and is a popular tourist and pilgrimage destination. Assisi also has several other interesting churches, Roman ruins, medieval sites, museums, and shops in its walled medieval center. There are good walks from town into the nearby countryside.
Sitting atop huge tufa cliffs, the hill town of Orvieto makes an impressive sight. Inhabited since Etruscan times, Orvieto's monuments and museums cover millennia of history. Its stunning duomo (cathedral) with its mosaic facade is one of the best medieval monuments in Italy. Orvieto is easily reached by car or train and makes a good Rome day trip or a good base for exploring southern Umbria and Tuscany. The area around Orvieto is dotted with Etruscan tombs and vineyards.
Perugia, Umbria's capital and largest town, is a lively hill town with Etruscan and medieval roots. There's a lot to do and see in Perugia and since it's well served by public transportation, it makes a good base for exploring Umbria's hill towns. Perugia has a good Italian language school, a world-famous jazz festival, and a chocolate festival. Chocolate lovers might want to try Perugia's Etruscan Chocohotel where there's a restaurant with a chocolate menu.
Spoleto is a walled hill town and one of the largest towns in southern Umbria. Spoleto has Etruscan, Roman, and medieval sites. Above Spoleto is a medieval Rocca and spanning the deep gorge to one side of the Rocca is Spoleto's most famous sight, Ponte delle Torri or Bridge of Towers. The ancient Longobard Church of San Salvatore is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Festival dei due mondi, two worlds festival, is held in Spoleto in late June through early July.
Todi, one of my favorite hill towns, is a picturesque walled village with good views over the countryside. Sights are close together so Todi can be easily explored in a couple of hours but there are good places to linger, enjoying the views or the ambiance. Todi or the surrounding countryside would make a peaceful base for visiting southern Umbria, especially if you're traveling by car.
Gubbio is a well-preserved medieval hill town built of gray limestone. Gubbio's compact center has a good selection of medieval, Gothic, and Renaissance monuments. Just outside the town is a Roman amphitheater. Gubbio sits in a scenic position on the lower slopes of Mount Ingino and from the town there are beautiful views over the countryside.
Lake Trasimeno is one of Italy's top lakes. Three picturesque islands can be reached by ferry and there are beaches around the lake. One of the prettiest towns is Castiglione del Lago with a medieval center and castle by the lake. The lake was the site of a famous battle between Hannibal and Rome.
Pretty Spello offers much of the stone-buildings-and-colorful-flowerpots charm of Assisi, but with a fraction of the crowds and hullabaloo. Tiny, picturesque lanes, steep staircases lined with cheerful geraniums, crumbling Roman ruins, and sweeping views over the valley below. Make sure you pack your camera for your visit to the postcard-perfect spot.
The word norcineria, a type of Italian deli, comes from Norcia, a town known for its cured meats. Norcia, in southeastern Umbria, is in the hills by the entrance to the Monte Sibillini park and makes a good base for exploring the park. The town itself is fairly flat and enclosed by 14th-century walls. Roman remains are visible in several places, and there's a castle.
Narni is a small hill town considered to be the geographical center of mainland Italy. Narni was an important Roman settlement and was part of the Papal State in the 12th to 14th centuries. There are many interesting buildings in Narni, and there's a nice walk out of town to the 1st century Ponte Cardona, part of the Roman Aqueduct Formina. Along this wooded walk way you'll also pass a sign marking the geographical center of Italy.
Mummies of Ferentillo
The mummy museum, in the tiny town of Ferentillo in southern Umbria, may be one of Umbria's strangest sites. Bodies buried below the Church of Santo Stefano were preserved by a rare microfungus that attacked the corpses and turned them into mummies. Some of the best preserved mummies are on display in what is now the mummy museum in the bottom part of the church.