Umbria has been called "Italy's Green Heart." It is green, mainly agricultural, and more sparsely populated than its western neighbor, Tuscany. Umbria has no access to the Mediterranean but is home to one of the largest lakes of Italy.
Umbria is for the laid-back traveler, one who would perhaps like to sip the uniquely Umbrian wine called Sagrantino in one of the many Umbria Wineries. There are plenty of interesting and historic towns to discover; the regional capital Perugia, Saint Francis's town of Assisi, or the Etruscan city of Orvieto.
There are interesting places to stay in Umbria. There's a restored Monastic outpost in Umbria called La Preghiera that hosts guests. Another place to consider is Fontanaro, a collection of houses forming a sort of rural cooperative where you can learn about Umbrian cooking, wine, and the making of organic olive oil. If you love to eat well and stay in a rural B&B, the Casale di Mele might be the perfect place to stay.
Umbrian cuisine is best described as farm-to-table. Foods change with the season and, when in season, you can enjoy dishes made with the highly prized truffles of the region. Deborah Mele's introduction to the cuisine, The Foods of Umbria, will give you all you need to know about the food and food traditions of Umbria.
Many arrive by bus or train and start their explorations of Umbria in the capital city of Perugia:
Explorations will then take you to the countryside and towns of the region.
Perugia: The Capital of Umbria
Perugia, the regional capital of Umbria, has visible Etruscan history including an arch and city walls. Perugia is one of Italy's great art cities and is known for its popular jazz and chocolate festivals, yet is almost entirely overlooked by tourists.
Perugia is situated on a hilltop and in part of a valley. From the train station, you can take a bus for the 1.5-kilometer climb into town but the energetic person will want to take an alternative route; the moving stairway that takes you through the excavations below the city from the parking lots.
The wide Corso Vannucci that cuts through the center of town is like a gigantic piazza without car traffic, a fantastic place to take your evening stroll through the history of Perugia's art and architecture.
The Green Heart of Italy
Umbria is the only Italian region having neither a coastline nor a border with other countries. Here you are locked into Italy's dreamy, and quite green, center. It's quiet and peaceful. Population density is very low, especially compared to adjacent Tuscany. Prices are low too, comparatively.
Tobacco fields, grain fields, groves of olive trees, and vineyards are found throughout Umbria. You'll learn to spot the tobacco drying structures, now often converted into elegant and romantic lodging for tourists.
Castiglione del Lago
Rocca del Leone, the castle of this interesting city jutting out on Lake Trasimeno, has a dark passageway to roam and is often the scene of festivals and art presentations.
You eat well in Castiglione. It is, after all, one of the top town to visit in Lake Trasimeno. You could settle down here and spend a week or more visiting the cities, islands, and wineries around the lake.
There's history too. The shores of Lake Trasimeno were the site of the Battle of Lake Trasimeno in 217 BC, where Hannibal defeated the Romans who had intended to ambush him on his way back to Rome.
You can enjoy spending a few days or weeks in this compact little hill town within sight of Lake Trasimeno, and you won't get bored.
In the heart of town, just off the main piazza, there's great food, wine, and apartments available. Notable landmarks preserved include the city wall, towers, the church of Saint Michele Arcangelo, the Palazzo Pretorio, and the Palazzo del Podesti.
Panicale is central to some pretty impressive tourist destinations like Tuscany's ancient city of Chiusi, just 16 kilometers to the west, and Lake Trasimeno right to the north.
More Cities to Visit in Umbria
Assisi - Walk in the footsteps of St. Francis; Assisi was his birthplace. The Basilica of St. Francis is a massive, two-story church, consecrated in 1253. Its frescoes portraying the life of St. Francis have been attributed to famous artists such as Giotto and Cimabue.
Orvieto - Visit this Etruscan city with the glittering Duomo in the center of town. Orvieto is famous for the white wine that bears its name.
Spoleto - This town is famous for its summer music festival, Festival dei Due Mondi, with interesting Roman, medieval, and modern sights to keep a visitor busy year 'round.
Todi - This is yet another picturesque medieval hill town in Umbria, surrounded by medieval, Roman and Etruscan walls. Although it's a hill town, its center at the top of the hill is flat, so the walking is easy.
Gubbio - This well-preserved medieval hill town is worth a stop.