Umbria Holiday

Written by  Monique Burns

EUROPE ITALYMedieval hill-towns like Assisi, Orvieto, Perugia and Spoleto perch high above lush valleys. Family-owned vineyards produce world-class wines and age-old olive groves yield fragrant extra virgin oils. From local farms come organic pork and lamb, lentils and chickpeas. Thick forests of oaks, elms and chestnuts shelter the region’s prized black truffles.
Known as “Italy’s green heart,” Umbria tempts all the senses. But it also transports the soul. The region’s misty blue hills inspired the likes of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare, St. Benedict, and St. Valentine, patron saint of lovers. Today, visitors explore rock-bound hermitages, hilltop shrines, and cathedrals adorned with frescoes by Giotto, Luca Signorelli, and Perugino, who schooled the great Renaissance painter, Raphael.

Two years after the 2016 earthquake, Umbria is back to its former glory. Boasting cultural and culinary riches rivaling Tuscany, its northerly neighbor, Umbria is far less expensive and less crowded. Accommodations, among Central Italy’s best, include inns, small hotels, restored monasteries, and luxurious hilltop resorts like Castello di Gallano Resort outside Assisi and Altarocca Wine Resort near Orvieto.

EXPLORING PERUGIA
To savor Umbria’s best, plan a leisurely 10 to 14-day visit. Arriving at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, drive 2 1/2 hours northeast to Perugia (http://turismo.comune.perugia.it), Umbria’s capital and home to the Umbria Jazz Festival (www.umbriajazz.com), celebrating its 45th season in July. En route, stop in tiny San Gemini to lunch on local cheeses, salami and wines at La Pecora Nera.
Once in Perugia, check into four-star Hotel Sangallo Palace (www.sangallo.it) in the Lower Town. Along with airy, wood-paneled rooms, adorned with prints of famous local frescoes, you’ll find a restaurant, indoor pool and
fitness center.


Steps away, a city escalator winds through 16th-century Rocca Paolina fortress to Perugia’s Upper Town. At La Rosetta Hotel & Restaurant (www.larosetta.eu), dine in the leafy courtyard garden or in elegant salons with vaulted ceilings and frescoes.
Back in the Upper Town the next day, stroll Corso Vannucci, the city’s main street, passing the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, known for early Renaissance works. The Perugia Card (www.perugiacittamuseo.it) provides free admission to five city museums, including the Museo Nazionale Archeologico dell’Umbria.
Steps from the gallery, on Piazza IV Novembre, see intricately carved 13th-century Fontana Maggiore and art-adorned Cathedral of San Lorenzo. In the Lower Town below, the monumental Etruscan Arch rises, part of ancient walls still surrounding the city.
The Carducci Gardens, at the other end of town, offer splendid views of rolling Umbrian hills punctuated by red-tiled roofs and brick belfries. Call ahead to visit nearby Museo Laboratorio Studio Moretti Caselli (www.studiomoretticaselli.it) where, since 1860, five generations have created stained glass for estates and churches from Umbria to Los Angeles.

AN ASSISI PILGRIMAGE
Leaving Perugia, drive 16 miles east, past Monte Subasio Regional Park (www.parks.it), to Capodaqua di Assisi and Tili Vini
(www.tilivini.com). Tour family-run vineyards and modern facilities where organic wines are made from typically Umbrian grapes like Grechetto and Sagrantino.
Then tuck into a hearty five-course farmhouse lunch of bruschette with homemade olive oil, ravioli-like cappellacci, braised meat with roasted vegetables, arugula salad, and strudel-like Rocciata Umbra, stuffed with raisins, figs, apples and nuts.
If Tili wines transport the tastebuds, Assisi (www.visit-assisi.it), home of St. Francis and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, elevates the spirit. On Monte Subasio’s western slope, the stunning 13th-century Papal Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi (www.sanfrancescoassisi.org) has a Lower Church adorned with Giotto and Cimabue frescoes, an Upper Church with 28 Giotto panels illustrating St. Francis’ life and a subterranean shrine housing his tomb.
Pick up the discount Assisi CARD (www.assisicard.com), then spend two days visiting landmarks, including Assisi Cathedral where St. Francis was baptized in 1182; the Church of Santo Stefano where, legend has it, bells rang on their own when the saint died in 1226, and the fresco-filled Basilica of Santa Chiara where St. Clare, founder of the Poor Clare Sisters,
is entombed.


A short taxi ride or a tough trek 2 1/2 miles up Monte Subasio takes you to the steep gorge where St. Francis often prayed. Steps from Eremo delle Carceri hermitage is the little stone bridge where he preached his famous “Sermon to the Birds.”
Consider basing yourself outside Assisi since hotels are often crowded, especially during summer, major religious holidays, and special events like the Feast Day of St. Francis (October 3, 4) and autumn’s 18-mile March for Peace.
Commanding its own hilltop in Valtopina, a 30-minute drive east, Castello di Gallano Resort (www.castellodigallano.com) offers 32 spacious, country-chic apartments with modern kitchens, stylish stone baths and outdoor terraces. Also on site: Two outdoor pools and the superb gourmet restaurant Il Borgo di Gallano.

SPOLETO AND ORVIETO
From Valtopina, it’s 13 miles south to family-run Tenuta San Pietro a Pettine (www.sanpietroapettine.it), devoted to Umbria’s revered black truffle. Join a hunter and his truffle-sniffing dogs for a rollicking romp through the woods followed by a leisurely truffle-filled lunch at estate-run La Cucina.
Five miles south, Campello sul Clitunno (www.comune.campello.pg.it) is known for its sacred springs, the Fonti del Clitunno (www.fontidelclitunno.it), and its fifth-century Roman temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tour Marfuga Olive Mill (www.marfuga.it), family-run since 1817, taste award-winning organic extra virgin olive oils with bruschette or a multicourse lunch, and buy intriguing olive-based products like pâtés and cosmetics. For rent nearby is Marfuga Holiday Farm (www.agriturismo.marfuga.it) with its rambling farmhouse and outdoor pool.
Renowned since antiquity, Spoleto (www.comunespoleto.gov.it), seven miles south, is famous today for its Festival dei Due Mondi (www.festivaldispoleto.com), a two-week music, ballet and opera extravaganza held every summer since 1957.
Book 2-3 nights at the 49-room Hotel dei Duchi (www.hoteldeiduchi.com) whose main dining room overlooks the 1st -century Roman Theatre. The Spoleto Card (www.spoletocard.it) offers free admission to all museums, including the Museo Archeologico Nazionale next door.


Just east, the Arco di Druso, built by Emperor Tiberius in 23 A.D., leads to Piazza del Mercato, the former Roman Forum. Stroll winding, cobblestone streets and browse handmade jewelry and pottery. Farther east is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, its facade adorned with Byzantine mosaics. Inside, marvel at 15th-century frescoes by Fra’ Filippo Lippi, who lies buried there.
The next morning, pack your bags and head to Valnerina, a lush river valley surrounded by craggy peaks. In Ferentillo, 10 miles southeast of Spoleto, Abbazia San Pietro in Valle (www.sanpietroinvalle.com), in a sprawling 7th-century Benedictine abbey, offers 22 rooms and splendid hilltop views.


From there, it’s 55 miles west to Orvieto (www.comune.orvieto.tr.it) whose Carta Orvieto Unica (www.orvietoonline.com) provides discounts to museums and monuments. Site of Umbria Jazz Winter, the city is best known for its Orvieto Classico wines and its splendid 13th-century cathedral. Don’t miss Luca Signorelli’s 15th-century masterpiece, “The Last Judgment,” so sublime it inspired Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.
Base yourself for 2-3 days at hilltop Altarocca Wine Resort (www.altaroccawineresort.com), four miles outside Orvieto. Sequestered amid vineyards, fruit trees and fragrant herbs, two-story stone townhouses offer beautifully appointed rooms with spacious marble baths, and airy balconies and terraces.


Before leaving Umbria, dine at the resort’s elegant Cantina Altarocca. Savor local specialties like chickpea soup with rosemary, umbricelli in pesto sauce with bacon and arugula, and pork fillet with fennel while casting farewell glances at the sparkling lights of Umbria’s incomparable hill-towns.
For flight information, contact Alitalia (www.alitalia.com), Italy’s national carrier. For travel information, visit www.umbriatourism.it and www.italiantourism.com

 

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