So, I've just landed totally suntanned in Denmark after two weeks in Italy! Well, okay... I came back two weeks ago, but I like to think that there still is just a little bit of tan... ;-) I've seen lots of stunning art and architecture in Umbria, and lots of beach and waves in Sicily!
I fully understand that lots of people have fallen in love with Tuscany. It's a beautiful region, but really... Umbria is just as beautiful, less touristy and thus less crowded, which again means the landscape is less tampered with. The Umbrian hills are simply gorgeous...
It's probably best explained in pictures, but first a little guide:
1. The only thing Umbria doesn't have which Tuscany has, is coast. But that doesn't mean no beach, because one can hop into the beautiful Trasimeno Lake instead.
2. If you live in an old, historical, preserved stone house in the countryside near Umbertide, you are in the middle of nowhere - or in the center of the world. You need a car, I'll admit it, and you have a rollercoaster ride on gravel roads past vineyards and olive trees, but once you come out to the real road, Perugia, Gubbio and Città di Castello are only a 30 min drive away, Assisi 45 minutes, and Montefalco an hour - and there are many others nearby.
Here are my favourite towns:
-Montefalco: I've really, really fallen in love with this one. It's like a Medieval fortified town, with intact town walls and a stunning view over the countryside. Here you will find beautiful frescoes by Renaissance painter Benozzo Gozzoli, lovely old houses, a monastery, churches - and good food.
It is lovely and quiet, when I was there, anyway, but of course you can choose to come for the town Festival, along with 10000 other people (though I don't get how they can all be stuffed in there).
- Gubbio: bigger than Montefalco, and more tourists. It clings to the mountain wall, and you have to climb small, steep, roads to get to the town centre, which is perfectly conserved from Medieval times. You are well rewarded, though, because when you get there, the piazza has a view which the Italians call mozzafiato - leaves you breathless.
Then there is the "Studiolo" - a chamber in the Duke's palace decorated with wall panels entirely in tarsia, that is, pictures made of wooden pieces. It is stunning to see its 3D-effect! It is a copy which took 22 years to make - the original is at the Met in New York.
- Perugia: capital of Umbria, and deservedly so. Here you will find an underground suburb, the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, a frescoes by Raphael and Perugino, much more and - good ice cream. You really need to come several times here, one day simply isn't enough.
There are several others: Assisi, Bevagna, Spello, Città di Castello - where there is a restaurant I can only recommend, the "Vineria del Vasaio", Santa Maria in Arce - a tiny church hidden away in a small village in the hills, stuffed with frescoes, Todi, Preggio - there were many more that I didn't get around to.
You can also easily get to Tuscany, if you want - Siena is only an hour's drive away, but you can spend several days here! The art and architecture are fantastic, and don't forget to bring a Panforte home; it's the perfect cake for Christmas which Italians eat, and which is originally from here.
- I can only recommend the food: Your day will surely be a good one if you start with a croissant with custard (or Nutella!) and a cappuccino made the real Italian way.
I got to know a wine farmer who does everything himself from the cultivation over the harvest to the sale of the wine. His white wine is the best I've ever tasted and his name is Pencelli. You can find him on the market square in Perugia selling his wine, or by googling "Vecchia Cantineria Pencelli".
Then there is the mozzarella, which has a completely different taste, as it's made from buffalo milk, truffle sauce, fish, peaches - and ice cream! Ice cream is really cheap but of divine quality, you have to be careful you don't get too much...
In short, I don't think you'll finish with Umbria in two weeks. I will probably never finish with Umbria ;-)
But stay tuned for next week's update about Caserta and Sicily...