Umbria Guide: The Green Heart Of Italy
Discover The Most Natural Region Of Italy
Umbria is a land of unspoiled natural beauty. The rolling green hills shelter hidden art towns, peaceful lakes and ancient monasteries waiting to be explored. Lesser-known than its famous Tuscan neighbour, Umbria is often overlooked by visitors from abroad. However, those who choose to holiday here will be rewarded with a taste of the truly authentic Italy. Enjoy an evening aperitivo in the shadow of the magnificent cathedral of Orvieto or explore the natural paradise of Lake Trasimeno. The quiet beauty and rich history of Umbria make it perfect for travellers searching for the hidden secrets of Italy.
Umbria is a land extraordinarily rich in history and culture. The history of Umbria is entwined with the that of Rome and the Church. The Popes are responsible for some of the architectural masterpieces that dot this region, including the cathedral of Orvieto and the majestic Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, listed among UNESCO World Heritage sites. The area was also home to the Umbrian Renaissance, led by painters such as Perugino, Pinturicchio and the young Raphael. Their work can now be admired in local art galleries and churches. Do not miss the Umbria Jazz Festival, held in winter.
The landscapes of Umbria are just as lovely in real life as pictured in the art galleries. The sloping hills are covered in olive groves and vineyards and the wilder countryside has deeper unexplored forests. Rivers meander across the hills, with waterfalls and lakes creating unforgettably romantic backdrops. A mystic charm permeates this ancient land of deep spirituality. Hike across the hills of Umbria and discover the local traditions. The food is delicious, especially when accompanied by a good wine from Umbria, and the local craft is very rich.
Umbria has one international airport, the Internation Airport of Perugia Sant’Egidio, connected to several European destinations, including London, Brussels and Munich. Alternatively you can land at the international airport of Rome or Florence and reach the region by train, bus or car.
Umbria has a good road network. The main road is the E45 highway that crosses the region vertically passing through the major cities of Terni, Todi, Perugia up to Città di Castello. The A1 motorway connects Orvieto and Fabro. The main train stations are in Perugia, Orvieto, Terni and Foligno.
Umbria is the smaller region in Italy and is located in the very heart of the peninsula. It is a green area bisected by the Tiber river. In Latin the name Umbria means shady, and up to know the land is shaded by the woods. Much of its territory is hilly, but a consistent part is mountainous. The biggest lake is Lake Trasimeno.
Umbria climate is very variable, due to the large difference in altitude. On the plain and hills there is a tempered climate, while on the mountains is rather continental. Average summer temperatures of Perugia, the provincial capital, are 23°C, that lower in winter to 4° C.
Top 5 Things To Do in Umbria
Umbria is dotted with authentic medieval art villages where time seems to stand still. The best known is Assisi, with the awe inspiring basilica dedicated to Saint Francis and the frescoes by Giotto. Do not miss Orvieto, its magnificent Gothic cathedral and the lively old town. As well as in churches and palaces, art lovers can admire the masterpieces of the Umbrian Renaissance in Perugia at the National Gallery. The ravishing villages of Spoleto, Gubbio and Todi, with the huge Roman aqueduct, are ideal for a day trip.
Nature lovers are in the right place: Umbria is one of the greenest regions of Italy. Walk in the woods, perhaps in search of mushrooms or truffles, here is a must. Umbria is full of beautiful protected areas. We recommend the Sibillini Mountains Park, known worldwide for its flamboyant flowering of lentils, the Monte Cucco Natural Park, for mountain lovers, and the River Tiber Valley, where you can admire gorges and canyons carved by water. Do not miss the Lake Trasimeno and the spectacular Marmore Waterfall.
The Umbrian cuisine has retained features dating to the Middle Ages. Olive oil is the first ingredient, capocollo the best traditional ham and pecorino di Norcia the most appreciated cheese. Other traditional products are honey, mushrooms, dried or canned, and truffle, used to dress the pasta. Chestnuts are used for cakes and to cook the meet as well. The game meat is widespread and delicious. The traditional cake is a mixture of eggs, sugar, flour and honey fried in olive oil, called castagnole.
From north to south, the vineyards characterize the Umbrian landscape. The most important red grape is Sagrantino, cultivated on the slopes of the hills for centuries. It was known to the Popes in the Renaissance and today the Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, along with the Torgiano Rosso Riserva, represent the excellence of the local production. Among the white grapes it is Grechetto to play the primary role, an autochthonous grape of Umbria. The best known dessert wine is the Vin Santo.
South of Perugia, Assisi, the city-santuary, represents an ensemble of masterpieces of human creative genius and spirituality, and it is therefor listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We are in the land of Saint Frances , and every cathedral, church and fresco expresses the mystical power of this man, who changed forever the history of Christianity. Do not miss the 28 Giotto frescoes narrating the life of the saint and those of Cimabue. Continue to the Town Square, perfect for a coffee and to admire a pagan masterpiece from ancient Rome, the Temple of Minerva. Climb the rock Rocca Maggiore to enjoy a unique view of Assisi and the surrounding countryside.
Perugia, the provincial capital, is a fortified medieval town standing on a hill in the northern part of Umbria. All major attractions are in the historic centre. Visit the medieval citadel, the undergrounds of Rocca Paolina, the Etruscan city gate of Porta Marzia, the large fountain Fontana Maggiore and the Cathedral of Saint Lorence. Get lost in the traditional narrow streets of the town and visit the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Palazzo dei Priori (the town hall). The gallery houses the paintings of the Umbria Renaissance and the masterpieces of Piero della Francesca, Beato Angelico, Pinturicchio and Perugino. Do not miss a visit to the historic chocolate factory of Baci Perugina.
Built on a steep hill, the small town of Orvieto is famous for its amazing Cathedral, an Italian Gothic wonder whose construction began in 1290 BC. Do not miss the Chapel of San Brianzo inside, where you can admire the splendid frescoes on the subject of the Last Judgement by Fra Angelico, Benozzo Gozzoli and Luca Signorelli. Go down along the double spiral staircase of the St. Patrick’s Well, a masterpiece of Renaissance engineering by Sangallo, or discover Orvieto underground. Go in search of typical Umbrian products in the delicious shops of the town center or in the market of Piazza del Popolo on Thursdays and Saturdays. Do not miss one of the many good traditional restaurants.
Spoleto was founded as a settlement along the road Via Flaminia by Romans; today you can see the ruins of the Roman market. But Spoleto is mostly a Medieval town, influenced by Lombards and by the Roman Popes. It features a fascinating atmosphere and ancient buildings, such as the Arch of Druso (23 AD), the Roman Theatre and the San SalvatoreBasilica. The Cathedral (XII century) is known for its Byzantine mosaics and the Church of Saint Peter for its extraordinary low reliefs and location: from here the view on Spoleto is simply amazing. Each year, at the end of June, Spoleto houses the international Festival dei Due Mondi: music, dance and exhibitions held in extraordinary frames.
Known as the city of fools, Gubbio is a spectacular labyrinth of stone narrow streats and large squares that climb the foothills of Mount Igino. The splendid Piazza Grande hosts the Palazzo dei Consoli, gothic landmark of the city. Visit the cathedral, art treasure of Gubbio, and the beautiful courtyard of the Ducal Palace, opposite. Go through the ancient walls to the Roman theater or take a break in Ranghiasci Park, walking through lime trees, chestnut trees and glimpses of the characteristic rooftops of the village. If you fall in love with the place, turn three times around the Fontana dei Matti (Fountain of Fools): a legend says that doing so you take the license of fool and the citizenship of Gubbio.
Todi is a charming Medieval town with a long history. It was dominated by Umbrian people, Etruscans and Romans. The town overlooks the country and is surrounded by fortified walls. It features important historic spots, such as the charming Piazza Maggiore with the Palazzo della Signoria – an ideal place for a lazy day. Among other places to visit the Cathedral, Palazzo del Capitano, the Church of San Fortunato and the Church of San Carlo. Just outside the walls stands the magnificent Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, possibly built by Bramante. This temple is considered one of the most beautiful of the Italian Renaissance. The view on the valley of Todi is splendid.
To the south east of Umbria, the National Park of Sibillini Mountains is the most amazing among the natural wonders of the region. The legend wants that the cave of the Sibyl was standing exactly between these peaks over 2000 meters. Wolves, eagles, peregrine falcons inhabit the area, strewn with abbeys and old medieval villages. For lovers of trekking the challenging course, the Great Ring of the Sibillini, lasts nine days and covers 124 km. If you are in the area between May and June, do not miss the spectacular flowering of lentils in Castelluccio di Norcia. For several weeks the pastures turn into a mosaic of colors that will leave you speechless. This is the gem on the park’s crown.
Lake Trasimeno is the fourth of Italy by extension. On its banks are breathtakingly beautiful villages such as Castiglione del Lago and Passignano, but also Panicale and Magione inland. An extensive network of paths allows to reach on foot, horseback or mountain bike all the hills surrounding the lake and hence the many old towns, villages and castles. The sport par excellence is sailing, but beach lovers can enjoy several beach resorts with sun beds and canoes. Here you can swim but the water is shallow. Do not miss a visit to the two islands (Polvese and Maggiore) by ferry from San Feliciano, and if you’re in the mood for adventure, try the Quad and Kitesurf.
With a thunderous drop of 165 meters divided into three jumps, the Marmore Waterfall is among the highest in Europe. It is an extraordinary hydraulic work due to the ancient Romans, who in 290 BC reclaimed a swampy and unhealthy area diverting the river Velino toward the Marmore cliff. Virgil, Cicero and Byron among others speak of this spectacular waterfall surrounded by green vegetation. Enjoy the natural wonder from the two viewpoints overlooking the waterfall and walks along the trails that penetrate the dense vegetation. Discover the caves carved by water over thousands of years, between stalactites and stalagmites (guided tours only) or visit the waterfall at night (lighting is suggestive).
River Tiber Valley
In the area of Orvieto, the Tiber River Park (Parco Fluviale del Tevere) covers 8000 hectares bordering a stretch of 50 km of river. In these meanders the Tiber gives birth to great forests of oak and holm, scattered by archaeological remains of the Umbrians, Etruscans and Romans. The heart of the park are the craggy gorges of Forello, where the river runs between rugged banks, embedded between mountains with cliffs over 200 meters covered with a blanket of thick vegetation. Enjoy one of the many nature trails that run through the park or go birdwatching in the WWF Oasis of Alviano Lake, inhabited by 160 species of birds. The area is perfect for walking, riding, cycling and rowing.
Monte Cucco Natural Park
The beautiful Park of Monte Cucco, in the province of Perugia, is the “womb of the Apennines.” Gorges, canyons and imposing natural walls alternate with ancient forests of beech, groundwaters and mineral sources. It is the mountain sports park: hiking, mountain biking, hang gliding, caving, cross country skiing, horse riding and rafting. The park of the wolf and the golden eagle. Over 120 km of marked trails go through the area. Particularly favorable updrafts make the park ideal for flying enthusiasts. A vast and fascinating underground world of caves waites for the traveler. The villages of Gubbio and Gualdo Tadino are the most evocative and the north of the park is dotted with ancient abbeys.
If there is an idyllic place in Umbria, this place are the sources of the Clitunno river. The natural park covers an area of 10,000 sqm between Spoleto and Foligno. The destination is ideal for a short visit. The spring waters of the river feed a small lake which is an incredible palette of colors, from turquoise to emerald green, passing through all the shades of ocher. Around the lake a maze of streams, small waterfalls and lush vegetation make this place heavenly. Enjoy the weeping willows and poplars that are reflected in the lake, where swimming swans, ducks and other aquatic animals live. Do not miss a visit to the small Temple of Clitunno, where the ancient Romans worshiped the god of the river.
A Short History Of Umbria
Umbria is inhabited since protohistoric times. The long history of this region reflects its geographical shape, bisected by the river Tiber. To the west of the river there were the Etruscans, a population devoted to trade, and therefor opened to the world. To the east of the Tiber, there were Umbrian people, who occupied an isolated area. Most art exhibits visible today are Etruscan. The rivalry between the Umbrians and the Etruscans favored the Romans, who won the region in 295 BC.
The ancient Romans founded several colonies in Umbria, such as the one in Spoleto. They built a magnificent road crossing the area, called Via Flaminia, built aqueducts and temples that are still visible. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, Umbria was occupied by Ostrogoths, the Byzantines and the Lombards. Finally Charlemagne conquered the region and ceded it to the Pope. In Middle Ages, new walled towns began to rise, developing in the framework of the papal State.
Up to now Umbria is deeply rooted in the christian spirituality. Saint Benedict and Saint Francis were born here, and they represent two examples of the mystical fervor that enlightened this region. Today you can visit several splendid Benedictine monasteries around Perugia, and admire fascinating frescoes in Assisi about the life of St. Francis. Between XII and XVI centuries, the Umbrian artistic production became sublime, thanks to geniuses such as Giotto, Cimabue and Raffaello.
With the Umbrian Renaissence, artists from all over Italy came here to follow the spiritual and artistic explosion of this mystical land. In XVIII century, with the outbreak of French Revolution, Umbria was taken away from the Papal State and became part of the Roman Republic and of the Napoleonic Empire. With the movements for Italian independence, following a war and a plebiscite, the region finally became part of the Kingdom of Italy. Today it is one of the best preserved regions of the country.