OFTEN OVERSHADOWED BY NEIGHBOURING TUSCANY, Umbria is every bit as alluring as its higher-profile big sister. Away from the well-trodden paths of Chiantishire, this is quintessential Italy without the crowds.

Umbria’s wealth of fabulous medieval towns, mist-cloaked hills, deep valleys and artistic treasures make it a charmer. Its hilltop towns are medieval gems rich in art and architecture, while its wooded landscape comes into its own out of season, when it’s mountain-crisp outside and fireside-warm indoors.

Umbria’s capital Perugia is possibly the world’s most cosmopolitan medieval city. Encircled by walls, it’s an upbeat university city with a lively evening passeggiata, some splendid frescoed churches and a foot-tapping jazz festival each summer. Elegant shops line its palatial Corso Vannucci, while a warren of winding streets tunnel beneath Etruscan arches. Perugia is also a chocoholic’s nirvana, and for eight days each year the city becomes a giant open-air confectionery store dedicated to all things chocolate-y.

Gubbio, some 25 miles north, is another medieval masterpiece. Stand in the town’s lofty Piazza Grande and you gaze out over a tumble of ochre rooftops towards the Apennine hills beyond. Tarry awhile, and you can shop in the inviting little delis, bookshops and galleries lining the town’s high-sided streets, or admire the castellated Palazzo dei Consoli, one of its magnificent set-piece sights.  

Assisi dominates its hillside vantage point, its profile bathed in golden light as day turns to dusk. The town of St Francis attracts more than its fair share of visitors, and you’re likely to find yourself strolling behind the billowing cassocks of monks heading for prayers in its vast basilica. 

Chic Spoleto is another Renaissance triumph. Medieval buildings climb up the valley sides, disappearing into the forested slopes beyond. Don’t miss its frescoed cathedral and clutch of fine Romanesque churches, or the impressive Ponte delle Torri. Now firmly on the cultural map thanks to its summer arts festival, Spoleto is now becoming something of a showcase for Italian music, dance and theatre.

Todi has blossomed in recent years into second-home country for wealthy urbanites seeking their little piece of Umbria at weekends. Still unspoiled, it’s a beguiling town in a commanding location, crammed with medieval nooks and crannies and a fine main square, Piazza del Popolo.  

Food lovers won’t go hungry on their travels through Umbria. Deer and wild boar roam in truffle-rich untamed woodlands, while game is plentiful. Be sure to try some of the local signature dishes such as porchetta – stuffed roast suckling pig – or tartufi neri – black truffles stuffed into ravioli and mixed in risotto. Tuck into beef sauced with the region’s celebrated truffles, tagliatelle strewn with black peppercorns and pecorino cheese, or wild boar on polenta. A glass or three of Montefalco Rosso, Colli Perugini or Torgiano make the perfect accompaniment.


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