Travel experiences in Umbria are a combination of cerebral and sensual, from a plethora of art and architecture – sublime Renaissance paintings and glorious honey stone churches and cathedrals – to excellent regional food and wine and the simple pleasures of wandering the medieval streets or through a beautiful pastoral countryside. Better yet, you can enjoy variations of these experiences in all of Umbria’s many historic villages – all have one or more excellent restaurants, say, or a wonderful little art gallery – as well as find individual events, such as the annual festival delle arts of Spoleto, which are among the most renowned of their kind in Italy and beyond.
Immerse yourself in medieval charm
Despite its small size, Montefalco offers a variety of amazing things to do and see: there are the views – the name means ‘Monte del Falco’; local wine, such as the fine red Sagrantino di Montefalco, with the possibility of visiting the vineyards; and the charm of its medieval center where there are a few alleys and the scenography of a main square, the Piazza del Comune.
Expert tip: Most visitors to Umbria see Assisi and its famous frescoes: fewer know that Montefalco has an artistic jewel, the Civic Museum of San Francesco, with a sublime cycle of Renaissance frescoes on the Life of St. Francis (1452) by Benozzo Gozzoli.
Explore a traditional Umbrian hill town
Spello offers all the classic hill town experiences, from stunning medieval streets to explore to extraordinary culture in the form of vivid frescoes (1501) in Santa Maria Maggiore del Pinturicchio and the Diocesan Civic Art Gallery, a classic small town museum.
Expert tip: Don’t try to drive into town. Instead, leave the cars outside the walls in the parking lot at the top of the village near the junction for Collepino and continue on foot from there. Next, drive to Collepino and Mount Subasio for some magnificent views.
Indulge your artistic side
Experience a day of varied culture in the capital of Umbria, Perugia, full of valuable Etruscan, Roman and medieval monuments, including one of the most beautiful Gothic palaces in Italy, the Palazzo dei Priori. This palace houses the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, a superb art gallery of the best Umbrian art, and the Collegio del Cambio, with sumptuous frescoes by Perugino.
Expert tip: The secret corners of Perugia include the medieval Via dei Priori; Church of San Severo (which preserves a fresco by Raphael); Church of San Pietro; the medieval walkway raised to the north from the nearby piazza Morlacchi; and the lovely area around Via del Sole.
Follow in the footsteps of St. Francis
The medieval and pink stone Assisi was the birthplace of San Francesco and contains one of the main artistic attractions of the region: admire the frescoes by Giotto and others in the burial place of the saint, the Basilica of San Francesco. While you’re here, check out other spots on the San Francesco trail: the tranquil San Damiano, the Eremo delle Carceri, and the Basilica of Santa Chiara.
Expert tip: Assisi is one of the most famous pilgrimage centers in Italy and is very popular. Many visitors, however, are day trippers – spend the night and you’ll find the streets quieter in the evening. Use the extra time to drive or hike Mount Subasio towards Collepino and Spello.
Settle in a quiet town
Bevagna is an exception to the hilly dominion of Umbria: a tiny, serene plain town, gathered along a single main road that was once part of a Roman road. The simple main square, Piazza Silvestri, is home to two of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in the region: San Silvestro, from 1195, and the equally venerable San Michele opposite.
Expert tip: There isn’t much in Bevagna, but its tranquility and location make it a good base for exploring, with a handful of great hotels and restaurants tucked away in charming back streets that would be the envy of much larger cities.
See the performance art in a square
Spoleto is one of the most fascinating Umbrian hill towns, rich in medieval and Roman monuments, but aims to combine them with one of the most magical cultural experiences in Italy: an open-air opera, a ballet or a musical recital under the stars in the magnificent Piazza del Duomo as part of the annual Spoleto Festival, one of the most important cultural events in Italy every June and July.
Expert tip: Not only admire the Ponte delle Torri, an immense medieval aqueduct on the edge of the town, but cross it and turn left on the easy path in the woods. In a few minutes you will find beautiful views and peaceful olive groves.
Walk until you are hungry
Remote Norcia surrounded by mountains offers two out of the ordinary Umbrian experiences: extraordinary food – it is one of the leading gastronomic centers in Italy, renowned for its truffles, hams, salami, lentils and cheeses – but also the opportunity for superlative hiking on the Sibillini mountains to the east. Maps are available in the city and the trails are well marked and well worn.
Expert tip: Come in late May or early June to see the famous wildflowers – poppies, daffodils, peonies and more – that cover the Piano Grande, a vast plateau above Norcia. Note, however, that earthquake damage means facilities are limited in the nearby village of Castelluccio.
Take a funicular for fabulous views
of Gubbio the medieval aspect and the enchanting mountainous scenery, in addition to the relative lack of visitors, make this one of the most pleasant villages in Umbria. Visit the imposing Palazzo dei Consoli and its gallery and the adjacent Piazza Grande; the Palazzo Ducale, built by Federigo da Montefeltro, the famous Duke of Urbino; and take the thrilling funicular ride to Mount Ingino above the city for beautiful views.
Expert tip: Hikers and lovers of the outdoors, or motorists who want an hour or so more panoramic, should head towards the Regional Park of Monte Cucco, which protects a portion of the high Apennines near Gubbio on the border with the Marche.
Stroll through the square of a small town
Little Todi sits atop a perfect pyramid of a hill and gathers around a perfect early medieval square. Cafes flank the square, with the Duomo at one end and two palaces on the eastern side housing the excellent Todi Museum and Art Gallery, with exhibits tracing the history of the city from Etruscan origins.
Expert tip: Most visitors pass in front of the church of San Fortunato, a mistake, because the interior is airy and pleasant, and you can climb the church tower to admire the roofs of the city and what looks like half of Umbria that stretches all over. ‘horizon.
Admire the dazzling facade of a cathedral
Orvieto is spectacularly perched on an immense volcanic spur, its medieval skyline dominated by the magnificent Duomo. It is one of the most important historical buildings in Italy, thanks in part to its dazzling façade (300 years of work) and in part to the graphic frescoes by Luca Signorelli (1499-1504) of the Last Judgment inside.
Expert tip: The cliff of Orvieto is full of 1200 caves and tunnels that date back to 3000 years ago, at the time of the Etruscans. Be sure to join one of the guided tours that will take you on a fascinating odyssey through part of this labyrinth.