Many people have heard of Rome, Florence, Venice, the Amalfi Coast, the UNESCO world heritage site Cinque Terre, and a host of other unique places to visit in Italy, but what about Umbria?
We stumbled onto Umbria through TravelZoo. What started as an accident turned out to be an Italian hidden gem and, in my opinion, one of the best places to visit in Italy.
To me, Umbria feels like the real Italy. It’s a bit more rural and less visited than its neighbor Tuscany, but the picturesque landscapes, and beautiful towns and small cities are the subjects of endless travel blogs.
We flew into Rome and had a rental car for our time in Umbria. A rental car is a must if you plan to explore the unique places to visit in Italy.
The drive is easy since Italians drive on the same side of the road as Americans, and because the route is largely highway driving until you get close, when it switches to small country roads.
We based our trip out of Relais Il Canalicchio. The 10th Century castle of Poggio is the centerpiece of this restructured medieval village. Don’t worry, there are plenty of English speaking staff to get you settled in.
The castle has crystal clear views of the beautiful Italian countryside and pampered us with all the modern amenities travelers have come to expect in the 21st Century.
Delicious breakfasts were included, there’s a fantastic restaurant, bar and terrace, sitting areas, spa, pool, Italian chef classes, winery tours, you name it, Relais Il Canalicchio is ready to provide it!
But I wouldn’t recommend just lounging at the castle all day when the phenomenal destinations of Perugia, Todi, Montefalco, and Assisi are just down the hill. If you’re lucky, you might even stumble onto a festival or two.
All of these towns, as well as many others in the area, have wonderful sights, sounds and smells, but each is unique. One thing they have in common is great Italian food.
A word of caution, make sure to pay attention to lunch and dinner hours since restaurants tend to close in the afternoon. A smartphone with a Google Translate app can tackle any menu or parking meter while you’re in Umbria, so don’t worry about going hungry.
Perugia is just one of the region’s ancient towns built on a hill. We have great photos walking up the never-ending stairs by a medieval aqueduct. On that note, plan to walk in each of these towns and be prepared for hills and stairs.
My wife loves to explore ornate churches, and Perugia has plenty of those. There’s a nice fountain named Fontana Maggiore in the Piazza VI Novembre from the 13th Century. And of course, the fountain and streets are surrounded by stunning buildings.
Todi is in the province of Perugia, but it’s a separate town. We enjoyed the Todi Cathedral that dates back to the 11th Century. It’s quite prominent as you walk into the square, so you won’t miss it. When we were there, it was a sea of activity following an Italian wedding.
There’s an ancient Santa Maria in Camuccia church from the 7th Century, but the Santa Maria della Consolazione is the more famous dome style church from the 16th Century. The Santa Maria della Consolazione is beautiful inside and out, with a breathtaking profile.
Montefalco is an ancient town that predates the Romans. The cobblestone streets and well-preserved buildings seem like they’re straight out of a movie. All of the towns mentioned have similar views with stone walls, gorgeous wooden doors, and colorful window boxes hidden in one picturesque street after another.
They also share a love of light. Depending on the time of day you visit, the landscapes from Montefalco are breathtaking. I found the setting sun and early twilight can make anyone with a smartphone seem like a professional photographer.
Assisi is majestic as you drive up the hill. It looks like an imposing walled city jutting out of the earth. But what you first see is the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, a world heritage site since 2000.
Assisi has a Roman amphitheater from the 1st Century, medieval castles, and a fantastic communal square. It also has more tourists and pilgrims than some of the other towns in the area. It’s not wall-to-wall tourists like Florence or Rome, but it is busier.
In the End
Umbria is a must see destination. Since you fly in and out of Rome, I recommend tacking on a few days to visit the Italian capital and the Vatican on the way out. You won’t need your rental car there, so either park it at the hotel or arrange to drop it off early.
We like Tuscany as well. Since it’s so close you can easily visit Cortona or Florence for the day from Relais Il Canalicchio. That is, if you’re interested in driving through the beautiful Tuscan countryside to get there.
Cortona is where several scenes from “Under the Tuscan Sun” were filmed. It’s only an hour drive around Lake Trasimeno from Perugia. The lake is a nice destination by itself with a park, several small islands, and various castles on the islands and dotting the shoreline.
Either way, Umbria is a wonderful adventure that’s well worth the trip for your next of perhaps many unique places to visit in Italy.