A few years ago, Umbria was known, if at all, as Tuscany’s less alluring sister. Not any more: these days Italy’s “green heart” is every bit as celebrated as its more famous neighbour. The reasons are simple: the region has all Tuscany’s attributes – and a few more.
True, it doesn’t have the big set pieces of Florence and Siena, but it does has a coronet of far more intimate and easily visited hill-towns – Perugia, Assisi, Orvieto, Gubbio, Todi, Spoleto and Norcia. Each has enough to keep you busy for a day or more, and none is more than a few miles from the next, making Umbria manageable and straightforward to explore.
When you’ve exhausted these towns there’s a second tier of charming and even more intimate smaller centres, such as Montefalco, Bevagna, Spello, Trevi, Narni, Bettona, Città di Castello, Città della Pieve and more.
There’s also the same glorious pastoral scenery as Tuscany – the olive groves, vineyards and cypress-topped hills – as well as high mountain landscapes such as the Monti Sibillini that are the superior of its neighbour’s own Monte Amiata or Alpi Apuane.
Umbria is also a region where the food, wine, art, culture and architecture are the equal of any in Italy. Norcia, with its truffles, hams and cheeses, for example, is a gastronomic centre par excellence; Orvieto’s duomo is one of the country’s finest cathedrals; Spoleto’s summer festival is one of Europe’s major cultural events; and Assisi’s majestic Basilica di San Francesco contains frescoes by Giotto and others that mark a turning point in the history of Western art.
Finally, there are qualities to Umbria beyond towns, truffles or cypresses. Umbria mistica – mystical Umbria – some have called it, or “la terra dei santi”, the land of saints, after the hundreds of saints born here, including St Valentine and the two fathers of Western monasticism, St Francis and St Benedict.
It’s hard to put your finger on what sets Umbria apart – some quality to the light, a haze to the hills, a certain gentleness to landscape – but once you’ve visited you’ll understand, and wonder how this varied and beautiful region ever languished in its neighbour’s shadow.
Umbria travel guide via @Telegraph http://soc.li/mlTYeqH
Umbria has all Tuscany’s attributes – and a few more