Ten Towns to Visit in Umbria
A brief survey of overlooked Umbria thanks to Rebecca Winke, owner of Brigolante Guest Apartments and author of Umbria Slow: Food, Culture, and Travel App.
“It can be argued that the central Italian region of Umbria, book-ended by neighboring Lazio (where Rome is located) and belle-of-the-ball Tuscany, is entirely off the beaten path. But even in this quiet and relatively less-traveled rolling countryside, there are a number of must-see towns where visitors flock. But for those who want to get even further off the tourist trail, Umbria has a number of tiny towns where visitors may find they are the only non-locals wandering the steep, winding lanes. Though some of these places can be reached by public transportation (train or bus), many are only accessible by car.
Bevagna is one of the few towns in Umbria that isn’t a collection of steep alleys and winding staircases. This Medieval town (with Roman origins) sits on the valley floor and is one of the most delightful villages to visit in all of Umbria. With its collection of Romanesque churches, Roman mosaic, Medieval workshops, and a number of excellent restaurants, Bevagna has something for everyone.
South of Lake Trasimeno near the Tuscan border, Panicale has retained its urban defensive layout for the past 700 years, with narrow streets winding in concentric ovals up to the central Palazzo del Podestà. Today, however, Panicale is known more for its gorgeous views over Lake Trasimeno than for its urban planning. During summer there are free weekly concerts in the main square and at other times of the year, the small restored theater, dating from 1690, holds concerts and plays. Don’t miss the local Tulle Museum, featuring a delicate local lacework (open daily in summer, weekends rest of the year).
The Medieval walled village of Paciano, a few kilometers from Panicale, perches on Mount Petrarvella where a temple dedicated to the god Janus once stood over two millennia ago. Now the biggest draw is its charming and iconically small-town-Italian Piazza della Repubblica, where the locals gather to leisurely wile away the day sipping a cappuccino at the local bar while exchanging news and gossip.
> Citta della Pieve
Birthplace of Renaissance artist Pietro Vannucci, better known as Perugino, this red brick hill town overlooking the Chiana Valley holds a number of important works by the maestro in the local Oratorio di Santa Maria dei Bianchi and Santa Maria dei Servi Museum. Città della Pieve is also famous for its precious saffron, celebrated during the Saffron Festival each fall.
The tiny, restored village of Pascelupo sits on a hill in the mountainous Monte Cucco Regional Park on the far eastern border of Umbria, and visitors are treated to a lovely view of the nearby San Girolamo Monastery, one of a number of Medieval monasteries and abbeys which dot these mountainsides. Monte Cucco is also known for its hiking trails, caves, and paragliding.
Trevi is founded on Umbria’s excellent quality olive oil, known as “liquid gold”, and it’s hard to miss the importance of this historic product when you visit. From the olive tree groves covering the hillsides that surround the town, to the number of small, family-owned olive mills in the environs, to the local museum of olive oil and olive oil culture, this is definitely a company town.
Best known for its prestigious Sagrantino di Montefalco wine, this hilltop town is worth a visit for more than its tannic red. Its small size belies the importance of its local museum, which holds important works by Perugino and Benozzo Gozzoli. It is also home to perhaps the best trattoria in Umbria, L’Alchimista, and the best view across the valley to Assisi on the opposite slope.
> Vallo di Nera
Though we list Vallo di Nera here, we could just as easily substitute a number of nearby villages that line the Nera River Valley (Valnerina), one of the most breathtaking corners of Umbria. Here tiny, creche-like hamlets cling to the craggy slopes lining the valley floor, and visitors can stop to take a look at nearby Ferentillo’s mummies and the San Pietro in Valle and Sant’Eutizio abbeys.
Literally steps from the border into Tuscany, tiny and panoramic Citerna looks over an undulating Umbrian landscape on one side and a softer Tuscan one on the other. Though tiny, Citerna hosts an important photography event each spring and is home to a newly rediscovered Donatello terracotta, recently restored and now on display in the local Church of San Francesco.
> San Gemini
In water-rich, verdant Umbria, San Gemini is particularly attached to its local spring. This hilltop village in the south of the region is home to one of the biggest producers of bottled water in Italy, the same mineral water which feeds the local thermal bath. Originally a Roman town, just outside San Gemini travelers can visit one of Umbria’s most interesting Roman ruins, Carsulae.
Source: By Rebecca Winke/ Go Italy / http://goitaly.about.com/od/umbria/tp/Umbria-Off-the-Beaten-Path.htm