Umbria on my mind
Umbria, the “green heart” of Italy, is Tuscany’s quieter, less touristy neighbor. Avoid the traffic and hustle and bustle of Tuscany and spend time in Umbria’s charming medieval hill towns, visit its cultural sites and its taste its regional specialities.
Assisi, the home of St. Francis and a UNESCO World Heritage site is perhaps Umbria’s most famous- and busy- town. The Upper Church of the magnificent Basilica tells the story of St. Francis’ life through 28 frescoes by the renowned 13th century artist, Giotto. The equally impressive transept was painted by Giotto’s master, Cimabue. I am not usually a fan of recorded “guides” but it is worth a few euros to grab the ear sets at the front of the church and listen to the history and description of these well preserved works of art and devotion.
Not far from Assisi is Perugia, the capital of Umbria. Skip the lower town with its urban sprawl and head to the historic center where you’ll find a variety of museums and architectural sites. Perugia is a bustling university town with lovely shops and cafes, and of course, the Perugina chocolate factory, just outside of town (open for tours daily). I prefer to visit Perugia at the end of the day, when the centuries old ritual of the “passegiata” takes place. Snag a seat at an outdoor cafe, order a Aperol spritz and watch as all of Perugia takes its pre-dinner stroll.
Visit Spoleto, home of the annual music festival, Festival of 2 Worlds in June and July to catch world-class opera, dance and orchestral artists. Gubbio, Umbria’s oldest village is also worth a visit. Its Roman theater, mausoleum and palaces and towers offer glimpses into daily life of the distant past.
Take a break from these better known towns and head to Spello, home of the Infiorata Flower Carpet Festival, (https://www.infiorataspello.it/) If you are lucky to visit Spello during the festival (June 13-14, 2020) you’ll witness stunning floral “carpets” throughout the town in celebration of the feast of Corpus Domini. Even if you can’t make the Infiorata, the homes and shops in Spello are decorated with colorful flowers all Spring and Summer.
Deruta, the ceramic capital of Italy, is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in Italian crafts. Many of the ceramic shops invite visitors to watch as their artisans create dishes, platters and wall hangings in traditional patterns and shapes. These pieces make thoughtful gifts for friends and family. Custom pieces, like my lemon wall hangings, were designed by Ceramiche Artistiche Gialletti Giulio, upon request and were safely shipped to my home.
To take advantage of all this sightseeing, you’ll need to fortify yourself with the region’s specialty foods. Pork and pork products - ham, sausage and all manner of “salume” reign supreme. Pair these with the local sheep’s milk cheese (pecorino) and a hunk of the oven-baked, unsalted bread, typical of Umbria. You’ll want to accompany your meal with an Umbrian wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco or a Grechetto from Assisi.
Many of the local wineries are small and family-owned. For a modest fee, you can have a tour of the vineyards and cellars, followed by a guided tasting of several wines accompanied by nibbles of salami, bruschetta, cheese and olive oil. A listing of these wineries may be found here: http://www.stradadelsagrantino.it/en/wineries/montefalco.php
This post originally appeared in Stella Lucente Conversational Italian