Umbria lies in the centre of the Italian peninsula, between Tuscany and Le Marche. There is a wealth of history and art with medieval hill top towns that seem like you've stepped back centuries, famous sites like Assisi and Perugia but also smaller hidden gems that you can find in our Guide, which is split into 3 regions (of our own making) for easier reading.
The heart of Northern Umbria is the Upper Tiber Valley (L’Alta Tevere) with the key towns of Città di Castello, Umbertide and Pierantonio but also including fascinating Gubbio to the east and some small border towns with Tuscany to the west. The southerly limit is north of Perugia in line with Preggio and Gualdo Tadino. We have also included a couple of places across the border into Tuscany.
Perugia is the key city located in the middle of this central region of Umbria with the equally famous Assisi just a few kms east. But there is much more to explore in this central area, from the shores of Lago Trasimeno and the picturesque towns of Città delle Pieve and Panicale to the west, encompassing the ceramics town of Deruta just south of Perugia and across to Bevagna, Spello and Foligno to the south of Assisi.
The region we have designated as south Umbria is around the same size as the other two regions combined and is much less populated, especially in the rugged eastern area around Norcia. On the western edge is the really splendid city of Orvieto then moving eastwards is the 'slow city' of Todi, across to Spoleto and then Norcia on the eastern edge and finally to the southern tip with Terni, Narni and the Marmore Falls.
We start with the most central town of the northern region, Umbertide, easily reached off the E45 route from Perugia going north. Whilst most of Umbertide is modern, there is a delightful historical centre, situated right on the banks of the river Tiber, with a 14th century fortress or 'Rocca' dominating the ancient walled town and a striking 16th century octagonal church in the main piazza. There is good evidence of a settlement at Umbertide in Roman times which was most probably destroyed by invaders and then rebuilt in 790 under the name of Fratta. The name was changed to Umbertide in 1863, after the sons of Umberto Ranieri who were responsible for the rebuilding of the town in the 8th century. The Rocca, dating originally from the late 14th century, was lived in until 1974 and was restored in the 1980s. Now it can be visited and hosts art exhibitions. The octagonal Collegiate church (Santa Maria della Reggia) was built in the 16th century and although octagonal on the outside, has a circular space on the inside. Across a road from the rest of the historical centre, and outside of the old walls, is Piazza San Francesco, one of our favourite places. There are 3 churches in or very near this piazza and the Chiesa di Santa Croce now houses a small but worthwhile museum, also displaying a Luca Signorelli masterpiece, Desposizione dalla Croce, as well as information about the artist.
There are good restaurants, cafés and ice cream shops in Umbertide, wine tasting is available at the Girasole vineyard just north west of the town, local honey and olive oil to purchase nearby and some excellent walks and hikes in the surrounding hills. There is a busy weekly market selling clothes, shoes, linens, toys and many other things as well as the traditional vegetables and fruit.
When in the Umbertide area, it is well worth visiting the L'Abbazia del S. Salvatore, just south of the town. The abbey, part of an important Benedictine Monastery, was originally built in the 11th century and there is a fascinating ancient crypt in the basement. There is a steep and windy road linking the abbey to a 16th century Monastery on the very top of nearby Monte Corona. It is a closed order, so cannot be visited, but you can walk around the outside of the monastery and the mountain is good for hikes with great views of the surrounding countryside.
The coutryside around Umbertide has a particularly high number of villas, cottages and estate apartments to rent and is one of our favourite areas. The town itself provides good shopping and restuarants and it is an easy base from which to reach all of the northern and central Umbrian sites, and also provides an easy day trip into Tuscany as well as southern Umbria.
Montone is an absolute delight, just 10 minutes drive to the north east of Umbertide. Having been voted one of the top ten most beautiful borgos (fortified villages) in Italy, Montone has become more popular of late but it can still be a quiet and tranquil place to wander around and is certainly not flooded with tourists, except on festival days, and retains a very special ambience.
A fortified village was documented at Montone in 1121, although the castle and some buildings would have been built some time before then - the nearby Aries Fortress dates from the 9th Century, and this is believed to be the starting point of the Fortebracci family’s building of the town. The village became a Commune in 1150. Probably the high point in history for Montone was in the 15th Century when Andrea Braccio Fortebracci conceived of the idea to create a single state in central Italy centred on Perugia. Unfortunately he died in battle in 1424, after clashing with the Pope, and then Montone, along with most of central Italy, came under papal rule. The Vitelli family, of Citta di Castello, governed Montone for a hundred years and then the town returned to papal rule until unification, except for a period in the 18th Century when the town joined the Cisalpine Republic.
Now, a wander around the quiet, narrow streets takes you back to those Middle Ages. The gothic style Chiesa of S. Francesco dates back to the early 14th Century and the oldest church is the Romanesque Pieve of S. Gregorio, from the 12th Century. The main square is a delightful place to sit and soak up the atmosphere whilst sipping a cappuccino at the café, before exploring the narrow streets.
There are some excellent events in Montone. In early May there is an ironwork market and then the season really gets started with the Montone Umbria Film Festival in July. The Donazione della Santa Spina, when the town is transformed back to medieval times, is in August and in October is the Festa del Bosco, a market celebrating food and crafts.
Mercatale & Lisciano Niccone (and Pierle)
These two villages are at the west end of the Niccone valley, about 30 minutes west of Umbertide and on the road that goes to both Lago Trasimeno and to Cortona, with lovely countryside and great walks. Nearby is the striking castle and borgo of Pierle, just into Tuscany – you pass it on the road from Mercatale to Cortona, or see it from the other side of the valley if you take the road to Tuoro.
A sleepy little hill top village in a lovely setting and worth a quick visit on an alternative route west from Umbertide to Lago Trasimeno. A one bar/one restaurant town but it comes alive for the Preggio Music Festival at the end of end July and into August, when you can attend concerts featuring sacred music or an opera in the Church gardens.
Città di Castello
North of Umbertide and 15 minutes further up the E45 is Città di Castello. We think Città di Castello has a real charm and attraction, especially in some of the old back streets as well as the main piazzas. Unless you want supermarkets or other modern shopping facilities, located in the newer parts of the town, head for the Centro Storico. You cannot miss it because the old town is entirely circled by walls and you need to park outside the walls in one of several free car parks available. As well as wandering the streets or visiting the Pinacoteca, which has the second most important art collection in Umbria after Perugia, there is a good market in the Centro Storico on Thursday and Saturday mornings – just follow the crowds!
The highlights of a walking tour of Città di Castello should include the Cathedral of St. Florido and the Palazzo dei Priori which is also the City Commune, both in Piazza Gabriotti. Just step into the entrance of Palazzo dei Priori and be transported back to the 1300s. Opposite is the Torre Civica, an incrediably tall tower that has recently had some restoration work. Another highlight is the Pinacoteca in the 15th century Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera. You can get an information leaflet in English to help you explore the works of art, which include works by Raphael, Vasari and Signorelli. For a switch to modern art, visit the Collezione Burri in the Albizzini Palace, housing a collection of Alberto Burri's work (Burri had an important influence on contemporary art and is a native of Città di Castello). There is also a second exhibition of 128 of his larger works and sculptures, housed in an old tobacco-drying warehouse on the south side of the city. A wander through the back streets of the Centro Storico is very rewarding and make sure you see the Romanesque Campanile. There are some good cafe/bars in Piazza Matteotti where you can sit outside and watch the world go by - some excellent pastries to sample as well! Other museums include a centre of traditional arts and crafts and a graphic arts museum.
Monte S. Maria Tiberina
A littel south west of Città di Csatello is the marvellous hill top medieval town of Monte Santa Maria Tibertina at 688 metres above sea level. Its a small and sleepy place but with a superb setting. Just wander the old streets and enjoy the atmosphere. The views of the surrounding countryside are tremendous. There is a good restaurant, recommended by some of our guests.
Towards the eastern edge of northern Umbria, Gubbio is close to the border with Le Marche and the Apennines. It is a fascinating town, well worth an extended visit, famous for the Eugubian Tables in ancient Umbrian script dating from before 100 BC. Set into the side of Monte Ingino, this is a rugged setting and the town tumbles down the slopes, looking much like it must have in medieval times. The town attracts quite a few tourists and can be a bit crowded in the main summer holidays but you can still get away from the rest of the crowd and explore quieter back streets. Be prepared for climbing some steep streets in order to do Gubbio justice, but there are some lifts to take you on an easier ride up to Piazza Grande to see the Palazzo dei Consoli, which houses the Museo Civico and the Eugubian tables. Another climb, or fortunately another lift, takes you to the Duomo and Palazzo Ducale. There are so many other churches and Palaces to visit this is too modest a guide to list them all. For a fun excursion, as long as you have a head for heights, ride the funicular from Via San Gerolamo up to the Basilica di Sant'Ubaldo – but be prepared for a slightly off putting birdcage style ski-lift contraption that takes you up the hill!
There is plenty to see on the walk up to the Piazza Grande from the large main piazza at the bottom of the hill, Piazza 40 Martiri. But also do not miss the area west of Piazza 40 Martiri, along Via Cavour, and do explore the narrow streets and small piazzas in this sector. For ancient history buffs there are some remains of a 1st century BC Roman Theatre. Gubbio was the site of an important battle between the Romans and the Umbri, Etruscans and Gauls in 295 BC and because the town did not participate, it's status was elevated and it became Romanised.
Worth mentioning and of interest particularly to walkers, horse riders and climbers (or for the more adventurous also for cavers and spelunking), is an area east of Gubbio called the Parco Regionale del Monte Cucco. There are walking maps available for the area and a booklet in English which describes 11 walks that will really get you 'away from it all'!
Sansepolcro is just over the northern border from Umbria into Tuscany, off the E45 north of Città di Castello and also very close to Le Marche. A few kilometres north again of Sansepolcro is the source of the Tiber that flows through Umbria down to Rome. As for so many Umbrian and Tuscan towns, the historic centre is encompassed by ancient walls, with four city gates. At the eastern corner is an imposing fortress dating from the early 16th century, unfortunately not open to the public as it is private property. There are four main avenues through the city and numerous narrow streets intersecting, with charming little piazzas. There are some good cafés with outside seating to stop at and just watch the passers by. The Duomo (cathedral), originally dating from 1049, suffered a lot of damage in an earthquake in 1352 and was also heavily modified in the early 1500s to the more Romanesque-Baroque tastes of the time. However, restorations in the 1930s recreated much of the the original form, late Romanesque leaning to Gothic. The church of San Francesco is also worth a visit.
Sansepolcro's most famous son was the artist Piero della Francesca, born there between 1410 and 1420. He spent most of his life in Sansepolcro, painting and writing. His masterpiece, the Resurrection, which has been described by some as the greatest painting in the world, is displayed in the Museo Civico. There are two other works by Piero della Francesca in the Museo Civico and also works by his pupil, Luca Signorelli, as well as other artists.
Anghiari is just across the northern border of Umbria into Tuscany, west of Sansepolcro but is a fascinating place to visit and very easy to get to from anywhere around or north of Perugia. Very little is said in the published guide books we have seen, beyond calling it a 'pretty medieval village, worth a brief stop'. We think that Anghiari has much more to offer, and have found it to be one of the gems of this region. The road from Sansepolcro and the E45 runs in a straight line, like an arrow, towards Anghiari and is a good way of seeing the town for the first time perched on the hill ahead of you. Quite clearly in a strategic military position, Anghiari must have been an important fortress in medieval times. In fact, a confrontation below the walls between the Florentine and Milanese armies in 1440 was the subject of a Leonardo da Vinci fresco commissioned in 1503. The Florentines stopped the advance of the Milanese army, and their ambitions in Tuscany, Anghiari then became an ally of Florence and later the fresco was commissioned to be painted in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, to celebrate the battle. Unfortunately the painting was never finished, in fact there was a technical problem with the painting technique and it is not possible to see anything now as Vasari painted over the fresco in 1564! However, Leonardo da Vinci made several preparatory drawings and you can see reproductions of some of these in the Museo della Battaglia di Anghiari in the old town centre.
Anghiari today has a fascinating old centre to wander around, enjoying the narrow medieval streets, churches, antique shops and the artisan furniture restorers that the town has become famous for. Key churches to explore are the 12th century Church of Badia and the Church of Sant' Agostina. Also the 18th century Church of S. Maria delle Grazie. The town has organised the several museums worthy of note into the Sistema Museale di Anghiari. The centre point of the Museum System is in the Palazzo del Marcozzo, housing the Museo della Battaglia di Anghiari mentioned above, as well as an exhibition of firearms and reproduction ancient codices – manuscripts from the 17th and 18th centuries, depicting in watercolour plates the evolution of some of the main buildings in the town. The Battle museum, in addition to copies of the Leonardo drawings, has a model re-enactment of the battle with 2200 hand painted lead soldiers. There are also some good books and souvenirs in the Palazzo shop. The museum system also includes the Museo Statale di Palazzo Taglieschi with twenty rooms of paintings, sculptures and other artefacts, and the Museo della Misericordia.
One of our favourite places to 'chill out' in Anghiari is a cafè called Il Giardino del Vicario on the very edge of the old village and with a fantastic garden with the best views of both the town walls and the countryside below the town.
Between Anghiari and Città di Castello are the two village sof Citerna and Monterchi, well worth a visit whilst exploring this most northerly part of Umbria. Citerna is located just on border with Tuscany, at a height of 482 meters above sea level. Like many Umbrian hill top towns, coming into Citerna is like stepping back in time. The fortress, which dates originally from the 7th century and re-constructed in the 14th century, is at the heart of the medieval town. The tower was an excellent vantage point over the surrounding countryside given its position on the top of the hill. The church of San Francesco is worth a visit, as is the Bontempelli theatre. Complete a tour of Citerna by finding a small stairway leading to the medieval walkway that goes round most of the perimeter walls. Near to Citerna it is worth visiting the church of Santa Maria in Pistrino, where there is an important series of 14th to 15th century frescoes, some of them completely preserved.
Nearby Monterchi is a tiny medieval town worth a stroll round the narrow lanes. However the main reason for visiting Monterchi for art lovers, is to see one of the key works of Piero della Francesca, the Madonna del Parto fresco dating from the 15th century.
Perugia is of course the capital city of Umbria and it is well worth exploring this fascinating, well preserved medieval city. The historical centre is easy to walk around, although it can be a bit of a climb up to it from the car parks below the centre. There are, however, several helpful escalators placed near the biggest car parks to aid your climb. Corso Vannucci is the main street and a lovely stroll can be had looking at the architecture, browsing the designer shops and stopping at a pavement café or two! There are major piazzas at both ends, with the main attractions of the Cathedral, Palazzo dei Priori and the Fontana Maggiore in Piazza IV Novembre. Near this piazza is a 3rd century BC Etruscan arch, originally the main entrance into the city's Etruscan centre. At the top is an inscription added by the Roman Emperor Augustus.
Perugia is a major University city and the students add a vitality to the city, as well as helping to fuel the cultural events, concerts and busy café, bar and restaurant scene. There are some excellent museums in Perugia, including the top art gallery in Umbria with art work from the 13th to 18th centuries. There is also a fascinating underground area to explore, the remains of an ancient hamlet surviving under modern Perugia.
An absolute gem, not to be missed, a little way from the old centre, is the Church of San Pietro. The interior is an amazing mix of gilt and marble, a real feast for the eyes. There is a Pietà by Perugino and ask the caretaker to let you into a little side room to see a lovely small Caravaggio and an early Raphael. Outside, and part of the University, is a reconstructed medieval medicinal herb garden, a must for people interested in the healing properties of plants.
If shopping is one of your vices, as well as the designer shops and boutiques of central Perugia, there are some modern shopping centres around the outskirts of Perugia, all near the main east-west motorway. There are also some good outlet type stores, particularly for clothing, including several cashmere outlets.
Assisi is of course famous around the world as the birthplace of St. Francis. The first view of the town, and particularly the massive Basilica, as you approach Assisi, is breathtaking. Situated on the western slopes of Monte Subasio, the medieval town cascades down the slopes from the distinctive Castle on the top of the hill. The main sites to visit are the Basilica of San Francesco, built over the tomb of St. Francis, the Church of Santa Chiara, the Cathedral of San Rufino, the Rocca (Castle) and the Church of San Damiano. Aside from these main sites, a simple stroll through the streets of Assisi is very rewarding. If you like shopping there are a plethora of shops from tacky souvenirs to excellent art and craft shops but the best rewards are to be seen above the shops, look at the houses and palazzos lining the streets and it is easy to imagine the city in medieval times. In the main piazza, Piazza del Comune, stood an ancient Roman temple, the Temple of Minerva - the original façade still stands as the fronstpiece of a church, the interior having been transformed in the 16th and 17th centuries into thr church. There are also a number of other interesting buildings in the piazza plus the main Tourist Information office and a good selection of cafés.
The Basilica of San Francesco, built in the 1200s, consists of two churches, the lower church built over the tomb of St. Francis and the upper containing a famous series of Giotto's frescoes showing 28 scenes from the life of the Saint. There are artistic gems to be found in the impressive lower church as well, but a visit to the crypt, housing St. Francis' tomb, is a highlight of the visit with a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere despite the crowds. Between the two churches is a shop selling an amazing variety of goods commemorating St. Francis.
St. Clare was a contemporary and follower of St. Francis, who founded the order of the Clarisses, or 'Poor Clares'. She lies now in the crypt of the church of Santa Chiara, its facade notable for its horizontal stripes of pinkish marble.
The fine 12th and 13th century Romanesque façade of the Cathedral of San Rufino, hides a completely redesigned interior dating from the 16th century and many notable works of art.
Just outside Assisi is a church of a different character and well worth the walk from the town. The simple Church of San Damiano is a haven of peacefulness, being the place that St. Francis first gathered his followers having heard the voice of Christ urging him to rebuild the church which was then in ruins. There are two other sites near to Assisi, with St. Francis connections, both well worth visiting – the Eremo delle Carceri and the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli.It is best to drive to the Eremo, otherwise it is a hard climb out of Assisi up the slopes of Monte Subasio. There were several hermitages at one time on the slopes, including the Eremo delle Carceri, where St. Francis often stayed between 1206 and 1211. A solitary place, you can easily imagine St. Francis meditating here, walking through the forest and sleeping in a cave. It is a lovely contrast to the grandeur of Assisi's churches and certainly closer to the ideal that St. Francis himself held true.
The other place to visit is the massive Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, below Assisi – on the route to or from Assisi to the main highway, you go right past this Basilica. Of huge proportions, the Basilica is most impressive outside, with several restorations over the years. Inside this massive space you are surprised to find a tiny church – the Porziuncola. St. Francis rented this tiny church from the Benedictines around 1208, then surrounded by woods, and it is the centre really of the birth of the Francescan order. The main walls and apse of the building are the same as they were at the time of St. Francis, with later paintings, fresco and the wooden portal added in the 15th century. The Basilica has several other items of interest including the Cappella del Transito and a Rose Garden.
Spello is a delightful town, a few kms south of Assisi and often missed by tourists so less busy than Assisi, although parking can be a little difficult at times. It has a Roman heritage, evident immediately at the foot of the long hill up to the centre, with a Roman arch dominating the entrance. For art enthusiasts the Church of Sant'Andrea houses frescoes by Pinturicchio and other fine paintings and sculptures can be found in the church of San Lorenzo. A walk to the very top of the town is well worth it for the medieval streets and a panoramic view across the plain from the Belvedere. For a coffee, ice-cream or snack we heartily recommend the Bar Giardino, on the right going uphill from the main piazza. Whilst the bar itself is very small, go out the back and you will find a huge garden with many tables in the sun or the shade and a fantastic view.
If you happen to be near Spello at the right time in June, do not miss the Spello Flower festival when all the streets in the town become a showcase of artistic designs using only flower petals and leaves, competing against each other for various prizes. The designs are truly amazing and take all the night before to create, under spotlight.
Foligno is a modern industrial town, south again from Spello, but a detour to the historic centre is worthwhile for the Cathedral, Palazzo Trinci and Palazzo Comunale, all on Piazza della Republica.
South of Foligno, Trevi is a sleepy medieval hill top town with some fine churches to visit as well as a small picture gallery in the Palazzo Communale, including paintings by Spagna and Pinturicchio. As well as the churches of San Martino, San Francesco and Sant'Emiliano in the town, the church of the Madonna delle Lacrime, just outside the town, is also worth a visit for some works of art including Perugino.
A little further south of Trevi is Clitunno, off the road to Spoleto (which is in our South Umbria section). For a complete change of pace, Clitunno is a lovely place for a gentle stroll around its small lake, surrounded by lush vegetation and water birds. It is the source of the river Clitumnus. In Roman times they believed the river god Clitumnus resided here.
West of Foligno, Bevagna is unlike many Umbrian towns as it is quite flat, situated as it is in the plain west of Foligno and east of Deruta, making a pleasant change from the more strenuous hill top towns the region is best known for. Highlights are the 13th century Palazzo dei Consoli and the Duomo (Cathedral).
A little south of Bevagna is Montefalco, one of the best centres for wine production in Umbria. There are a variety of wine merchants and enotecas where you can sample wines and also olive oil from the region. The town is also home to a series of paintings and frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli.
Further west from Bevagna and due south of Perugia off the E45 to Rome is Deruta. If you like ceramics or would like to buy some items to take home, Deruta is a must. Derutans have been producing ceramics here for over 600 years. For those particularly interested in ceramics there is a museum in the historic centre as well as some small shops. However, the biggest showrooms and production facilities are on the main road leading from the motorway in the modern part of the town. You can’t miss some of the larger showrooms as you see a huge ceramic vase - and I do mean huge - from the motorway, advertising their wares. For some particularly good shops take the Deruta south turnoff and head towards the centre - there are some shops on both sides of the road - selling the very distinctive Deruta ware but also some excellent terra-cotta pots and ornaments.
This is not a very inspiring town between Perugia and Lago Trasimeno but the fortified abbey, dating from 1170, is interesting for its association with the Templars who used it as a hospital for crusaders going back and forth from the crusades in Jerusalem. The Knights of Malta, who took the fortress from the Templars, own it to this day and it is now called the Castle of the Knights of Malta.
Lago (lake) Trasimeno is a major body of water, an area of 128 sq. kms, making it Italy's fourth biggest and only slightly smaller than Lake Como. There are plenty of water based activities which makes it a great family day out – sailing, water sports, fishing or taking the ferry to the islands on the lake. The flat roads round the lake are excellent for cycling and there are good hiking trails and horse riding. The views of Lago Trasimeno, especially coming from the north over the hills from Umbertide, Preggio or Niccone, are really wonderful.
There are many villages and towns around the lake, the largest on the north side being Passignano. This is a fun, busy place in the summer with plenty of restaurants, cafés and souvenir shops. There are some excellent artisan ice cream stalls near the quay for the ferry and west along the water's edge. Passignano is a particularly good family destination with beach type activities for the children.
For ancient history buffs, near the town of Tuoro on the north west side of the lake, is the site of a famous battle from Ancient Roman times, when Hannibal of Carthage defeated the Romans near the lake shore after his famous march over the Alps with troops, horses and elephants!
The other main town worth visiting on the lake and on the western shore, is Castiglione del Lago. There is a ferry connecting Castiglione to Passignano and the islands on the lake. Typically medieval narrow streets within the walls of the town are interesting to explore and there are some shops selling local produce and several good café bars, The main site in Castiglione is the Rocca del Leone dating from 1247, a fine example of medieval military architecture, situated on a rocky promontory overlooking the lake. Another building of interest is the Palazzo della Corgna, connected to the Rocca.
South of the lake, Panicale is another typical small medieval town, particularly pleasant to wander around – you can walk along part of the town walls which give you some good views of the countryside and of the town itself. The town plan is organised around three piazzas in a circular fashion. Piazza Umberto I has a fine travertine fountain and the Palazzo Pretorio is from the 14th Century. The church of San Sebastiano houses a Perugino painting of the martyrdom of the saint and the Cesare Caporali Theater is worth a visit. When you have had enough sightseeing a good place for a rest is in the café or restaurant near the main entrance to the town.
Città della Pieve
Città della Pieve dominates the area of Valdechiana, south west of Perugia, the scenery of which inspired Pietro Vannucci (Perugini) to create a number of works of art; his 'The Adoration of the Magi' is displayed in the Oratory of Santa Maria dei Bianchi. The Della Corgna Palace also has some fine paintings. There are some particularly narrow and mysterious streets and walkways to explore within the walls.
Orvieto is one of the largest and finest cities in Umbria, famous for its wines and of course for its cathedral. The exterior of the cathedral is really striking with black and while bands of marble along the sides that are reflected inside on the walls and pillars. However, the front gothic facade is the main work of art, with different types of marble, sculptures and bright colourful mosaics. Inside is an important fresco cycle by Signorelli, supposedly an inspiration for Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. For ancient history buffs there is a good museum in Piazza del Duomo opposite the cathedral, Museo Claudio Faina e Civico, most of the exhibits are Etruscan taken from the necropolis on the outskirts of Orvieto. You can visit this necropolis, dating from the mid 6th century BC, with several series of burial chambers. There are several other museums in the town and an interesting site to visit is Orvieto Underground, six caves (the six you can visit are out of a total of 440 in total), which were originally used as wells, then for provisions and in the second world war as bomb shelters. It is always cool in the caves, around 12° to 15° C all year round, so its a good place to cool off in the height of summer!
Orvieto is a good place just to wander around taking in the historical streets and buildings, browsing the shops and stopping for a coffee in the numerous cafes. A site we highly recommend and easily missed is the beautiful Theatro Mancinelli at Corso Cavour 122 – it is an absolute delight, both the theatre itself and the frescoes in some of the public rooms.
A visit to Civita di Bagnoregio, south of Orvieto, is a real treat. It is a tiny village situated on a rocky outcrop and only accessible by a narrow 300m pedestrian bridge that spans the gorge below. In the winter only about 20 people live in the village but this increases to about 300 in the summer when the cafés, restaurants and gift shops are all open. Full of delightful buildings, some fully restored, some in disrepair and deserted, this village, never the less, has an air of vibrancy and many interesting views and corners not to be missed.
Todi is a lovely town, originally of Etruscan origin and, later, Roman. There were two walls circling the town, one of Etruscan-Roman origin (only parts remaining) and the other medieval. The main piazza, Piazza del Popolo, is regarded by many as one of the most beautiful in Italy, with the cathedral at one side, and three 13th to 14th century Palazzos - del Popolo, dei Priori and del Capitano. Getting into Todi, standing as it is high on a hill, can be a little tricky but there is a very good car park at the bottom of a funicular which takes you straight up to the town. Outside Todi is the striking church of Santa Maria della Consolazione.
If your interests turn to the Roman World there is an interesting site south of Todi and Aquasparta at Carsulae, near San Gemini. Only part of the site, abandoned long ago after an earthquake, has been excavated but there are still some interesting remains to explore.
Terni is an important industrial town in southern Umbria, actually stemming from the Industrial Revolution and once known as the 'Manchester of Italy'. Whilst the industrial nature of Terni is not very attractive to tourists, there is a small historical centre and some lovely buildings, in particular the church of San Francesco housing the Paradisi Chapel, the church of San Salvatore and the church of Sant'Alò.
Narni is easy to bypass on the main route from Umbria to the A1 and Rome, you see it in the distance perched on a rocky outcrop. But take the time to get off the main route and drive into Narni and you will be rewarded by a yet another gem of medieval architecture and some great art, as well as a very picturesque location. Highlights are the Piazza dei Priori, the tiny church of Santa Maria in Pensole and the Cathedral. There is a fortress overlooking the town, just outside is one remaining arch of the once huge bridge of Augustus (the first Emperor of Ancient Rome) – an impressive indication of the skill of Roman builders and engineers, and a few kilometres away the Franciscan Monastery of the Cave of Sant'Urbano.
In the opposite direction from Terni, south towards Rieti, there is Lake Piediluco – a beautiful and scenic spot with a charming little town of the same name on the shores. There are various water sports available on the lake and it is the sight of an international boat race. On the way to Piediluco, are the famous Marmore Falls, a really impressive waterfall, painted by Corot and immortalized by Byron. The Falls were actually created in Roman times when the river was diverted and now plunge a total of 165 metres in three sections. The water flow is controlled nowadays and the Falls are 'turned off' at times so check the times so you are not disappointed.
Approaching Spoleto, you cannot miss this superb medieval town, set on the slopes of Monteluco, with a most impressive castle crowning the hill. Highlights are the Cathedral, the Roman Theatre, the church of San Pietro, the Fortress (Rocca) and a most arresting sight - the Ponte delle Torre, an amazing medieval bridge joining the hills of Sant'Elia and Monteluco across a very deep ravine, with ten massive arches.
Spoleto is also famous for the international Festival of Two Worlds. Plan you holiday for the last few days aof June and first few of July in order to see the performances, ranging from ballet to opera – performed by well-known and respected international artists.
Norcia is on the main route east from Spoleto towards Le Marche and Abruzzo, rather isolated from the rest of Umbria. Norcia is the birth place of St. Benedict, patron saint of Europe, who lived there around 500 AD and founded the Benedictine Order. There is, of course, a monument to St. Benedict in the main piazza, and a 16th century Cathedral, notable for it huge bell tower, and the Castellina Fortress. Also in the piazza is the church of San Benedetto, supposedly built on the site of the birthplace of the Saint. Norcia is also well known for its butchers, in particular for the sale of pork sausages, salamis and hams. A walk down the main street is testament to this, with practically every other shop selling meat products and with boars’ heads hanging outside - not a must for vegetarians, like ourselves!
Norcia is also the last main stopping off point for a tour of the plains of Castelluccio and the Sibilini mountains to the east. The Piano Grande is particularly impressive, an 8 km plain at a height above sea level of 1200 metres, well known in Spring , which comes late at that altitude, for its spring flowers.