ITALY'S GREEN HEART
Umbria is a small landlocked region in central Italy with fewer than a million residents. Besides being known for its history, traditions, and artistic legacy, Umbria is often referred to as Italy's Green Heart. And that is most certainly not without reason: the region is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty! As a matter of fact, the absence of large cities is one of the outstanding features of Umbria, which perhaps also explains why - unlike the stereotypical image of 'agitated' Italians - the people of Umbria are usually remarkably laid-back...
SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES
The silent hillscapes of Umbria, mainly covered in woodland or olive groves, offer some amazing (and often well-managed) hiking, biking and horseriding trails. At the same time, its medium and small-sized cities and villages provide an endless array of sightseeing opportunities and cultural activities. Todi, Gubbio, Narni, Montefalco, and Spoleto are but a few examples of gorgeous, astonishingly well-kept ancient settlements that are definitely worth a visit. Art aficionados should not miss out on the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in the regional capital Perugia. In Assisi - a famous place of pilgrimage for Christians and art historians - one can visit the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, the patron saint of animals. In Orvieto - a site that has been inhabitated since the Etruscan era - you can take a tour of the caves under the city. The beautifully preserved medieval village of Montecastello di Vibio features the Teatro della Concordia - world’s smallest theatre. And in Torgiano you could visit the Museo del Vino. Or you can choose to participate in some of Italy’s liveliest festivals, including (among many others): the Festa dei Ceri in Gubbio in May - a 'race of the candles' (read statues) honoring St. Ubaldo, the city's patron saint; the Infiorate in Spello in May - when the town’s streets are carpeted in petals to mark the feast of Corpus Domini; the Mercato delle Gaite - a historical reconstruction of daily life in the 13th century that involves the entire town of Bevagna for 10 days in June; and the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia in July.
Most importantly... FOOD!
To appease your appetite after all the hiking/biking and sightseeing, or just to please your taste buds, there are many slow food restaurants (as well as wine bars/cellars) all around where you can try out local delicacies, or even follow a cooking course if you wish. Or you could decide to attend Nero Norcia - the national black truffle festival and market in Norcia in February, Porchettiamo - the annual festival of the famed porchetta in San Terenziano di Gualdo Cattaneo in May, the yearly International Chocolate Exhibition in Perugia in October, or the all-year-round local (food) celebrations known as sagre.
Despite being a relatively small region, the Umbrian cuisine - typically simple yet delicious - is rather distinct from that of other regions in Italy. Not having access to the sea means Umbria has traditionally been limited to cooking land-based food - which does not, however, imply that the variety of dishes is any less plentiful! Much of the cuisine in Umbria is based on locally grown, seasonal vegetables and game: lentils, cardoons, chestnuts and especially porcini mushrooms and truffles are important elements in Umbrian recipes, as well as boar and hare. Fruity local olive oil combined with freshly foraged greens, mushrooms and game meat creates luscious dishes that do not need (m)any additional ingredients to be incredibly flavored.