With only 72 hours in Umbria, our mission was to do and see as much as we could. Umbria fondly known as “the green heart of Italy” is a virtually unspoiled region. It is located in the centre of Italy and is bordered by Tuscany, Lazio and Le Marche. The region is split into two provinces Perugia (the capital) and Terni.
Our whirlwind tour of Umbria started in Norcia. This ancient Italian town is located along a large flat plain at the foot of the Sibillini Mountains and differs from the other Italian towns which are usually situated on hilltops.
The original 14th century walls enclose the town and as you enter through the gates you get the feeling that you are entering a secure, secret place. Many celebrities, dignitaries and heads of states flock to Norcia possibly for that exact reason. Also for the breathtakingly beautiful scenery and clean fresh air.
Chelsea Clinton is a frequent visitor and usually stays at the Relais & Chateaux Palazzo Seneca. This 16th century palace is a reflection of the region’s character. Owned privately by the Bianconi family they have spent a great deal of time and money on the restoration of the palace. This establishment felt more like a home than a hotel. We chose to dine in the Ristorante Vespasia, for what was titled a “light meal”. The Italian’s idea of a “light meal” was basically four courses which included locally sourced meat, truffles and cheeses complimenting the delicious pasta dishes. Nothing remotely “light” about the meal. This gave us an indication of what to expect for the rest of the trip. It was an absolute delight to indulge in such a divine meal. The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star and it is clear to see why, amazing food, perfect service and a fabulous location.
No visit to Umbria would be complete without a truffle hunting experience. And we were privileged to enjoy the experience at Tartufi Bianconi. The hunt took place in an enclosed grove in Citerna, which is a pretty little village with stunning views of the Tiber valley. We were accompanied by two expert guides and their dogs. The varieties of truffles differ depending on the season and climate, the black summer truffle, the black winter truffle, the white spring truffle and the most expensive of all the white winter truffle. It is common assumption that pigs are used as truffle hunters but this is no longer the case as the pigs tend to eat the truffles, whereas the dogs have no interest in consuming them.
In the space of an hour quite a few truffles were uncovered, and were handed over to Chef Gabriella who then proceeded to use them in cooking up the most fabulous “light lunch”. We dined al fresco, the picnic table was heavily laden with homemade bread, crostini with various truffle and mushroom pastes, copious amounts of mozzarella served simply with basil, and the piece de resistance the delicious pasta cooked simply with olive oil and truffle. Every dish was locally sourced, even the prosecco, and the entire experience from farm to table was very tasty, and our hosts were very informative and the hospitality was outstanding.
Day two and we headed to Gubbio, it is one of the oldest cities in Umbria and a visit to this city is like stepping back in time. It is situated on Mount Ingino and is a labyrinth of medieval streets and steep stairways. After a steep climb to the highest part of the city we arrived at the fabulous Duomo (Cathedral) and the Palazzo Ducale, perfect examples of Renaissance elegance. Alternatively you can take the cable car to the top of Mount Ingino. An unforgettable journey, we basically felt as if we were in a birdcage swaying in the wind, hovering above the pinewoods, an exhilarating and nerve wracking experience.
Gubbio’s main claim to fame is that they host the Festa dei Ceri. Thousands of people line the streets to watch the race – three huge candles (400kg each) are carried by townsmen to the Basicalla of Saint Ubaldo.
Next stop, Assisi which has remained practically untouched since the middle ages, and this contributes to its magical, spiritual qualities. Assisi is home to the Basillica of San Francesco, which is one of the most significant and important sites of Christianity. And as a consequence it is consistently heaving with tourists, the queues are long so be prepared to wait.
Citta di Castello
On our third and final day we decided it was time to for a visit to an art gallery. The most famous son of Citta di Castello is the illustrious artist Alberto Burri, who is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. We visited the 15th Century Palazzo Albizzini, a space dedicated to display his contemporary art works.
And our final destination of this whirl wind tour was Bevagna, to experience a historical re-enactment, a combination of old customs and local folklore. The entire village was prepped for weeks for this major event, and kudos to them, for they pulled off a spectacular display.
All too soon it was time for us to leave, we are looking forward to returning to Umbria where we received such a warm welcome, and outstanding hospitality.