In Umbria they add work and life to food and wine. Located in the central heart of Italy, this magical region epitomises the most prized treasures that Italy is known for. Good food and wine is where it all begins, but a journey through Umbria will take you through some of the world’s most beautiful agricultural scenery, where jagged rock faced cliffs are majestically contrasted against the gentle rise and fall of emerald green hills.
There is enough history and mystique to spark anyone’s sense of curiosity. Each of the numerous civilizations that once called this land home, have left their indelible mark upon the multifaceted ancient terrain. With many towns to visit each with their own distinct and charming character, Italy’s Umbria makes the ideal location for a romantic road trip. From Umbria’s northern edge, trail your way southward bound through towns filled with a rich palpitating sense of history and heritage. Enjoy the local specialties of food and wine and hear the stories to be told of every town by the friendly locals who are only too willing to share a yarn or two.
For the occasion I hired the Ferrari 488 GTB rental, an evocative car, it drives like a spearhead of power and precision. Built with a 3.9 liter V8 engine, it is powered by 660 bhp. Whipping out 670 cv at 8,000 rpm it achieves a 0 to 100 sprint in 3 seconds flat and a top speed of 330 km/h. The Ferrari 488 has a power that insists on being reckoned with. Certainly, it was my choice for the journey, because in the heart of Italy this supercar marked a celebration of all things Italian.
I started my journey of Umbria in Perugia. In the region’s capital the 488 GTB was delivered to me at the airport, but clients can request delivery at any location that best suits their needs. Perugia is a lively university town with a fascinating medieval village. Entirely captivating, take an underground tour that crawls through the remains of the Rocca Paolina. A 16th-century fortress, it was built on top of medieval streets which were used as underground foundations. A walk through the weave of streets will take you into the medieval ancient village of Perugia, the bricked in walls and ceilings. I timed my travel to ensure that I would be able to attend the’ Umbria Jazz Festival’, that occurs annually in the middle of July. There were a large number of concerts hosted throughout the city, some free and others with an admission fee. This is a major event for those in the Jazz world and has attracted famous jazz players from around the globe. Umbria’s Jazz Festival is certainly worth coordinating your trip around, as the normally quiet town of Perugia comes to life in a wonderful atmosphere of song and music.
Back in the Ferrari, my drive into Central Umbria brought me on the road of religious Christian pilgrimage as I reached the town of Assisi. Assisi is a small town of 25,000 people still deeply rooted in their medieval Christian heritage. Made famous as the birthplace of St Francis, a venerated Christian figure of the 13th century. The experience of walking through the city’s medieval village feels like a time warp, with many of the cobblestone streets still intact, I passed by the ancient houses and shop fronts that gradually lead me to the basilica of St. Francis. On entering the Basilica the quiet hum of silent prayer welcomed me onto its ominous grounds. The gothic walls and ceilings depict a passionate dedication of artistically embellished frescoes that effectively induce its many worshippers into mindful benediction .
On the road to San Damiano, I enjoyed an elegant evening of fine dining at Paradiso, known for its traditional Umbrian menu, it offered dishes such as Caramelized Fennel and Crumbled Sausage Sauce, Black Truffle Sauce in the Style of Spoleto or the Mushroom Norcia-Style Sauce on a bed of penne that I believe is best enjoyed with a bottle of Assisi Rosso or Villa Fidelia. It was an enticing en-route stop over, and one which I would recommend particularly over the summer period, when the ambience of the restaurant is best enjoyed as you sit out on the portico that overlooks the sprawling vineyards.
In the 488 GTB, I continued following down the E45 highway, then turned left into the entirely unmissable township of Todi. A beautiful hilltop village, it overlooks the east bank of the Tiber river as it takes in panoramic views of the Umbrian countryside. After becoming a free commune in the 1200’s the town began to blossom with many interesting buildings dating to that time period. In a stunning contrast of old and new, I drove the Ferrari 488 along the dark and narrow back streets of Todi’s old town that lead into the Piazza del Popolo (the People’s Square). Many of the town’s grand historic sites can be found along its circumference. Only adding to its fascination is that it was built on top of ancient Roman cisterns that were still in use as late as the 1920’s.
Coinciding perfectly with my summer trip to Todi was the ‘The International Hot Air Balloon Grand Prix’ that also takes place in July. For the many spectators who are out of the competition’s league, this is still a very enjoyable event as you watch the array of coloured hot air balloons fly up into the sky. Rides were available for around 70 Euro a person and certainly a treat for any dreamer in need of satiating a wanderlust.
With the rich earthy flavours of its tartufo (truffle), the sight of ancient Etruscans and Roman relics, old couples holding hands as they slowly make their way through flower-potted, cobblestone streets, passing doors that in all likelihood have never been locked. There is something remarkably raw and real to be found in Umbria. A people that have for centuries been cultivating deeply aromatic and sensual wines, and in turn a people that has for centuries been cultivated by its awe-inspiring land.
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