When I first decided to write this article, I thought I would give you an exact three-day itinerary of the ultimate road trip through Umbria. But then I thought to myself: who am I to decide what you should see, do, or eat while you are driving through this magnificent region? And why just three days? There are so many things I love about this region, it was hard to choose just a few, the ones I consider to be ‘important’, the ones I would choose if I only had one last chance to see Umbria. When I think of Umbria, I think of its small medieval towns perched on top of hills, I think of its endless green valleys filled to the rim with luscious olive trees and grape vines. I think of its people, who at first might seem a little cold, but as soon as they get to know you, are the warmest people on earth. Umbria’s food is simple, it’s the food of the farmers and of the earth.
What I will do is give you a list of my absolute favorite of everything in Umbria. They might not be the usual ones you see in all the guides, but they will bring you off the beaten path, and help you fall in love with Umbria – as if you needed the help.
With my list in hand, you can then create your ideal road trip through Umbria:
1. Small towns If you’ve already been to Italy, you might know that this country is FILLED with incredible little towns, and picking a few to visit is not an easy task. I’ve done that for you: Todi is my first pick and has a special place in my heart because I lived on the outskirts of this town for my whole life. It was voted ‘most liveable city’ and after a short walk through it you can see why – take a tour of the town with a local that was born and raised there, she will make you fall in love. Bevagna is another cute medieval town, and I particularly love it for two reasons: it’s completely flat (easy to slowly walk through) and has one of my favorite restaurants in Umbria (Antiche Sere). Trevi is perched on the side of a hill surrounded by olive groves, and has some of the most amazing views in the region. It’s famous for its olive oil and for its celery (make sure you try their celery stuffed with sausage at Il Terziere).
2. Learn about olive oil Each region of Italy has its very distinct and own type of olive oil, and Umbria is no exception. Book a tour at either Montioni or Gaudenzi, to learn all about the olive picking process. After a tasting, make sure you buy some olive oil to bring back home, it will be like taking a little piece of Umbria back with you.
3. Enjoy nature Umbria is known as the ‘green heart’ of Italy because everywhere you look, you see endless green fields surrounded by small batches of dense woods. Take a walk through Fonti del Clitunno, a water spring so clear and beautiful, it will leave you breathless. The first time I saw it I had to pinch myself to make sure it was real. Umbria is also full of hikes, one of my personal favorites is the one on the ex ferrovia Spoleto-Norcia, a 50km old railway track with amazing views. It’s a long hike, so you can also do it with a bicycle. If you want to put yourself in the hands of a local, contact @discoverumbria and they will organize an off the beaten path hike for you.
4. Drink wine You probably know this as well as I do: no trip to Italy is complete without a visit to a winery. Lucky for you, Umbria has some of the best wines in the country, and plenty of wineries for you to taste it in. Some of the most popular wines are Sagrantino and Montefalco, but there are so many more. I’ve picked three very different wineries for you to get a complete picture of Umbria’s wines: Arnaldo Caprai is one of the largest wine makers in the area of Montefalco and produces award winning wines. Madonna del Latte is a tiny family-owned winery in the Orvieto area that makes a few of my personal favorite wines. And lastly, Mani di Luna has been making biodynamic wine in the Torgiano area since 2012 and it is absolutely delicious, innovative and ‘different’ from anything else you will have in Umbria.
5. A day by the lake Since Umbria is landlocked, the locals head to one of their large lakes to enjoy a water view. Lake Trasimeno is beautiful to drive around and you could spend a day getting lost in its small surrounding towns. I would start my morning by visiting two towns which are not right on the water, but close enough so you can get to the water for lunch. Both Panicale and Città della Pieve are worth the drive, get lost in their small alleys (Citta della Pieve actually has the smallest alley in Italy), walk into every church possible and enjoy a coffee in the piazza before heading to the lake. Lunch is not in a ‘fancy’ restaurant, but more like a truck stop (it actually is a truck stop). In Italy we always say that there is no better food then where truck drivers stop to eat, and it really is so true. Faliero is known for its torta al testo (a local type of griddle bread) filled with seasonal vegetables, cheese or meat. If you want to feel and eat like a local, this is your place. End your day with a coffee, walk and gelato in Passignano sul Trasimeno, my favorite of the lake towns.
6. Truffle hunting You can’t leave Umbria without trying its famous black truffles, available both in the summer and winter. Book a truffle hunting experience at either San Pietro a Pettine or Ristorante Piermarini and you will be able to go out in the woods with a local truffle hunter and his dogs. After the hunt, make sure you stay for lunch to taste a number of local dishes filled with black truffles.
It was hard for me to choose just a few of my favorites, but I am confident that once you get your first taste of Umbria (and you do it the right way), you will dream of coming back again and again. Umbria is magical and has the authenticity and simplicity that everyone looks for when traveling through Italy. The sort of Italian magic that has been untouched by mass tourism and seems to be stuck in time. Just what I love.