It’s 90 degrees outside, the middle of July and I am being reluctantly driven further and further away from the sea. Seated in the backseat of the car with my dog nestled in between me and a friend, I wonder why our group selected Umbria for the weekend instead of the beach. In my mind, there is only one type of vacation that exists from June to September and that is one that involves il mare.
I had visited Umbria once before, for a day trip to Assisi, and to be honest nothing about that day left me desperate to return to the region. I wasn’t anti-Umbria by any means, but it hadn’t made its mark on my soul like so many other Italian regions I had visited before. In defense of Assisi, the town itself is beautiful and the world-famous Basilica of Saint Francis is fantastic. For whatever reason, Assisi and I didn’t fall in love and I’ve accepted that I won’t be emotionally moved by every place I visit. Regardless of my brief Umbrian history, willing or not, I had a weekend in the region ahead of me and I was determined to give it a fair shot.
We stayed in a modest accommodation in Foligno and ventured throughout the region during our short 36-hour trip. After dropping our things at the hotel, we found our way up winding roads to the first exciting surprise of the weekend, Montefalco, a charming hilltop town a short drive away. Recognized as one of the Borghi più Belli d’Italia, this picturesque village was the spark that signaled a change of heart for my initial indifference for Umbria. Overlooking vineyards and olive groves, the “balcony rail of Umbria” (due to its geographic placement on a hill) was more delightful than I had anticipated. We wandered the quaint streets, stopping in shops to purchase typical products from the region: Sagrantino of Montefalco, olive oil, and honey. The town was noticeably less full than Tuscan villages of a similar size, and as someone who adores Tuscany, it was a definite point in favor of Umbria.
I believe that the way to an Italian’s heart is through their stomach and after sampling local dishes like strangozzi with truffle and pasta alla norcina for dinner, Umbria was making a case for itself to be allowed into mine. The eye-opening evening in Montefalco capped off with a drink in the Piazza del Comune—a unique 5-sided piazza that anchors the small town—while I pondered what else this surprising region had in store for us.
The following day we ventured off to the place where I can distinctly say that Umbria stole my heart. We headed to Spello, one of “The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy.” I can confirm that it did not disappoint. Nicknamed “the village of flowers” and known for its Infiorata, an event where hundreds of people come together to create beautiful carpets and artworks of flowers lining the town’s streets, this small town is an absolute dream. Everywhere you turn there are gorgeous colorful flowers on buildings, terraces, balconies, steps, and more. Every surface is adorned with impeccably kept arrangements. It is truly one of the most photogenic towns I’ve ever visited, Spello is a can’t miss.
We rounded out our weekend in Perugia, the capital of the region famous for its chocolate festival. This gorgeous town maintains much of its medieval architecture while being a modern-day haven for arts and culture. While we only passed through for lunch, I am determined to visit again and dedicate the time that the city deserves to be fully appreciated. Before we departed I made sure to stock up on locally produced chocolate, a necessity when visiting Perugia!
As we drove back toward Rome after a pleasantly surprising weekend, I wondered why I had been so quick to judge an entire region based on one unremarkable day trip years prior. Perhaps it hasn’t been given the same Hollywood treatment as its neighbor, Tuscany, enticing visitors to add it to their travel itineraries. Instead, Umbria has been erroneously relegated to an inferior status, a region whose name doesn’t provoke praise and adoration from travelers to Italy, mostly because most people haven’t visited. Whoever is in charge of Umbria’s marketing strategy, let’s talk. People need to discover Umbria and its rich culture and landscape deserve to be known by the world.
- Admire the rolling hills from the peaks of villages perched upon them like Assisi and Montefalco.
- Indulge in decadent plates of pasta alla norcina that warm your belly and your soul before washing them down with a glass of Montefalco Rosso.
- Marvel in the architecture that not only spans centuries, but civilizations (from the Etruscans to the Umbrians to the Romans).
- Spend the Euros you’ll save—Umbria is comparatively less expensive than Tuscany and other tourist-favorite destinations—on bottles of locally produced olive oil to bring the taste of Umbria home with you.
For those of you rolling your eyes because you discovered the magic of Umbria long ago, I have a question for you: Why didn’t you let the rest of us know? You’ve been hiding her from the rest of us to hoard all her riches for yourself haven’t you? Quite honestly, I don’t blame you. There is a delicate balance between sharing destinations we love, while protecting their heritage and those parts of them that make them special.
After one weekend in Umbria, I hope that other travellers will consider visiting the region and when they do, that they’ll be met with a surprising experience just like I was. All secrets are revealed eventually, so it won’t be long before the world discovers the charming secret that is Umbria.