Saturday, June 11, 2011

Umbria in a Week? So Many Choices, So Little Time

    How to choose what to do in Umbria in just one week? You might follow Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, 2005), who said that instantaneous decisions can be better than those based on lengthy rational analysis; in other words, wake up in the morning and see how you feel. Or, you could do your homework up front and decide where you want to go based on your own personal interests: history, art, food, wine, local products, rural settings, towns, shopping. 
The view from Titigliano

    Spend at least a day exploring the neighborhood where you're staying, especially if there's a sunset view. After all, vacations should include some downtime.

    The towns we love:

    Orvieto is known for its duomo (cathedral), some say the best Gothic cathedral in Italy (versus Siena and Milano). Pozzo di San Patrizio is an ancient well designed in a double helix so that the donkeys taking the water up from the bottom of the huge tufa mesa would not meet those going down to fetch more. Shop for ceramics, beautiful stationery, and chocolate. Taste some Orvieto Classico, the famous white wine. Visit Etruscan tombs and underground passages. If you drive up to the big parking lot across from the funicolare (cable car), there's a shuttle bus that will take you to the main piazza

Montefalco (photo SW)
    Montefalco is one of Europe's best preserved medieval towns; famous for its red wines, olive oil, locally produced fine linens, and eight saints of the Catholic church. The Church of San Francesco is now an excellent small museum with frescoes including by Perugino and Gozzoli. Stop in at one of the wineries along the Sagrantino di Montefalco Wine Route and don't forget to sample the local olive oil. Montefalco is known as the Balcony of Umbria -- the views from here include the towns of Assisi, Spello, Trevi, Spoleto and the verdant rolling countryside in between.

Assisi (photo SW)
 Assisi  and Spello are a nice combination for a day trip. The duomo in Assisi is simply spectacular, with unforgettable frescoes and the tomb of Francis of Assisi. In summer and during religious holiday times, there are often crowds of pilgrims crowding the streets of Assisi, so consider spending half a day in Assisi and go on to Spello, a smaller, quite charming town nearby, for lunch and an opportunity to poke your nose in a gallery or two.

Todi (photo SW)
  Todi is a beautiful place to wander, from the glorious main piazza with its palaces, museum, duomo and ancient Roman cistern under your feet, to the San Fortunato church, where you may climb the steeple if the spectacular view from the piazza isn't high enough for you. Combine Todi with a trip to Deruta to see the excellent majolica ceramics museum or spend the afternoon in Carsulae, the parklike ruins of a Roman town on the ancient Via Flaminia. 

Isola Maggiore (photo SW)
 Castiglione del Lago, on Lake Trasimeno, central Italy's largest lake, is the prettiest town on the lake. Taking the ferry to Isola Maggiore, the island famous for lacemaking, is a great way to spend a summer afternoon, especially with a gelato in hand. The ferry also stops at Tuoro sul Trasimeno, the site of Hannibal's great victory over the Romans in 217 B.C. Come back to Castiglione del Lago for a dinner of lake carp.

Bevagna (photo SW)
   Bevagna's Gaite (market festival) is a late June experience not to be missed -- local residents dress in medieval clothing to join crossbow contests, demonstrate old techniques of book and paper making, blacksmithing, candlemaking and more. Bevagna was originally Etruscan, but became a Roman town called Movania in 80-90 BC. The Roman baths are worth a visit, as is a stop for coffee overlooking the main fountain, where folklore says St. Francis had a conversation with the birds. Combine a trip Montefalco with a visit to Bevagna, only 7 km away.
Spoleto (photo SW)

    Spoleto is known for the summer Festival of Two Worlds, as well as other cultural events, but the atmosphere and the architecture draw tourists all year: the duomo (Cathedral) of S. Maria Assunta, the Rocca Albornoziana, the walk across the arched Ponte della Torri former aquaduct spanning Via Flaminia, the Roman amphitheater make the town unusual. Drive up the mountain above Spoleto to visit Monteluco and the 13th c hermitage of St. Francis for a glimpse of a more rustic part of Umbria.

Norcia (photo SW)
   Norcia's heart-shaped medieval walls encircle the town best known for salumeria, Italy's revered prosciutto and salami, as well as black truffles, lentils and other legumes. The hometown of St. Benedict, the Norcia area is also known for it's contributions to early medical science -- both the Norcia butchers and the surgeons were celebrated in the Middle Ages.  Nearby Castelluccio, above the great plain where the lentils grow, is the jumping off point for trekkers to Mt. Sibillini National Park. Travel to Norcia and environs by driving through the long tunnel that leads from the Via Flaminia near Spoleto to the Valnerina, the Nera River valley.

Gubbio (photo maggioegubino)

Gubbio's architecture -- its Roman and Gothic palaces, cathedrals, elegant houses -- make this city clinging to a slope of Mt. Ingino both dramatic and interesting. The majolica ceramics tradition is strong here, where metallic glazes for ceramics originated. If you happen to visit in early May, there is the Corsa dei Ceri, a spectacular run that takes place annually on May 15.

Trevi (photo SW)
   For your next trip. . . consider Lake Piediluco, Cascata delle Marmore, the Fonti del Clitunno, Trevi, Amelia. . . .

 copyright Sharri Whiting 2011

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