UMBRIA & LAZIO

Umbria holidays are extraordinarily serene: roam in the foothills, admire the ancient history and explore its artisan heart; whilst Lazio makes an ideal relaxed, beach resort.

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Umbria & Lazio Villa holiday guide

Umbria and Lazio holidays are serene and sedate; relax by the villa pool, roam in the Apennine foothills, walk the steep streets of Todi and Gubbio. But it wasn’t always this quiet around here, and signs of a turbulent history are everywhere—castles tower over towns such as Spoleto; in Perugia, an entire neighbourhood was torn down to build the Rocca Paolina, and you can still walk silent Medieval streets in the castle’s bowels. Città di Castello still deserves its long-standing reputation as a town of artisans.

Explore Umbria and Lazio

In truth it is barely more than an oversized hill-town, but Perugia’s student population ensures there is always something going on until late. The little city is also home to Umbria’s most important art collection, in the National Gallery of Umbria. Terni is southern Umbria’s administrative centre, but has nothing to match the beauty of Orvieto. The city sits high above surrounding winelands, on a plug of volcanic tufo rock; behind its extraordinary polychrome cathedral façade are grisly frescoes by Luca Signorelli inside the Chapel of San Brizio.

Beautiful view of the old town of Orvieto

The Umbrian countryside

As tourism slogans go, ‘Italy’s green heart’ is a pretty accurate one. Umbrian contours are gentle, and much of the land is forested or carved into smallholdings; olive groves cloak the hills (especially between Assisi and Spoleto) and sunflowers bring an explosion of yellow each June. It is only in the far east, on the flank of the Apennine mountains, that terrain becomes wild and rugged. Even here, each spring, wildflowers bloom on the high plain of the Piano Grande, close to Norcia. For a proper taste of rural Lazio, you need to escape the city. Lazio’s most scenic lakes are close to Grotte di Castro (Lake Bolsena) and Cura di Vetralia (Lake Vico). Remote Oliveto is surrounded by little-visited walking country in the Sabine Hills, towards the regional border with mountainous Abruzzo. In southern Lazio, Punta Rossa makes a great base for exploring the coastal Circeo National Park.

Apennines mountains

Explore the history of Umbria and Lazio

Few traces of Umbria’s original inhabitants, the Umbri, remain. However, at Gubbio’s Palazzo dei Consoli Museum, the prize exhibit is the Eugubine Tables, a ‘Rosetta Stone’ of the ancient Umbri language. Later historical periods brought the Etruscans (Orvieto was a major player in their twelve-city confederation) and the Romans—you can visit the subterranean remains of the Roman Forum below Assisi’s main piazza; and at their former town of Carsulae, sections of the Via Flaminia, the road that connected Rome with Rimini, are still visible.

Arch of San Damiano

Active pursuits in Umbria and Lazio

You can take it as gentle or as extreme as you like. The scenic flatlands around Lake Trasimeno have a marked cycle trail—bike hire is available locally. Small resorts on the lake itself offer windsurfing and boat trips. The terrain and thermals in Monte Cucco Park are ideal for hang-gliding and paragliding, and below ground are miles of caves to explore—on pre-booked visits for casual visitors, and with a guide for experienced spelunkers.

Monte Cucco Park

The mountains and lakes of Umbria and Lazio

Close to the Tuscan border, Lake Trasimeno is Italy’s fourth-largest lake. There are beaches (of sorts) at Tuoro and Passignano; Castiglione del Lago has fine views over the still, shallow waters from its ruined castle walls. The Apennine mountains, the spine of Italy, mark the eastern border with Le Marche. Monte Cucco Park, close to Gubbio, is criss-crossed with hiking and biking trails.

Lake Trasimeno

Discover Umbria and Lazio's arts and culture

There must be something in the water, because painters, sculptors, and spiritual leaders have blossomed in Umbria. Assisi is one of Europe’s key pilgrimage sites, associated with Italy’s patron saint, St. Francis, and St. Clare, founder of the Poor Clares, an order of Franciscan nuns. Painter Perugino—named after Perugia, but actually from Città della Pieve—left works all over Italy, and was Raphael’s teacher. For three weeks in July, Spoleto comes alive for the Festival of the Two Worlds. Dramatic locations around the hill-town, including the ruined amphitheatre, stage opera and classical music.

Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Nightlife and entertainment in Umbria and Lazio

Italians love a festival, and Umbria has some of the country’s liveliest. The Catholic celebration of Corpus Domini commemorates a miracle that occurred in Orvieto, and is celebrated there with a procession and fanfare sixty days after Easter. The following week the streets of Spello are carpeted in petals for the annual Infiorate. At Gubbio’s crazy Festa dei Ceri, on May 15, thousands come to watch teams from the town’s terzieri (neighbourhoods) race to the summit of Monte Ingino carrying 280kg wooden ‘candles’. Umbria’s mellow side is in full effect at Umbria Jazz, in Perugia each July, and pretty much every term-time weekend you will find the bars of this student city jumping.

Festa dei Ceri in the center of Gubbio

Eating and drinking in Umbria and Lazio

Umbrians eat from the woods whenever possible. Meat should be selvaggina (game), wild boar and deer especially. Foraged funghi such as porcini mushrooms and truffles (black and white) are a menu favourite. Italy’s prized pulse, the castelluccio lentil, grows near Norcia; the town itself is the spiritual home of Umbrian pork, and gives its name to the local word for a pork butcher, a ‘Norcineria’. Deep-red Montefalco wines are a match for the heartiest meat dishes, and whites from Orvieto are the classic Umbrian aperitif. The region is even home to Italy’s best known mass-market chocolatier, Perugina.

Castelluccio lentils