Travel experiences in Umbria are a combination of the cerebral and the sensual, from a wealth of art and architecture – sublime Renaissance paintings and glorious, honey-stoned churches and cathedrals – to excellent regional food and wine and the simple pleasures of wandering medieval streets or through beautiful pastoral landscape. Even better, you can enjoy variations of these experiences in all of Umbria’s many historic towns – all of which have one or more wonderful restaurants, for example, or a wonderful little art gallery – as well as finding individual events, such as Spoleto’s annual art festival, which is among the most famous of their kind in Italy and beyond.
Enjoy medieval charm
Despite its small size, Montefalco offers a number of wonderful things to do and see: there are the views – the name means “Falcon’s Mount”; the local wine, such as the high-quality red Sagrantino di Montefalco, with a visit to the vineyard an option; and the charm of the medieval center where there are a handful of small streets and a stage set of a main square, the Piazza del Comune.
Insider tip: Most visitors to Umbria see Assisi and its famous frescoes: fewer know that Montefalco has an artistic gem, the Museo Civico di San Francesco, with a sublime Renaissance fresco on the life of St Francis (1452) by Benozzo Gozzoli.
Explore a traditional Umbrian hillside
Spello offers all the classic mountain town experiences, from wonderful medieval streets to explore to outstanding culture in the form of living frescoes (1501) in Santa Maria Maggiore by Pinturicchio, and the Pinacoteca Civica Diocesana, a classic small town museum.
Insider tip: Do not try to drive in the city. Instead, leave the cars outside the walls in the car park at the top of the town near the junction to Collepino and walk from there. Afterwards, drive to Collepino and over Monte Subasio for some glorious views.
Indulge your artistic side
Experience a day of varied culture in Umbria’s capital, Perugia, which is filled with fine Etruscan, Roman and medieval monuments, including one of Italy’s finest Gothic palaces, the Palazzo dei Priori. This palace is home to the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, a superb picture gallery of Umbria’s best art, and the Collegio del Cambio, with sumptuous frescoes by Perugino.
Insider tip: Secret corners of Perugia include medieval Via dei Priori; Church of San Severo (which has a Raphael fresco); Church of San Pietro; the raised medieval walkway northwards from near Piazza Morlacchi; and the beautiful area around Via del Sole.
Follow the footsteps of St Francis
Medieval and rose stone Assisi was the birthplace of St Francis and contains one of the region’s most important artistic attractions: admire the frescoes by Giotto and others in the saint’s tomb, the Basilica di San Francesco. While here, tick off other points on the St Francis Trail – peaceful San Damiano, Eremo delle Carceri and Basilica di Santa Chiara.
Insider tip: Assisi is among Italy’s most popular pilgrimage centers and is busy. However, many visitors are day-trippers – stay overnight and you’ll find that the streets become quieter in the evening. Use the extra time to drive or walk over Monte Subasio towards Collepino and Spello.
Settle in a quiet town
Bevagna is an exception to Umbria’s hilltop rule: a small quiet town on the plain, clustered along a single main street that was once part of a Roman road. The simple main square, Piazza Silvestri, has two of the region’s most beautiful Romanesque churches: San Silvestro, from 1195, and the equally venerable San Michele opposite.
Insider tip: There isn’t much to Bevagna, but its tranquility and location make it a good base for exploring, with a handful of fine hotels and restaurants tucked away in charming back streets that far bigger cities would envy.
See performance art in a piazza
Spoleto is one of the most charming Umbrian mountain towns, with many medieval and Roman monuments, but aims to combine them with one of Italy’s most magical cultural experiences: an outdoor opera, ballet or music concert under the stars in the magnificent Piazza del Duomo as a part of the annual Spoleto Festival, one of Italy’s landmark cultural events every June and July.
Insider tip: Don’t just admire the Ponte delle Torri, a huge medieval aqueduct on the edge of town, walk over it and turn left on the easy path through the woods. You will reach beautiful views and peaceful olive groves within a few minutes.
Hike until you’re hungry
Remote, mountain-ringed Norcia offers two experiences out of the ordinary Umbrian: some remarkable food – it’s one of Italy’s leading gastronomic centers, famous for its truffles, ham, salami, lentils and cheeses – but also the chance for superlative hiking in the Sibillini Mountains to the east . Maps are available in town and trails are well marked and well worn.
Insider tip: Come in late May or early June to see the famous wildflowers – poppies, daffodils, peonies and more – that cover the Piano Grande, a vast plain above Norcia. However, please note that earthquake damage means that facilities are limited in the nearby village of Castelluccio.
Ride a cable car for amazing views
Gubbio’s medieval appearance and the beautiful mountainous backdrop, plus the relative lack of visitors, make this one of Umbria’s most appealing towns. Visit the impressive Palazzo dei Consoli and its gallery and adjacent Piazza Grande; Palazzo Ducale, built by Federigo da Montefeltro, the famous Duke of Urbino; and take the exciting cable car to Mount Ingino above the city for a nice view.
Insider tip: Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, or drivers wanting a scenic hour or so, should head to the Parco Regionale del Monte Cucco, which protects part of the high Apennines near Gubbio on the Marche border.
Wander a small town’s piazza
Little Todi sits atop a perfect pyramid of a hill and gathers around a perfect early medieval piazza. Cafes line the piazza’s flanks, with the Duomo at one end and two palaces on the east side housing the excellent Museo e Pinacoteca di Todi, with exhibits tracing the city’s history from its Etruscan origins.
Insider tip: Most visitors pass by the church of San Fortunato – a mistake, because the interior is airy and comfortable, and you can climb the church bell tower for views of the town’s rooftops and what seems like half of Umbria stretching to the horizon.
Admire a duomo’s dazzling facade
Orvieto sits spectacularly on a huge volcanic outcrop, its medieval skyline dominated by the magnificent Duomo. This is one of Italy’s most important historic buildings, thanks in part to its dazzling facade (300 years in the making), and in part to Luca Signorelli’s graphic frescoes (1499-1504) of the Last Judgment in the interior.
Insider tip: Orvieto’s cliff is full of 1,200 caves and tunnels dating back 3,000 years to Etruscan times. Be sure to join one of the guided tours that will take you on a fascinating odyssey through part of this labyrinth.