Travellers Tales

14 Wondrous things about Umbria

Italians are citizens of their town, village and local community

Posted in the Cycle Tours collection on 18th April 2018


mbria's history is very 'real'; it is deep, complex and available. I think that it is probably far more accessible than in any other area of Italy.

We have Etruscan ruins that date from 2,500 years ago and many medieval structures still in everyday use. It may not be as popular and it may surprise you, that Umbria has a wealth of WWI and WWII history to be pondered, considered and learnt from.

I encourage you to go a little further, to dig a little deeper and to discover more about the wonderful region that is Umbria, my home, my place of birth and I have decided my future.

1. History

Visitors to Italy tend to forget that this is still a young country. It was only in 1861 that Italy was unified, just over 150 years ago.

Visitors tend to think of Italy as an old country, a thought probably founded on the idea of the Roman Empire and its expanse. That is far from the case.

Prior to unification, Italy was a made up of fiefdoms, principalities and territories. Lots of small and remote villages as well as those major power bases, such as Roma, Firenze and Milano, all with their own cultures and personalities that today, still have form and value all these years later. Italians are a proud people and these are the reasons that we have such a fascinating cultural landscape.

Even before the Etruscans were here, 2,500 years ago, the Ombrii or Umbri tribe claimed the region 9th to 4th century BC. Nothing significant exists from this period, in terms of buildings or legacy.

Whereas the Etruscan legacy is still available today, as is the heritage of the Roman Empire.

This powerful historical foundation has been built upon and the layers of medieval influence, politics and culture, assemble to create a unique mosaic of life.


2. Wonderful Places to Stay

Villa di Piazzano was once the hunting manor of Cardinal Silvio Passerini and is now a wonderful hotel. Today it tops our list of 'wonderful places to stay in Umbria. It is an important building dating back to the Renaissance when the Passerini family of Cortona were closely allied to the Medici’s. When Giovanni Medici became Pope Leo X in 1513, Silvio Passerini became cardinal-bishop of Cortona. Villa di Piazzano was his closest ‘private residence’. Your eBike journey begins and ends here.

There are lots of examples of interesting and ancient buildings to stay in, such as the La Locanda del Capitano in Montone, once the home of the famous Braccio Fortebracci; the former annexe of the Ducale Palace, Gubbio and Villa Monte Solare near Pannicale. All historical buildings with a deep history and standing proud in their own right.



3. Long, Wide Open Valleys

The Niccone Valley is one great example of Umbria topography where valleys are long, wide and open.

Today the border of Umbria and Tuscany dissects the valley, a hidden line that reflects its hugely significant past. Under Byzantine rule it was an important territorial defensive line, the boundary between the Papal States and the Holy Roman Empire. There are reputed to be 12 castles within the Niccone Valley, not all of which are still standing, which lay testament to this legacy.

One of the most beautiful castles which is still in the hands of the founding family, is the Castello di Sorbello. The castle dates from the 10th Century. It is a mysterious and magical place. The beautiful castellated ramparts stare across the valley at the more famous, but less visually stunning, Castello di Reschio. You will take a private tour of Castello di Sorbello when you take the Guided Umbrian eBike Safari.

The valleys of Gubbio, the Upper Tiber, the valley of Assisi and Lake Trasimeno are main examples of the long, wide, open valleys of Umbria which dominate and help define its geography. Each has a powerful story to tell.


4. Quieter Roads & Fewer Tourists

Umbria is one of the regions in Italy where there are fewer tourists.

In Umbria, it is still possible to enjoy an authentic Italian lifestyle.

When you visit magical hill-top villages such as Montone, where the local men are sitting in the piazza, yelling at each other over a simple game of cards or visit Gubbio, home to Italy’s second-oldest theatre, there is an odd feeling - where is everyone?

Umbria is just quieter.


5. Food, just food.

I am a pizzaiolo! I love the process of making pizza and the fact that you can do what you want with it.

Similar to pizza and less well known is local ‘torta al testo’. It's a sort of flatbread, like a thick pizza base. Locally we slice them in half and stuff them with local cured ham and pecorino cheese. My personal favourite is local pork sausages and spinach. Mouthwatering! Some people, not me you understand, stuff the torta al testo with Nutella. Not my choice!

Then there is Cinghiale (wild boar), pasta of all shapes, sizes and even colour; Tartufo (truffle); the sauces; olive oil; porcini.

In the autumn, there is no greater pleasure for me than leading the hunt on my local hillside for ‘fungi porcini’. Our area is renowned for it.

Have you ever experienced authentic Italian Mother’s cooking? Meet Catarina. She will serve you your lunch between Gubbio and Assisi on the Umbria eBike adventure. Catarina and her daughter will spoil you as no one has ever done before.

6. Wine

There are some ‘super Umbrian’ wines and they stand against any of the great Tuscan wines. Try the white, 100%, Grechetto for example. Or, if red wine is your preference, the Sagrantino of Montefalco is deep, heavier and more complex.

Here is a great tip - search around the shores of Lake Trasimeno for some small, distinctive vineyards who produce unique wines enabled by the Trasimeno micro climate.

Wine in Umbria doesn't break the bank either. What would you pay in the UK, USA or Australia for an average bottle of red in a restaurant? In Umbria, in a restaurant, you pay around €20 - €30 for a great bottle of the award-winning Sagrantino di Montefalco aged 10 years.

Do not, what ever you do, miss the ‘passito’ and Vin Santo’ sweet and desert wines.


7. Umbria Countryside & Wildlife

In Italy, Umbria is known as ‘the green heart of Italy’. A large amount of the region remains wild and untamed. The high ridges are covered in scrub oak which harbours many species of wildlife - cinghiale (wild boar), deer, porcupine, tortoise, coypu and eagles.

The native flora and forna is just as exciting - wild herbs in abundance and fruits to adore. Truffle, fungi porcini, berries, and endless varieties of mushrooms. Personal favourites are wild fennel and figs. Nothing like riding along the road and pulling a fish fig from the tree and eating it.

Should you see and old lady by the roadside, bent over, a small wicker basket by her side, she is most likely collecting herbs for cooking. Please give her wide berth!


8. Umbrian Surprises

Drive to the top of Monte Cucco and look west over all of Umbria. The viewpoint is at around 1,100m ASL and the view is simply wonderful. Central Italy laid out before you.

Drive to Lake Trasimeno and at first sight, you are taken aback at its vast expanse. Such a huge body of water that you’ve never previously heard of.

Umbria is home to the tallest man-made waterfall in the world at 165m -  Cascata delle Marmore. Where spring time in the stunningly colourful Piana di Castelluccio becomes a valley of rainbow colour.


9. Assisi

Any visit to Umbria is incomplete without a visit to Assisi - the city of peace - and the birthplace of St. Francis, widely known as the patron saint of animals.

Assisi has an extraordinary atmosphere. We love to visit on Christmas eve.

Today Assisi is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Just make time to wander around this wonderful old town.


10. Umbria’s Undiscovered Gems

Montone, Gubbio, Bevagna, Preggio to Perugia - there are a plethora of hill-top gems to be discovered. Walk through the gate and find that you are the only person around. No, not tourist, person. Many of the smaller hill top villages particularly in the Apennines have very small permanent populations, almost abandoned. You wonder what history these places have seen, what hardship, what life.

Yet places such as Bevagna and Gubbio, both very accessible, remain relatively quiet, calm and enjoyable.


11. The Art & Craft of Umbria

Art and craft is abundant throughout Umbria.

Michelangelo told Pietro ‘Perugino’, one of Umbria’s most famous artist sons, to his face that he was a ‘bungler in art’ (goffo nell arte). In return, ‘Perugino’ brought an action for defamation of character, unsuccessfully.

Historical art is very accessible, but we encourage you to also look carefully at the more contemporary artists at work today in the Umbrian hills. There are many private galleries in the small towns! Local to where we live are artists John Littlewood and Peter Bartlett. Recently passed is Robbie Duff-Scott.

The art is everywhere. The famous pottery of Deruta where modern and traditional designs decorate all manner of ceramic items produced locally. The cashmere of Brunello Cucinelli is another example of wonderful design and local craft.


12. Umbrian’s - the people

Warm, welcoming and friendly. This is what Umbrian people are.

We Umbrian's exist at our own pace. Family is put first and foremost. In my village, I love to see the grandchildren walking with their great grandparents along the country roads.

In my village store, when the door bursts open, there is a smiling shout of ‘buongiorno’. It is not aimed at anyone in particular. It is addressed to everyone in the store.

Let me give you a different example. Our local doctors surgery has no receptionist. As patients arrive to see their doctor, a little like the village shop, they announce their arrival to those gathered in the waiting room with ‘buongiorno’. Then comes the key question, “who is the last person waiting for Dr. So-and-so?” Someone inevitably raises their hand. There is no fuss. No fluster. They sit and wait. All very organised, civil and friendly.


13. Umbria Weather & Seasons

The seasons in Umbria are still measured by traditional values.

When the snow falls across the high Apennines and winter frosts outline the valley oaks. On the Umbria/Marche borders, there are a handful of small ski areas to choose from.

Springtime with the wild blossoms and blooms lining the ridges, the warming breezes make it ideal for cycling trips.

The high heat of July and August are marked by the plumes of white dust lifting from the strada biancha, the cooling of the swimming pool and for those more adventurous, a swim in Lake Trasimeno. For a few brave souls, there are summer thermal currents that lift the hang gliders and paraglider pilots from places such as Subasio and Monte Cucco, a world-class hang gliding site.

Autumn enters with the subtle odour of wood smoke, fresh porcini fungi on the menu and girls wrapped in long scarfs.


14. Music Festivals: Umbria Jazz | Trasimeno Blues | Festival Dei Due Mondi Spoleto

We saw Tony Bennett at Umbria Jazz. He was just amazing. He is just one of the headline acts to have graced the stage here. Sting, James Taylor, Jamie Cullum and Elton John - all have graced the stage of Umbria Jazz, probably the biggest event of its kind in this part of Italy.

It isn’t all headline acts though. The Umbrian’s do love their music as a visit to any small village festa shows. Watch the locals line dance, Cha-Cha-Cha and Waltz their ways across the village stage.It is so impressive. I have watched them for hours as I have not learnt this particular skill - I have tried.

There are a lot of music events in Umbria like the Trasimeno Blues Festival. The lake resounds to the beat of saxophones, bass and great rhythm. Travel south for 35 mins to Spoleto for a change of tempo and atmosphere for opera, dance and theatre at the ‘Festival Dei Due Mondi Spoleto’



Once visited, Umbria leaves its mark on you. Its beauty, simplicity, warmth and welcome are uniquely Umbrian. We hope that you’ll try it, maybe try an Inspired ITALY eBike trip.



Umbria features as part of the following eBike adventures ...


- Our Umbria eBike Safari - Guided, 7 Nights - CLICK HERE

- Italys Rural Heart - GPS Guided, 7 Nights - CLICK HERE

- Essence of Umbria - GPS Guided, 5 night - CLICK HERE

- Italy’s Unknown Umbria - GPS Guided, 7 night - CLICK HERE