Umbria is located in central Italy, neighbored by Tuscany, Marche and Lazio. This area has some incredible historic hillside towns such as Orvieto , Perugia and Assisi and the often unheard of Gubbio, Todi, Spoleto Norcia and the medieval Bevagna. Umbria is also a region where the food, art and architecture are all present. Orvieto’s duomo is one of Italy’s most splendid cathedrals; Spoleto and Perugia enjoy summer festivals and Assisi has its Basilica di San Francesco containing frescoes by Giotto. If you love outstanding scenery Monti Sibillini and its town Norcia is a magnificent stop famed for its truffles, hams and cheeses.
Set like a gem in the heart of Italy, Umbria is perfect for those who love nature and want to discover its woods, castles, sanctuaries
Italy’s green heart, Umbria is a land unto itself, the only Italian region that borders neither the sea nor another country. Removed from outside influences, it has kept alive many of Italy’s old-world traditions. You’ll see grandmothers in aprons making pasta by hand and front doors that haven’t been locked in a century.
Separated from Le Marche by the jagged spine of the Monti Sibillini, it contrasts wild, in-your-face beauty with the gentle fall and rise of overlapping hills and wildflower-flecked meadows. The Etruscans, Romans and medieval feuding families have left their indelible imprint on its pretty hill towns, where history seems to creep up on you on every corner – from the Gothic wonder of Orvieto to Assisi’s saintly calling.
Foodies are in their element here, with the rich earthiness of the tartufo (truffle), fine cured meats from Norcia and full-bodied local wines finding their way onto menus.
This region comprises mainly hills, mountains, hollows and plains and extends along the Tiber’s central basin.
At the heart of the boot, it is the only region with no coastline. The charm of Umbria derives from its fusion of art, nature, peace and calm, the inspirations behind its various localities that comprise Renaissance masterpieces and small Medieval towns embedded in the hills.
It includes Lake Trasimeno, central Italy’s largest lake. The area still has the remains of Etruscan settlements, particularly around Castiglione del Lago, where the loveliness of the natural landscape combines with the romanticism and stillness of the lake.
Moving on from the two lakes, we come to the Cascate delle Marmore waterfalls near Terni, some of the most beautiful in Europe.
The waters dive into the River Nera with a spectacular 165 m (541 ft) drop, and are surrounded by lush vegetation. This is the spot for sports lovers who enjoy canoeing, kayaking, and not only.
Still in the province of Terni, tourists looking to get the feel of Umbria should not miss out on two little gems: one of them is linked to history and the other to the territory. Carsulae is an ancient Roman town traversed by the ancient Via Flaminia, where important public buildings have been discovered. We can still see the remains of the S. Damiano Arch, with particularly beautiful and fascinating surroundings.
The other gem, closely linked to the area’s makeup is the Dunarobba Fossil Forest, a rare example of a forest that existed 3 million years ago, with very well-preserved tree trunks set in a lunar landscape.
Basilica di San Francesco.
Visible for miles around, the Basilica di San Francesco is the jewel in the spiritual and architectural crown of Assisi’s Unesco World Heritage ensemble. For almost six centuries, its twinset of churches have been a beacon to knee-crawling, blister-footed pilgrims, brown-robed friars, Italian art lovers and saintly sightseers.
The half-light and architectural restraint of the Romanesque lower church best embodies the ascetic, introspective spirit of Franciscan life, while the brighter upper church is a Gothic wonder, containing an elaborate tableau of frescoes. Divine works by Sienese and Florentine masters like Giotto, Cimabue, Pietro Lorenzetti and Simone Martini represent an artistic weather-vane for stylistic developments across the ages.
Between art and spirituality, a visit to the Medieval town of Assisi is essential; a UNESCO World Heritage Site,its represents “a series of masterpieces of man‘s creative spirit.” Everything revolves around its most renowned citizen, St. Francis, Patron Saint of Italy: from the Basilica, which is dedicated to the Saint and contains his tomb, to the hermitage (Eremo delle Carceri), a few kilometers outside the town walls, where St. Francis used to retreat in prayer.
Assisi is very welcoming and lively, and its inhabitants seem to want to share their age-old traditions with visitors; Calendimaggio, for instance, is a splendid historical commemoration that turns Assisi into an old Medieval town inhabited by knights and ladies, bowmen and standard-bearers that belong to a distant, far-off past.
Near Terni, the Cascate delle Marmore waterfalls attract visitors from every part of Europe, not only for the splendor of their waters but also for the possiblities to canoe and kayak, and for the child-friendly itineraries that include exciting tours through the Umbrian terrain.
Gubbio is one of these, the oldest village in Umbria that reached its full splendor in the Middle Ages; the Cathedral; the Consul’s Palace, symbol of the town; and the Ducal Palace are just some of the attractions that testify to Gubbio’s status as a jewel of Umbria. Gubbio not only attracts visitors with its art, but also with its spectacular traditional festivals like the Corsa dei Ceri (Candle Race) and the Palio Balestra (a Medieval crossbow contest on horseback). The former takes place in honor of the Patron Saint, the latter in memory of its ancient past. Another of the countless charming Umbrian cities is Orvieto, with its famous Duomo, one of the masterpieces of Italian Gothic art, and St. Patrick’s Well, a 62-meter-deep (203 feet) feat of engineering characterized by two spiral staircases that wind around the well (yet never meet), with 248 steps down to the water.
Spoleto, a picturesque town that boasts a thousand-year-old history, still preserves images from the past in its Medieval and Renaissance architecture.
Its stone lanes and its most famous monuments are the setting for international cultural events, such as the Festival of the Two Worlds, a wonderful occasion for enjoying a high-quality artistic atmosphere.
Perugia, Umbria’s main city dates back to Antiquity and is composed of a higher section on the hill, whence the Medieval villages spread out on its slopes. The historic center teems with cultural and architectural masterpieces, with one of the most extensive museum collections in Italy. With its vibrant cultural center, two universities and internationally-influential expos, Perugia is a great draw for tourists that also offers a cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Orvieto Nothing can prepare you for the visual feast that is Orvieto’s Gothic cathedral, begun in 1290. The black-and-white marble banding of the main body of the church is overshadowed by the rainbow frescoes, jewel-like mosaics, bas-reliefs and delicate braids of flowers and vine – as intricate as embroidery – adorning the facade. Bathed gold at dusk, it is a soul-stirring sight to behold.
The building took 30 years to plan and three centuries to complete. It was started by Fra Bevignate and later additions were made by Sienese master Lorenzo Maitani, Andrea Pisano (of Florence Cathedral fame) and his son Nino Pisano, Andrea Orcagna and Michele Sanicheli.
Inside, Luca Signorelli’s fresco cycle The Last Judgement shimmers with life. Look for it to the right of the altar in the Cappella di San Brizio . Signorelli began work on the series in 1499, and Michelangelo is said to have taken inspiration from it. Indeed, to some, Michelangelo’s masterpiece runs a close second to Signorelli’s work. The Cappella del Corporale houses a 13th-century altar cloth stained with blood that miraculously poured from the communion bread of a priest who doubted the transubstantiation.
Next to the cathedral is the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo , which houses a clutter of religious relics from the cathedral, as well as Etruscan antiquities and works by artists such as Simone Martini and the three Pisanos: Andrea, Nino and Giovanni.
The coolest place in Orvieto (literally), this series of 440 caves has been used for millennia by locals for various purposes, including as WWII bomb shelters, refrigerators, wells and, during many a pesky Roman or barbarian siege, as dovecotes to trap the usual one-course dinner: pigeon (still seen on local restaurant menus as palombo ).
The 45-minute tours (with English-speaking guides) leave from in front of the tourist office.
The Wines of …
What is interesting about Umbria is it Its wine production is terraced vineyards cut into the Umbrian hillsides tend to be the way vineyards are planted . Umbria produces only one third of Tuscany its famous sister, like Tuscany Sangiovese is the principal character in the reds with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot making inroads to the indigenous varieties. Here they enjoy two DOCGs for their reds. Sagrantino from the the Montefalco area. This is variety is highly desirable when it is controlled with vineyard management and looked after with great care in the caller, it has massive tannins and ageing potential and could like the Southern Aglianico become a real force to be reckoned with. The second DOCG which is less well known is Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG which is Sangiovese based with up to 30% of the once great Canaiolo which only now is starting to be shown as a varietal too.
As for Umbrian Whites nearly 60% of the total wine produced is white. Orvieto is the most well known and is based on the Trebbiano grape, Fortunately this wildly overbearing vine can be tamed and wines of concentration and complexity have turned the tide of watery whites. Chardonnay is also being blended with an indigenous variety Grechetto which is providing some extremely interesting wines. Grechetto is also used to make Vin Santo.
Umbria, in central Italy, is a region of lush rolling hills, hilltop villages and iconic, historic towns (exemplified by Orvieto and Assisi). Its annual wine production of around one million hL (26 million gallons) is less than one third that of neighboring Tuscany, and makes it the country’s fourth-smallest wine-producing region by volume. Located at the very heart of the Italian Peninsula, it is hemmed in by its neighbors Tuscany, Marche and Lazio, and is in fact the only Italian region with neither a coastline nor an international border.
Orvieto, Umbria’s most famous wine town
As at mid-2010 only around 17% of the wines produced were of DOC level, although the quality and prominence of the region’s wines are on the rise. This progression can be attributed in part to the employment of consulting oenologists, a practice common in the quality wine areas of Tuscany, Piedmont and Friuli during the 1980s and 1990s. This investment has markedly improved wine based on Sangiovese (the region’s principal red variety), but many of the high-quality new wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir for the reds, or Chardonnay for the whites. An Umbrian style has evolved for Chardonnay blended with Grechetto, which is barrel fermented. As these new wines cost a fraction of the price of those from neighboring Tuscany, they attract considerable interest at home and internationally.
The climate of Umbria is similar to that of Tuscany – cold, rainy winters and dry summers with abundant sunshine. The exception to this is the area west of Perugia, where temperatures are moderated by the waters of Lake Trasimeno (the largest lake on the Italian Peninsula). The majority of the region’s vineyard plantings are along terraces cut into the hillsides, which is reflected in a number of the area’s DOC names (colli means ‘hills’).
Umbria, just like the central regions of Marches and Lazio, is best known for its white-wine production: nearly 60% of wine produced is white. Despite changes in style over time, Orvieto (based on the Trebbiano grape) remains the region’s largest DOC and accounts for 80% of the overall wine production. Trebbiano is also referred to as Procanico in Umbria, although some believe it to be a superior clone, with smaller grape bunches which produces a finer wine.
Although best-known for its white wines, Umbria’s two DOCGs are for red wines. The native grape Sagrantino has gained prominence in the Montefalco area, creating wines of great depth and power, so it was no surprise when Montefalco Sagrantino received DOCG classification in 1992. The second of the region’s DOCG wines is Torgiano Rosso Riserva. There are 11 DOCs (see links below for more information), and 6 IGTs (Allerona, Bettona, Cannara, Narni, Spello and the region-wide Umbria IGT).
The Food and Cuisine of Umbria
Umbria cuisine is distinct from the others despite its small size. Visitors are drawn to Umbria because of the gracious nature of the locals. Having no access to the oceans has limited Umbria cooking to the land based food, but the variety of dishes is no less plentiful for it. Many of dishes rely on cooked and raw vegetables. Locally grown lentils, cardoons, porcini mushrooms and chestnuts are important staple foods in Umbria recipes. Cardoons are fried and then topped with a meat and tomato sauce in gobbi alla perugina. The region’s olive trees are responsible for making some of the best olive oil in Italy.
Fresh produce and fruity, local olive oil, foraged greens, mushrooms and truffles create luscious dishes without the need for additional ingredients in Umbria cooking. White truffles are a delicacy eaten fresh in Umbria cuisine. Norcia provides most of Italy’s black truffles. Umbria recipes use truffles to elevate the plainest egg, pasta or meat dishes to a gourmet meal. They are also made into a paste with garlic and anchovies. Black truffles are used in many ways, including to flavor local Pecorino cheese.
Shepherding is important to the local economy, so sheep’s milk cheese is an important staple food. Unlike most of Italy where Pecorini (plural for wheels of Pecorino cheese) are aged in salt, Umbrian cheeses may be rubbed with tomato paste or buried in ashes in terracotta urns to age. Some cheeses are aged in cool natural caves. Each of these aging methods gives unique texture and flavor to the final results. Generally this cheese is eaten plain or with preserved vegetables or meats, fresh fruits or simply out of hand with a glass of wine.
The local lentils are of especially high quality. Umbria cooking uses fava beans to make a hearty soup seasoned with pork rinds and rosemary. Onion soup is flavored with tomatoes, salt preserved pork, fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese.
Fresh water fish is available for Umbria recipes. They are often made into a mixed stew called tegamaccio. This food combines pike, carp, eels and tench with garlic and peppers. Anguille alle brace marinates fresh water eels in white wine seasoned with pepper and bay leaves before grilling.
Meat is a large part of Umbria cooking. Poultry, wild game and roasts are cooked over pans filled with herbs. The drippings are collected and made into a sauce after the meat is finished cooking. Chianina beef, tender lamb, wood pigeon and free range chicken are commonly eaten food. Agnello arrosto takes baby lamb, smothers it with garlic, rosemary and sage and covers everything with olive oil in a roasting pan. This pan is placed in the dying coals of a wood oven and slowly cooked until tender. Wood fire roasted wood pigeons are dressed with a chicken liver, wine, vinegar and lemon sauce seasoned with rosemary and juniper berries in palombacci alla ghiotta.
Boar and hare are especially enjoyed in Umbria recipes. Lepre alla cacciatora braises hare in red wine and is flavored with garlic, sage and bay leaves.
Norcia is well known for the quality and variety of their cured pork products. Over time, Norcia has come to be the general Italian term for butcher, due to the quality of the meats from this area. In addition to the salame, Umbria produces mazzafegati, a pungent sausage made from liver and flavored with pignolas, raisins and orange rind. Porchetta from Umbria is also very highly prized. Proscuitto may as well be synonymous with the famous Prosciutto di Norcia.
Much of the dried pasta used as food in Italy comes from Umbria, but many handmade kinds of egg pasta are also eaten in Umbria cuisine. Tagiatelle with meat sauces are popular. Hand rolled ciriole and stringozzi look somewhat like the more familiar spaghetti. These are often enjoyed with a fresh sauce of black olives, tomatoes and garlic. Spaghetti alla nursina is served with black truffle sauce lightly kissed with the flavors of anchovy and garlic.
Bakers in Umbria use wood ovens to make giant saltless loaves of pane casereccio. Tore, springy pecorino or pork rind flavored breads, are made from an egg enriched wheat flour dough. Pan nociato are sweet rolls with pecorino, walnuts and grapes flavored with cloves. A similar bun, called pan pepato, is filled with almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts with raisins and candied fruit. Other desserts include torcolo, a sponge cake brimming with raisins and candied fruit, or claramicola. This meringue covered round cake is made with a rich eggy batter flavored with lemon rind and a spicy liqueur called Alchermes.
Fresh & Cured Meats:
Prosciutto di Norcia PGI, Salamini italiani alla cacciatora PDO, Vitellone Bianco dell’Appennino Centrale PGI
Pecorino Toscano PDO
Lenticchia di Castelluccio di Norcia PGI
Umbria, a small region with great tastes, satisfies all palates: the best dish for meat lovers is pork, masterfully treated by Umbrian butchers who turn the meat into delicacies like sausages, tasty hams and salami, like those of Norcia, to eat with unsalted bread that brings out the taste.
The best of Umbria’s cheeses are mature pecorino sheep’s cheese and fresh or ripe goat’s milk cheese.
The lentils of Castelluccio di Norcia, a tasty ingredient for soups, main courses or side dishes, were awarded the PGI mark by the European Union (Protected Geographical Indication).
This rich array of dishes goes hand-in-hand with the genuine quality of the products, including the truffle, the most precious of all. The most common variety is the black truffle, very popular with pasta or with game, especially in the area of Norcia and Spoleto, but more valuable white truffles can be found as well, particularly in the Tiberina Valley, Orvieto and Gubbio.
Everything is seasoned with the golden and fruity olive oil produced in this region, which enhances any dish without upstaging the flavor; Umbrian oil of high quality is awarded with a PDO quality mark (Protected Designation of Origin).
For dessert, you must try the typical Umbrian cake, panpepato, and other regional desserts made according to centuries-old recipes.
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THE WHITSITT CLARENDON TOUR OF ITALY 2019Tim did an excellent job interleaving wine with exploring Italy, keeping it balanced so that we didn't get overwhelmed with tastings. Our palates were primed before going to each region: on the eve before going to Tuscany, he recommended we explore the fabled Brunello and several other Sangiovese-centric wines. By...James Clarendon