The allure of Umbria
Some fiercely proud Umbrians will tell you there’s a reason that this scenic region’s name is similar to ombra, Italian for shadow, as they are convinced they have been unfairly cast in the shadow of their neighbours Tuscany.
Umbria’s 800,000 inhabitants take up just three per cent of Italy geographically. It’s most beautiful three per cent, they would argue. And with some reason.
Umbria is known as “the green heart of Italy”, situated as it is in the centre of Italy and with nearly half of its land mass taken over by numerous national parks, spectacular woods and leafy valleys.
It is not overrun by the hordes of tourists who besiege Tuscany to the west, and it is all the more delightful for it. The recent opening of an international airport at Perugia has boosted both tourism and real estate in Umbria.
Property for sale Umbria
Unsurprisingly, there has been a surge in the number of foreigners who come here seeking property for sale, Umbria offering properties to suit all tastes and budgets.
Contrary to popular belief, a villa, property for investment or a holiday apartment, flat, home or house in Umbria is far more affordable than one might think. The opening of Perugia’s airport has certainly seen a hike in prices around the city and surrounding areas, such as those close to the border with Tuscany, but if one moves slightly further away there are fantastic properties to be had that need not break the bank.
At Homes and Villas Abroad, for instance, we have two-bedroom property for sale in Umbria starting at just €69,000, a 90sq m farmhouse to restore in Umbria at just €95,000 and a 115sq m house in Umbria for just €150,000
Umbria has so many sights to take in that it is sometimes difficult to decide how best to plan your itinerary. If you fancy exploring Umbria from a single base, then choose Perugia, which has the best public transport links to the rest of the region.
Public transport is often a better option than a car as it means you don’t have to bother about finding parking space, which can be a problem in some of the region’s pedestrian-heavy hilltowns.
Besides, Umbria is so picturesque and unspoilt that large swathes of it are best appreciated on foot and many tourists do so via its numerous hiking trails.
St Francis of Assisi famously trekked from Assisi to Gubbio 40 kilometres away – although, admittedly, back in 1206 public transport was somewhat thin on the ground. One of the most popular tourist hikes is a two-day walk that follows in his epic footsteps, even spending a night at Vallingegno Abbey as the saint is said to have done.
Must-sees on your Italian visit to Umbria include Perugia, Assisi, Gubbio, Orvieto, Spoleto, Lake Trasimeno and the Cascata delle Marmore, the spectacular 165m waterfall created by the Romans just outside Terni.
Perugia, one of the great art cities of Italy, is home to just 150,000 people. Its best attractions include the Temple of Sant’Angelo, a 1,500-year-old church built on Roman ruins, and San Pietro medieval church, whose interior is covered in splendid frescos and paintings.
Be sure also to visit the city’s National Gallery of Umbria, which houses some great art from the renaissance era. The town is also famed for its jazz fiesta in summer, which attracted the likes of Eric Clapton. But as well as sweet music there are also sweet attractions: it hosts a Eurochocolate Festival, a honeypot for aficionados from across the continent.
Walking around Perugia’s streets is the ideal way of burning off any surplus calories. But if the mere thought of that tires you out, there is a handy series of escalators leading through the town and running through an ancient Etruscan fort.
Or better still, console yourself with the thought that you can relax on the beaches of Lake Trasimeno, just 20km away. The lake, 15km across, is immensely popular with sunbathers, swimmers and fans of waterskiing, sailing and other aquatic sports. Be sure to venture onto the lake’s Isola Maggiore.
Meanwhile, medieval pageantry has always been a huge part of Umbrian tradition. Take Gubbio, one of Italy’s best preserved medieval towns, which also boasts a large Roman amphitheatre.
On May 15, Gubbio hosts the 900-year-old Candle Race, in which locals pack the streets to watch a procession of three 10ft high, 700lb wooden candles being carried to the town’s basilica. An archery competition is also held here on the final Sunday in May.
A few miles further south lies Gualdo Tadino, renowned or its ceramics and its natural spring water. There is also its 12th century Rocca Flea fort and its 13th century churches, especially the Church of St Francis. In the final week of September, Gualdo Tadino hosts a colourful three-day mediaeval games tournament called I Giochi Delle Porte (the games of the gates).
And then there is Assisi, a symphony in pink stone. Perugia may be Umbria’s capital, but here in Assisi lies its spiritual and artistic soul. Its No1 attraction is the giant church complex – consisting of two basilicas – where St Francis lies. A 1997 quake inflicted significant damage on the 13th century edifice but it has since been painstakingly restored.
Other charming places worth a visit include Spello, a charming, traffic-free walled town of well-preserved historic Roman gates, pink stone houses, steep streets and enchanting alleys and, bizarrely, a statue of St Peter with a meat cleaver embedded in his skull.
Further south lies Spoleto. Here there is a Roman theatre still in use and a splendid 12th century cathedral. Every summer the town is taken over by the two-week Festival Dei Due Mondi (festival of two worlds), a musical event drawing stars from all over the globe. Heading westwards brings you to Todi, which boasts a splendid cathedral and medieval central square, and Orvieto, known for its 13th century cathedral and fine wines.