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Todi, Umbria

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Todi in Umbria has been named by researchers at Kentucky University in the US as “the most livable town in the world”. A bold claim. But one that this picturesque hilltown does its best to live up to.

Make no mistake – while Todi may be small, with a population of just over 17,000, it is perfectly formed. It is spectacularly perched atop two hills, some 1,550ft above sea level and on the River Tiber’s east bank. Although it still relies heavily on its agriculture, it has increasingly become a mecca for visitors who want to experience the green, tranquil heart of Italy away from the helter-skelter of tourist hotspots in neighbouring Tuscany.

And increasing numbers are choosing to invest in Todi property as the town is surprisingly affordable. For instance, at our real estate in Todi will typically start at around €90,000 – and sometimes even less.

Despite its relatively small size, picturesque Todi is not short of glamour. For one thing, several movies have been filmed here, thanks in no small part to its breathtaking landscape. Arguably the most famous – or perhaps infamous – was the ill-fated 1963 epic Cleopatra, which accounts for the photos of a young Elizabeth Taylor that cling to the walls of some of Todi’s bars and restaurants.

Its Piazza del Popolo is undoubtedly Todi’s star attraction – the square, dating from the 13th century, to which Todi’s multitude of visitors are drawn like a magnet. Many guidebooks hail it as the best medieval piazza not just in Umbria but all Italy and a number of film scenes are shot here. The piazza’s main feature is the Duomo, which sits on top of a flight of steps. Work on it began in the 12th century and took two further centuries to complete. Its flat, square facade is embellished by a rose window and an ornately decorated doorway.

Inside, there is a 14th century altarpiece by Giannicolo di Paolo. However, it’s fair to say the jury is split on Ferrau da Faenza’s 16th century Last Judgment, loosely based on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterpiece. The piazza’s other principal buildings are the Palazzo del Capitano (begun in 1290) next door, the Palazzo del Popolo (1213) which in turn is next to it, and the Palazzo dei Priori (1293-1337).

The Palazzo del Capitano, the square’s southernmost building, is home to Todi’s art gallery and Etruscan-Roman museum. It is also linked by a grand Gothic staircase to Palazzo del Popolo. The Palazzo dei Priori, meanwhile, houses Todi town hall. A short walk away lies the town’s most famous monument other than the piazza – the church of San Fortunato, which crowns Todi’s other hill. It took some 170 years to build between the 13th and 15th centuries but the facade was never completed.

If you fancy a siesta, stroll along the stony path that runs past the church and have a breather in the Giardino Pubblico (Public Gardens), which is full of cool, shaded nooks and crannies. Also worth taking in is the Rocca, a huge round tower which is all that remains of Todi’s 13th century citadel.

But for the most spectacular of Todi’s churches, one has to gaze at Santa Maria della Consolazione, which was finally finished in 1607 after nearly a century and which sits amid the green wooded slopes and pastures at the foot of the hill. See for yourself why Victorian travellers hailed it as Italy’s finest Renaissance church.

In addition, be sure to visit the Piazza del Vecchio Mercato, the old market square. Along one side it has four Roman arches called Nicchioni (niches). Their original purpose when first erected in around 1AD is shrouded in mystery but they are most often thought to have formed part of a temple or basilica.

Three minutes’ walk away lies the Fonte Scarnabecco, an arched fountain erected in 1241, which in the days before piped water served as a popular social gathering point. During your time here, venture also onto Via Giacomo Matteotti and look out for a trio of concentric walls demarcating the town’s medieval, Roman and Umbrian city limits.

Getting there

Most visitors will find their easiest route is flying into Perugia international airport, from where Todi is a short 30-minute drive by car. Alternatively, take one of the regular buses or regular trains to one of Todi’s two stations, Ponte Rio and Ponte Naia. Of the two, the former probably has the better bus connections into town.  

 

 

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