Travel experiences in Umbria are a combination of the cerebral and the sensual, from a plethora 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 around medieval streets or through beautiful pastoral countryside. Better still, you can enjoy variations of these experiences in all of Umbria’s many historic towns – all have one or more superb restaurants, say, or a wonderful little art gallery – as well as finding individual events, such as Spoleto’s annual arts festival, which are among the most renowned of their kind in Italy and beyond.
Soak up medieval charm
Despite its small size, Montefalco offers a variety of amazing 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 vineyard visits as an option; and the charm of its medieval center where there are a handful of tiny lanes and a stage set of a main square, the Piazza del Comune.
Inside 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 cycle on the Life of St Francis (1452) by Benozzo Gozzoli.
Explore a traditional Umbrian hillside town
Spello offers all the classic hill-town experiences, from wonderful medieval streets to explore to standout culture in the shape of vivid frescoes (1501) in Santa Maria Maggiore by Pinturicchio, and the Pinacoteca Civica Diocesana, a classic small-town museum.
Inside tip: Don’t try to drive in town. Instead, leave cars outside the walls in the car park at the top of town near the junction for 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.
Inside tip: Secret corners of Perugia include the medieval Via dei Priori; San Severo church (which has a Raphael fresco); San Pietro church; the raised medieval walkway north from close to Piazza Morlacchi; and the pretty area around Via del Sole.
Follow the footsteps of St Francis
Medieval and pink-stoned Assisi was the birthplace of St Francis and contains one of the region’s key artistic attractions: admiring the frescoes of Giotto and others in the saint’s burial place, the Basilica di San Francesco. While you’re here, check off other points on the St Francis trail – peaceful San Damiano, the Eremo delle Carceri and Basilica di Santa Chiara.
Inside tip: Assisi is among Italy’s most popular pilgrimage centers and is busy. Many visitors, though, are day trippers – stay the night and you’ll find the streets quieter come evening. Use the extra time to drive or hike over Monte Subasio towards Collepino and Spello.
Settle down in a tranquil town
Bevagna is an exception to Umbria’s hilltop rule: a tiny serene town on the plain, gathered 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 loveliest Romanesque churches: San Silvestro, from 1195, and the similarly venerable San Michele opposite.
Inside tip: There’s not much to Bevagna, but its tranquility and position make it a good base for exploring, with a handful of fine hotels and restaurants tucked away in the charming backstreets that would be the envy of far larger towns.
Watch performance art in a piazza
Spoleto is one of the most charming Umbrian hill-towns, with plenty of medieval and Roman monuments, but aim to combine them with one of Italy’s most magical cultural experiences: an outdoor opera, ballet or music recital under the stars in the magnificent Piazza del Duomo as part of the annual Spoleto Festival, one of Italy’s landmark cultural events each June and July.
Inside tip: Don’t just admire the Ponte delle Torri, a huge medieval aqueduct on the edge of town, but walk across it and turn left on the easy trail through the woods. You’ll come to fine views and peaceful olive groves in a matter of minutes.
Hike until you’re hungry
Remote, mountain-ringed Norcia offers two out-of-the ordinary Umbrian experiences: some remarkable food – it is one of Italy’s leading gastronomic centers, renowned for its truffles, ham, salamis, lentils, and cheeses – but also the chance for superlatives hiking in the Sibillini mountains to the east. Maps are available in town and trails are well-marked and well-worn.
Inside tip: Come in late May or early June to see the celebrated wildflowers—poppies, narcissi, peonies and more—that cover the Piano Grande, a vast upland plain above Norcia. Note, though, that earthquake damage means facilities are limited in the nearby village of Castelluccio.
Ride a funicular for fabulous views
Gubbio’s medieval appearance and the lovely mountainous backdrop, plus the relative lack of visitors, make this one of Umbria’s most pleasing towns. Visit the imposing Palazzo dei Consoli and its gallery and adjoining Piazza Grande; the Palazzo Ducale, built by Federigo da Montefeltro, the renowned Duke of Urbino; and take the exciting funicular ride to Mount Ingino above the town for fine views.
Inside tip: Walkers and outdoor enthusiasts, or drivers wanting a scenic hour or so, should head for the Parco Regionale del Monte Cucco, which protects a portion of the high Apennines near Gubbio on the border with the Marche.
Wander a tiny town’s piazza
Tiny Todi sits atop a perfect pyramid of a hill and gathers around a perfect early medieval piazza. Cafés line the piazza’s flanks, with the Duomo at one end and two palaces on its eastern side, that house the excellent Museo e Pinacoteca di Todi, with displays that trace the town’s history from its Etruscan origins.
Inside tip: Most visitors walk past the church of San Fortunato – a mistake, because the interior is airy and pleasing, and you can climb the church bell tower for views over the town’s rooftops and what seems like half of Umbria stretching to the horizon.
Admire a duomo’s dazzling facade
Orvieto is spectacularly perched on an immense 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 façade (300 years in the making), and partly because of Luca Signorelli’s graphic frescoes (1499-1504) of The Last Judgment in the interior.
Inside tip: Orvieto’s crag is riddled with 1200 caves, and tunnels that date back 3000 years to Etruscan times. Be sure to join one of the guided tours that take you on a fascinating odyssey through part of this labyrinth.