The green heart of Italy (il cuore verde d’Italia), from a poem by Carducci, Umbria is the only region in Italy whose borders touch neither the sea nor another nation. Tuscany lies to its west, Marche to the east (they meet in the north), and Lazio to its south. A world apart, Umbria is known for fecund landscapes, ancient traditions, and a slow, sweet pace of life.
From medieval village festivals that feel like a giant step back in time to the breathtaking frescoes of the Italian Renaissance masters, from the unique, earthy cuisine to the refreshing Grechetto grape, discovering Umbria is well worth the effort. And surrendering to the Umbrian culture of slow living will make for a deliciously memorable and resonant trip.
Umbria is also two worlds in one: partly hilly and mountainous, owing to the Apennines; partly flat and fertile around the Tiber River, which flows southward, roughly bisecting the region. Umbria’s largest lake, Trasimeno, sits to the north and west, near the Tuscan border.
Speaking of its most famous neighbor, Umbria is often considered merely an extension of Tuscany. But the region is home to important cultural and historic centers all its own. Heart of the green heart is Perugia, the regional capital and recognized for its university. Other gems include Assisi (a World Heritage Site), Gubbio, Spoleto, Orvieto, and the other smaller towns of Castiglione del Lago, Bevagna, and Spello that we are going to visit on our tour.
Its name comes from the tribe of Umbri who occupied these lands before the Etruscans invaded and took power in roughly 700 BC. The Etruscans, in turn, were conquered by the expansion of Rome whose rulers established colonies such as Spoletium (Spoleto) and built the Via Flaminia, which would become the principal route by which the Romans accessed Umbria.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Lombards, the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire all found temporary footholds in Umbria. Following Napoleon’s defeat, the Pope held and ruled Umbria until 1860 after which, during the Italian Risorgimento (sometimes translated as “resurrection” “renewal” or “renaissance”), it was annexed by King Vittorio Emanuele II. A year later, it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy.
Umbria consists of the two provinces of Perugia and Terni. The regional economy is grounded in agriculture (principally olive oil and vineyards) and, starting in the late 19th century, steelworks and hydroelectric power in the south. Ornamental ceramics are also an ancient and revered industry here.
In terms of cuisine, Umbria is celebrated for its olive oil, legumes, including the tiny, sweet lenticchie di Castelluccio (lentils from the hamlet of Castelluccio—we have a wonderful recipe using these!), and cured meats and truffles from the area around Norcia. The onions from Cannara are special enough to have earned their own local festival.
The native grapes of Grechetto and Sagrantino di Montefalco offer up the best expressions of white and red wines, respectively. Sagrantino has deep historic ties to the territory and microclimate of Montefalco, and is considered by many to be a rising star among the Italian reds. With ancient Greek origins, Grechetto boasts thick skins, high sugars and late harvest times, making it suitable for dry and sweet wines alike.
“Unwind in Umbria” is a chance to discover the natural, cultural and gastronomical wonders of this verdant land. With Food.Stories.Travel. Founder and Tour Leader Cristiano Bonino, take a delicious journey to discover why and how Umbria earned its name the green heart of Italy.
Ti aspettiamo! We are waiting for you!
UNWIND IN UMBRIA
Minimum of 6 participants, maximum of 16, with a maximum guide-to-guest ratio of 1 to 8
DATES (7 days)
For more info, dates and availability please contact us
Per person in double occupancy: from $3,050
(tour price will vary and contingent upon availability of cozy agriturismi and 3-star hotels or more elegant 4-star hotels)
Single Supplement: $490
In addition, we pledge to donate more than 1% of your trip price to food literacy and environmental non profit organizations
- Discover the UNESCO Sites of the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, its frescoes, and the Basilica of San Salvatore in Spoleto; Explore Orvieto underground and its Cathedral
- Visits and tastings to wine, pastries, olive oil makers and meet a local macramé artist, a ceramist and a paper maker
- Enjoy some of the native grapes of Umbria, such as Grechetto and Sagrantino di Montefalco
- Relax in unique, 3- or 4-star hotels distinctively representing the local cultures and traditions
- Hypnotic hikes to Civita, the Hermitage of Saint Francis in Assisi and above Gubbio up to the basilica of Saint Ubaldo
- Delve into Etruscan, Roman, Lombard and medieval histories, traditions and culture in this unique area in central Italy
- Meals and food stories with two local families in an agriturismo near Orvieto and in Spello with live folk music; meet a local farmer specializing in permaculture
- Explore must-see places such as Spoleto, Orvieto, Assisi, and discover lesser-known villages such as Gubbio, Civita di Bagnoregio and some of the Most Beautiful Villages of Italy such as Spello, Castiglione del Lago, and Bevagna
Italians call it “the green heart of Italy” and Umbria shares plenty of history with its neighbor Tuscany, though far less of the fanfare. But Umbria has charms all its own. From medieval village festivals that feel like a giant step back in time to the breathtaking frescoes of the Italian Renaissance masters, from the unique, earthy cuisine to the refreshing Grechetto grape, discovering Umbria is well worth the effort. And surrendering to the Umbrian culture of slow living will make for a deliciously memorable and resonant trip.
Take your time and unwind in the green heart of Italy. Benvenuti in Umbria!
Our journey begins in the dramatic hill town of Orvieto, which the Etruscans built upon a flat butte of volcanic stone. Elevated at more than 1,000 feet, it was advantageous for warding off invaders. Today, the city’s heights make for striking and memorable views from above and below.
After lunch on your own we start with an introductory meeting in the lobby of our hotel at 2 p.m., followed by a walk in town together. The cathedral of Orvieto is a definite highlight, with one of the most colorful and ornate facades of any in Italy. Inside, we find the Italian Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli’s massive frescoes of the Last Judgment, considered his masterpiece. Signorelli was revered for his talent in conveying stories through actions and gestures. He inspired the young Michelangelo, who meticulously studied Signorelli’s work.
Tonight we toast the start of our tour in a local restaurant featuring traditional regional recipes and grapes.
This morning, we move from one pedestaled city to another, crossing from Umbria into Lazio in the process. Like Orvieto, Civita too was built by Etruscans, over 2,500 years ago. We enjoy an invigorating two-hour hike (we’ll make a loop) or simply take a lift in our van.
Following an earthquake in the 17th century, the seat of government was forced to move to nearby Bagnoregio (formerly, just a suburb of Civita). By the 1800s, the pace of erosion had quickened, and the Italian began to refer to the perched city as il paese che muore (“the town that is dying”). Despite this, Civita is an architectural feat, one that has been relatively unaltered since its founding. The population today varies from a dozen in winter to about 100 in summer.
Following ambles in Civita and lunch on your own, we return to Orvieto in the late afternoon. After some time to rest and freshen up, we explore the city’s spectacular labyrinth of underground caves and tunnels. Created over the centuries, today the underground includes more than 1200 tunnels, galleries, wells, stairs, cellars and cisterns. Many of Orvieto’s noble families had direct access to the underground, giving them means of escape when the city fell under siege. A local family gives us a guided tour of their privately owned caves and afterwards we enjoy dinner in their restaurant with homemade Umbrian recipes.
After breakfast, we set out for Castiglione del Lago, uno dei Borghi più Belli d’Italia (one of the Most Beautiful Villages of Italy in English). This is a project that promotes the great heritage of history, art, culture, environment and traditions found in small Italian towns off the beaten paths. Situated on the shores of Lake Trasimeno, we allow plenty of time to stroll and soak in the elaborate fortress, ordered by Frederic II of Swabia around 1247.
As part of the commission, the entire original ancient village was destroyed and rebuilt. Upon Frederic’s death, three years later, Perugia took possession and completed the imperial plan. The fortress has an irregular pentagonal shape. Eventually round towers replaced the original ones as round surfaces proved better defense against cannon fire.
In a nearby agriturismo, we take in a cooking demonstration, farm visit, and enjoy lunch together before returning to Orvieto in the late afternoon. Dinner tonight is on your own but please ask us for suggestions!
Today we head for Assisi. On the way, we stop in Spoleto to explore the Roman and Lombard imprints on this quintessential Umbrian town. Situated at the head of a large valley and surrounded by mountains, Spoleto has long enjoyed strategic positioning. It was important to the original Umbri tribes, who built walls around their settlement in the 5th century BC, some of which are still visible today.
Under the Roman Empire, Spoleto flourished. Owing to its elevated position it was an important stronghold. Later, under the Lombards, it was made the capital of an independent duchy before, in 774, becoming part of the Holy Roman Empire. Together with other fiefs, it was bequeathed to Pope Gregory VII by the powerful countess (and one of the most interesting women in political history) Matilda of Tuscany.
Make sure not to miss the UNESCO site of the Basilica of San Salvatore, one of the seven Longobards (or Lombards) monuments in Italy. After lunch on your own, we continue on to Bevagna, another of the Most Beautiful Villages of Italy. Here, we visit a local artisan who will show us how he still makes paper using a medieval technique. Every June, his work is featured at the local festival of Le Gaite, alongside with other noble crafts such as similar techniques working stone, wood, glass and iron.
Later today en route to Assisi we’ll visit a local farmer to learn more about permaculture, for sure one of the most sustainable forms of agriculture. Continue to Assisi and after check-in you can start to explore Saint Francis’s birthplace. We’ll unwind together over dinner in a local restaurant.
Start your day today enjoying the wonders of Assisi on your own. For a bit of a challenge, make the invigorating hike to the Eremo (Hermitage) of Saint Francis on Mount Subasio (or catch the van for a ride). The path here is well marked as this is part of the Via Francigena (the French Way, a pilgrimage route that used to connect Canterbury all the way to Rome), which overlaps with a walking trail inspired by the saint’s life. Your destination, the Eremo, is utterly captivating. You can walk through the hermitage, ducking your head and tucking through narrow doorways to see where Saint Francis prayed and contemplated. The grounds are beautifully tranquil, and worth some time.
Later this morning we meet our local friend and guide for an informative ~one-hour walking tour and a visit to a local pastry shop for a tasting. Afterward, or earlier this morning, be sure not to miss the extraordinary frescoes in the UNESCO site of the Basilica of Saint Francis, which was begun in 1228 and is built into the side of a hill. Comprised of two churches known as the Upper Church and the Lower Church, there is also a crypt containing the remains of the saint. Both Churches contain important frescoes by late medieval painters Cimabue, Giotto, Martini and Lorenzetti. Some are possibly by Cavallini as well.
From here we travel to Spello, yet a third of the Most Beautiful Villages of Italy, for a walk and lunch with a local family featuring macramé art in the old tradition and a performance by a local songwriter, originally from Rome, who is being honored in an upcoming book alongside no less than Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan! In the afternoon, we visit a local organic winery to taste the Umbrian native grapes of Grechetto and Sagrantino di Montefalco.
Dinner in Assisi tonight is on your own. Again, we are happy to make suggestions, so please ask!
Our final full day begins with a trip to Gubbio. On arrival, we visit a pottery maker to learn more about this noble and ancient art form for which Umbria is famous. In fact, one of the fifteen oldest businesses in the world is an Umbrian ceramics maker (the business is currently in its 24th generation!) Later, enjoy a 1-2-hour walk up to the church of Saint Ubaldo. Or, if you prefer, you can visit it taking a chairlift.
Lunch today in Gubbio is on your own. Explore this easy to walk authentic medieval town before we head back to Assisi to visit a local olive oil producer and enjoy a tasting. From here, we’ll commemorate our time together over a delicious local, traditional dinner and final toast to the journey!
After breakfast at 8:30am our 30-mins group transfer ends our tour at the train station in Foligno where you can catch a two-hour train to Rome Airport. Or, extend your stay in Umbria or in Rome. We are here to help. Arrivederci! (Goodbye in Italian) and we hope to see you again soon!
- 6 nights of accommodation in 3- or 4-star hotels
- 6 breakfasts and 2 lunches
- 4 dinners with either a 3- or 4-course menu
- Entry fees to the S. Brizio chapel in the Cathedral of Orvieto and in private caves owned by a local family
- 1 guided visit in Assisi and daily exposure to history, culture & cuisine of Umbria
- 1 visit and tasting to an olive oil maker and 1 to a wine maker
- Visit a macramé artist, a ceramicist and a paper maker using medieval techniques
- 3 optional 1-2-hour hikes in the region and daily walking opportunities
- 1 cooking demo with a local chef
- 1 visit to an agriturismo and 1 to a local family for lunch with folks live music
- Comfortable transportation by 9-seat van for all travel as cited in the itinerary
- Bilingual, professional Tour Leaders
- 1 group transfer to Foligno train station at the end of the tour
- Local taxes and gratuities for luggage porters and restaurant servers during tour
- 4 lunches and 2 dinners on your own
- Alcoholic beverages at group dinners (including wine and spirits)
- Round-trip airfare and expenses to/from the tour
- Trip cancellation, baggage loss or travel delay insurance (this optional coverage is highly recommended and is not provided by Food.Stories.Travel.)
- Gratuities for your Tour Leader
- Personal expenses, such as, but not limited to, phone calls, laundry, emails, snacks, gifts
Cristiano Bonino has led tours for North Americans all over Italy for more than thirteen years. Currently, he resides in the Boston area with his American wife. Cristiano likes to say that he has been “hybridizing” over the past three years in the U.S. He mixes the best of the both American and Italian cultures, which he loves, but never forgets his native roots in Turin.
This itinerary has been meticulously custom designed based on Cristiano’s unforgettable past experiences and favorite flavors. Every establishment you will visit has been personally vetted, tested and enjoyed by Cristiano himself and his team of experienced Tour Leaders.
In some cases we’ll take you to places you could not find by yourself or in a guidebook.