One of Rome’s most compelling and accessible historic sites is also one of its most underrated. Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port city, is full of ruins and monuments, some in even better condition than the famous Pompeii and easily accessible from the center of Rome.
Ah, day trips. There’s a fine art involved in planning a successful day trip while you’re traveling. Factor in some shopping for local delicacies, lunch at a great restaurant with Umbrian food, a tour of the underground caves, a quick trip around the cathedral and some time spent wandering the small streets in this medieval city and you've got yourself a perfect day in Orvieto.
For my first post of 2018, I want to share how I spend New Year’s Eve or Capodanno this year in Naples. Naples, which happens to be one of my favorite cities in Italy, is well-known for its crazy NYE celebrations. No where else in the country do people celebrate as hard or as long as they do in Napoli.
While I’ve written previously about the Amalfi coast (what to do in Positano, how to get to the Amalfi Coast, where to stay), I only touched briefly on the beautiful town of Ravello. Because it doesn’t have access to the beach, many people skip over Ravello and head only to Positano, Amalfi and Sorrento. I think that for this very reason (a slightly smaller number of tourists) you should check out Ravello on your next trip to the Amalfi Coast. Here are some of my reasons why to visit Ravello when you're going to the Amalfi Coast.
The trip up
The trip up the mountain from Amalfi to Ravello isn’t an easy one. When I went with my friend, we tried to wait for one of the regional buses but it never came and we ended up hailing a private tour bus as it drove past us, which I wouldn’t recommend. But if you take your time and stop for the view along the way, it can actually be quite enjoyable. Our B&B owner also told us that there’s a nice walk up a small path (vs. the main road) that takes you through private land and vineyards. I’ll definitely take this way up next time, but be prepared for somewhat of a hike as those stairs are killers. Otherwise, you can always call a taxi.
While all of the Amalfi Coast has gorgeous views, Ravello is another story. It sits high up on a mountain and overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea and the other towns along the coast. I didn’t get a good look at it during the day but at night it was amazing. All of the lights are visible along the entire coast and you can see absolutely everything. Go for the quick climb and stunning photos.
Full of boutiques and artisan shops
Ravello, and the Amalfi Coast in general, is well known for their artisan products. This small town was full of ceramic shops, art galleries and stores with beautiful handmade products. It’s so nice to walk around and shop before lunch or dinner and you can find a great souvenier for your trip.
Delicious restaurants and aperitivo spots
Ravello has some fantastic restaurants and cafes. Walking around, we saw so many different locations and almost all of them had outdoor seating. I had a real treat yo’ self moment with my girlfriend and had a fabulous dinner on the very top balcony of Hotel Palumbo. It really stood out in terms of location, atmosphere and quality of food, but there are so many options that it’s hard to choose a bad spot to eat.
More so than even the town of Amalfi itself, Ravello is a great stop along an Amalfi Coast tour and something that I wouldn't miss. Its higher elevation gives it a special feel and makes you feel like you're a million miles away from the real world. Perfect for anyone on vacation or just wishing to get away for a bit...
For more info about the Amalfi Cast, check out my other posts here:
If you search, "most photogenic towns in Umbria", Spello comes up in the top ten. For such a small town, there's definitely a big group of people on the Internet who love it and extol its virtues. While taking a weekend trip in the region of Umbria, I fit Spello into an afternoon, after seeing Assisi. You could also do a day trip to Spello, from Rome, which is easier by car, and possible by train. If you're heading out to the campagna, Spello should be on the top of your list of things to see in Umbria.
Why go to Spello
Whereas other cities in the region of Umbria have many sights to see, including major cathedrals, museums, and shops, Spello is a small town on top of a mountain. Its location makes it very picturesque and fantastic for anyone interested in photography or seeing small-town Italian life. It's also in the region of Perugia, which like all of Umbria, has amazing wines. There are tons of small beer and wine shops along the tiny streets, with outdoor seating and fresh, farm-t0-table food.
There's really not much to dislike about this town, but it is very quiet and relaxed, so maybe not suitable for an entire weekend trip. As a stop along a larger Umbrian tour, I found it a perfect resting point and spot to eat a delicious lunch before driving back to Rome.
How to get there
Like most things in Italy, getting to Spello by car is probably the easiest way. In an hour and 45 minutes, you'll be at the top of the mountain and can park outside of the city walls. From there, walking is necessary and enjoyable.
If you can't rent a car or find a friend who has one, there's also an express train from Termini Station in the center of Rome to Foligno, that takes about two hours. From Foligno, you can easily take a 5 minute local train to Spello or call a cab for the 15 minute drive.
What to do
Spello is a town that deserves to be taken slowly, by enjoying glasses of wine outside and long walks through the center. It's all on a hill so you definitely get your exercise for the day walking around, but the views are worth it. I took some small side roads to see what else there was besides the main road (where most of the restaurants are located). There's also a path all the way up to the top of the mountain where most tourists go for the amazing panoramic view.
You need to set aside some time to eat in Spello because all of the food and wine there are absolutely amazing. We went for drinks and an aperitivo type meal, but a full lunch or dinner would be equally as great. Things to try are pasta with cinghiale (wild boar) ragu, porcini mushrooms, and any other pasta of the day. We got a full board of cheeses and meats that were meant to be paired with the wine and the overall experience was unbelievable. I still think about their cherry marmalade that they served with the cheese...
When ordering wine, definitely ask your waiter for recommendations. They have some amazing locally-produced wine in Spello that you can't find anywhere else in Italy. The reds are particularly good and local, which is what we went for.
There you have it— why this tiny, but surprisingly well-known town became one of my favorites in Umbria. Spello's great for a day trip or a weekend getaway. I love the entire region because I think it really has it all. Beautiful scenery, super friendly people, historic towns and truly some of the best food I've had in this country. I've also written a weekend guide to Umbria and a post about one of my favorite cities in the region, Urbino. I'd be interested to know, do you prefer smaller towns like this, or the heavy-hitters like Rome, Florence and Venice?
Tivoli, and its various villas like Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana, is always a popular day trip from Rome. Only 45 minutes by car and one hour by train, it’s an easy trip with beautiful surroundings, great historical spots and a nice way to escape the busy city for a bit. While I’ve been there a few times, this weekend I went to Tivoli and also made it into Villa d’Este, a villa with gorgeous gardens and perfectly landscaped grounds.
Description of Villa d’Este
Once you get to Tivoli and take a short walk around, you’ll notice that many of the signs are pointing you to Villa d’Este. This villa is a famous example of Renaissance gardens and the beautiful homes of Rome’s kings and nobles. It’s an official UNESCO world heritage site, described in flowery terms as follows:
The gardens of the Villa d’Este are among the earliest and finest of the giardini delle meraviglie and symbolize the flowering of Renaissance culture.
In essence, the villa is beautiful and it’s aboslultey lovely to take a walk around, look at the many amazing flowers, fountains and examples of Renaissance art.
- wear comfortable shoes because there is a lot of walking up and down stairs. The villa overlooks the entire garden area and the grounds seem to cascade down the further you go. This all means that eventually you’ll have to make the hike back up to the exit.
- be prepared with a camera to take stunning photographs. More so than inside the city, Villa d’Este is one of the most photogenic places I’ve been
- Consider getting an audio guide (€5) or doing background research before going in. It’s easy to get lost among the villa’s rooms or in front a fountain, with no idea what its history or significance it. Otherwise, just go into it purely to enjoy the view.
- Do be prepared for closing times and holidays where the villa is closed to visitors. All information about the hours and schedule can be found here.
Once you’ve gotten to the villa and are tired of all the astounding natural beauty, take a quick walk around the town of Tivoli. There are plenty of places for a great panino or pizza, and definitely some great gelato around as well.
All in all, Tivoli gives you a nice look at smaller town outside of Rome and is perfect for a day trip. The journey there and back gives you an opportunity to look at the ancient aqueducts that are still up or pick up some farm produce alongside the road.
Tickets to Villa d'Este are €8 full price and €4 for a reduced ticket. You can purchase them ahead of time, but usually the line isn't too bad. The first Sunday of every month, the villa is free for all visitors but will be more crowded.
Easter in one of the most Catholic cities in the world is, as you'd imagine, a pretty big deal. Easter in Rome is celebrated at the thousands of Catholic churches in the city and the festivities continue for over a week, including the holy week before Easter and the Monday after Easter, Pasquetta. While the city, and most noticeably the Vatican, are crowded at this time, it's easier to manage the crowds and plan your Easter activities by looking ahead. Here's a breakdown of Holy Week, religious celebrations on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, with some information about how Italians celebrate this holiday in their homes.
While the Easter season starts on Ash Wednesday and is proceeded by weeks of Carnivale, holy week celebrations kick off on Thursday. The Thursday before his death is when Jesus is said to have washed the feet of his disciples, showing humility and compassion. The pope emulates this behavior every year and Pope Francis has taken this tradition to the extreme. He chooses to personally wash the feet of the impoverished or weak groups of our society, including immigrants last year. To attend the washing of the feet mass, you can attend the 9:30 mass at St. Peter's Basilica.
Good Friday is not a national holiday in Italy, but it is celebrated in religious circles and has become very reverent for many Italians. In Rome, the Pope will be making a torchlit procession from the Colosseum to the Roman Forum. For all those who are looking on, Pope Francis stops at the 14 stations of the cross, mimicking the journey that Jesus took to the site of his crucification, and gives a benediction to the crowd.
Easter Sunday masses are celebrated all day on Sunday and also start earlier, with midnight vigil masses Saturday night at most churches. While almost every church in Rome will be hosting an Easter mass, finding an English speaking one is a bit more challenging. The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs (Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri) always holds English international mass, but here's one list and another of English Easter masses in Rome for 2017.
Little Easter (Pasquetta)
The Italian saying goes, "Pasqua con i tuoi, Pasquetta con chi vuoi", or Easter with your family, Easter Monday with who you want! Little Easter is a national holiday here and is often celebrated outside of the city, at the beach or the countryside, or even in one of Rome's many parks. It's a chance to get away from the heavy Easter festivities and see friends, while enjoying the (hopefully) nice spring weather. This year we'll either spend it in a park, or with friends at an agriturismo outside of Rome.
Of course, Italian Easter lunch is a BIG DEAL. It requires multiple courses and hours spent at the table with family. The day might start off with rich, hot Italian chocolate, and other sweets, in lieu of an Easter egg hunt provided by the Easter Bunny.
For lunch, all of the mammas slow roast abbacchio (lamb) in the oven and start everyone off with a huge plate of pasta, followed by the lamb, spring vegetables and classic Easter desserts. It's a day where you eat until you're so full you can't move and that's the way they like it.
If you thought Vatican City was the only independent nation inside of Italy’s borders, you’d be wrong. But up until a few weeks ago, I had absolutely no idea that this tiny country existed. Located inside of Italy’s Le Marche region, this mountain top castle town overlooks the Adriatic Sea. It’s made up of a small surrounding town, three castles at the top of the mountain and 360, panoramic views everywhere you look. During our quick Italian road trip, we visited San Marino using the nearby city of Urbino as our base and hit it up on our way back to Rome. Here’s some of the history, what to do and what to expect in San Marino.
San Marino is interestingly enough, the third smallest country in Europe, with a highly developed economy, no national debt and more vehicles than citizens. It was first recognized as independent from Italy in 1631 by the pope and has operated as a separate entity from Italy from that point on. All of this explains why the tiny country has such a different feel to it compared to the surrounding Italian region. The Sanmarinese people have been independent for a long time and they are proud of it. They’ve managed to keep an effective republic government and wealthy economy, mostly due to the many tourists that stop here on their way through Italy.
Things to do
Before getting to San Marino, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of what to do there. We really enjoyed our drive up the mountain and of our group, everyone kept remarking how the scenery and atmosphere of the town felt somewhat more similar to Germany or Austria. Some of the signs were in English and there wasn’t a small-town Italian feel to the big companies and factories we saw on our way.
When we arrived at the top of the mountain, we had to park our car and walk the rest of the way. We immediately started following a hiking trail up the hill to the top of the mountain. Luckily, we were all wearing sneakers so we didn’t have problems with the terrain, but it is a bit steep in some places and you should wear something that works for both nature and town activities. Along the path, we stopped so often to take pictures of the beautiful view that we got vertigo a couple of times because the cliff was very steep and not sectioned off with a fence or railing. If you’re bringing kids, be careful on the trail and make sure you have enough adults to keep an eye on them! Along the path there are three castles, each larger than the one before. You reach the final castle by crossing over a bridge and climbing to the very top, where the pictures and views are stunning. You can see the mountains of Le March in the distance with the Adriatic Sea directly behind the castle.
After you’ve taken your fill of pictures, the path leads you down into the small town that makes up “San Marino” and you start seeing the numerous tourist/souvenir shops that service the country’s many visitors. We skipped all of those and also opted to wait for our lunch, because all of the restaurants and caffes we saw weren’t very appealing. There doesn’t seem to be much of a local scene in the historic center so anything you buy or eat won’t be that great. There were plenty of weaponry shops and interesting products being sold, assumedly because it is a country separated from Italy and its laws.
After a quick walk through the town and people watching in a sunny piazza, we walked back to the car and drove off of the mountain!
What to expect
- A disney world-like feel
- Cliffside caffes with great views
- Swords, guns and other weapons
- Souvenir shops with candles, pottery, tea and other food products
- A cleaner feel than the usual italian city
- People who understand English and slightly higher cost of living
- All of the selfie sticks and cameras you could ever want
If you’re already in the region of Le Marche, I think a visit to San Marino is worth it solely for the pictures and views from its mountain-top castles. I wouldn’t make a trip out of this alone however, as the town itself didn’t offer much more than an afternoon’s worth of activities. We fit it in with Urbino the day before and then stops along the coast including Rimini on our drive back to Rome. Waiting for a piadina (Itlaian flatbread) for our lunch instead of eating in San Marino was a good call, as we were able to get a great lunch and pay a third of what we would’ve in the previous city.
What characteristics make you excited to visit a new city? And would you consider visit San Marino as a new country on your list?
When most foreigners think about the Italian countryside, they think about Tuscany, maybe Umbria if they know the country well. Before coming to live here I had no idea how much diversity Italy’s various regions represent. Vineyards in Umbria, beaches in Tuscany, mountains in Abruzzo. The center of Italy is culturally diverse and rich in history and food traditions.
One region that I didn’t have much experience with was Le Marche. I knew it was in the center of the country but didn’t realize how many unique landscapes it holds. After driving through the Apennine mountain range, you come to rolling hills and fields as far as you can see, until reaching the eastern coast and the Adriatic sea. We managed to make an overnight road trip out of it, with plenty of stops for food and photos along the way.
Today I’m sharing some pictures and information about one of my favorite cities in Italy, Urbino, before going on to share about Abruzzo (Tuscany) and San Marino (it’s own little country within Italy!)
What we saw: the city of Urbino
I had the good fortune of having a friend study abroad in Urbino, while I was studying in Rome. I went to visit her once, before we left for Oktoberfest and I still remember that short trip. While I was only there for a night, I was stunned when we walked up a hill and entered the walled city by how beautiful the views were. I haven’t seen anything like the amazing landscape of this region before. Because you’re at a high elevation, you can see for miles around and the land is generally clear of trees because it’s so heavily cultivated. It makes for great views and amazing, locally-grown food.
Urbino is a walled medieval city that has its own castle and ramparts surrounding it. You can’t take any cars into the city (unless you’re a resident) so we parked and walked inside after arriving late at our bnb. Because we went in around dinner time on a weekend, the city was very quiet at first. As we walked closer to the center, through twisting alleyways and under stone arches, we found the city center where many people were out in the piazza having drinks and enjoying Saturday night aperitivo. My sister and I were charmed by the smaller city size, cute shops and restaurants, while my Roman boyfriend was wondering how anyone could ever live in a city so small. Before eating, we walked around and visited some of the tourist shops on the main road (Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi) where I found an amazing blend of tea, bits of pottery, and a fabulously helpful shopkeeper who reminded me how nice Italians outside of Rome can be.
What we ate: Cresce, gelato, wine, meats, and cheese
The food in Urbino was absolutely amazing and consistent with the rest of Le Marche. Every meal we had on our trip was tasty and affordable. In Urbino, we asked our shopkeeper friend for reccomendations and she sent us to Il Girarrosto. This was a classic trattoria with great house wine, an open fire for roasting the porchetta and other meat, and a great selection of food. Because we ate a (very) big lunch in Arezzo, we went for a salumi platter, with sides of straccitella cheese, the local piadine and of course a liter of red wine. While of course the salame and prosciutto were amazing, we all really loved the crescie, a flakey, warm flatbread native to Urbino. We topped it all off with a quick gelato to go on our walk back down the hill.
Where we stayed: Ca' Vernaccia B&B
Our Airbnb, Ca' Vernaccia, was charming, with a fantastic view of the countryside. We were only a few minutes outside of the main city and by car it wasn’t difficult to get to. Off of the main road, we took a smaller dirt road down to the bnb where we rfound the guest rooms separated from the main house with the restaurant and breakfast area. While breakfast was included with our room, they also had the option to do a tasting meal at the b&b’s restaurant which is known for its truffle dishes and has a relatively low price for all four courses. The room was nothing special, but it did fit three comfortably and we had a separate bathroom and kitchen if we wanted to cook in the apartment. The only negative note were the two stink bugs we found in our room but with the proximity to the outdoors, some wildlife is only to be expected I guess.
Near the b&b is where we took my favorite photos form the trip because the lighting and backgrounds were so beautiful. I lost count of the times I asked Edoardo to stop the car so I could get “one last picture”.
If you made it this far, you must either really love Italy’s hidden gems, or be a member of my family. But all of this just goes to show how passionate I am about finding off the map places and enjoying all of Italy’s amazing regions.
So, have you ever been to the fabulous region of Le Marche? Or another area outside of Italy's main cities while traveling here?
Finding a nice day trip from Rome that is accessible, easy to get to, and worth the extensive public transportation travel time, is sometimes difficult for visitors. A day trip from Rome to Castel Gandolfo covers all the bases.
Primarily known as the Pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo is a small village that overlooks gorgeous Lake Albano that's surrounded by Lazio’s mountains. The lake itself is a nice day trip itself in the summer with beaches, boats or bikes for rent and the classic Italian waterfront atmosphere, but even in the winter it makes for a great visit.
Tickets for the quick regional train from Rome are €2.75 each way and can be bought at Termini Station in Rome and validated on the platform in Castel Gandolfo. You also get the added benefit of a scenic train ride through the Italian countryside for less than the price of an American coffee.
You can sightsee in the village, with a trip to the Pope’s castle, a walk through the charming village and of course, a long lunch in one of its delicious trattorias. We headed up there for Sunday lunch and a trip to a local mercatino. Even in the winter, the town was alive with tourists, locals, fresh food markets, small boutiques and many restaurants.
The lunch itself was incredible and a great reminder of how amazing food in the country can be. After checking reviews, we went to Arte e Vino. The food there was typical Lazio, hearty and delicious. We got wine, an an appetizer, and two pastas for around €35 and everything was top notch. I would’ve grabbed one of their amazing desserts if I had had room by the end of the meal.
If I’m eating in the country, the one thing I will always order (besides the house wine) is a plate of meats and cheeses. They’re always so fresh and as a prime example, Arte e Vino’s mortadella drizzled with truffle oil was the best mortadella I’ve had in Italy. I actually wanted to cancel my primo and get a second round of mortadella after finishing up the first plate. It was that good. My pasta con ceci (chickpeas) in a sourdough bread bowl was a close runner-up, however, and filled my mortadella void. The only issue we had with Arte e Vino was the very slow service, but this sometimes happens during Sunday lunch at one of the most popular restaurants in town.
Castel Gandolfo makes for a great day trip from Rome. The tasty food, amazing views, and ease of transport make it one of my highly recommended choices. I can’t wait to go back for a seafood lunch and a boat ride on the lake once it gets warmer out.
If you want more information about making a longer trip out of it or renting a car to explore the area, try this Trip Advisor post.
And take a look at Natalie of An American in Rome’s post about Castel Gandolfo here.
Lake Bracciano is a Roman secret that not many tourists know about. Set in an absolutely beautiful location in the Lazio countryside, the lake is only a 40 minute drive from Rome. Especially during the hot summer months, Bracciano becomes the perfect getaway to escape the heat and crowds in the city. The lake is big enough to support boating, fishing, and swimming, while the surrounding coast is full of delicious seafood restaurants and bars.
Just up a hill, the medieval town of Bracciano overlooks the view of the lake and is the perfect smaller town to explore for the day. I went last weekend in January and the town itself was enough fun to keep us occupied.
The real draw to Bracciano is its many restaurants and delicous, cheap food. Anything outside of the city is much less expensive and with fresh food prepared daily, taken from nearby farms, the quality is incredible. We went to a small trattoria run by a couple and tried all of the standard Roman pasta dishes like Matriciana, Cacio e Pepe, and Carbonara. Alongside our €10 bottle of wine and a salame/prosuitto plate, it was the perfect meal. In Bracciano, both meat and fish are available, the first coming from the regions surrounding Rome while the latter might be directly from the lake.
Aside from incredible dining opportunities, this small hillside towns offers small boutiques for shopping, cafes to sit and relax, and a historic points if you’re interested in learning more about its past. For the first time, I checked out the huge fortress that Brascciano surrounds and went inside to see its interior. It’s incredible well-preserved with furniture from the 15th and 16th centuries, original frescoes, Renaissance paintings, and a great buttress walk to see the view from the top, which was obviously my favorite part. Aside from seeing how the ancient Italians lived, you’re able to fully appreciate the town’s beauty when seeing it from its highest point.
For a quick day trip in off season, Bracciano is perfect. If you’re willing to deal with some competition, but still less crowds than in Rome, a visit to the lake in the summer is fantastic. Whichever way you go, a trip to Bracciano is worth your while.
If you’re based in Rome for the duration of your Italian trip, there are so many possibilities for outings in the surrounding Lazio region. The Roman Empire blessed Italy with many things, not the least of which being small hillside towns with remarkable backgrounds, historical sites, and unique food cultures. Frascati is a town 30 minutes by car from Rome and a short train ride away from Termini or Tiburtina stations. It's known by locals as being the best place to visit for cheap, delicous food and to try the many varieties of local wine that grow specifically in Castelli Romani region. Frascati white wine is well-known and is locally produced by many vineyards nearby.
A perfect trip to Frascati includes a full, Italian-style lunch with several courses at a “fraschetta”, wine tasting, a visit to one of its famous historical villas, and a walk through the center of the town to enjoy the small streets, food stands, and beautiful cathedral.
Last weekend we took one day out of the long weekend to spend here, starting with a memorable lunch at Osteria Fraschetta Trinca. This restaurant has a history of being one the oldest fraschette and still embodies the regional tradition of celebrating each season’s wine harvest with delicious local food.
Osteria Fraschetta Trinca is known for its selection of smoked meats, cheeses, and wines, as well as offering first, second, and dessert courses. It’s important to make a plan of attack before entering the restaurant, or you’ll end up with a HUGE tagliere selection of meat and cheese, with no room for pasta afterwards.
Their special “Gran Misto Trinca” offers 6 kinds of meat, including a fabulous porchetta, four different cheeses, grilled and pickled Mediterranean veggies and bread in abundance. The highlights for us were definitely the porchetta, salame, pecorino and a to-die-for ricotta drizzled with honey and walnuts. Keep in mind, if you know you want to try pasta I recommend asking for the Gran Misto for ONE person, or cutting your number in half.
After this extravagant lunch, we managed to drag oursleves into the city center for a walk and spent some time lounging on the sunny cathedral steps (La Cattedrale di Frascati). We even found a way to fit in a lemon gelato for the road.
The next time I’ll go for a full day and visit some of the amazing villas around and do a wine tasting that the Castelli Romani regions is known for. And I probably won't say no to another lunch at Fraschetta Trinca either.
Tuscany, with its rolling hills, Chianti vineyards, amazing views, and cameos in many Italian films, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy. It deserves that place on your itineraries and more, but I'm offering an alternative to this famous region, in the form of Umbria.
Three words that describe this incredible area of Italy are natural, authentic, and traditional. Located between Tuscany and Lazio (Rome's region), it gives the best of both worlds. You can find incredible mountainside towns, working farm-to-table restaurants, the freshest produce, wine and olive oil, and some really great people to boot.
If you're someone who enjoys traditional Italian food, the outdoors, wine-making, or side-street wandering, keep reading for a quick weekend guide to visiting Umbria.
Orvieto is a gorgeous city with lots of history and natural scenery to enjoy. Its location in south of Umbria gives it a lot of importance in terms of its wine cultivation, and its slow food culture. There are many restaurants and shops to enjoy throughout the city, as well as a multitude of churches.
Perugia is the regional capital of Umbria and is a breathtaking city high in the mountains of the Perugia region of Umbria. In Perugia there are many things to do and see, including a variety of museums, historical homes, and the annual Eurochocolate festival that’s going on right now, where you can try chocolate from all over Europe in all of its delicious forms.
Assisi is most famous as the home of St. Francis of Assisi and his beautiful cathedral. There are two parts to the city, lower down includes the bulk of restaurants, shops, and the large basilica, and if you climb up the mountain (by foot or car) it takes you to La Rocca, a fortress with stunning views of the countryside.
Spello is frequently named one of the most photogenic towns in Umbria because of its cute streets, uniform cottage-like buildings, and mountaintop views. While it is smaller than the other three cities mentioned, this is a great stop for lunch, dinner, wine tasting, or to pick up some Umbrian meats.
Wander through tiny towns: There are so many gorgeous and hidden gems of towns in the Umbria region. While the ones I’ve mentioned are certainly worth a visit, if you have time and a car, I recommend driving around the region and stopping when you see a town that looks promising, or a great agriturismo.
Wine tasting at family-run vineyards: Vineyards and agriturismi are very popular in this wine-producing region and visiting them is a great way to see a behind-the-scenes look at Italian food production and to interact with locals.
Truffle hunting: Through these family-run operations, you have the option to take cooking classes, help in the winemaking process, and even hunt for Umbria's famous truffles in the woods. Experiencing these activities first hand is a fabulous way to really interact with the region and get a better sense for what Italy is.
Hike up mountain paths: There are so many opportunities to engage in outdoor activities and sports. Walking, hiking, and water sports on one of the regions’s two large lakes are fun activities when visiting Umbria.
Pasta con porcini: Pasta with mushrooms, specifically porcini, is very popular in the region. Try it with a white sauce, gently sautéed mushrooms and fresh pasta.
Ragu al cinghiale: Ragu is by far my pasta of choice while in Umbria and when made with local chingiale (wild boar) it just can’t get any better. Try it, fall in love, and die a little inside when you realize wild boar isn't readily accessible in North America.
Bruschetta di tartufo: Truffle with everything is the name of the game in this region. Oil, butter, lard, pasta, cheese, meats, and bruschetta all get infinitely more delicious when they include black truffle from Umbria.
Specifically when visiting such a rural and outdoorsy region in Italy, I recommend staying in bed and breakfasts or an agriturismo. They provide you with a good look at what life for the locals is like, for a lower cost than many hotels. At an agriturismo, you can choose to have all of your meals included with the price (amazing homecooked food from a farm is always a win), explore the premises which usually include a farm or vineyard, and volunteer to help out around the place. The owners are also very helpful when you’re looking for the perfect place to eat, shop or visit and can’t find anything online (a true danger because the travel/tourism industry here isn’t well developed).
Wine: Orvieto and sagranino are some local specialties, but all the wines from this region are fantastic
Oil: freshly pressed from a farm
Truffles: either self-collected or picked up from food markets
Have you heard about Umbria or visited yet? This place is just magical for me, especially in the fall, and I can't wait to explore Umbria and Tuscany more.