This post was written by Stellavision's Zoe Shapiro. All photo credit to Zoe Shapiro.
You don’t need convincing to visit Rome or Florence. The Eternal City and the birthplace of the Renaissance have pretty solid PR. As do their beautiful surrounding countryside, full of the picturesque cypress trees (Tuscany) and umbrella pines (Lazio).
But nestled between these two stunning provinces on their eastern side is Umbria and on this country’s irrationally high bell-curve of amazing-ness, this province may be among the most wonderful places in Italy.
Umbria is full of charming towns, medieval history and… feminism - if you know where to find it. And to keep it real: Umbria is as beautiful and historically significant (Saint Francis of Assisi is kind of a big deal) while being less expensive than its Tuscan neighbor to the north.
Let’s explore three charming towns to visit in Umbria, with Italian travel tips for some very special spots in each.
Easily connected to Rome by train, one of Umbria’s most picturesque towns, brimming with culture, is Spoleto. Like many historic villages in Umbria, Spoleto sits in a defensive position on a hilltop which affords you unparalleled views of the surrounding hills and olive groves from many of the town’s vantage points.
The absolute best views in Spoleto are from its medieval fortress: Rocca Albornoziana (14th Century) but the trade off is a steep entrance from the train station or parking lots to Spoleto’s central piazze. BUT Spoleto has got you covered; a system of covered escalators will transport you from the lowest part of Spoleto all the way up to the castle, with different alighting points corresponding to popular locations!
As you wind your way around Spoleto - and the town’s various historical eras - you cannot miss Spoleto’s Piazza del Duomo. As jazz wafts out from chic cafes, here that you’ll find the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (12th Century) with its Romanesque facade. The Duomo complex also comprises the Museo d'Arte Diocesano where you can see the works of incomparable Umbrian artist; Filippino Lippi.
Ready to step out of the medieval era? Time travel backwards in Spoleto to visit the town’s Roman Theater (1st Century BC) or meet us in present day Spoleto for one of Italy’s most exciting cultural festivals. The Festival dei Due Mondi, is an internationally acclaimed music, art and cultural festival that the city hosts each summer.
Historic spaces from monastery courtyards or early twentieth century theaters become event venues, hosting acclaimed performers from all over the world. An unmissable festival in Italy.
At Stellavision, we love to highlight not just the peak Italian moments but the behind the scenes Italian spots that you might miss, the most authentic Italy. A quick ‘Perugia’ Google search will reveal all you need to know about Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, the Rocca Paolina and the Pasticceria Sandri dal 1860 with its golden frescoes.
So, as we head to Perugia, the City of Chocolate, let’s get granular (that’s a chocolate joke) about a few of the most delicious and special locations in the province’s capital city that you might overlook.
Italian food is unparalleled and eating well in Italy does not mean expensive, fine dining restaurants (though there are plenty of spectacular and expensive, fine dining restaurants). But one of the charming things about dining out in Umbria is that you can find examples of those unbelievably special and delicious spots with price points that are far more accessible than the quality and experience would have you expect.
When you’re visiting Perugia, book a table at the Michelin-starred restaurant L’Acciuga, for one of those unforgettable culinary experiences. Located just a ten minute taxi from the center of town, this inventive spot boasts a ten-course tasting menu for €95 (as well as incredible a la carte options). Featuring local flavors and ingredients that have been elevated, extrapolated or turned on their heads with surprising presentations or molecular gastronomy, this is a dining experience x price point you could never hope to find in Milan for instance.
Another singular experience to be found in Perugia is a visit to Museo Atelier Giuditta Brozzetti where a fourth generation feminist weaver is reviving Umbria’s stunning handicraft, thread by thread. Marta Cucchia is a master weaver and female entrepreneur, the great-granddaughter of Giuditta Brozzetti.
Marta oversees this workshop ( the only one in existence), working to highlight and save a dying art form. Brozzetti founded the Atelier in a Franciscan church. She employed local women and instituted education about money management as well as rules about their salaries going to them (and not their parents or husbands as was customary in the 1920s).
There is so much more to say about Marta (who is currently recreating the tapestry depicted in the Last Supper); discover it here in our interview for our Women Doing Cool Shit in Italy series.
Another unmissable Umbria destination is the town of Spello. Here, in one of Umbria’s most charming towns, there are two travel tips in particular to highlight. As you walk through the flower-lined streets of the centro storico, you will come to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Amongst the many beautiful architectural details you will find one of the most beautiful chapels in Italy. The Baglioni Chapel features Renaissance frescoes by the artist Pinturicchio. Aside from being astoundingly beautiful and full of artistic mastery, the frescoes painted in 1500 were the last artworks by local, Perugian-born Pinturicchio before he departed the region for Siena and Rome. Local pride! Amongst the elegant scenes in the Chapel’s Loggia are depictions of the Annunciation and Adoration.
Leaving behind the religious for the divine, there’s a fabulous vinaio - wine bar - to bookmark for your Spello visit. Vinosofia combines the charm of small town Italy with international shipping, incredible selections and a chic wine club.
There is so much more Umbria - and Italy - to discover. Follow Zoe and Stellavision Travel for more behind the scenes tips!
Zoe is the Founder of Stellavision Travel, a company that specializes in small-group tours for women. Experience behind-the-scenes Italy with Stellavision this September on their Sailing Trip to the Aeolian Islands (final spots still available!)