When the temperature plummets and there’s snow on the ground, my thoughts turn to summer holidays.
Umbria is one of my top tips for a holiday destination if you’re looking for a hot location with a rich cultural mix.
Less crowded than Tuscany, more relaxing than the busy Neapolitan Riviera and cheaper than a city break to Rome, this is a region renowned for its fabulous food, wine and history.
So here are my five top reasons to pick Umbria for your spring or summer holiday this year.
1. Culture and history
Umbria’s rich culture is unquestionably one of its biggest attractions with cities and towns bursting with artistic treasures, beautiful architecture and historic palaces.
The historic towns of Spoleto, Todi, Orvieto, Gubbio and Perugia are the best known historic centres but there’s wealth of smaller places too, including Spello, Bevagna and Montefalco.
With Umbrian history dating back to the 6th Century BC, there’s everything from Neolithic remnants and Roman remains to Etruscan treasures, Renaissance art and Baroque masterpieces.
Perugia is the biggest cultural hot spot in the region, boasting museums, palaces, city walls and a fortress as well as an interesting Archaeological Museum.
The Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia has a fine collection of art from the 13th-19th centuries including a huge collection of religious art.
It’s not my favourite style of art but you can’t help marvel at the beauty of the altar pieces.
2. Beautiful churches
Umbria is a major cradle of Christianity in Italy with important centres of worship including Assisi, Orvieto and Spoleto, each with their beautiful cathedrals and churches.
The pretty town of Spoleto with its glorious hilltop setting has long been a major stop on Italy’s historic Grand Tour.
The gorgeous Piazza Garibaldi on the edge of the town boasts the Romanesque church of San Gregorio Maggiore.
Approached by a sloping ramp is the Piazza del Mercato with the imposing Duomo, Spoleto’s cathedral with its superb Romanesque facade and Baroque interior with fine art works and treasures.
But my favourite place is Assisi in northern Umbria , a stunning city blessed with some of the world’s greatest art and architecture.
It boasts one of Italy’s most beautiful basilicas which attracts visitors and pilgrims from around the globe. You can also lose yourself in its maze of medieval, cobbled streets
St Francis was born in Assisi around 1181 and his spiritual presence still dominates the city 800 years on.
You can follow in his footsteps along the Franciscan Path of Peace which retraces the saint’s 1206 journey to abbeys, chapels and hillside villages.
The Basilica di San Francesco is one of the wonders of its age with superb decoration and frescoes by the incomparable painter, Giotto.
It’s a miracle that this building has survived, having weathered several earthquakes including a severe quake in 1997 which badly damaged the church.
Today, it’s been restored to its full glory. It’s a breathtaking building and its frescoes are amongst the greatest in the world.
Don’t miss a trip to the Tomb of St Francis down in the Crypt. It’s an atmospheric and spiritual experience.
Todi is another town with a stunning hillside setting dominated by the towers and domes of its Renaissance and Franciscan churches.
One of the most prominent is San Fortunato, a large and imposing church which is a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles. Go inside and check out its wonderful frescoes and famous crypt.
Elsewhere in Todi, there are many beautiful smaller churches to explore, but the big blockbuster attraction in Todi is Santa Maria della Consolazione.
This masterpiece of the Renaissance is characterised by its huge dome and boasts great views of the Umbrian countryside.
Even if you’re not a fan of churches, you can’t deny that they are extremely beautiful to look at.
Another highlight is Orvieto with its Duomo or cathedral which dominates the skyline of the town which perches on a rocky tufa outcrop with the remains of ancient volcanoes.
The first thing to notice about the cathedral is its unusual striped design and the gorgeous, golden mosaics which sparkle in the Italian sunshine.
Explore its Romanesque interior which is equally mind-blowing with yet more fabulous frescoes and art treasures.
Umbria is stuffed with beautiful churches, cathedrals and frescoes so if that lights your candle, you’re in for a bumper treat!
3. Superb Wines
You may know about the ‘super Tuscan’ wines but how often have you tasted the so-called ‘super Umbrians’?
I love wine so Umbria is a fabulous place to hang out, drink the local produce and visit a few vineyards.
Umbrian wine isn’t widely drunk in Britain so it’s brilliant to be able to try new grape varieties with weird names like Sagrantino, Trebbiano Spoletino and Grechetto.
Umbria which has a perfect climate for vines with its hot summers, sun-drenched valley slopes and rich limestone-clay soils.
Why not take a trip on the Colli del Trasimeno wine route which has five itineraries for drivers with wine cellars on each route.
Montefalco is one of the most interesting wine areas. This medieval town boasts numerous wine shops and vinotecas stocking an excellent selection of locally produced wines.
Montefalco is one of the few places in Italy where grapes were grown inside the city walls, a tradition which continues in a small way even today.
Another town worth visiting is Torgiano where there is an excellent wine museum and tasting room run by the internationally renowned Lungarotti family.
The Lungarotti shop next door has free tastings and the staff are very knowledgeable and helpful – they speak English and killed us with kindness.
4. Timeless landscapes
Umbria is renowned for its timeless, unspoiled landscapes, beautiful mountains and hillsides spotted with sleepy villages. It’s almost like time has stood still in this idyllic landscape.
My best memories of Umbria involved sitting with a glass of wine at our holiday cottage, looking out over the olive groves and vineyards as the light turned a coppery orange at the end of a perfect sunny day.
We stayed on a working farm which specialises in olive oil production so it was a treat to experience the slow-paced way of life. The generous owners kept giving us wine, olive oil and eggs from the farm.
What a fantastic antidote to city living, even if the sound of the goats and farm animals did wake me up in the middle of the night!
Umbria’s diverse landscapes range from mountains and hills to plains, lakes, rivers and marshland so a hire car is strongly recommended if you want to make the most of this extensive region.
A trip to Lake Trasimeno is worthwhile for its very different scenery as well as its boating, leisure attractions and ancient history. It was here that Hannibal inflicted a crushing defeat on the Romans in 217 BC.
From the lakeside there are good views of castles, fortified villages and the small islands dotted around the lake.
The islands were once home to monasteries, convents and fishing communities but today you can take a boat trip to see their ruins and enjoy their tranquil scenery.
The Campo del Sole is an interesting art park close to the lake with 27 contemporary sculptures made of local stone set in a lovely park on the lakeshore.
Further afield, you can lose yourself in the solitude and nature wonders of the mountains of Monti Sibillini and Monte Subasio National Parks.
Sadly, I didn’t leave enough time to visit the Parco Fluviale del Nera with its famous waterfalls and cascades. But I hear from locals that it’s a spectacular sight.
5. Panoramas, palaces and piazzas
A stunning view is guaranteed everywhere you travel in Umbria. And then there are its historic palaces and piazzas, another feast for the eyes.
Many of the region’s historic towns and cities are perched on the top of hillsides with stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Every vista is a treat so find yourself a good scenic viewpoint to enjoy the scenery and widescreen panoramas.
The Umbrian street life is also as laid-back and relaxed as you can find in Italy. There’s not too many speeding scooters and fewer noisy crowds.
One of my favourite cities is Perugia with its historic buildings and the relaxing Piazza IV Novembre.
You can sit and soak up hundreds of years of history, surrounded by the Maggiore Fountain, the ‘pink and white’ marble Duomo and the imposing Palazzo dei Priori.
Over in Todi, take a stroll around the town’s well-preserved medieval square with its monuments, palaces and splendid historic buildings.
Find a nearby cafe and marvel at centuries of history as you indulge yourself with a glass of the local Umbrian wine.
Many towns have festivals, the biggest being Spoleto’s international art and jazz jamboree which takes place during the summer in its main piazza.
Markets are everywhere, if you enjoy soaking up the rich local culture. Most small towns and villages have a weekly market where you can buy Umbrian produce or simply enjoy the atmosphere.
We arrived in Bevagna during historic celebrations with the locals dressed up in medieval period dress.
Umbria is a place for culture, history and food lovers. A perfect late spring and autumn escape.
Don’t expect lots of nightlife and crazy parties. This is a walk back in time – a trip into a quieter age and a great antidote to busy city life.
Umbria is one of Italy’s great treasure houses so book your trip now!
Tammy’s travel tips – Umbria
Umbria is ideal for cottage and villa holidays. Why not stay on a vineyard, farm or in a country house?
Try the excellent range of Agriturismo property rentals in picturesque locations across Umbria. We found this is a brilliant, cheap alternative to hotel holidays, even for couples.
There’s also some lovely hotels – one of my favourites is the gorgeous La Locanda del Prete in the hilltop village of Saragano, which provides a traditional and authentic experience.
It also boasts a lovely restaurant and bar with gorgeous views over the Umbrian countryside.
Why not combine a week in Umbria with a week in Rome?
Fly to Rome and stay in the city, then pick up a hire car and drive for a couple of hours to the Umbrian heartland? En route, visit the Villa d’Este and Hadrian’s Villa.
I was surprised how cheap it is to eat and drink in Umbria compared with more traditional holiday areas of Italy. You can live on a modest budget if you’re looking for an affordable break.
The property was surrounded by olive groves, vineyards and farmland but was close to shops and local villages.
There are many similar villas in the area close to the heart of the Umbrian countryside but within easy reach of towns and cities,