Umbria Favorite Tips by Trekki Top 5 Page for this destination
Umbria Favorites: 13 reviews and 38 photos
Olive tree leaves in Umbria :-)
Favorite thing: When you travel through Valle Umbra, you will always be surrounded by olive trees. Even if you look at this part of Umbria on Google Earth you will see olive groves all over the region (my screenshot in photo 2). Oilve oil is certainly Umbria’s liquid green gold. You can buy it almost everywhere in Bevagna, Montefalco, Trevi, Spello, Assisi and many more of the villages here or directly at one of the manufacturers.
On Slow Travel’s website is a good article of what to consider before buying olive oil and it also explains places to buy it (it is a combination of Toscana and Umbria places).
Very important however is to look for the labels:
D.O.C. = denominazione di origine controllata (denomination of/with controlled origin), and even higher is
D.O.C.G. = denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (denomination of/with controlled origin and guaranteed)
which guarantees that you have bought real genuine quality. Even if you buy these types of quality at home, you can be sure that it is genuine, as these labels are government controlled and specially sealed, so cannot be faked by some certain eastern country reknown for copying, plagiatism and often poisoning food (we all heard of Melamin in baby food, poison in toothpaste and pet food and so on).
And also look at the Bella Umbria website with a special chapter about olive oil.
Joke about the cranes of 2007, Bevagna
Favorite thing: The most horrible days in Umbria’s recent history were September 26 and 27, 1997. This was when an earthquake (5,7 on Richter scale) hit Umbria (epicentre was near Foligno). 8 people died, thousands were unsheltered. And the roof of Basilica San Francesco Superiore collapsed. Most tragic was that two monks and two technicians who were cleaning up dump from a former “light” earthquake inside the basilika died under the debris of the collapsing roof. The technicians belonged to a TV team who had planned to record part of the cleanup, so a video of this is existing. It shows how horrible the earthquake must have been. Luckily, thousands of people worldwide donated and conservators came to work as volunteers to help restoring the Cimabue frescos. They did an amazing job, sieving more than 1200 tons of debris and sorting out around 300.000 pieces to restore the work. Only 2 years after the earthquake the basilica could open again.
Most of the donations went to Assisi and the other villages with similar bad damage had to work longer to rebuild and restore their buildings and churches. Even now, 11 years later, you can see the scars, the earthquake left, in many villages and often, churches are not open to visitors. And all over Umbria you will see cranes.
Additional links with photos of the earthquake damage, including the video:
damages of Umbria’s 1997 earthquake,
Assisi, Basilica Superiore – after renovation,
Assisi video of the earthquake in 1997.
Map of Italy with actual earthquakes
Mouthwatering..... festivals, oh my...
Favorite thing: Now we come to the most difficult question: what is the best time to travel through Umbria. Even if my April time was very much rainy, I loved it. It was the time of magic light settings following the massive rains. It was quiet and very much relaxed. In many villages I was the only tourist (definitely the only non-Italian). Everything was open, prices were lower than in summer. However, a bit later, end of April or early May would or might have been a better time. But for nothing in the world I would want to have missed these light scenarios!!
Summer is maybe too hot, too crowded and too expensive. Not that Umbria is expensive, but the prices increase in summer. And the probability to find a bed is not that good unless you have a reservation. But Umbria is definitely better to explore by “strolling” and not see only 2-3 villages.
However, Piano Grande has the most marvellous flower blossoming, fioritura di Castelluccio usually early July. So something like end April to early July would be my suggestion.
Fondest memory: On the other hand, autumn is the season when Umbria is full of the most magic food with musrooms, truffles, nuts, chestnuts, the wine festivals are being celebrated – a very much delicious season as well. From my previous tips you might have gathered that Umbria’s soul is not only San Francesco, the landscape and the churches, but also the divine food.
Difficult to decide, I told you :-)
Based on all remarks I got about my food tips, I should add one important tip of "how to best eat":
I didn't eat like this every day. Not that it would have been too expensive for me, but the moment when I had my lunch in San Leo I knew that "eating out" in Le Marche and Umbria would be something special. So I wanted to have at least one full day of eating panini or some snack only to make sure that I wouldn't starve and to increase my desire, lust, delight for my next real meal :-) This also prevents from exploding one day, because these dishes and the very natural unspoilt ingredients are too good to miss.
Don't make the mistake and eat these kinds of meals daily but then only one course. Please! You would spoil the celebration of this unforgettable flavour and taste!
Update, December 2009:
Favorite thing: Apart from the famous and lesser famous cities and villages with arts and cultures and festivals, one of the main reason for travelling to Umbria is the food. The by far best website for inspiration with what Umbria has to offer is:
This does contain themed intineraries (olive oil, wine, truffles, lentils and many more) and also suggestions of where to eat and the typical products of the cities and villages.
Another excellent website is the one of Slowtravel. That's a website entirely devoted to travelling for the soul. The stories are often related to Umbria's gorgeous food.
Another nice website is Life in Umbria with details to the local festivals.
In Italian, but nevertheless easy to understand is Umbria Arte which is dedicated to art and culture and special ways of travel, like spiritual travel.
While writing this, I found another very special kind of tours which are offered in Umbria. Now guided tours would not be something I like to do when I am travelling, but this one is very special. Anne Robichaud (see also the Slow Food tip later on) is a woman who lives near Assisi and offers cooking classes. But she also offers what she calls Undiscovered Umbria. To my delight she seems to focus on Bevagna. What I read from her website and also on the Slow Travel website, I can highly recommend her as a tour guide, even if I have never done a tour with her. But anyone who is so devoted to Umbria and the food just must be excellent!
Fondest memory: For a collection of museums with links to the respective museum website, I found this one very helpful:
Museums in Umbria. Its homepage (Meravigliosa Umbria) is available in English, Italian and Dutch (I think, it is even a Dutch website, given the many links in Dutch) and has quite interesting information about bike tours, wine tours, cycling and hiking tours. These are packages, but give a nice idea how villages can be combined for individual tours. Oh, and it also has a recipe section, yummmm....
And last but not least there is Bill Thayer’s Gazetteer , the website with the most depth of very detailed and very much off path travel throughout Umbria. I owe him a huge gratitude for what he wrote, which explained things I saw in more depth, many of them I only understood after I’ve read his website. And also through the many emails we’ve exchanged for his explanations about sights where he did not yet has written the paragraph in his website. He is more than happy to answer specific Umbria questions, so if you plan to go and don’t find details, ask him.
Fresco in La Badia church (outside Orvieto)
Favorite thing: Among the many fascinating sights in Umbria are frescos. Now one would think this is normal, as Italy is famous for its frescos and yes, many churches have magnificent ones to admire. But they are not only in churches, but also everywhere else: on walls, in vaulted passages, on buildings, inside buildings. I first realised it in Fabriano (which is Marche, but very close to Umbria) when I saw several frescos on walls and then inside of a huge roofed street (photo 5). The more I strolled through the backstreets not only in Fabriano but in the Umbrian towns, the more I found. Many of them did suffer over time or maybe due to the earthquakes, Umbria has to face once in a while.
So watch out and look up from time to time, you might miss marvellous sights otherwise.
Scrambled eggs with black truffles, Bevagna
Favorite thing: Truffles, already the name sounds like music in our ears, doesn’t it? Umbria accounts for 80% of Italy’s truffle “production”, well truffle find is the better term. I’ve read that 8 black and 2 white truffle varieties are native to Umbria, mostly in the hills above 300 m. Unlike in other countries, Umbria’s truffle hunters work with dogs and not with pigs. They claim that the pigs would rumple the ground too much which might reduce the chances that new truffles would grow at the old places. There was even a truffle dog university in Roddi, Piemonte, but it had to close in 1960 when the founder’s family didn’t want to continue the founds.
Throughout the whole year, you can find truffle dishes on Umbria’s restaurant menus and I also tried some while I was there. It was even the first time that I tried them and yes, they are very much delicious. But unlike with asparagus and olive oil, I might not be able to differenciate in the tastes of “mushrooms” in general. I like all kinds of mushrooms and can easily live with eating only the wide spread chantarelle and boleti.
Umbria’s most famous truffle processing company is Urbani in Valnerina:
Oh so delicious... wild boar sausage, Norcia
Favorite thing: I already mentioned the delicious sausages of Norcia quite often. Norcia is Italy’s capital for the best and most delicious sausages. And this dates back deep into the Medieval times, when the people of this region were already making good sausages from pork and wild boar. But being innovative, they worked on the recipes in winter and improved quality and taste. This was the time when they started to travel all over Italy and sell their products. The sausages became so famous, everyone wanted to have them, and eventually the butchers Italywide were renamed “Norcinis”. Nowadays, Norcinis not only use pork meat but also wild boar meat, and have experimented even more with spices and other delicious ingredients. I can testify that the wild boar ones are very excellent and I am really looking forward to my next trip to Umbria… from that point of view I could never become a proper vegetarian.
More about the different sausage types of Norcia is explained on Delicious Italy website and Slow Travel website and it was also featuring on BBC
Shelf full of delicious Sagrantino wine
Favorite thing: Umbria is famous for two wines: red Sagrantino and white Orvieto. (oh well, this reminds me that I completely forgot to plan a tip about Orvieto wine….)
Sagrantino is so famous that there is even a special website devoted to this wine:
La Strada del Sagrantino
If you look at this website (where it says enter) you can see that Sagrantino grapes are mostly found around Bevagna and Montefalco. The history of these grapes is quite interesting, although it is not yet clear where they were brought from. But they date back to the 16th century and the wine was mostly made and drunk my the monks, thus the name Sagrantino, which is believed to have its origin in “sacrament”.
Montefalco’s Sagrantino received the D.O.C.G. in 1992 and is thus the 12th Italian wine with this quality label.
It is difficult to name or pick out the best winery, all are excellent. The website above provides many wine cellars where you can taste their delicious products. Or check out the long list, Consortium Vinii Montefalco has, not only of Montefalco but also of Bevagna, Gualdo Cattaneo, Bastia Umbria, Torgiano.
Ah, Torgiano, that’s another famous place for wine, but white wine in this case. It is located south of Perugia, where Lungarotti has opened his famous wine museum
And as I mentioned, Orvieto is famous for its white wine, the Orvieto Classico
Umbrian saffron and tiny green asparagus
Favorite thing: When the first McD place was about to open in Italy, a group of people in Piemonte were so furious with this act of sacrileg in Italy that they founded the opposite, called “Slow Food”. It soon became a big movement throughout whole Italy and also in some other parts of the planet. Their major goal is to preserve the local specialities and also regain cultivation of heirloom specialities.
The most fascinating example here is saffron in Cascia. Slowfood’s website mentions that saffron was very popular near Cascia in 16th and 17th century, but over the years almost got extinguished. Initiatives by local farmers made it possible that by now it is cultivated on 22 farms and yields in approx. 3 kg per year. 150.000 flowers are needed to produce 1 kg of dried stems. Each g costs about 25 €. There is even a Saffron Fair held each October in Cascia. I can certainly judge that Umbria's saffron is very much delicious. To be precise, it was the first time I actually sensed the taste when I had my saffron dish in Bevagna (photo 1).
Another plant which almost got forgotten and is recultivated now is the red onions of Cannara (Cannara is north of Bevagna). They are very delicious, less hot than “normal” onions and even a bit sweet. In Umbria, they are often served with beef (photo 2). And of course, Cannnara also helds a festival for their famous product: Cannara, in September.
On the Slow Travel website is an article about black celery. I haven’t tasted it when I was in Umbria, as I was foucussed so much on truffles, Sagrantino wine, asparagus and saffron that I obviously forgot. But Anne Robichaud’s article Slow Travel – black celery festival makes me hungry once more.
Anne Robichaud, by the way, offers also cooking lessons in Assisi. That’s another possibility for Umbria travel planning: visit a cooking class. Given what I ate during my holiday, to learn how to make these heavenly dishes would be an excellent way of spending a couple of days.
But my most favourite food while in Umbria was the tiny green asparagus. I don’t like our German thick white asparagus at all and was astonished about myself after my first bite into this soft and tasty little green one. I came to the point that I was craving for the next dish with green asparagus almost the moment when I left a restaurant.
Fondest memory: I think that you got the idea behind Slow Food. I can only speak for my own experience with this all. It was as if I needed to become 48 years to learn what food is all about. The dishes taste real (as opposed to what I call plastic food wrapped in supermarkets) and all of it is grown organic. My saffron experience was only one example, the green asparagus another. But already now I long to go back to Umbria just for the heavenly pleasure of eating.
Campello sul Clitunno in Valle Umbra
Favorite thing: At a point in time I stopped counting. There are just too many of these little or bigger villages or castles which sit high on top of a hill or are clogged at a slope. All of them have this special atmosphere of old Medieval times, many houses and palaces are ages old. Some can be visited, some not. There is a church in every village and many of them have treasures you would never imagine to find in these tiny hardly known villages.
I can only encourage you to leave the roads, drive high up into a village you see and get yourself surprised by what you find!
My photos are only a brief summary of the hardly known villages.
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