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Where to stay, what to eat, see and do in this Italian region
27.05.16 - 18:46 -
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The Insider Guide: Umbria
La rocciata, a regional pastry. :: A. F.
Although well known for Assisi, the beautiful UNESCO protected birth place of St Francis, Umbria is often passed-by in favour of its more fashionable neighbour, Tuscany. Yet Umbria offers the chance to enjoy off the beaten tourist trail experiences of hidden Italy, and discover the culturally rich, yet less well-known medieval towns of Montefalco and Orvieto, as well as the thriving market town of Foligno, famous for its jousting tournament.
Palazzo Piccolomini - Orvieto
Built upon an elevated plateau of volcanic rock, the picturesque, historic town of Orvieto makes for an exceptional sight, dominating the surrounding countryside. To enjoy this fascinating town, it’s best to stay in the heart of historic quarter.
Palazzo Piccolomini is a former aristocratic palatial home, now renovated as a contemporary hotel with understated modern furnishings and simple, comfortable rooms. Convenient location within easy walking distance to the Duomo, as well as the town’s restaurants.
Hotel Virgilio - Orvieto
If you’re looking for a little more boutique-style hotel charm, then the Hotel Virgilio is a good choice. Some of its privileged rooms look directly over the stunning Duomo, one of the most striking and beautiful cathedrals in Italy.
Bontadosi Hotel & Spa – Montefalco
Overlooking the town’s main square, and adjacent to one of Montefalco’s best restaurants, this boutique spa hotel captures the romance of renaissance Italy. Many rooms feature ceilings with original frescos; and each have touches of luxury and glamour and the latest in-room technology. There’s a small basement spa too.
Villa dei Platani – Foligno
Found on one of Foligno’s most elegant streets, this palatial villa is now a contemporary hotel within a few minutes’ walk of lively market town centre. Expect a spa, gardens, and spacious rooms with modern styling. Owner and host Elisa Cesarini and her team have a knack for making one feel welcome and at home.
Bar Montanucci – Orvieto
This local bar is enough to make you want to have a second breakfast each day – it offers tasty pastries and treats reflecting the town’s seasonal festivals (like ricotta cheese filled ‘bigné’ fritters). Lunchtime snacks, and light bites. Italy’s most famous chocolate festival is held in Umbria, so expect to find here a good selection of chocolates too.
Da Maurizio – Orvieto
If you’re a vegetarian, then eating out can sometimes be tricky in the heart of Italy. Although Umbria’s rustic cuisine is rich in artisan cheeses and wonderful seasonal vegetables like asparagus and mushrooms, most dishes are based around meat, especially game like wild boar. Also, cured meats like capocollo, and offal are popular too, especially among the various antipasti first plates of a meal.
Da Maurizio, with its wood burning stove and old stone walls, is full of charm. The family prepare and serve typical, tasty traditional dishes and snacks including delicious Lumachelle (bacon and cheese ‘snail’ rolls). This is also a good place to try Umbrian wines.
Locanda del Teatro – Montefalco
If you’re looking for a gourmet experience presented with finesse and style, then the Locanda del Teatro is a must-visit when in Montefalco. Head chef Pasqualino Titta and his partner Paolo Galanti, the maître d’ and sommelier, have created a seductive environment to savour the best of the Umbrian kitchen.
Ristorante Alla Via Di Mezzo - Montefalco
A visit to this informal, homey restaurant is an experience. Created by charismatic Italian TV chef Giorgio Barchiesi, (or Giorgione as he is affectionately known), it specialises in Umbria dishes. Giorgione is a colourful character, renowned for his wit – his TV show is one of the most popular cooking programmes on Italian TV as it’s unscripted, and spontaneous, and usually based in and around Montefalco, where he sources and prepares his food.
Four Rooms Bistro - Foligno
Smart, on-trend lounge bar restaurant that’s the place to have aperitifs, cocktails, light bites and after dinner drinks. The historic building pulsates with life, offering different spaces with diverse moods, from informal hipster, to elegant and smart.
Ladri di biciclette – Foligno
So, we all want to eat pizza in Italy and this quirky restaurant, the ‘Bicycle Thief’, is a truly original place to enjoy authentic pizzas, both classic ‘red’ pizzas and ‘white’ pizza Bianca (no tomato sauce but plenty of cheese and seasonal toppings). Once a bicycle workshop and store, this Osteria Ciclabile pizzeria is now full of cycling memorabilia and fixtures and fittings fashioned from parts of bicycles.
Giostra della Quintana – Foligno
This historic Knight’s Jousting Festival consumes the town of Foligno, transforming it into a romantic medieval world of costumed parades and parties celebrating these traditional martial tournaments. The first tournament this year will run 17-18 June and the second tournament 17-18 September.
Duomo di Orvieto
Orvieto, with its commanding position on an impregnable rock outcrop, became a wealthy community, controlling the road between Florence and Rome. This is reflecting in the small town’s magnificent 14th century cathedral. The façade has extraordinary carvings, windows and mosaics whilst inside one finds chapels decorated with exceptional art – make sure you spend time in the ‘Cappella Nuova’.
I Primi d´Italia - Foligno
Attracting tens of thousands of visitors from Italy and internationally, the ‘I Primi d’Italia’ festival is a national event dedicated to one of Italy’s national foods, pasta. Foligno’s annual festival is Italy’s only one-stop-shop showcase of all that’s great in the world of pasta, Italy’s favourite first plates. This year the festival will be from 29 September 2 October 2016.
Tessitura Pardi – Montefalco
Umbria has plenty of retail temptation, from gourmet artisan foods, to quirky and unique ceramics (for some beautiful examples try the shops in Orvieto’s old town).
Yet the linens of Umbrian family firm Pardi are an exceptional buy. There’s a factory shop in Montefalco where one can learn more about the time-honoured weaving techniques and the story telling within the subtle designs of the home and interior design linens. An elegant and sophisticated memory of a visit to Umbria.
My journey of discovery through Umbria was organised by Italy expert, Josephine O’Toole of The Contented Traveller.