Written by sommelier Michela Montanaro - born and raised in Umbria.
Umbria is a region with lots to offer visitors. There are places of interest for the spirit with its glimpses of nature, for the mind with its artistic monuments and for the body with its rich gastronomic tradition.
Umbria is a place that's fully appreciated by everyone, but is one of those places that tourists tend to appreciate more than those who live there; not because the habit diminishes its value (a Roman will never cease to get excited by passing near the Colosseum), but because with living in Umbria, there are some limits undoubtedly present.
After almost 10 years of absence, I decided to rethink my vision of Umbria, through the memory of all those places that I have known, and that I would suggest to people asking me for travel tips - with an in-depth focus on the world of wine and food.
We will start our journey through Umbria in the north of the region, making our way south.
*Note for the traveler: unless your journey through Umbria is going to be restricted to the city of Perugia, I strongly recommend that you have a car to get around, as otherwise you will find your options extremely limited.
Zona del Trasimeno
Since we are in this area, I cannot avoid mentioning one of my 'secret' places. I love it so much (even if it is located in the Tuscan part of the border with Umbria), it's easily reachable by car and worth the journey, especially if you are there in the Fall, believe me! I'm talking about the natural spas of San Casciano, hidden just outside the walls of the town of the same name. Two natural stone pools are full of hot, sulphurous water in the middle of nature. There are only trees around, so you'll have complete peace and silence. I love going there, especially in November when the contrast between the fresh, cool air and warmth of the water is perfect.
We continue with another winery to visit. The young Giulio Rinaldi has been running the winery of Lumiluna in Mercatello, in the province of Marsciano for a few years, with great passion for his job that begins to bear the fruits of his labors. Giulio, like Clelia, are two true natives who know the local area very well, so, for any advice you need, ask them, they will certainly know how to advise you. And speaking of tips, if you want to stay in these parts, I recommend the B&B Al Soci La Tasca in Mercatello. It is a tiny isolated village where you will find tranquility, silence, and the wonderful welcome of the patron Paola; do not just stay there, spend the evening at his bar where the locals gather for a chat, as it was once done in the village bars. It is a wonderful experience to rediscover the authenticity of meetings between new people. You will not regret it. Last eating tip in the area; the Locanda del Busta, a well-kept place with traditional cuisine much appreciated by the Locals.
The most urban city of Umbria. I won't go into descriptions and suggestions that you can easily find elsewhere; I'll limit myself to a couple of tips.
Although over the years the calibre of the artists has changed (I remember when Herbie Hancock performed for example), Umbria Jazz continues to be a nice music festival. If you are a true fan of jazz music, I highly recommend you buy tickets for the private concert, as the public concerts do not attract the top artists in the same way. Since I mentioned the number one event, I can't fail to mention the other big event that's linked to Perugia; Eurochocolate. Do NOT go there. There are many reasons why, it's a commercial gimmick designed to sell old leftover chocolate at outrageous prices, which impacts the entire city. We Perugians hate it because the city becomes inaccessible for the whole duration, leaving a huge mess that takes a long time to clean up. There are many more interesting things to do instead!
Secondly, try Giovanni's wines. These are a 'ghost' cellar in the sense that not much is know about his wines, and you cannot easily find them. This is what I know; he makes natural wines, he is in Pianello, in north of Perugia and in addition to making wine, also produces EVO. If you want to try to contact him to arrange a visit to the winery, I recommend contacting him via facebook (Giovanni Mesina).
Last but not least, there is Cantina Margò, led by the talented Carlo Tabarrini. I advise you to taste their wines because they are simply excellent.
As for advice on restaurants, let's start with the only place I personally recommend, Antica Latteria. This bar appears to not be anything special, but behind its counter you will find the best cream of Umbria, made by Giovanni , who for 50 years has presided over the center, cheering the days of all passers-by with this delicious breakfast. If you are there in late spring or summer do not miss the homemade coffee granita with cream, you will lose your head! As for the rest, my informants highlight La Bottega Del Vino as a wine bar of interest and Osteria Priori, Civico 25 and Stella, as places to enjoy traditional Umbria dishes
If you in the vicinity of Assisi, I strongly recommend visiting nearby Pettino, ideally get there in the morning, take a walk and then stop for lunch. Pettino is the highest part of Campello sul Clitunno at 1074 m above sea level, you have to follow a steep mountain road full of curves to reach it. Once you arrive, you will be disoriented by the vastness of the views. The small village consists of a handful of houses, a church, a soccer field and one of my favorite places to have a nice lunch. What's the name of this place? Boh, but it's the only restaurant that's located here so you can't go wrong. Their specialty is the local truffle which is generously bestowed on omelettes, strangozzi pasta, bruschetta, steaks and more, all rigorously homemade under the watchful eye of the matriarch of the family who runs the business - we are talking about a lady who is in her eighties, but runs around all day in her kitchen.
Our journey through Umbria now heads to Assisi, my native land, but somewhere I know more in name than in fact, since I was only born here. Needless to say, the Basilica of San Francesco is the main sight, along with many other sacred places of strong architectural and artistic interest. However, I would like to draw your attention to the Bosco di San Francesco, a large green park where you can take relaxing walks.
At the foot of Assisi there are two wineries that deserve a visit: Tili and Sportoletti, both producers not only of wines but also of EVO. I highly recommend a visit! If you plan to eat in Assisi, I would like to point out two places. The Pallotta trattoria is located in the historic center of Assisi and has a rustic feel, offering no-frills, traditional Umbrian dishes. On the other end of the spectrum is the Locanda del Cardinale, a sophisticated restaurant in all respects that offers a more elaborate cuisine, supported by an extensive wine list in a very elegant setting.
This is a nice little village like many others in Umbria, except that on the Sunday following Pentecost, it turns into something unique. The city streets display refined floral arrangements in a sort of open-air museum that bears the name Infiorate. A unique and very special experience.
A journey through Umbria cannot be complete without a visit to the wine-growing region of Umbria par excellence, the home of the Sagrantino. The town is nice to visit, with maybe a stop to eat at Via di Mezzo da Giorgione, where home cooking is made even more genuine and authentic. Among the many wineries available, I recommend Raina by Francesco Mariani, who, in my opinion, has managed to find the balance between carrying out biodynamic viticulture and expressing territoriality in their wine production, you can also eat at their estate. And the absolute must-visit winery is Calcabrina, a really special location, also making some of the best goat cheese in Italy.
Castelluccio di Norcia
Norcia was a beautiful Umbrian city, surrounded by greenery and famous for its delicious salami. Following the 2016 earthquake, the city is still struggling to recover, but at least the cycle of nature has not stopped, and continues to offer amazing vistas. In fact, between June and July the plateau at the foot of Mount Vettore is colored by the blooming plants as if it were an oil painting. If you pass through these parts in early summer, you must stop in Pian Grande or Pian Perduto, where you can see the spectacle of this landscape streaked with the bright colors of blossoming flowers, poppies, daffodils, violets and above all lentils which I recommend to stock up on here - they are an amazing quality Umbrian product.
Spoleto is always beautiful, with its cathedral and the Ponte delle Torri, but if you can, visit between the end of June and mid-July when the city hosts the Festival dei Due Mondi, one of the most interesting cultural events organized in Umbria. It is an international event of art, music and entertainment that anyone who loves culture cannot miss. Go there and let yourself be carried away, you will be spoiled for choice between theater performances, concerts, exhibitions, dance performances, readings and conferences.
In Spoleto you'll also find one of the best trattorias in Italy, Capanno. Here you will eat unique traditional delicacies, along with wines from a vast cellar of great prestige. If you find yourself in the middle of a dirt road surrounded by nothing when following the sat-nav instructions, don't worry, keep going, you're going the right way, Il Capanno hides to test you!. In the surroundings of Spoleto you will certainly want to try the Diavolacciu of Cantina Ninni, a small company that enhances the Trebbiano Spoletino like few others know how to do.
The final stop on our journey through Umbria, Terni, the city of lovers, has one of the highest waterfalls in Europe: the Marmore waterfall, a true triumph of the power of Nature. On your way back, stop by Stefano Grilli of La Palazzola, a cellar dedicated to sparkling wine and the breeding of unusual vines in these parts. If you are passionate about wine, do not miss out on Stefano, he is really well-versed on the subject. There is also the possibility of staying at their facility.
We end with Annesanti, a winery launched in 2012 with the aim of producing good wine by promoting the cultural identity of the Valnerina area. The philosophy behind the production consists in promoting the wine business in harmony with a delicate balance between flora and fauna. They also produce EVO. In Terni it is worth stopping by the Oste della Mal'Ora, a well-stocked wine bar with kitchen, where you can find prestigious niche labels from old vintages.
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