Umbria is southeast of Tuscany and, although less known, is no less beautiful. It is full of wonderful villages, many situated on hill or mountain tops, such as Perugia (known as an important university centre), Assisi (a World Heritage Site associated with St. Francis of Assisi, the Basilica of San Francesco and other Franciscan sites, works by Giotto and Cimabue), Terni (the hometown of St. Valentine), Norcia (the hometown of St. Benedict), Città di Castello, Gubbio, Spoleto, Orvieto, Castiglione del Lago, Narni, Amelia, and other small cities. Contained within Umbria is Cospaia, a tiny republic created by accident that existed from 1440 to 1826.
Umbria is bordered by Tuscany to the west, Marche to the east and Lazio to the south. Partly hilly and mountainous, and partly flat and fertile owing to the valley of the Tiber, its topography includes part of the central Apennines, with the highest point in the region at Monte Vettore on the border of the Marche, at 2,476 metres; the lowest point is Attigliano, 96 metres. It is the only Italian region having neither a coastline nor a common border with other countries. The commune of Città di Castello has an exclave named Monte Ruperto within Marche.
Umbria is crossed by two valleys: the Umbrian valley ("Valle Umbra"), stretching from Perugia to Spoleto, and the Tiber Valley ("Val Tiberina"), west of the first one, from Città di Castello to the border with Lazio. The Tiber River forms the approximate border with Lazio, although its source is just over the Tuscan border. The Tiber's three principal tributaries flow southward through Umbria. The Chiascio basin is relatively uninhabited as far as Bastia Umbra. About 10 kilometres (6 miles) farther on, it joins the Tiber at Torgiano. The Topino, cleaving the Apennines with passes that the Via Flaminia and successor roads follow, makes a sharp turn at Foligno to flow NW for a few kilometres before joining the Chiascio below Bettona. The third river is the Nera, flowing into the Tiber further south, at Terni; its valley is called the Valnerina. The upper Nera cuts ravines in the mountains; the lower, in the Tiber basin, has created a wide floodplain.
Rome or Pisa are the most obvious places for international flights. The choice is wide.
Near Perugia though, San Egidio Airport (PEG) has flights to Tirana, Palma de Mallorca, Milan, Girona, London and Trapani.
The A1 Autostrada that connects Rome and Florence provides impressive views of Orvieto, a town in Umbria, just to its west. However, most of the rest of Umbria is to the east of the Autostrada. The main access roads to Umbrian towns from the A1 are at Orte, if coming from Rome, and the Siena-Perugia highway if arriving from Florence.
The main Rome-Florence railway line has a station at Orvieto, but not all trains stop there. A line also connects Rome with Florence via towns such as Spoleto, Assisi and Perugia.
In some cases getting between Umbrian villages by rail can mean a longer journey than you would expect and a change of trains.
In some places, such as Trevi a bus between the station and the town may be a necessity - but the bus times are not closely linked to the needs of travellers. Forward planning can save a lot of money and trouble.
The unmistakable taste of the world famous tartufo nero is absolutely rife in Umbria. Almost every restaurant in the region will sell some form of the ingredient in one or more of its dishes. The Umbrians are very proud of their truffle usage and it has become the unofficial 'food of the region'. However, its frequency in the area does not mean its price is lower, and you will still find yourself forking out quite a bit of money for a decent truffle dish. Still, at least it's cheaper than the extortionate white truffle found elsewhere, and its flavour is no less impressive (if somewhat more overpowering).
Over the last few decades the quality of wine from Umbria has been steadily going up. Umbrian wines are often better value than wines from neighbouring Tuscany because they are less well known. For example, when trying equivalently priced Montefalco Rosso (from Umbria) against a Rosso di Montalcino (from Tuscany), more often than not, the taster will prefer the wine from Montefalco.
Umbria has two red wines with the top Italian wine classification, DOCG (Denominazione Origine Controllata e Garantita), Sagrantino di Montefalco and Torgiano Rosso. Both these wines are grown in the hills south of Perugia, Umbria's capital city. The Torgiano Rosso DOCG was created because of the superb wines being made at the Lungarotti winery in the town of Torgiano. Sagrantino di Montefalco is made by several cantinas (wineries) with vineyards in the hills near Montefalco. This powerful red wine is made from 100% Sagrantino grapes, a variety grown only in this area. The wine has to be aged in barrels for at least a year and can only be released 36 months after the harvest.
Montefalco Rosso is usually cheaper than Sagrantino, it has DOC status and is a blend of Sangiovese, Sagrantino and sometimes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
There are many other superb red wines made outside these DOCG zones and again, the less well known an area is, the lower the price. Besides the usual Sangiovese blends many vineyards are producing superb "Super Umbrian" wines made with grapes not normally associated with the area.
Orvieto Classico is the most famous white wine from Umbria, it's made from a blend of local white grape varieties and there are some really great wines being made. Most producers in Umbria make at least one white, often with Grechetto or Trebbiano grapes.
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Since many years I love Umbria and have been there on various travels since 2008. So far I have mainly explored the eastern part of the region (east of Perugia) but also Orvieto.
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