Piano grande di Castelluccio: a mountain plateau in Monti Sibillini National Park. Photo credit: Ruurd de Jong.
Letizia Mattiacci wrote this green guide to Umbria, Italy. Together with her husband Ruurd, she owns and manages Agriturismo Alla Madonna del Piatto www.incampagna.com, an eco-friendly B&B and home-style cooking school near Assisi. Mattiacci is also a food writer for various websites and her own blog www.madonnadelpiatto.com. See more Green Guides.
There are endless reasons to come to Italy. The history, the fashion, the food. The hustle and bustle of Rome, Florence, Naples. The art, the culture.
However, if you are looking for a greener way of enjoying Italian life, if you are looking for peace, come to Umbria, the Green Heart of Italy.
A visit to Umbria represents the quintessential experience of the Italian countryside. All is there, like a dream: medieval stone alleys; poppy-clad fields; languid Madonna paintings; miniature piazzas with old men playing cards at the bar and rolling hills covered by olives and vineyards.
Perugia: medieval palace built on top of the 2,500 year-old Etruscan walls. Photo credit: Ruurd de Jong.
In Umbria, if you want to connect with the local life, you must slow down and:
1. Take your time. For an extended holiday, you will need to drive as some of the best places are not easily reachable by public transport. However, Umbria is very small. Keep to a maximum of two hill towns per day. Park outside the city walls and walk. Find the top of the hill and enjoy the views. Bring some picnic food to an olive grove and take a nap, paint, meditate or just look around.
2. Hike. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking in Umbria. Assisi stands at the foothill of the Subasio Mountain. If you don’t have a car, get to the Franciscan Hermitage Eremo delle Carceri by taxi and then walk the path to the top of the mountain. If you have more time, you can hike for days around the Piano Grande di Castelluccio in the Monti Sibillini National Park.
3. Stay with the locals. Agriturismo and B&B is the way to go in Umbria. The choice is huge, but my preference is to stay at eco-friendly, small, family-run places. I love places where your hosts will welcome you with a slice of homemade bread and something they produce like olive oil, jam, wine or salami.
4. Eat like the locals. Umbrians are masters of peasant fare. Buy your picnic food from small shops, no supermarkets or chain shops please. You will find a mouthwatering variety of cured meats, pecorino cheese, truffle in all forms, almond based sweets and rustic biscotti. Forget the Chianti and go for the sturdy local reds from Montefalco, Assisi, Monti Amerini or Torgiano. Choose mom-and-pop trattorias in the back roads instead of the glittery white cloth tables of the central square. The real soul of Umbrian food is at home, don’t miss an opportunity to try home food if you can!
5. See the crafts. Almost every town has artisans, you won’t always find their workshops in the main streets. Do explore and ask and you will be rewarded by treasures, often produced by the same family for generations. In Perugia, I love the Giuditta Brozzetti textiles and the Moretti-Caselli glass studio. In Deruta, Franco Mari, Fratelli Nulli and Ubaldo Grazia are the stars of multicolored majolica, famous in Europe since the 15th century. Luca Peppoloni’s whimsical ironwork in Spello is perhaps too heavy to put in a suitcase but visit if only to meet this special man.