Don’t let the title “Your Perfect weekend in Umbria” fool you. A weekend is far too short to see all of that stunning beauty that Umbria has to offer. But a first weekend there in the lush heart of Italy will definitely convince you to go back. And keep coming back over and over again.
Umbria, the central region of Italy, green and peaceful is impressively beautiful and it’s an amazing destination to visit all year round. It was the last region left for me to explore, having been to all the other 19 at least once in my life and I was ashamed to realise what I had left behind, but as they say, better later than never, right?
This first time there we visited Perugia, Assisi and Gubbio, but I am already planning another trip further south to explore the other hidden gems and borghi (villages) nestled in the Umbrian hills. Yes, because the whole region is galore of rolling hills, vineyards and woods, dotted with picture-perfect medieval towns and villages and it will be impossible not to fall in love there. But Umbria is not only green nature, it also boasts an old elegance, rich history and incredible food and wine traditions.
Start from Perugia on Friday
We started our trip from the main hub of Umbria. Perugia is a college town that attracts thousands of international students who give a lively and active vibe to the city. Park your car in the Piazza Partigiani parking lot and take the series of escalators passing through the underground remains of the Forziere Antico and the medieval centre, which now form the foundation for the modern city above. Stroll around the city, map in hand or not and just enjoy the vibe of the brick-houses. Make sure to stop at Pasticceria Sandri on the Corso for a great espresso and some yummy pastries.
We went to Umbria and in particular to Perugia mainly for the Eurochocolate festival and to stuff our faces with all sorts of artisan chocolate. But in between chocolate sessions, we also managed to see a bit of the city.
Head to Assisi on Saturday
Best known as the birthplace of St. Francis, the gorgeous city of Assisi lies on Umbria’s rolling hills. Religious pilgrims have come here for centuries to visit the Basilica of San Francesco (where St. Francis is buried) and the Basilica of Santa Chiara (to see the tomb of St. Clare).
Despite the tourists and pilgrim buses, you will notice that Assisi is far from being a party city and in the evening most places and shops close early. If you are coming here for some calm, you may find such solitude quite appealing and restorative.
What to do in Assisi
Basilica di San Francesco
Pro traveller’s TIP
Tip: To fully enjoy the Basilica, you should get a good guidebook or rent an audioguide (€6/one hour tour; open 9:30am-5:30pm).
Il Bosco di San Francesco (Saint Francis’ Woodland)
If, after exploring the huge St. Francis Basilica, you feel in need of even more peaceful moments, you should head to the gorgeously restored wood with the same name. The entrance is just steps from the main door of the Upper Basilica and its the best homage to the saint’s love for nature (I would say much more than the basilica itself which is huge and pretentious and St Francis adopted a life of poverty and simplicity and such a church would have embarrassed him, to say the least….)
Hours: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm April to September; 10:00 am — 4:00 pm October to March (the last visit must begin an hour before closing time). Weekends only in February. Closed Mondays, and the final two weeks of January.
(more info about Fondo Ambientale Italiano – FAI)
Via San Francesco
One of Assisi’s main roads which is lined with everything from the kitschiest of souvenir shops to Assisi’s civic museum.
After a lunch made of Torta di Testo and prosciutto, make sure to wander around the little-cobbled streets of the ancient town but don’t miss the Roman Temple in the Piazza del Comune and the lovely museum under the Cathedral of San Rufino. In the afternoon, climb up to the dramatic Rocca fortress for some incredible views, but also for a great physical exercise which you always need when visiting Italy
Immerse yourself in the calm and peaceful Gubbio on Sunday
Gubbio is a cute little village, often forgotten on the Umbrian itineraries because it is a little off the beaten track and not really easy to reach. However, a stop there is necessary especially after spending two days in busier cities like Perugia and Assisi. The road from the latter makes up for a gorgeous drive among the Appennine foothills.
Gubbio is an archetypical medieval walled town which remained architecturally frozen in the middle ages. Be sure to dine on truffles and drink on red wines while you’re there.
Other things to do in Umbria (and that I will see next time):
- Lake Trasimeno
Where to stay in Umbria
Lots of options on Airbnb