The landlocked Italian region has many attractions, including incredible art treasures
Finding your own patch of peace - and finding it on the cheap - isn't always easy in Italy. But fortunately for holidaymakers, Umbria isn't much like the rest of the country. The landlocked region between Tuscany, Le Marche and Lazio has art treasures to match anywhere on the peninsula - in Assisi and Perugia abovess all.
Umbria's kindly hills are more often planted with olive trees than with grape vines.
Umbria's big attraction is the stuff that's missing. No Umbrian city makes it into Italy's largest 25. In fact, fewer than a million people live in the region. Vast landscapes are almost empty, smothered in woodland or olive groves, and punctuated by hills that roll their way to a hazy horizon. All that silence is crisscrossed by a network of hiking and biking trails, most of which are well-managed.
Inaugurated in 2013, the Grand Tour Rando recreates the southern Umbria of thse 18th- and 19th-century grand tourists, as a series of long-distance cycling routes. Rides of 200km-300km start from Marmore Falls - described by Lord Byron as a "matchless cataract. Horribly beautiful!" You can cover as much or as little as you like, passing Narni and Amelia, the weird fossilised trees at Dunarobba and the ruins of the Roman Carsulae along the way.
A network of marked paths follow the wanderings of Saint Francis. Italy's patron saint spent much of his life amid this bucolic scenery.
There are bite-size walks in southern Umbria, too. From central Spoleto, you can roam to the ilex woods of Monteluco and back via the Ponte delle Torri, a 90m-high aqueduct that spans a 200m ravine outside the town.
Orvieto is visible for miles in every direction, seeming to sprout from a wall of volcanic rock. The site has been inhabited since the Etruscan era at least, when it was "Velzna", one of Etruria's most powerful cities. It is a place whose character shifts after dark. The streets are a united nations of visitors during the day. But most are day-trippers: when the tour buses leave, Orvieto takes on a local vibe, and it's this that rewards a longer stay.
Head north to gorge yourself on art, without spending a cent. Almost every Umbrian church - the main exception being Orvieto's cathedral - is free to enter. And we are not talking bit-part, consolation-prize art either: some of central Italy's finest paintings decorate the churches of northern Umbria.
Festivals and markets
Umbria has some of Italy's liveliest festivals. Among the best during spring and early summer are Porchettiamo, sBevagna's Mercato delle Gaite , and Spello's Infiorate when the town's streets are carpeted in petals to mark the feast of Corpus Domini. Even a small village sagra (festival) will give an insight into Umbrian life you won't find in a gallery or cathedral.
Away from festival season, you can seep into Umbria at a weekly market. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014