When you are a lush region rich in history and art, with a long and deservedly proud culinary tradition, you would think that you have it easy. And you would, unless of course you happen to be in Italy, where pretty much each region is rich in history and art, with a long and deservedly proud culinary tradition.
Tourism-wise, competition is pretty tough within Italy. With such a high concentration of art, history and natural beauty, it’s hard to shine through.
Enclosed within Tuscany, Marche and Lazio and only a few hours from towering icons such as Florence and Rome, the small region of Umbria doesn’t have it easy and gets often – unfairly – overlooked. Located right at the centre of the country, it is the only peninsular region that is landlocked, thus earning its nickname as the green heart of Italy.
Whereas Umbria’s secluded nature might seem a disadvantage, I think it might be its best strength. In a country like Italy where some popular destinations get celebrated world-wide like famous top models, Umbria has preserved the beauty of the girl next door: genuine, discreet, unpretentious. The kind of beauty that can win your heart.
Simple. Quiet. It’s the beauty of the olive trees, with their wrinkled trunk and silver green leaves. Of the yellow rape fields that look like picnic blankets laid out on the grass. Of vast Lake Trasimeno that constantly changes its colours to match with the sky. Of the tidy vineyards and the winding roads. Of cities like Perugia and Assisi, where every step is a step through history.
Although Umbria’s beauty is undeniable, there is more to it than meets the eye. Whether you are visiting one of the main cities or exploring the countryside, you can’t help but notice how everything in this region is permeated with a deep sense of calmness. From the quiet alleys in Assisi to the tranquil shores of Lake Trasimeno, life in Umbria seems to move at a slower, more natural, pace.
Should you decide to visit, my advice is to take your time. No matter how long you are going to stay – take your time. Slow down and just meander, forgetful of itineraries or time. Touch the stone walls and the cold marble. Follow a staircase just to see where it ends. Lose your way in the narrow alleys. Eat gelato. Listen. Look up.
This is exactly what I did in Perugia last week – and I loved every slow minute of it.
While that of slowing down is my general advice when travelling, I find it particularly true for Umbria. Interestingly, this appears to be as true today as it was 140 years ago, when after visiting Perugia a young Henry James felt like giving the potential visitor the very same advice (minus the gelato bit):
His first care must be to ignore the very dream of haste, walking everywhere very slowly and very much at random, […].
I firmly believe that if you’re good at something there is no need of shouting it to the four winds. It will show and people will appreciate it.
This is how Umbria shines through.
Date of travel: 19th – 25th April 2012
Disclosure: I travelled to Umbria to attend the TBU conference and had the pleasure of joining one of the post-conference trips organized by the Region of Umbria in cooperation with Umbria on the Blog. Nevertheless – as always on this site – views and opinions are mine and mine only.