Under the Umbrian sun

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Adding 3 days in Umbria as a prequel to our plans to spend over a week in Lucca was not exactly a last minute inspiration, but it did take a while to solidify itself. We both had some fleeting memories of passing through the region in 1991 and both had regrets about never having spent  more time here. Especially concerning the truffles. We did both remember the truffles. Then when it became clear in the final  iteration of our thrice Covid-cancelled trip to Italy that we would be flying in and out of Rome (instead of London to PIsa—take 1, or London to Nice—take 2), meandering through the magical Umbrian hills to Tuscany became part of the dream. And so it came to pass.

Our flight was neither delayed nor canceled. Our luggage was not mislaid. Our rental car was where we expected and we exited the airport with minimal stress. By noon we were winding our way through the narrow, twisty medieval streets of Orvieto and to the very lovely Hotel Palazzo Piccolomini, where, to our immense relief, our car was parked for us. Somewhere. We didn’t ask where.

Having written the preliminary draft of this post several days later, and continuing now, much, much later I am attempting to recall all the details.  Orvieto did become our favorite Umbrian stop. Why, you might well ask. Well, our hotel was magical. The cathedral in all its golden light splendor was jaw-droppingly amazing. Our first lunch was good, our first pizza was perfect and our up and down hikes through town were all we could have hoped for. Oh and our first truffle tasting at a bar near the cathedral was spectacular.

As we headed to Spoleto the following morning, we drove through some enchanting valleys and over some steep hills. We stopped in Todi, a complete surprise for me, and having parked at the low-cost parking lot at the bottom of the hill (aka mountain) we discovered that the funicular was closed. So, of course, we walked up the 23 flights to the top. Well worth it. A cappuccino restored us and we enjoyed the cathedral and the views.

Then on to Spoleto! More great food, more gorgeous churches, more long walks uphill, more Aperol spris.

On our last day in Umbria we visited Assisi, the birthplace of one of Italy’s two patron saints, Saint Francis. It is as beautiful a hilltop town as you can find. The two leveled Basilica di San Francesco houses an astounding collection of medieval frescoes—especially the great number attributed to Giotto. This is why we came. Too bad so many others did too! Also too bad we were not allowed to take photos. If you decide to go, make sure you plan where you will park in advance. We failed to do this and spent a lot of valuable time trying to figure it out.

Then we headed to Gubbio, which was probably one cute town too many! One take away however—several of these hill towns have added escalators, elevators, or funiculars to help visitors reach the lofty summits. A very good idea. Even with them we were averaging 25 flights a day.

Our final destination of this three day jaunt was the Tuscan town of Arezzo. Severely damaged by the retreating Nazis in WWII, it seemed nonetheless extremely livable. We had been here before back in 1994 with our French friends, but we were thwarted in our mission to view the magnificent frescoes by Piero della Francesca since they were undergoing restoration. This time, we encountered no such difficulty and it was so worth the trip! The sun shined down on us in so many ways as we headed on to Lucca, but would it last?


If you go

  • Hotels:
    • Orvieto: Hotel Palazzo Piccolomini
    • Spoleto: Hotel del Duchi
    • Arezzo: Hotel Continental
  • Restaurants
    • OrvietoL Trattoria da Carlo (truffles!), Pizzeria Al Cardone
    • Spoleto: drinks – TricTrac
    • Gubbio: Locanda dal Tartufo Piazza Grande
    • Arezzo: Il Cantuccio