Città di Castello (15 mins drive)
A thriving Umbrian market town, Città di Castello has a charming historic medieval centre. Cobbled streets wind their way to the main square where there are restaurants, shops and cafès. At dusk, the pedestrianised Corso (High Street) comes alive as the locals walk up and down for their daily passegiata, meeting friends and family. Famous artists Raffaello and Signorelli worked here and some of Raffaello’s graffiti can still be seen on some of the towns palaces!
Umbertide (15 mins drive)
Umbertide was once an important trading centre on the Tiber river for the ancient Umbri and Etruscans and is now a busy market town. Although it suffered a lot of damage in the second world war, the “Rocca” still stands in the middle of the town. The main square with the town hall is lovely and over the road is the Piazza San Francesco which has three churches in a row and a museum with paintings by Pomarancio and Signorelli.
Montone (15 mins drive)
Voted one of the 10 prettiest hamlets in Italy, Montone is an absolute jewel! Only 15 minutes drive away from Villa Bastiola, this medieval hilltop town is beautiful preserved with stunning views over the Upper Tiber Valley. It is host to the annual Umbrian Film Festival when a huge silver screen is hung in the centre of the piazza and films are watched in the warmth of a summer evening under the Umbrian skies.
Gubbio (30 mins drive)
Fabulous medieval town situated on the slopes of Monte Ingino, it is one of the most beautiful and best preserved medieval towns in Italy! There are incredible views from the Piazza Grande and a cable car can be taken up to the basilica of Sant’Ubaldo high up on the mountainside. In the Palazzo dei Priori are the famous Eugubian tables, 7 bronze tables dating back to 300BC written in ancient Etruscan and Umbrian language. Gubbio still holds many annual festivals whose origins date back to medieval times including the Festa dei Ceri. Gubbio also boasts the worlds largest Christmas Tree which covers the mountainside behind the town, spreading up to the basilica!
Monte Santa Maria Tiberina (20 mins drive)
A long name for a tiny hamlet found on the top of the hillside near Città di Castello. The Rocca (castle) can be seen in every direction for miles around. Beautifully restored this 11C village has incredible views and a fantastic restaurant called “Oscari” right in the centre, reknowned for its truffle and porcini dishes!
Perugia (35 mins drive)
The capital of Umbria, Perugia is an incredible network of cobbled streets and twisting alleyways! It’s easy to get lost here, but as long as you follow up hill, you will always arrive at the main street, Corso Vanucci and the famous fountain, Fontana Maggiore, infront of the Palazzo dei Priori. With a fascinating and bloody history, Perugia has many buildings of great beauty and historical importance and part of the city is underground where you can still walk the original medieval streets.
Home to the international jazz festival, Umbria Jazz, the capital comes alive to the sound of blues, gospel, rock and jazz and the streets are packed with fans. Later, in October, there is the Festival of Chocolate (Eurochocolate) which brings chocolate lovers from all over the world to indulge in a week of pure chocolate bliss!!!
Cortona (40 mins drive)
Although it is just over the border in Tuscany, Cortona is included as it is within a short drive of Villa Bastiola. This sleepy medieval town has been made famous by the film and book of Frances Mayes “Under the Tuscan Sun”. It has tremendous views and the windy cobbled streets still have loads of character. Just down the hill from Cortona is “Le Celle” an ancient monastery which has immense peace and calm and is well worth a visit.
Assisi (40 mins drive)
On the slopes of the Monte Subasio, Assisi glistens soft pink and white in the Umbrian sunshine. Built out of the rock of the mountain, the town blends perfectly into the surrounding countryside. The Basilica of San Francesco has breathtaking frescoes. Early spring or late autumn are great times to visit when there are less tourists and you can really appreciate the works of art. Don’t miss the Eremo (hermitage) further up the Monte Subasio, where Saint Francis used to meditate with his followers.
Follow the road south to see Spello, Trevi and Spoleto, each worth discovering. Turn into the Vale of Umbria to find Montefalco and Bevagna in the heart of the wine growing region of Umbria. Famous for its Sagrantino, this Umbrian red is a major contender to the Tuscan Superreds!
Umbria is a mystical and fascinating region of Italy, with medieval villages and towns dotted all over its hills and valleys. Its roots are ancient and today is still quintessentially Italian in feel with the modern day Umbri very linked with their history and traditions. If you have a hire car just go exploring! The roads are fairly quiet and many of the more beautiful, undiscovered sights are off the beaten track.
Head north from the apartment and in half an hour you will cross the border into Tuscany. Sansepolcro, is home to the beautiful, haunting Piero della Francesca painting of “The Resurrection” and Anghiari is a delightful medieval hilltop town. Carry on towards Arezzo for the heart of the gold industry in Italy, a medieval town centre and more frescoes and paintings by Piero della Francesca.