Under the Umbrian sun
Thu Oct 2015
Two weeks in Umbria really couldn’t have come at a better time. The day before we left, it was raining. I was staring out of the office window, deep-set frown upon my face and a serious case of Vitamin-D withdrawal. All I could think of was in 48 hours I’d be sitting on the terrace of our villa, glass of cold white wine in hand and basking under the Umbrian sun. Forget the early morning start to catch our flight; I was very, very ready for this holiday.
Upon our touchdown in Perugia we were met with some pretty heavy humidity. Compared to what I had grown accustomed to during the rainy British summer, my sister had been out adventuring in Florence and Rome before us and had become a rather unfortunate victim to the mosquitoes... but thanks to her forewarnings, we were armed with bug spray and plug-in repellents, I managed to spend two weeks in the peak mosquito season blissfully unbitten.
What can be said about Umbria? The climate is gorgeous. It was a balmy 28-or-so degrees when we landed, and the land around us was lush and green. The hills in the distance were dotted with the iconic Italian Cypress trees that make Tuscany and Umbria skyline so instantly recognisable. It was that time of year when crops were being harvested so yes, we saw those picturesque sienna fields over the rolling hills. Our choice of villa in San Felicano looked out over Lago Trasimeno and Isola Polvese, with Castiglione del Lago peeking out from behind it in the distance.
That first sip of Umbrian wine in the evening, enjoyed while watching across the lake as the sun sunk beneath the distant hills from our private loggia, we knew we were settling in to something really special.
A day out in the old city of Perugia was on the cards (it rained, but it was a refreshing sort of rain that I loved), where we took the funicular railway up to the ancient city on the hill. A bit of museum hopping and a peek inside the cathedral, lunch was an extremely generous antipasti platter which took me by shock at first but by the end of our stay, I probably could have scoffed the lot on my own in one sitting! I very much recommend climbing down into the Rocca Paolina, an ancient medieval network of walls and streets that still stands but serves as the foundations for the city above it. Beautifully lit, and eerily mysterious!
[Caption: Rocca Paolina]
A day trip to Assisi is a must. A little quip of essential advice for when visiting Umbria and Tuscany is pack plenty of modest clothing. The land around Lago Trasimeno is known as ‘The Land of the Saints’ for a good reason; it is devoutly Catholic and if you have an interest in visiting Cathedrals and religious landmarks, ladies will be required to cover their legs (skirts/shorts below the knee) and their shoulders, gentlemen must dress with respect (no garish t-shirts or low-scooped armholes). That mini-lesson aside, take the time to visit the Basilica of St. Francis, the beautiful architecture will whisk you away, and even the drive/approach to the town of Assisi that sits on the hill is stunning. Climb up from the narrow cobbled streets, under arch ways and down alleyways. The town is full of hidden delights.
[Caption: Basilica of St. Francis]
One of my key bits of advice when visiting Umrbia is... Eat everything. No- really! The whole country is awash with culinary delights that are guaranteed to tickle your taste buds, so leave those fad diets at home in England and tuck right in. Sample all of the different kinds of pasta dishes, every flavour of gelato (pistachio is to die for!), try some of the fish from the lake, some wild boar stew, a pizza (two... okay, maybe four), devour a huge bowl of tiramisu and then wash it all down with a crisp glass of wine.
[Caption: Tiramisu round 6]
Hopping on a boat from Passignano Sul Trasimeno we ventured out to the small fishing village on Isola Maggiore on the lake. By this point in our trip to Umbria the temperatures had risen to a rather sweaty 35-36c, but when we touched down on the island we were greeted with a cool breeze from across the lake, and thus began our 2km hike around the perimeter. The island feels like a special get away, secluded and peaceful, far away from the crowds of tourists who flock to the popular destinations at this time of year. There are some fabulous restaurants on the island too, but make sure you book ahead where possible for they can get very crowded during the lunch time rush.
My father was keen to visit Siena, to reminisce the time when he and his college friends road-tripped through France and Italy to watch the famous Il Palio di Siena horse race when they were in their early twenties. How the city has changed since the 1970’s, he recalled with wide-eyed wonder as we climbed up through the winding narrow streets and past boutique designer shops. We stood in the Piazza del Campo in exactly the same spot he stood all those years ago and drank in the beautiful surroundings. Back then they were the only English-speaking people for miles around, and something of a novelty to the Italians they rubbed shoulders with. He smiled rather fondly at the memory. Not without huffing and puffing, my mother and I climbed the steps to the top of the Palazzo Pubblico tower to look out over the city and the Tuscan hills beyond. It felt somewhat surreal. Like we had stumbled unwittingly into some gorgeous abstract painting, and it’s no surprise that artists and designers flock to this land from all over the world for inspiration.
It seems fitting that as the official days of the Italian summer came to a close and our flight home drew nearer, the weather began to turn. The winds from the north picked up, and the temperature dropped, I spent the last two evenings of our stay watching lightening storms flickering across the lake and hearing thunder rumbling off the hills. The rain washed away the sweaty humidity that had hung over the lake throughout our stay, and the air was cool once more.
If I had one word to describe Umbria I would say ‘indulgent’. Indulge in food, indulge in wine, indulge in culture, and indulge in beauty... It turned out to be one of those trips where the high standards that I wearily hold myself to at home just disappear. Goodbye to the miserable Tupperware lunches of limp leaves and dairy-gluten-wheat free dismalness, and hello to delicious home-grown food fresh from the rich Umbrian soil. I may have come home a couple of pounds heavier than when I left, but without a doubt, I would do it all again.
Italy, you’ve been a delight. Until next time!
Tilly Tasker, Inghams Italy Content Management Executive.