No matter where you go in Italy, if you find the highest point in a particular city or region you will likely find some interesting history. Umbria, the region right in the heart of central Italy, is particularly blessed with beautiful hill towns. Etruscans, Romans, and subsequent civilizations built many of their cities on hills in Umbria so as to defend from foreign invaders. Today, the foreign invaders to these elevated areas are tourists who are rewarded with magnificent views. Here is part 1 of several posts about Umbria’s hill towns:
Assisi: Home of Saint Francis
One of Italy’s most visited towns because of its ties to St. Francis, Italy’s patron saint, Assisi (see large photo above) always appears to be bathed in a pale golden-pink light. Even when it’s cloudy, the massive church of Saint Francis, seems to have a spotlight on it – a heavenly glow, even. Assisi is located in the heights of Monte Subasio. The best place in Assisi to enjoy the views of the valley below is from the Rocca Maggiore, the commanding 12C fortress that would, were it not for the Basilica San Francesco, dominate the Assisi skyline.
Gubbio: Windswept, With a Famous Festival
Gubbio sits on the lowest slope of Mount Ingino, a mountain that is the site of a famous medieval festival – the Corsa dei Ceri – which takes place each year on May 15. The Corsa dei Ceri features three teams carrying giant candles (ceri) up the hill to the Saint Ubaldo church. The rest of the year, Gubbio’s charms lie in its stern, medieval facades, such as the Palazzo dei Consoli, which houses the Eugubine Tablets, bronze tablets engraved with the earliest known example of the ancient Umbrii language.
Montefalco: The Balcony of Umbria
The town that gets the title as the “Balcony of Umbria” is Montefalco, a small town about 20 miles from Perugia (the regional capital). Surrounded by medieval walls, Montefalco has, in addition to its 360-degree panoramas of the Umbrian countryside, several claims to fame. Approximately eight saints were born in Umbria, including Saint Clare. A different saint – Saint Francis – is depicted in a lovely fresco cycle by Benozzo Gozzoli in the town’s Chiesa San Francesca. Finally, Montefalco, which lies in the middle of Umbria’s wine-growing region, is best known for its delicious Sagrantino.
Orvieto: Just Plain Gorgeous
This is one of my favorite towns in all of Italy. An easy day trip from Rome, Orvieto stands atop a high, impregnable, volcanic plateau and is perhaps more impressive from the ground looking up than for the views of the valley that it affords. Known as Velzna when it was part of the Etruscan League, Orvieto is on the religious map because it was near the site of the Miracle of Transubstantiation (or, Corpus Christi), and, as a result, has a magnificent Gothic cathedral with frescoes by Luca Signorelli.
I know that I’ve left out a ton of other lovely Umbrian hill towns, such as Spoleto, Spello, Todi, and Trevi. I will cover those in a future post. In the meantime, tell me about your favorite Umbrian hill towns in the comments below.
One of the best ways to enjoy the region’s many beautiful hill towns is to rent a villa in Umbria. The area has all types of accommodation options, including farm stay agriturismo inns to private luxury villas with pools.
Want to know about some great views in Tuscany? Stay tuned for that, too! In the meantime, Jessica at the WhyGo Italy blog recently wrote about Rooms With A View in Florence.