This year is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy’s many different states into one country. One of these states is Umbria, located in the middle of the country. Tonight we met Stefano Cimicchi, Umbria’s director of tourism, who told us what has made this province a favorite destination for Italian and European travelers over the ages. Their slogan is “the art of life,” and the attractions are unique foods, a history that goes back to ancient times, rolling hills, vineyards and truffle hunting grounds–But best of all, far fewer crowds that can make Tuscany a bit of a strain.
In Umbria, he said, they have a secret weapon–the pretty town of Assisi, where the Pope keeps an apartment that is treated just like the grounds of the Vatican. Pilgrimage tourism is a booming business here, with pilgrims taking the hike from Assisi to Gubbio or Assisi to Rome along the Path of St. Francis. In Perugia, Umbria’s largest city, there is a famous cooking school that also attracts tourists who want to learn the recipes of the region. Truffles, which the locals don’t like to talk about for fear of revealing their locations, are an Umbrian specialty.
Many people in the Pioneer Valley where we live recognize the name Spoleto–it’s the town in Umbria where every year for 54 years there has been a large art, music and cultural festival in this small village. We know the name from the restaurant that’s been an anchor in downtown Northampton for decades. Cimicchi added that the Spoleto festival allows spectators to get very close to the artists as they practice their crafts, and it’s held for 15 days at the end of June.
We visited Spoleto in 2005 with my parents, and I remember the birds swooping in and out of the haybales out in the community gardens. We were en route to Marche and only had time to walk the streets for a while and have a quick lunch. But Umbria, unlike its better known cousin to the North, Tuscany, isn’t as crowded or as popular…so it might be a an excellent choice for your next Italian adventure.