Don’t you just love it when you get a bargain? In our family, it’s like we have some sort of gene meaning we are extra special when it comes to hunting out good deals. In fact, when we were kids my sister used to call my dad’s mother “Reduced Nanny” which makes me chuckle to think of now. These days we feel like we’ve won the lottery when we find a yellow sticker (hello, M&S 10p steak mince) and when it’s the travel equivalent of one, well I’m not sure I can tell you how excited I get! When I got a deal fly into my inbox for a trip to Umbria consisting of 5 nights accommodation in a converted monastery, breakfast and a 3 course dinner every day, plus a cookery class and a wine tasting for less than a monkey for us both, I could hardly book it quick enough!
I love Italy after visiting Venice and Rome, and have a few other places to visit on my list (like Tuscany, Como, Milan, Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, I could go on), but if I’m honest I hadn’t really heard of Umbria. But I couldn’t hang around with a deal like that running out so didn’t start researching it until we’d booked and I was really pleasantly surprised to see that it was a beautiful medieval area, full of pretty towns and gorgeous vistas. But I wasn’t able to find a lot online or even in travel books which was nice in a way as it made it feel undiscovered, but totally alien to me as I usually like to read reviews to form an idea of the things we want to do. Umbria seems to be a bit of a hidden gem compared to its more well-known neighbour, Tuscany. So hopefully this guide will be useful to anyone planning to visit.
Where we visited:
On our first day we also visited San Marino, but you can read all about that in my dedicated post.
First things first, I need to thank my husband for all his epic driving during our time in Italy. I couldn’t have done it. I’m a nervous driver/passenger at the best of times and those Italians certainly know how to use their accelerator, brake pedal and their horn! Throw in a different car and the awful state of the roads, I was a bag of nerves and he did an amazing job!
We didn’t arrive at the hotel until after dark so we were excited to get outside The following morning and look at the view which did not disappoint!
Our first visit was down to Stifone. You can’t really call it a town, it apparently only has 30 occupants but it’s such a pretty little place on the banks of the most beautiful river, complete with the ruins of an old port. There’s not a lot there so it’s not somewhere I would suggest visiting unless you were going to do it alongside another stop. We added it onto our visit to Todi.
We also met a lovely little cat that followed us around the village like a dog! I’m not usually a cat person but this little guy was really sweet! My husband named him ‘Salvatore’!
Todi was a bigger town and was high up on a hill. Despite it having a decent sized church which is a bit of a tourist attraction, it was reasonably quiet when we got there at about 3.30pm. We had a lovely wander around the centre and stopped for a cake and a cuppa before we headed back to the hotel.
After heading back to the hotel, we enjoyed another dinner there. We had the dinner included in our package and enjoyed it every night. The restaurant was a really nice setting with big fold out windows onto the pool areas.
The next day we spent at the hotel having a cookery lesson in the morning and a trip to a vineyard in the afternoon.
The cookery lesson was so much fun and we got to make a potato cake, pasta from scratch and individual tiramisus. It was so much fun, especially learning how to make the pasta which we can’t wait to recreate at home.
We also then got to eat our spoils! It was a really fun group activity and a nice way to some of the other guests of the hotel.
We then had a couple of hours to chill out so we wandered down to the pool and sat in the sun reading until it was time to go to the vineyard. We decided to on the hotel transfer down there so we could both enjoy a couple of drinks without worrying about needing to drive.
It was a really short drive down to Cantina Baldassarri, in fact it was so close there was even a walk down there but with it being at the bottom of the hills, we didn’t fancy the walk back up after a drink or two! When we arrived it was so nice to see the fields of grapevines straight away and a small olive grove. It also looked like there were fields of sunflowers flanking the main driveway but it was out of season so there wasn’t much of them left!
We’ve been to vineyards before but never when they were in bloom. Unfortunately most of the grapes had already been picked but the trees were still big and bushy and it was quite a sight to behold seeing them all perfectly lined up in the glorious sunshine.
After we visited the vineyard and learnt about how the vines are grown and maintained, and how the grapes are harvested we then went to the wine production facilities and learnt even more about all the effort that goes into making a bottle of vino. It was so interesting to hear about all the differences between young and mature wine, how sparkling wine is produced and to see the tanks and even the barrels!
After the tour, we got down to business with a wine tasting. I’m not a massive drinker and I find wine can give me heartburn so I didn’t over-indulge but it was nice to try the wine from the vineyards we’d just toured. Unfortunately they had run out of the wine I liked the best so we didn’t take any home but nevertheless it was a lovely trip.
On the Friday we decided to head out again for the day and first went straight out to Spello which was the prettiest little town, known as the town of art and flowers, and it was clear to see why! Nearly all the houses were adorned with the most beautiful flower displays and a few even had awards hanging outside them too! It was one of my favourite places we visited all trip and it was worth the incredibly steep walk up!
After Spello, we went to Foligno to the food festival they had on. Unfortunately none of the street food stalls had opened yet because it was too early but we still managed to visit some of the static food stalls showcasing food from the local area and got to try lots of cheeses and hams. I don’t know about you but I love sampling all the different foods from places and we ended up buying some local prosciutto which was delicious. If I’d had any check-in luggage I probably would have ended up buying much more to take home with us as the samples were all so good!
Before we left Foligno, we decided to get gelato at Gelateria Crispini which ended up being the best of my life. The flavour was called Penguin Pinguini and it a blend of white chocolate, milk chocolate ice cream and the bit that made it so good was the ‘white’ coloured ice cream which believe it or not was mozzarella flavour, fior de latte in Italian. Just thinking about it now makes me want to get straight on a plane back there to eat it again!
Then we headed to Assisi. And what a drive that was! Tiny little winding streets and a wrong turn which ended up with us driving THROUGH an actual restaurant! It was getting quite late in the day but it was so worth it to see the St Francis Cathedral which was absolutely beautiful. The town itself had that same medieval vibe of many of the other local towns we’d visited but the cathedral was like nothing else we’d seen. And we were so lucky to see an evening prayer celebration going on in the courtyard with the priests singing which was really special to see. I don’t know how often they do it but it was just the perfect end to our day to hear it as the sun was setting over the hills.
Our last full day was the Saturday and we decided to spend it chilling out by the pool at the hotel, just relaxing after the hectic driving of the day before. It was so lovely to have nothing to do and the Abbazia Collemedio is in a beautiful spot high on the hill with the most gorgeous views from the pool. We only moved to take a trip down to a restaurant at the bottom of the hill called Fiaschetto, where we had the most delicious carbonara at what looked like a roadside restaurant so we weren’t expecting much!
Then it was back to the hotel again for more reading and relaxing before we got to see the sun set over the Italian countryside. We watched the sun go down by the pool and then headed up to the restaurant for our last lovely dinner. The hotel was so lovely and the staff were so kind, I had a couple of minor medical issues there and was even helped in the middle of the night by one member of staff. Even though the hotel wasn’t our typical modern style, it was decorated perfectly for a converted monastery, and was a really welcoming place. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking to relax and recharge.
The next day our flight wasn’t until 8.30pm so we wanted to make the most of the day and see a bit more of what Umbria had to offer. We thought about visiting Lake Trasimeno but it was in the opposite direction to the airport. Instead we headed to Gubbio which turned out to be one of the nicest stops of our whole trip. We walked all around town, admiring the pretty buildings and views up to the mountains. We also found a very scary looking funicular which basically looked like a Segway with a bar that went all around you and could fit two people in – but just standing there! Looked like a death trap to me so there was no way I was doing it even though Tom was game!
Along the way we stopped and had lunch of a traditional flatbread sandwich with mozzarella, prosciutto and truffle which was really tasty – I think I could develop quite a taste for truffles given the chance! We finally walked back down, we decided to have one last gelato at La Gelateria. They didn’t have any of the Pingu gelato I liked so much in Foligno but I decided to recreate it with some fior di latte and vanillatella which was a Nutella mixed into vanilla which was sooooo good. We sat outside the gelato shop in the gorgeous sunshine to eat our ice creams and finished off our lovely trip soaking up those last few rays. It was the perfect way to end the trip before heading back to the airport.
Umbria was the loveliest little break in the last of the summer sun and the perfect way for us to recharge our batteries after a busy few months. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking to enjoy a less busy version of Tuscany and get a more authentic version of Italy with less tourists. I do hope you enjoyed reading this and I’d love to know if you’ve been or if you’d consider booking a trip now you’ve read this.