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Often overshadowed by its showier neighbour Tuscany to the northwest, Umbria is a well-guarded secret by those in the know. The ‘green heart’ of Italy is an undulating landscape of olive groves and vineyards, where almost every – stunning, medieval – town seems to perch in scenic splendour on the top of a hill. ‘La Terra Dei Santi’, the land of saints, is the birthplace of hundreds, including St Valentine, St Francis and St Benedict, and it’s filled with churches and chapels dedicated to such workers of miracles. Umbria borders neither the sea nor any other country, and this has led to a retention of old-world traditions in an area that’s also rich in Etruscan, Roman and medieval monuments. And of course, this being Italy, the food is divine – the region is particularly known for its truffles, hams and cheeses, and produces excellent wines.
Assisi’s claim to fame is as the birthplace of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, who was born there in 1181. This pretty pink-stone medieval town on the slopes of Mount Subasio is one of the most visited in Umbria, thanks to the legacy of its famous onetime resident. Pilgrims make the journey to worship at his burial place, the immense Basilica di San Francesco, which was built in his honour between 1228 and 1253 and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site filled with beautiful frescoes. The surrounding Monte Subasio Park is steeped in the history of Saint Francis, and you can make like the man himself by taking in the surrounding natural wonders on a well-planned network of hiking trails, plus dirt roads ideal for horse riding and mountain biking.
Although many of Umbria’s hill towns are blessed with better-than-average looks, your first sight of Orvieto, balanced atop huge craggy slabs of dark volcanic rock and towering over the plains of the Umbrian southwest, is pretty much guaranteed to make you go weak at the knees. The jewel in this lofty crown is the town’s magnificent Duomo, a 14th-century Gothic masterpiece known for its dazzling façade, which took some 300 years to complete. The cathedral was built to commemorate the happening at Bolsena in 1263, when a communion wafer was said to drip blood, thereby confirming the miracle of transubstantiation. Inside, the Chapel of San Brizio is decorated with Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli’s majestic frescoes of The Last Judgement, said to have been an influence on the work of Michelangelo. While you’re in town, pay a visit to the 2,600-year-old Necropoli Etrusca (Etruscan tombs) just below the town, which have in the past been used as wine storage, World War II bomb shelters and a means of escaping sieges, and are open to guided tours.
For foodies, Umbria’s top destination has to be the town of Norcia. Nestled in the foothills of the Sibillini Mountains, it is one of Italy’s leading gastronomic centers, known for its delicious hams, salamis, lentils, cheeses, and that elusive delicacy, the truffle. Come in summer to hunt the more common black truffle, or fall to seek out its rarer white cousin. The heart of the picturesque town is its main square, Piazza San Benedetto, which is named for its most famous son, St Benedict, and is the site of a Gothic basilica dedicated to him. In spring, the surrounding plains of the Piano Grande are carpeted in abundant colorful wildflowers, and there is good hiking to be had in the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, where the highest peak, Monte Vettore, reaches 8,132 feet. Maps are available in Norcia, trails are well marked and there are tours provided by the parks service.
From Castello di Reschio in the north to Viterbo further south, our selection of villas in Umbria is spread throughout this beautiful region of Italy. We have everything from romantic hideaways for two to 15-room properties big enough to house the archetypal Italian gathering of la famiglia.
The beautiful pink-stone town of Assisi just exudes romance, and if you’re on the hunt for the perfect Italian wedding venue, our Assisi villa rentals could be just the thing. How about a gorgeous old castle villa set in the rolling green hills, its terraces blessed with panoramic views, a playground in the gardens for the little ones, and even a church on site, so you can invite your nearest and dearest to see you wed among the fruit and olive trees. Your Luxury Retreats concierge can help you arrange the services of a proper Italian cook, for alfresco dining under the stars. You’ll find rentals with cool tiled interiors and warm, sun-soaked terraces with private pools, and some with fitness center and sauna facilities. Local village restaurants and shops are only a short drive away, so either stock up and create a pasta feast back at your villa or enjoy a glass of wine and a plate of delicious salumi in that lovely little trattoria you stumbled across earlier in the day.
Perugia, the hilltop capital of the Umbria region, is a university town with a rich history and an atmospheric center. Choose one of our Perugia vacation rentals to stay close to the bustle of a typical Italian town but with plenty of seclusion should you wish to retreat for some peaceful contemplation. Perhaps you’d like to stay in a converted medieval watchtower with views across the olive groves, a home next to a golf course or a castle villa built in the middle ages? Whatever you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it in our wonderful selection of luxury vacation rentals.