Umbria holiday guide

Written by Donald Strachan, Italy specialist and Travel Writer for The Guardian.

Rural features

Spiky crags and forested uplands, or olive groves that sweep down gentle slopes, or the view for miles over Montefalco vineyards from the 'Balcony of Umbria'—these are just some of the images that Umbria conjures up. Drive the back roads in early summer to see the sunflower fields in full bloom, or come in autumn to taste seasonal fruits of the forests like porcini mushrooms and truffle.

Things to do

Centuries of conservative rule under the pope—Umbria was part of the Papal States until 1860—has preserved the towns and small cities of Umbria in their Medieval state. Reach back further in time in Orvieto, exploring ancient tunnels below the city and one of Italy's best Etruscan museums. Perugia's broad, handsome shopping drag, Corso Vannucci, is Umbria at its most cosmopolitan, and Orvieto and Deruta are both known for handcrafted majolica ceramics.

Eating and drinking

Umbrian cuisine is simple and seasonal, and game (selvaggina) such as wild boar and deer runs through almost every course on a traditional menu. Pulses farro (spelt wheat) and Castelluccio lentils, grown in the foothills of the Apennines, provide a filling accompaniment. Olive groves outnumber vineyards—Umbria's extra virgin olive oil DOP is controlled for quality—but Umbria also produces feisty red wines at Montefalco and Torgiano, the perfect foil for the region's rustic cooking. Orvieto's straw-coloured white wine makes a fine early-evening aperitivo.

Art and Culture

Umbria's cities are small, true, but they are stuffed with art treasures. You won't forget the flamboyant, Technicolor façade of Orvieto's 'Golden Lily of Cathedrals', nor Signorelli's doom-laden 'Last Judgement' frescoes inside. The restrained elegance of Todi Cathedral and its rose window are the polar opposite. Perugia has works by locals Pinturicchio and Perugino, as well as Piero della Francesca and others, inside the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria. Each summer, Spoleto hosts a classical music festival that attracts performers and orchestras from all over the planet.

Wineries

Civitella d'Agliano: Tenuta Sergio Mottura 0761 914501. www.motturasergio.it

Montegiove: Tenuta di Montegiove Castello di Montegiove - 0763 837473. www.castellomontegiove.com. Tours, tastings and meals for groups of 8+.

Orvieto Palazzone 'Wonderful tour and lunch with A Big View' 2010. Località Rocca Ripesena 0763 344921; www.palazzone.com. Monday-Friday 9am-6pm - Tenuta Le Velette 'Excellent wine, great people.' 2008 Località Le Velette 23 0763 29090; www.levelette.it

Shopping

Orvieto Spazio Manassei: Gioielli Handmade contemporary jewellery. Via Adolfo Cozza 11/13 0763 341594; www.spaziomanasseigioielli.com

Orvieto Scalo Cardeto: Perfectly good wine sold from converted gas pumps. Via Angelo Costanzi 51 - 0763 300594 - Orvieto Arte Antiques+ Via Monte Cimino - 0763 301627.

Airports near
Umbria and Lazio

Rome's two airports are the most practical points of entry to Umbria and lazio. Fiumicino (FCO), immediately west of the city, is the larger, for international flights; Ciampino (CIA) caters to the discounters and other European airlines and has decidedly fewer facilities. Both are just off Rome´s ring road, the GRA, and equally convenient to the motorways.

At the time of writing, the new airport at Perugia (PEG - Sant´Egidio), in Umbria, was receiving domestic Italian flights and discounters, similar to Ancona (AOI - Falconara) on the eastern coast of Italy.

Museums

Museo del Vino, Torgiano: Tiny Torgiano is the HQ of Lungarotti, Umbria's biggest wine concern, and site of Maria Grazia Lungarotti's gem of a wine museum. The state-of-the-art display includes 3000 years' worth of priceless, often quirky, drinking vessels, gorgeous terracottas, illustrations and documents. Down the street is her equally personal take on olive oil.

Alviano Museo dei Capitani di Ventura: (Museum of the Captains of Adventure) Castello d'Alviano - 0744 905028; www.sistemamuseo. it. Weekends/holidays April-September 10:30am-12:30pm and 4:30-7:30pm; in August also Tuesday-Friday.

Acquapendente: Museo del Fiore (Museum of Flowers) Exhibits and botanical garden. Località Torre Alfina - 0763 730246; www.museodelfiore. it. Friday-Sunday 10am-1pm and 3-7pm (in winter 10am-5pm).

Bolsena. Tomba Etrusca degli Hescana: Località Settecam General information: www.bolsenalake. com - Museo Territoriale Rocca Monaldeschi - 0761 798630. Tuesday-Friday 10am-1pm; weekends also 4-8pm - Basilica and catacombs of Santa Cristina Via G. Mazzini 1 - 0761 799067; www.basilicasantacristina. it. 9:30am-noon and 3:30-6:30pm (in winter 9:30-11:30am and 3-6:30pm).

Festivals

Orvieto: Umbria Jazz Winter 4 days, Christmas to New Year's. www.umbriajazz.com

Bolsena: Infiorata Corpus Domini. Flower festival Hydrangea Festival Last weekend of June - Santa Cristina Scenes from the saint's life (and slow death) are acted out in five piazzas.

Porano: Tomba Etrusca degli Hescanas Località Settecamini. By appointment at 338 2929520

Don't miss

Amelia Cisterne Romane Piazza Matteotti : 0744 978436; www.ameliasotterranea. it. Saturday 4:30- 7:30pm (3-6pm in winter), Sunday/holidays also 10:30am -12.30pm. Carsulae - 0744 334133; www.carsulae.it. Daily 8:30am-7:30pm (to 5:30pm in winter).

Bevagna Il Mercato delle Gaite 19-28 June. Medieval market and fair.

Foligno Giostra della Quintana 1st Saturday in July and 2nd Sunday in September. Medieval fair and tournament. www.quintana.it

San Gemini Giostra dell'Arme 2 weeks beginning the last Sunday of September. Tournaments and parades - 334 3494689

Spoleto Vini nel Mondo Last Sunday in May. Wine festival. www.vininelmondo.org - Spoleto Festival Late June through mid-July. Concerts, opera, ballet. www.festivaldispoleto.com - Flea market 2nd Sunday of each month..

Todi Flea market 2nd Sunday each month - Rassegna Antiquari d'Italia End of Marchearly April. Annual antiques market. www.rassegnaantiquariaditalia.it