UMBRIAItalians find our fixation with Tuscany strange, when crowd-free Umbra next door is every bit as enchanting – at a fraction of the price. True, Italy’s ‘green heart’ lacks the big-hitters such as Florence and Siena, but who needs them when you’ve got Orvieto, Perugia and Assisi? Clustered close together, Umbria’s hill towns are a more intimate, accessible bet than their put-upon Tuscan neighbours, and a seductive incentive to abandon the villa sun lounger. Food is Umbria’s other star turn: Michelin restaurants pop up like porcini on the forest floor, while every small town – Norcia is a truffle-scented favourite – seems to boast a clutch of superb restaurants and Formica-tabled trattoria serving Umbria’s trademark cucina povera (peasant cooking). But Umbria’s real USP is its silence. This is an ancient, untrammelled land, covered in woods and olive groves, criss-crossed by trails you can hike and bike. View PDF article THE VILLASVillas in Umbria are among the ‘more’ on offer from TuscanyNowAndMore.com. Littered with antiques and art, San Gabriele is like a beautiful family home rather than a rental. Best of all? The garden: thick with lavender, olive trees and figs, it has a 12m pool with close-up views of Orvieto’s clifftop cathedral (from £2,114 per week; sleeps 6). TUSCANYVillas and Tuscany go together like Campari and soda. You want a perfect view for your sunset snifter? Tuscany’s traditional farmhouse conversions hug the ridges, gazing out across cypress-edged slopes and hilltop villages. You want a church or two, a cobbled village square, just in case the pool begins to pall? Say buongiorno to Florence, Pisa, Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca – and a string of ludicrously lovely villages and towns in between – ideal for a lunchtime mooch, with gelato bribes for the kids. Throw in beaches- Tuscany has about 400 km of coastline, and the southern beaches of Maremma are as lovely as anywhere in Italy; hill-walking in the Alpi Apuane; a 30 degree C summer climate, and its little wonder the region has become a byword for villa bliss, calling to the Brits like nowhere else in Europe. THE VILLASPushing the boat out? Browse the high-end villas (some fully staffed) on TuscanyNowAndMore.com. Podere Santa Giulia is a restored ochre-stone farmhouse in huge, mature grounds, with generous lawns surrounding the pool and a vine-covered pergola for alfresco dining. The vast kitchen begs to be cooked in – handy, with the markets of Chiusi and Sarteano close by (from £ 4,703 per week; sleeps 10).