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giro di umbria
by Laura Del Rosso

Our first day trip was to the closest hill town, Todi. At night from Tenuta di Canonica we could see its most impressive church, San Fortunato, whose dome is lighted, glowing like Oz on the next hill.

Todi is one of those towns that is best explored randomly and easily seen in a few hours. Like many of the other such hill towns in Umbria, its streets are narrow and cobblestone, broken up by small piazzas, which in Todi's case sometimes open up to views of the countryside.

The main square, Piazza del Popolo is overshadowed by the Palazzo dei Priori, today the town hall. The setting, thanks to restoration, looks like it is unchanged from centuries and, in fact, we learned it is often used to film movies of medieval battles.

The second stop was driven by my interest in majolica, the ancient form of Italian ceramics. Even though I had started buying a small plate for my kitchen wall on each trip to Italy. I had never visited Deruta, the town where artisans for six centuries have designed and made ceramics.

We drove to Deruta, about 20 minutes from Todi, expecting to stay for a few hours, but ended spending nearly an entire day. We found that many travelers merely stop at the new part of town, where the larger ceramics stores are found, but that the more charming places are high on the hill of Deruta, in the old part of town. There small, family-owned stores, such as Deruta Placens, where we spent an hour or so deciding what to buy, line the streets along the narrow main piazza.

From Deruta we headed to Perugia to spend an evening in the largest city of Umbria and the regional capital. It is a lively university town and even late on this warm summer weeknight people filled the cafes and restaurants of Corso Vannucci and Piazza IV Novembre.

The next day Italian friends joined us and, although nearly all of us had already been, insisted we revisit the great cathedral at Orvieto. The drive from Todi follows a modern highway along a lovely valley beside Lake Corbara.

We arrived at Orvieto shortly before sunset and we watched as the fading light shimmered on the lavish cathedral facade, all clean and sparkling from a recent restoration.

The next day started warm and sunny again, but the weather report said some rain would begin in the afternoon. Still, we made our way to Narni, which tour books describe as intimate and unspoilt. It was not hyperbole. A true hill town, we found ourselves practically the only tourists and had the streets pretty much to ourselves, particularly when the rain did start, giving us a chance to visit the 12th century cathedral and have a long, leisurely lunch at La Loggia, a restaurant in the heart of the old quarter that served a delicious, typical Umbrian pasta dish, stingozzi, thin pasta with garlic and tomato sauce. It paired wonderfully with a Montefalco Rosso, a soft dry red wine from nearby.

Despite the rain, we headed for Spoleto, a few miles north. The dark clouds gave the small city an even more romantic feel and by the time we made it through the medieval upper town and to the Ponte delle Torri, the rain had let up had the sun poked through clouds.

The sun started to set and small street lamps came on and twinkled as we walked across the ancient, arched bridge, savoring the peacefulnesss, with the motor traffic kilometers away.

A stroll to the old Piazza del Mercato led us to outdoor tables at the Ristorante Mercato. In the still-damp air we ordered up deliciously thick farro (barley) soup, a mixed grill of meats and fried zucchini blossoms.

Over dinner, our friends talked of Gubbio and said we had to see the town because it is so well preserved and its history so rich.

So, the next morning we took off for this fabled castle town in the northwestern corner of Umbria. It was a beautiful drive through the Appenines and reaching a long valley where Gubbio rises from a flank of a mountain range on the opposite side of the valley.

We walked up to the Palazzo dei Consoli, the marveling at the architecture and entered the museum inside. The most fascinating exhibit is the Eugubine Tablets, which are the most significant examples of the ancient Umbrian language, and are believe to date from about 200 BC.

see also...
Giro di Umbria
Agritourisimo: Eating out, in!
In the Shadow of a Medieval Tower
What do you know about Umbria?
Visit Umbria
Visit other Italian regions
By the end of the week, we compared medieval hill towns, to decide which we preferred: was it the the cultural oasis of Spoleto, the vibrant atmosphere of Perugia or the historical richness of Gubbio? Or was it that tiny little castle town Monte Castello di Vibio, with its maze of medieval alleys and views of the countryside that we had come across so unexpectedly on our drive from Titignano?

We never came up with an answer. But when a woman we encountered -- on a balmy evening in Todi while stopping to admire an elegant dress shop window -- told us that sociologists from the University of Michigan determined that the quality of life in this Italian region is unsurpassed anywhere on the planet, we were not surprised. After spending a week indulging in the pleasures of Umbria, we couldn't agree more.

About the Author...
The daughter of immigrants from a small town called Molina di Quosa midway between Pisa and Lucca, Laura Del Rosso grew up in California, on the coast south of San Francisco. Her father, Silvio, was part of an Italian farming community on the San Mateo County coast that specialized in growing artichokes. Her parents took the family to Italy every three or four years, and she spent several summers with her grandparents. Today, she writes for a trade newsmagazine, Travel Weekly, and lives in San Francisco. Laura finds she misses Italy desperately if she doesn't get back at least once a year so she usually makes a trip either in June or September, catching up with her relatives in Molina di Quosa and then exploring some new regions, such as she did on her most recent trip when she visited Umbria.


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