If you are looking for a European tourist destination, consider visiting the northern part of the landlocked region of Umbria in central Italy. Depending on your interests, this beautiful area might be an ideal vacation spot. You can get classic Italian food, and wash it down with fine local wine. This area is hardly undiscovered, but is not overrun by tourists. Be sure to read the companion articles in this series that present Perugia and Assisi, the major tourist centers of northern Umbria, the city of Orvieto, and sites in southern Umbria.
This virtual tour of northern Umbria circles the major cities of Assisi and Perugia, which are described elsewhere. We’ll start at Gubbio and circle clockwise, passing through Spello, Montefalco, Deruta, and Torgiano.
Gubbio is a walled, medieval city of some thirty thousand that is known as the City of Silence. It hasn’t always been silent. It sent one thousand knights to fight in the First Crusade. If you get there by car park in the central Piazza dei Quaranta Martiri (40 Martyrs Square) named for hostages murdered by the Nazis in 1944. Where else but in Italy do even the parking lots exude history? The Duomo (Cathedral) dates from the Twelfth Century. Other churches worth visiting include the Church of San Francesco and the Church of Santa Maria Nuova, both dating from the Thirteenth Century. Make sure to see the frescoes. The Basilica of Sant'Ubaldo is located outside of the city. Roman sights include a First Century BC theater used for lectures in the summertime and a mausoleum. There are several palaces and museums. For example the Vivian Gabriel Oriental Collection is devoted to Tibetan, Nepalese, Chinese and Indian art. The Fourteenth Century Palazzo dei Consoli houses a museum with tablets that help researchers understand the Etruscan language. On May 15 Gubbio holds its annual Corsa dei Ceri (Race of the Ceremonial Candles) in honor of its patron saint, St. Ubaldo. It has been doing so for more than 950 years.
Spello is another medieval town, enclosed in Roman walls. The walls have Roman and medieval gates and there are some two dozen medieval churches. The church of Santa Maria Maggiore was probably built over an ancient temple dedicated to the Roman gods Juno and Vesta. You will find some great frescoes. Then check out the Palaces, the Thirteenth Century Palazzo Comunale Vecchio (Old Town Hall), the Fourteenth Century Palazzo Baglioni, and that newcomer, the Seventeenth Century Palazzo Cruciali. During the Feast of Corpus Christi (the ninth Sunday following Easter) the streets are covered with flowers.
Montefalco’s most notable church is San Francesco, which is the town’s museum, one of the most important in Umbria. It has an excellent fresco cycle dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi. Several other churches are found inside and outside the city walls. Visit around Easter and you’ll enjoy the Settimana Enologica (Wine Week) devoted to local wines including the dry, relatively simple red or white Montefalco DOC and the higher quality, sometimes sweet red Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG.
We are now going north and stop at Deruta. This medieval hilltop town is famous for ceramics. There’s the Museo Regionale della Ceramica (Regional Ceramics Museum) with a great ceramics collection and an atrium containing archeological finds. The town also hosts some seventy boutiques and ateliers devoted to ceramics. Of course there are several interesting churches, some of which feature, you guessed it, ceramics.
For some great Italian wine.
Our final stop is the partially walled town of Torgiano, best known for its wine and wine museum. Torgiano vineyards have been well known for centuries. The Museo del Vino (Wine Museum) has a great collection of ancient wine vessels and tools. Next door there’s a tavern devoted to a famous local winery. You can taste some mighty fine local wines, but you will have to pay for the privilege. Local wines include the red, white, or rosé Torgiano DOC and the higher quality red Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his website www.travelitalytravel.com devoted to Italian travel with an accent on fine Italian wine and food. Visit his central wine website www.theworldwidewine.com with weekly reviews of $10 wine and columns devoted to various aspects of wine including wine and food, humor, trivia, organic and kosher wine and lots more.
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