When heading on my two-week adventure to Italy, exploring cities including Florence, Rome, Venice and Bologna, I did not think that the rural area of Umbria would be the region that became my highlight. As the sea and the beach are usually my top priorities when going on a holiday, I was surprised how quickly I fell in love with the land-locked region of Umbria. But the medieval hilltop towns, picturesque rolling countryside, authentic and historic culture, food and people completely compensated for the lack of sand and won over my beach-loving heart instantly.
Here are my tips on where to go and what to do in Umbria depending on whether you're looking for an active or relaxing holiday, or why not do a bit of both…
Active - Palazzo Seneca
If you are an active solo traveller, a couple or a family I would suggest heading to Norcia- an old town surrounded by nature in the Monti Sibillini National Park. A quiet town centre is two steps away from Palazzo Seneca and offers a wide range of activities including hiking, trekking, black truffle hunting, mountain biking, rafting, canoeing and traditional cooking classes.
Palazzo Seneca is a charming residence dating back to the 16th century which has managed to keep harmony between antique and modern design. Many of the rooms have some of the best views over the hilltops of the region and the chef makes one of the best blackberry tarts I have ever tried. The warm staff greet you as if you are a member of their family and they also offer you excellent recommendations on what you should do during your stay.
What to do
One of the must do activities in Norcia is heading to the Monastery about two miles away from the hotel to listen to the Monks' prayer. The Monastic community in Norcia retreats into a deep contemplative prayer every day, both early in the morning and then again in the evening. After "feeding" their spirit the monks take care of their body by drinking "Birra Nursia" - a beer that in a short time became a product of excellence in the area.
Norcia town was hit by an earthquake in 2016 and unfortunately a big part of it has been damaged, especially all the churches and towers. This has, however, brought the community and its residents even closer together. The optimism and determination of the people to restore the city is simply heroic and inspiring. From 2017 many different events have been organised in order to support local businesses and projects and keep the spirits up.
Relaxing- Borgo dei Conti
For those of you who enjoy relaxation and wellness I would suggest a beautiful and peaceful retreat to Borgo dei Conti, which overlooks some of the most beautiful valleys in Umbria.
One of the gems of Borgo dei Conti is its positioning- situated on the crossroads between some of the most famous and well-known places in Umbria, Borgo dei Conti does not only offer relaxation but also maintains its authentic history, culture, traditions and spirituality. This does not feel like a hotel, when you arrive at the property it feels like you are in a village with about 20 hectares of greenery surrounding you.
When I arrived to the hotel I was very surprised to hear that the hotel was fully booked as it felt like no-one but me was staying there. The staff are all incredibly intuitive and helpful. The amount of detail they put into making sure you have the best possible time is simply unbelievable. I was given the address of one of the oldest chocolate shops in Umbria, opening times and even suggestions on what chocolate I should try there (it was all delicious!). When it comes to relaxing, the hotel has a large spa offering countless treatment options, outdoor and indoor Jacuzzis, saunas, Turkish baths and chrome- emotional saunas - heaven!
What to do
If you get a bit tired of lying by the pool (it's a hard life) you can head out to explore the surroundings. Italy's fourth largest lake, Lago Trasimeno, is only a 10 minute drive away and is surrounded by silver-green olive groves, vines, woods and sunflower fields. Visit Umbria's capital Perugia - a small but instantly likeable town - and make sure you pay a visit to Brinello Cucinelli, the "King of Cashmere" boutique.
If you haven't checked Umbria off your travel list yet, you are seriously missing out. This area is full of beautiful sights, tasty treats, challenging hikes and truly wonderful people.