Italy

Umbria & Marche

Shutterstock/17512243/Claudio Giovanni ColomboUmbria is Italy’s only landlocked region, and though a long Adriatic coastal strip forms part of the Marche, it feels like an anomaly, for this part of the country is dominated by its hills. The high Apennines are less a barrier between the two regions than a glue that holds them together – a commonality of landscape and lifestyle.

Equidistant from Rome and Florence, Umbria and Marche have long been marked by the comings and goings to the north and south, but never swamped by them. Essentially rural, their hill towns are often exceptionally beautiful but are usually beacons of stone in a green, hilly, wooded world. And though the Etruscans and Romans dominate the museums, it is the medieval period that has left the deepest impression on the contemporary urban psyche, with many streets having changed little in 500 years.

Religion has made its mark here, but even at its holiest it is a pastoral spirituality – not for nothing did St Francis go to live in the woods, preach to the birds and befriend the wolf.

The food and wine may not generally be complex but they are no less delicious for that. And the art and architecture is astounding but also approachable, largely because few of Tuscany’s tour groups make it this far south or east. But to characterize Umbria and Marche as ‘Tuscany without the tourists’, as many do, is to do them a disservice, for this is an area proud of its own nature. It is rustic but also creative and individual, seldom brash or ostentatious, and all the more wonderful for that.

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