Italy

Highlights

Corso Vannucci

Perugia’s main street is one of the most beautiful in Italy. With the cathedral and the exquisite storyboard of the 13th-century Fontana Maggiore at one end, and the Renaissance treasures of the Palazzo dei Priori en route, it makes the perfect setting for posh shopping or an evening passeggiata.
 
A night out in Perugia

In general, night-time in Umbria is for sleeping. Unless cheesy beach discos are your idea of fun, it’s little better in Marche. Perugia, however, is a different story: its cosmopolitan mix of international students ensures that the bars are lively, and whether beer and indie rock or wine and contemporary jazz is your thing, you’ll find plenty going on after midnight.
 
Cookery lesson at Alter Ego, Perugia

A cookery lesson at this excellent and friendly restaurant costs little more than a good meal, and the wine is thrown in too. There’s none of the preciousness you find in some places, and you get to eat the fruits of your labours at the end of the day.

Umbria Jazz

Europe’s most important jazz festival overwhelms Perugia with an atmosphere of indolent enjoyment. Street bands and free piazza concerts fill the medieval centre, and people come as much for the stunning setting as the music.

Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi

Few galleries in the world have either the quantity or the beauty of the art found in the two churches, one atop the other, of Umbria’s holiest town. Perched on the edge of Assisi, the basilica has been expertly restored to its former glory since the 1997 earthquake.
 
A boat trip on Lago Trasimeno

There are regular ferries from Castiglione del Lago out to the two peaceful islands. But for a real treat, charter a private boat, complete with prosecco and fruit, for a VIP cruise on Italy’s fourth biggest lake. 

Paragliding off Monte Subasio

Strong updrafts all along the western side of the Apennines make it a prime spot for hang-gliding or paragliding. Monte Cucco often stages hang-gliding world championships, but for the chance to sail down on the breeze over Assisi, Monte Subasio takes some beating.
 
Eating alfresco at a summer festa

Many of the region’s old towns have an extraordinary attachment to traditions that go back hundreds of years. Festivals usually involve dressing up in medieval costumes and waving flags, playing music or running up mountains carrying heavy objects. The best of them, in the ancient quarters of towns such as Città di Castello, Montefalco and Gubbio, also involve taverne, or outdoor restaurants, serving traditional fare such as truffle-laden pasta and wild boar at bargain prices, sometimes on benches in the streets, sometimes in settings such as old cloisters.

Trevi

It often seems that the southern part of Umbria has a medieval hill town around every corner. Little changed for hundreds of years, they sit like intricate sandcastles above the plains, seductive invitations to leisurely wandering. Quiet Trevi has fewer obvious sights than most, but it is one of the most intact and perfectly formed.
 
Spring flowers on the Piano Grande

From Castelluccio, a romantically isolated town deep in the Sibillini Mountains, a high plain stretches out across the bottom of an enormous basin. Views of it in spring, carpeted with flowers against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks, feature on many a postcard.

Rafting in the Sibillini

Other places in the world may have more adrenaline-inducing rapids, but the region’s highest and wildest mountains, where wolves and even a bear or two roam, are a stunning place for going downstream.
 
Duomo di Orvieto

Fear was clearly a prominent driving force behind the design of the 52-m tall façade of Orvieto’s extraordinary Gothic cathedral. In exquisite and often painful detail, bas-reliefs from the 14th century illustrate a particularly hellish version of what might happen to you if you’re bad. Inside, Signorelli’s frescoes are similarly memorable and equally nightmarish. After all the suffering and anguish, you’ll need one of Orvieto’s exceptionally good ice creams.
 
Monte Cucco

At the top of the Parco Regionale di Monte Cucco, on the Apennine ridge separating Umbria from  Marche, beautiful beech woods blanket the mountains, and paths climb to the summit – from which there are extraordinary views.

A ride in one of Gubbio’s cable cars

Standing in a small and slightly rickety basket to be whisked up a steep mountainside might not be everybody’s idea of fun, but Gubbio’s cable car has just the right mix of exhilaration and huge views to be vertiginously memorable.
 
Mussolini’s broken nose

High above the Gola del Furlo, one of the steep gorges slicing through the Apennines, Il Duce had a large stone profile of his face built into the mountain. It was later blown up by partisans, but not completely destroyed, and it’s possible to walk up through the forest to stand on his broken nose, from where there is an awesome view down into the gorge below.

Palazzo Ducale, Urbino

One of the Renaissance’s most fêted buildings, the Ducal Palace dominates the university town of Urbino. It’s now a museum, and visitors can walk through its arcaded squares and elaborately decorated bedrooms and imagine 15th-century life in the court of Federico da Montefeltro.

Gradara

In the far north of Marche, the tiny medieval walled town and castle of Gradara are almost completely intact. The setting for the tragic love story of Francesca and Paolo, immortalized by Dante and later by Rodin, it meets all the requirements for a proper fairy-tale castle.

A sunset over Monte Carpegna

In a region over-endowed with jaw-droppingly beautiful views, the sight of the sun dropping behind the Parco Naturale Sasso Simone e Simoncello from the restored castle at Pietrarubbia is especially memorable.

Lazing on the beach after walking in the Parco del Conero

The Adriatic coast of Marche is at its most beautiful just to the south of Ancona, where the rolling rural landscape of the hinterland reaches right down to the sea. Free of the blight of development, small beaches have space to breathe.

Grotte di Frasassi

Deep inside the Apennines, the Grotta Grande del Vento cavern in the Frassasi caves is the largest in Europe, big enough to hold Milan’s cathedral. Nor is it the only attraction here: spectacular stalagmites and stalactites, both large and small, make the 1.5-km route through the caves an awesome experience.

 

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