Mystical Umbria Featured

Majestic cathedrals, spring waters, parks and mountains, resonating to the sounds of jazz. Discovering the authentic Umbria
by 02 August 2010

The region of Umbria, with cities such as Orvieto, Perugia, Assisi, Gubbio, Città di Castello and Norcia, conjurs up images on a higher plane, founded on spirituality, art treasures, culinary delights, and a wonderful green setting, combined into a uniquely balanced experience. Umbria has delights and enchantment in store for its visitors 365 days a year.

Our journey starts in Città di Castello, where ancient and modern blend to create a cultured yet dynamic atmosphere. A visit can ideally begin from Palazzo Vitelli a Sant'Egidio in Piazza Garibaldi, dating back to the mid 16th century. Nearby, Palazzo Albizzini is well worth a visit. Art lovers will like Museo del Duomo alongside the Cathedral, with its fine collection of sacred art, and the Pinacoteca Comunale, the second-most important municipal art gallery in Umbria. Located in Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera, its artworks include Raphael and Ghirlandaio.

Perugia is at the very heart of Umbria. The city was founded over two thousand years ago, making it older even than Rome, and still today it preserves the walls that were built by the Etruscans. Umbria has one of the most important archaeological museums in Italy, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell'Umbria, while the main square, Piazza Grande, is spectacular for its monumental prestige. Perugia is host to events that appeal to the senses in different ways: during Eurochocolate, the city becomes an open-air hymn to chocolate and pastries for nine days, while Umbria Jazz has become one of Europe's most celebrated jazz festivals.

Gubbio is a town that has preserved much of its mediaeval structure, and a walk in the city centre is like a journey back in time to the most glorious years of its development. Its principal monuments are all in a fairly small area and so are conveniently visited on foot: Palazzo dei Consoli, Palazzo Pretorio (now the city hall), and Palazzo del Capitolo dei Canonici (which houses the Museo Diocesano).

Orvieto is famous world-wide for the fine wines produced in the vineyards in the surrounding countryside. But this dramatically-sited, cliff-top city is also notable for its heritage of art and architecture, much of it dating back to 1200-1500. Pozzo di San Patrizio is a well that was built when Pope Clement VII fled from Rome and took refuge here, and it was constructed as a source of water for the fortress, Rocca dell'Albornoz. Other important buildings are Palazzo dei Sette, Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, Palazzo Soliano, and the churches San Giovenale, Sant'Andrea and San Domenico. Highlights of a visit to Orvieto will inevitably include a visit to the underground city, with the Necropoli del Crocefisso del Tufo. Teatro Mancinelli is a fine example of a 19th century theatre. However the Cathedral must be the number one visit. Built to commemorate a "miracle of blood," its treasures include frescoes by Signorelli and Perugino, and the chapels Cappella del Corporale and Cappella di San Brizio.

Nocera Umbra is sited on the river Topino, and its old centre suffered considerable damage in the 1997 earthquake. Just south-east of the town, the place known as Bagni has been celebrated from the 16th century for the curative properties of its spa water, named "Acqua Bianca" (white water) or "Acqua Santa" (holy water). Later, a refined spa resort was built here, owned by the Papal State.

Terni offers yet more culture, with many fine churches such as the Cathedral, San Francesco (with the Paradisi chapel), Sant'Alò, San Salvatore and San Pietro. In addition, there is the Ancient Roman amphitheatre, Palazzo Spada, the modern Obelisk known as the "spear of light" (Arnaldo Pomodoro, 1995) and the Basilica of San Valentino, in which the mortal remains of the ever-popular St. Valentine are buried. Terni also offers some natural sights, such as the Cascata delle Marmore, the waterfall with the largest vertical drop in Europe, and Lake Piedilugo.

Last and definitely not least, Assisi. This uniquely spiritual and meditative location saw the work and life of St. Francis and St. Clare, who founded the Franciscan order and the order of St. Clare respectively. The entire city has become a symbol of the aspiration for world peace and ecumenical harmony, in part due to the meetings promoted by Pope John Paul II. Assisi is the finishing-point of the annual 24-kilometre March of Peace (it starts from Perugia). The Basilica of San Francesco is superb in its austere magnificence, on two levels. It contains arguably some of the best-known Mediaeval frescoes in the world, such as Giotto's magnificent paintings depicting the life of St. Francis, and others by Cimabue and Simone Martini. At the other end of the city, the church of Santa Chiara conserves the remains of the saint.

Italy FW 2010