Bella Italia-a short break in the foothills of Umbria

On a whim we decided to visit Italy, it was one of the places we had on our bucket list but somehow, we hadn’t got round to arranging a visit. We had a seen a deal through one of the companies who sell the holidays which are not snapped up immediately, a five-night half board trip to Umbria.

We flew from Stansted via Ryanair but this will be the last time we travel with them. The airport terminal at 0530 in the morning was similar to a riot, holiday makers were fighting with each other, drinking and the horrendous hubbub was deafening. Once we had gone through the passport control it seemed to calm down but the whole experience was very tiring and somewhat fraught.

The flight was uneventful and during the final stages, the view down on to the Italian Dolomites was spectacular. As we descended into Perugia the buzz in the cabin quietened as everyone fastened their seatbelts and we experienced an uneventful landing.

Perugia airport was basically a rural airport with minimal international traffic, used by budget airlines from France Germany and the UK, so very small but perfectly placed for the local region. We hired a car with no issues and then drove the hour to the hotel. The hire car we chose was adequate for the two of us but on the way to the hotel the fuse blew on the cigar lighter, not really essential in normal use but this was the power source for our satnav. Fortunately, we were within sight of our objective. Rather than return to the hire company I decided to have a quick look in the fuse box, clearly this had been an issue before as all the spare fuses had been removed. I decided what was needed was a paperclip! I thought reception was the best place to find one but they couldn’t understand what I was describing! Eventually after drawing one and going through what seemed lake a game of charades, we agreed that I needed a ‘Grafetta per fogli’, once found I proceed to unwind it and jam it in the fuse holder. The Satnav now worked and I had provided unequivocal evidence to the staff that the English are completely weird!

The countryside in Umbria is a succession of sharp rolling hills with random escarpments mainly set to agriculture and vineyards.  We wound our way up into the mountains, via a small unkempt road to a village set on the edge of an escarpment. As we approached the village it was clear that the whole village was a hotel complex with fields of ancient olive trees descending down the valley. The Relais il Canalicchio was an impressive establishment tucked away in the hills. It has well-appointed rooms, villas, apartments and views to take your breath away.

The evening we arrived it must have been a quiet day, we had supper on the veranda outside the dining room, the food was superb but the outstanding memory was watching the sun set in the cloudless sky between the hills. This by far was the most spectacular sunset that I have ever had the privilege of watching.

Over the next two days we went south and visited the spectacular historic towns of Todi and Orvieto, both fortress towns from a time long ago after the middle ages, when turmoil was the norm in this part of the world. Orvieto is sitting high on the hill surrounded by vineyards growing the traditional ‘Classico’ grape which produced an excellent wine. The spectacular scenery and quiet roads imbued a sense of peace and stillness. Descending down from one of these towns we went around a bend and the sight of sunflowers in full bloom in the sunshine was incredible. These were grown of course for the oil production which occurs in this area.

Both days we took a circular route and whilst on the inbound leg on day two, we drove through the national park Monti Sibellini which is in the mountainous centre of the region. Views in this area were again out of this world.

On the third day we drove across the hills to Assisi, the birthplace of St Francis. On route we came across the Commonwealth War Graves site just to the east of the city. We paid our respects to the 23 soldiers from the two local regiments, one of the soldiers was related to a family in the next village where I grew up, so even more poignant.

Assisi is a small town nestled into the side of a steep hill, it would be deemed ‘long and thin’ old buildings and shops specialising in the local religious themes, fridge magnets, candles, framed watercolours and everything to do with St Francis were everywhere. We walked to the west side of the town, and saw in the distance the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi. We followed the ever increasingly narrowing road winding slowly downward with high rock faces and ancient houses towering above us. Just as we thought it was going to be a dead end the vista opened up to reveal the Basilica in all its glory glistening in the morning sunshine. The road had opened up to a large square in front of the building. As I was getting my camera ready, there was a furious hooting of a car horn and as we jumped out of the way, a very old red Fiat Panda was tearing towards us from the narrow street behind. As it drew level, we noted that it was being driven by a nun in full habit, together with a friend both with a stern look. There is nothing unusual about this style of driving in Italy but what you don’t see every day, was a Fiat Panda stacked full of large bags of incontinence pads, driven by a mad looking nun, there wasn’t even enough room in the car for a handbag!

Visiting Italy in the autumn is highly recommended for exploring, it was not too hot and comfortable for wandering around on foot. Bearing in mind the hilly nature of Umbria this was my top tip for visiting, spring or autumn is essential!

Next time we return we will have a look at Tuscany but that is the subject of another Blog!

Here is the link to the hotel, please have a look!

We bought the holiday through Secret Escapes, here is their website, please sign up and the deals will keep coming!

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