You hear people talk about Tuscany, Lombardy, Lazio, and Sicilia but Umbria is rarely ever a region in Italy that pops up first in conversation. After traveling here, it’s clear that this is such an overlooked region of the country with so so many hidden gems ready to be discovered.
1. Umbria is Easy to Travel to From Other Large Italian Cities
Below is a map of Italy’s regions, and as you can see Umbria is basically sandwiched in between Tuscany where Florence and Pisa are located, and Lazio where Rome is located.
The closeness of these regions, coupled with the amazing Italian train system, allows tourists and citizens alike to travel easily between these famous cities and small Umbrian towns. Tickets are generally very cheap and there are a ton of train times offered every day.
During our trip to Italy this past November, we traveled to three Umbrian cities- Orvieto, Foligno, and Assisi. Each of the train rides was a little over an hour, which is a similar time to get to Florence or Naples with an express train from Rome.
The trains taken to most of Umbria are called “inter-regional” trains, so they make many stops and are not designed for long, cross-country travel. They were much less crowded than the express Italo trains, which allowed us to spread out but they definitely lacked the comfort factor.
COVID Protocol on trains in Italy: In Italy, you must have a green pass or CDC vax card to board a train and you must wear a mask at all times.
2. You Get to See How Italians Live
I love Italy’s big cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice but it’s much harder to see how real Italians live when you’re exploring the city centers. In these tiny Umbrian towns, you’re going to see many more locals than tourists, and it will be much easier to spot tourist traps as well!
In Foligno and Orvieto, I was able to watch older Italians go out for their morning walks, grab groceries, and get a nice cup of coffee. Unfortunately, my Italian vocabulary is not great, but if you do speak fluent Italian this would be an amazing opportunity to talk to locals and learn about the best things to do, see, and eat.
Something about seeing someone going about their daily life in a place that is so so drastically different than you is indescribable. I still remember seeing a group of elderly men in Assisi sitting on a front porch talking. I loved the thought that they probably have lived there all of their lives and have known each other for decades. The simplicity of life in small Italian towns is like no other, as it’s something you’d rarely see in the states. Here, it’s nearly impossible to live a comfortable life as a waitress or a taxi driver (sad, but true), but in Italy that is peoples’ career and they can actually live comfortably doing it!
I find that Italians love authenticity, the small moments and the little things in life, and tradition. You can absolutely see that when you walk through the town streets.
3. You Learn About Italian Culture and History in a Way You Normally Wouldn’t
You commonly hear about the Romans and the Medici family of Florence, but you rarely hear about the rulers and conquerors of these small towns. Just like the country you’re from, you only learn about the highlights, the big wars, and the big rivals. It’s impossible to know every little aspect of each little Italian town, but that doesn’t mean it’s not great history. In Orvieto, for example, my mom and I took an “Orvieto Underground” tour for 10 euro each and it was well worth it to understand the history of the town.
It turns out Orvieto has a series of tunnels- over 1200 to be exact- throughout the town. These tunnels had various purposes throughout periods of history such as storing water, raising chickens and pigeons, and making olive oil and they were used up until the end of WW2. Now, almost all of the tunnels are private and cannot be toured by the public because they are under people’s homes! Because the town was built on a huge hill, we were told about the Etruscans, the siege of Orvieto, and other monumental events in the town’s history. These are certainly things you wouldn’t be able to easily find in a broad-based Italian history book.
Additionally, in these small towns, the employees of shops and cafes along with tour guides are typically always born and raised in the town. This gives you a great insight into daily life, and it’s a great opportunity to learn about their favorite places to eat, shop, or hang out. Before going to Orevito, we actually found an Umbria-focused blog that pointed us to the WORLD’S BEST carbonara.
4. Especially During COVID, You Practically Get The Cities and Towns to Yourself
When my mom and I were exploring these small towns during November 2021, they were absolutely empty when it comes to tourists! There were a few here and there, and Assisi had most of them, but generally there were very few. This was great because you could always get tickets to sites and tours without advanced bookings and tour groups were small. For example, we decided to tour the Torre de Moro in Orvieto and generally with these towers there would be a ton of people climbing up and down and even a wait at the bottom. Instead, we got the entire tower climb and viewpoint to ourselves!
However, there are downsides to be aware of. Since the tourism industry hasn’t picked up in these towns there are lots of things that are closed. This includes attractions, churches, hotels, and restaurants. Particularly in Assisi, we struggled to find any restaurants that were open aside from the obvious tourist spots. Additionally, many shops were closed and transportation ran less often.
Overall, these downsides definitely do not outweigh the beauty and peacefulness of empty Italian roads!