Medieval towns, truffle hunts and forested hills make this region a true gem
Go for this: Assisi’s spirituality, Spoleto’s music festival, Perugia’s elegance
But try this: Visiting Brunello Cucinelli’s cashmere factory in Solomeo
Favorite hotel: Palazzo Seneca (Norcia)
Favorite guest experience: Truffle experience at Urbani’s headquarters
Foods: Lentils, game, truffles (of course!)
Best time to visit: April-October
Heart of Emerald
There’s a saying in Italy that goes like this: “l’Italia ha un cuore verde, l’Umbria,” meaning, “Italy has a green heart, Umbria.” As I spend time in the capital city of Perugia, it’s clear that this is no exaggeration. Geographically, Umbria is right in the center of the country. But it’s really the lush green hills surrounding the region that drive the motto home. It’s simply breathtaking. I take this scenery in, along with the incredible sight of ancient Etruscan ruins, during my morning swim at Brufani Palace Hotel’s gorgeous glass bottom pool. This is how morning swims were meant to be enjoyed.
For breakfast I head to Pasticceria Sandri, a 19th century bakery covered with spectacular frescoes. I have one of their specialties—a chocolate cake lathered in chocolate hazelnut frosting. Perugia is, in fact, a chocolate capital and home to the world-renowned Perugina chocolate factory, famous for its Baci. One day I will visit in October for Perugia’s Festa di Cioccolato (Chocolate Festival). But that will have to wait. I have a date with some dogs and truffles ahead of me.
In a tiny hamlet near Spoleto lies Scheggino, home to Urbani Truffles. As a food aficionado with a keen interest in tracing my favorite ingredients back to the source, Urbani’s operations do not disappoint. Similar to how Milton Hershey developed his town in Pennsylvania (but on a more intimate scale), Scheggino is dedicated to Urbani with nearly everyone in town associated with the company. There is even a meticulously organized museum that recounts the history of the family and portrays the development of the town and truffle business as not only a family affair but as a civic undertaking.
My experience starts with the hunt. I join Urbani’s most dedicated employees, the truffle dogs, on a search around the scenic Scheggino woods. It’s a magnificent experience made all the better by great company (I bonded with a friendly pooch named Vespa). Hunting works up a hunger and now it’s time to taste the fruits of our labor—a 4-course meal at the Truffle Academy. Our menu included a variety of truffle pates and antipasti, a rich pasta with truffle ragu, beef medallions in a truffle sauce (of course, topped with shaved truffles), and a dessert with truffle infused chocolate.
Strolling along the cobblestone streets of Perugia I feel like I have gone back in time. It seems that being the only Italian region that borders neither coast nor another country has protected its old world traditions.
Umbria’s landlocked geography also means that its cuisine is made up of big, earthy flavors. For dinner I visit Ristorante del Sole. My table on the veranda overlooks the countryside and the town of Assisi. I try a local tagliatelle made with wild boar ragu; my date has pork loin with shavings of truffle. Wild boar is a bit of a specialty around Umbria and the way it’s prepared here is masterful. These are flavors I’ve never tasted in other parts of Italy.
With the night coming to a close I think about what I’ll do tomorrow. I have yet to see the Basilica of St. Francis or the Roman remains scattered around Assisi. Maybe I’ll go wine tasting in Montefalco or have a picnic on Lago Trasimeno. They’re all incredible options, and I cannot wait to experience each one . . . eventually. For now I top off my glass of Sagrantino di Montefalco, sit back and enjoy the view.