Picture this. You wake to the sound of birds chirping. You fling open your bedchamber windows to overlook a spectacular Umbrian valley. You brew your own espresso and wander out onto your own terrace, still in your pajamas and perhaps barefoot. Soft morning clouds are rising from your private valley and grapes are ripening almost literally at your feet. There are no sounds. Slowly, you sip your espresso and butter your croissant. These are the pleasures of renting your own villa in Europe. For me, it was this 13th century lieutenant’s tower in Umbria, set high on a hill and surrounded by roses and other fragrant plants.
‘Torre del Tenente’ is the perfect Umbrian villa.
Often called “the green heart of Italy,” Umbria is where Assisi is located, with its incredible churches and steep streets, its Giotto murals and endless tourist shops. A bit further north is Perugia, another grand city full of chocolate and great sights.
Southern Umbria is a good spot to center yourself for day traveling. Just 90 minutes north of Rome, our villa is in tiny Acqualoreto, between the two gorgeous hill towns of Orvieto and Todi. Orvieto sits high on the “tufa”, the volcanic rock upon which it is built. One of the most beautiful cathedral facades in Italy is here in the main square, with the whole story of the Bible carved in marble on the exterior. Orvieto boasts an artisan street where you’ll find hand-loomed scarves, hand-made leather goods, sculpture, paintings and pottery. Todi, on the other hand, is smaller and more ancient – again with extraordinary views, good shopping and restaurants, but an especially charming atmosphere.
For relaxation, we sip an icy limoncello at an outdoor Todi cafe. Nearby is the Ristorante Umbria for an exquisite lunch or dinner. We take our laundry to Todi (it comes back wrapped in pink tissue paper!) and we shop for groceries here. We get to know the shopkeepers from our frequent visits. They are warm and welcoming. The drive back to our villa is only eight kilometers.
Exploring more Umbrian hill towns, we drive to Deruta, a pottery town where they have been hand-making exquisite majolica for over 500 years. Our favorite stop is Grazia, the oldest factory; Ubaldo Grazia and family have been here for 25 generations. Their guest book displays signatures from the Beatles, (John, Paul, George and Ringo all signed.) Or try Montefalco, an incredible wine town with a church filled with frescoes. Tiny Bevagna has an amazing, hand-painted theatre (ask the tourist office to unlock it for you), plus good restaurants and shops. Spello is a stone-town, with steep streets and the amazing Baglioni Chapel, frescoed by Umbrian artist Pinturicchio. If you are into climbing, visit Gubbio, legends of St. Francis and more hilly stone streets. All of these towns are ancient, founded back as far as the Bronze Age in some instances.
In our tiny Acqualoreto, we climb the road to the square where we find one small restaurant, one church, one bar and very few people. On our last visit, we postulated that the town was Brigadoon-like; we could picture it going to sleep every night for 100 years and waking up exactly the same!
We head up to our tower room for bed now, with perhaps one more limoncello on our terrace, gazing at the star-filled sky.
If you go:
- Grazia Maioliche, Via Tiberina, Deruta; www.ubaldograzia.com, you can ship from here!
- Il Crogiolo, hand-loomed weavings, Via dei Magoni, Orvieto
- Il Girasole, hand-made linens from Florence, Via Casali, Cortona
- Ristorante Umbria, La Mulinella and Antica Hosteria de la Valle, all in Todi
- Il Molino, in Spello
- Taverno del Lupo, Gubbio
- Ottavius, Bevagna