Arrival in Rome
Guests arrive at the hotel train/taxi. The hotel is situated in Monti, the picturesque, increasingly hip residential quarter of Rome to the east of the Colosseum. At its quieter eastern edge, this boutique hotel is well-placed to take advantage of its shops, eateries and nightlife, but also handy for those arriving at the city’s main Termini train station – which is an easy seven-minute walk away.
Our hotel in Rome is The Fifteen Keys.
A walk around Rome, and a welcome dinner
We’ll explore some of our favourite parts of Rome, not necessarily those that rate highest on the tourist radar but those that have resonated with us over the years. We’ll have a coffee or maybe a granita in Piazza Navona near Bernini’s lovely fountain, take a look inside the splendid baroque church of Sant Agnese in Agone on one side of the piazza and stroll to another baroque wonder, the Contarelli Chapel inside the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi to see some miraculous works by Caravaggio, the bad boy of Italian art. We’ll toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, take in the Pantheon, walk to the Spanish Steps and stroll along Via Condotti, the catwalk of Roman fashion. We’ll also explore the Doria- Pamphilj Gallery, housed in the palace of the family of the same name, a suitably ornamented backdrop to the works of Bernini, Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael.
Transfer from Rome hotel to Perugia (approx 3 hours)
Home for the next few days is the marvellous Sina Brufani, a five-star hotel set high at the heart of the medieval city of Perugia overlooking the Umbrian valley. The hotel’s spa features a swimming pool with a transparent floor and lit up below, the remains of an Etruscan settlement dating back to 1000 years BC.
In the afternoon we’ll take a guided walk through the cobbled alleys, arched stairways and piazzas of Perugia’s historic centre, to include one of Italy’s outstanding Gothic palaces, the Palazzo dei Priori, which also houses a superb gallery of Umbrian art spanning several hundred years as well as frescoes in the Collegio del Cambio.
Perugia is also the home of Baci Perugina, which is to chocolate lovers what the Isle of Islay is to whisky. Chocoholics will not be left unmoved.
Our hotel in Perugia is Sina Brufani.
A walk through Gubbio
This is the classic Umbrian hill town, tailor made for Game of Thrones, angular and severe on its perch on the steep slopes of Monte Ingino, Instagram moments at every turn. Gubbio is an outstanding example of a medieval town, in a miraculous state of preservation. We’ll wander through and visit the Palazzo dei Consoli and its gallery and a medieval wonder, the Piazza Grande and the 14th-century Palazzo del Bargello, still in original condition and home to the Society of Crossbowmen, visit the Basilica of the 12th century Sant’ Ubaldo whose body lies in a glass coffin above the altar and ride the funicular to Mount Ingino for panoramic views.
In the afternoon, free time to explore Perugia, and perhaps experience the spa at our hotel.
Orvieto, the Vision Splendid
Perched on top of an enormous volcanic plug, the spectacle of Orvieto challenges the imagination. Highlight is the Duomo, a towering wedding-cake of a church three centuries in the making, exquisite in its detail. No less impressive inside thanks largely to Luca Signorelli’s graphic frescoes (1499-1504) of The Last Judgement. Beneath the city is a labyrinth of caves used over the centuries to store wines and to escape barbarian raiders and the bombs of WWII. We’ll visit the Museo Claudia Faina which showcases Orvieto’s rich Etruscan past and the National Archaeological Museum.
In the afternoon we’ll visit the pretty hill town of Deruta, which specialises in the production of ceramics known as majolica. Said to have originated from the Spanish island of Majorca, Deruta’s majolica still follows the Moorish design laid down centuries ago. Richly decorated, majolica plates, jugs and vases make fine souvenirs. Those who wish can take an optional 3-hour ceramic and painting workshop.
Assisi, sacred ground and a taste of country life
The sole reason that many travellers come to Umbria, the home of St Francis of Assisi and root of the Franciscan order he established resonates with spiritual force. The burial place of St Francis, the overwhelming Basilica di San Francesco, is decorated by some of the masters o Italian art, including Giotto, Cimabue and Simone Martini. Among the other highlights, we’ll visit the historic centre of Assisi, the Basilica di Santa Chiara and climb up Rocca Maggiore for views over the valley below.
In the afternoon we’ll drive to Rasiglia, a beautiful medieval town also known as the “village of streams”, since it has so many tiny rivulets running between its stone walls, adding their own music to its narrow alleyways.
We’ll then continue to our hotel in Castello di Postignano. Pitched high on a hillside in the rolling hills of the Valnerina, this fortified hamlet was abandoned but then rescued in a government sponsored project that harnessed the creative skills of a passionate team of architects, designers and engineers who turned its 22 stone houses into elegant suites.
Our hotel for the next three nights is the Hotel Castello di Postignano.
We’ve got two words for you: Truffle. Pasta.
Umbria is famous for truffles and at a working farm near Pettino we’ll experience a truffle hunt with the dogs that are used to detect these delicious fungi. After the truffle hunt we’ll make pasta by hand.
Norcia and the scent of heaven
Italy’s capital of pork, the entire town of Norcia is dedicated to this single commodity. Not only domesticated pigs but also the cinghiale the wild boar. Salamis hang like Christmas decorations from shopfronts and you get these incredible mouth watering smells just walking down the main street. As well as pork Norcia is the place to sample black truffles, provolone and goat cheeses.
Afterwards drive across the Plains of Castelluccio, a subset of Mont Sibillini National Park, which should be exploding with wildflowers, and possibly seeing the first flocks of sheep coming to graze on summer pastures.
A day at home with Aussie expats
We’ll spend a day with Virginia, Liz’s sister, an eminent artist who has lived in Umbria for close to three decades, in an olive mill that she and Giancarlo, her husband, converted to a family home. Virginia is a great storyteller with a profound knowledge and passion for her adopted home, and her perspective as an outsider gives her invaluable insights on Italian life and culture for an Australian audience. Virginia will also talk about her work and lead us on a tour through her garden, on the lower part of the hill town of Trevi, with impressive views across the valley.
As passionate as she is about her work, Giancarlo, a former Italian diplomat, is passionate about his olive grove and the crops he cultivates on the rising ground above their delightful house, and also about cooking. Gian will prepare lunch which will be served outside on the terrace, weather permitting.
In the afternoon we’ll transfer to our hotel in Montefalco, Palazzo Bontadosi, a Renaissance palazzo with frescoed ceilings, chic contemporary furnishings and original art, an excellent restaurant and pocket-sized spa – and even a resident ghost.
Our hotel in Montefalco is the Palazzo Bontadosi.
Montefalco and Spello, two classic hill towns
Montefalco is one of the sweetest hill towns of Umbria, a walled town with a charming medieval centre rising to the stage set of the main square, Piazza del Comune. Its main source of fame is Sagrantino di Montefalco, a red wine made from a grape grown only on the surrounding hillsides. It’s a huge wine, the basso profundo of Italian red wines. Although small, Montafalco punches well above its weight with the Museo Civico di San Francesco, among the region’s finest small galleries, centred on a superb Renaissance fresco cycle on the Life of St Francis by the Florentine Benozzo Gozzoli.
We’ll also explore Spello, another delightful hill town surrounded by olive trees on the other side of the valley. Spello is famous for its artists’ studios and also for the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, decorated with vivid frescoes by Pinturicchio, who also assisted Perugio in his work in the Sistine Chapel.
We’ll lunch at vinosofia including bruschetta, local cold pork products, cheese and wine. Vinosofia’s wine collection is hand-selected exclusively by proprietor Brenda and husband Graziano, both sommeliers. Brenda is a native Californian from a new world wine background, a contrast with Graziano’s Umbrian, old world roots.
In the afternoon we’ll work it off with a 5km trek to a lovely aqueduct that once supplied Spello with spring water but it’s easy walking, and the views are delicious. After trekking, we’ll be picked up and briefly explore the hamlet of Collepino, set high on a forested mountainside.
Todi, Umbria’s style central
Todi is an outstanding example of an Umbrian hill town, known for its wonderful architecture including a couple of fabulous churches. Although its rich architectural heritage dates primarily from the Middle Ages remnants date back to Roman times. Just outside the town walls, Santa Maria is rated one of the finest Renaissance churches in Italy, an absolute jewel. Todi is well padded with bars, cafes, galleries, shops and restaurants that reflect its reputation as a popular avant-garde artsy hangout, fashionable with Italians as well as visitors
Afternoon – Wine and olive oil tour visit to a winery and a traditional oil mill.
Bevagna, and a Final Dinner
Bevagna grew up as a town on the Via Flaminia, an important road running north from Rome. One of the two churches in the main square dates from the 12th century but down in the crypt is an earlier church, perhaps 1000 years older it is believed, tucked away underground so that Christians could practice their faith free from persecution. The town is divided into four parts each of which is dedicated to the production of a craft – paper, silks, metal or candles – and every year Bevagna celebrates its links with the past with a giant fair. During a period of 12 days the true believers of Bevagna retreat to a world of centuries past. They can eat no tomatoes nor potatoes since these are a product of the new world.
This evening we will have a final farewell dinner in Montefalco.
Guests depart. We will provide transfers to the station at Foligno, which has connections to Rome, Fiumicino Airport and throughout the rest of Italy.