is a travel writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
Italy’s best kept secret is Umbria, the ‘green heart’ of Italy. Tipped as the new Tuscany, the region has verdant landscapes with undulating and endless mountain scenery.
Situated just under northern Tuscany, Umbria is famous for its music festivals, churches, museums, history and world acclaimed art which can easily form the basis for endless sight-seeing. Or, you can fill your days simply resting in the warmth of the sun, which we did in style at our villa in ‘Prato Di Sotto’ a little piece of heaven nestled in the mountains above the 12th Century hamlet Santa Guiliana.
Landing from Stansted at Perugia Airport our group of friends and I hired a car and got to our villa easily within a 45 minute drive. Even with excellent directions, it’s easy to make a wrong turn, but eventually we got to our destination meeting our other friend who had flown from Dubai arriving at exactly the same time!
Five kilometres up the mountain stands Prato Di Sotto, a serene country house complex. The winding journey takes you past stunning yellow hedges and closers to the top of the mountains all around. Prato Di Sotto is a sanctuary of calmness and tranquillity that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
The Terrazza that sleeps four was taken by our friends. It opens up onto a 40ft private terrace, which is resplendent in roses – (Umbria’s emblem) and has its own vines. There is an amazing lavender hedge and exuberant wisteria cascading down the villa. We had many lunches and suppers outside where often some wild boar piglets would arrive snuffling around in the hedges and Penny’s four-legged friends would always pop in around cooking time.
My husband and I hired La Capanna, a romantic studio with a shady veranda that has a kitchen and a lounge area located on the second floor giving breath taking views of the mountain and overlooks the wonderful infinity pool with the mountains beyond.
There are other cottages available. Similar to La Capanna, Il Molino is perfect for a hideaway or romantic retreat. Sleeping two, this 13th Century former oil mill has its own private rose-covered terrace, overlooking Santa Guiliana below.
Throughout all the accommodation, a personal touch is evident with imported French beams in the ceilings and reclaimed marble tiles in the bathrooms. The bedrooms are beautifully furnished and all have crisp white linen on very comfortable beds. These historic buildings each with their own private terrace and dining facilities are unique and having been painstakingly restored, decorated and furnished by owner Penny.
Her story of single-handedly managing this restoration project is impressive, secluded among the ruins, with no water or supplies and not speaking a word of Italian. Not to be beaten, Penny learnt Italian pretty quickly and since her move twenty four years ago, she has been hosting holiday makers from all over the world.
Roads in Umbria were not as busy as we had expected and driving and navigating with Waze was easy. We soon became accustomed to the road signs, winding roads and undulating mountains. However, if you prefer walking, Penny can put together personal walking trails in the nearby mountains.
Where to Visit?
Famous of Buitoni Pasta and Perugina Chocolate, Perugia is a lively place with the most famous collection of Umbrian art. While we were there Umbria Jazz festival was taking place and the streets were filled with musicians and people dancing from daytime until the early hours.
Assisi, a picturesque medieval town, famous for the birthplace of St Francis, is only 55 minutes away from the villa’s nearest town Umbertide. Situated on the western slopes of Mount Subasio, it looks impressive from miles away as you approach. Basilica di San Francesco, one of Italy’s best-loved and most visited churches was our first stop. This is highly religious church and the most visited in Italy after the Vatican. To give Assisi justice you need three days to cover all the aspects it has to offer and spend time wondering through the pretty Italian flower-filled alley ways, sampling their local ales, eating gelato and viewing their age old pottery and famous olive oil.
Other important Umbrian towns to visit include Gubbio, a well-preserved mediaeval town situated at the food to Mount Ingino and home to the Gubbio Tablets- the oldest surviving record of Umbrian people; and Todi, overlooking the Tiber Valley, whose beautiful medieval square is surrounded by a wealth of historic buildings, including the 13th Century Palazzo del Popolo, the Palazzo del Capitano and the Cathedral.
Where to Eat?
Your villa will be stocked up with tea, coffee, homemade jams and fresh eggs on arrival. It’s important to stock up with food for your villa from the local town Umbertide. Here there are local shops and also bigger supermarkets.
Ristorante L’Abbazia di MonteCorona is the nearest restaurant to Prato Di Sotto, located in a beautifully vaulted ‘Cantina.’ Just a ten minute drive, this beautiful restaurant set within the abbey has excellent staff serve typical Umbrian cuisine with pasta made by hand and extra virgin olive oil produce on the Estate. There is also room to eat al fresco in its wonderful cloisters.
The closest major town to the villa is Umbertide, around a fifteen minute drive. Look out for the local market in the old square on a Wednesday and try the café to take in some people watching. Highly recommended is Ristorante San Giorgio in Umbertide that serves classic Italian food. Head up to the stunning town of Montone, a small village that overlooks the unspoilt valley and is 482m above sea level. Eat at La Locanda di Capitino, a dynamic restaurant that specialises in truffles. The famous medieval military commander, Braccio Fortebracci, was born here to a noble local family. It is their 14th century family residence, in the heart of Montone that has now become La Locanda del Capitano (the Captain’s Inn).
Tel: 0039 075 941 7383
We flew with Ryan Air from Stansted to Perugia. It’s 45 minutes from the airport to the villas. Car hire is essential.
Prato Di Sotto, Santa Guilian, Nr Pierantionio, Umbria.
Choice of four villas/apartments, all with private terraces and shared swimming pool from
Friday to Friday or three days.
Prices quote are peak summer times.
Il Molino – sleeps 2 - €800 per week
La Capanna – sleeps 2 - €1150 per week
The Terrazza sleeps 4 - €1250 per week
Casa Antica – Sleeps 8 - €2800 per week
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