Art, nature, and jazz
Medieval villages, artistic masterpieces, Lake Trasimeno, untainted landscapes, and jazz festivals
Well on the way to being considered a miniature New Orleans, for more than thirty years, during the month of July, Perugia provides the stage for Umbria Jazz, the most important Jazz festival in the whole of Europe. Over the years, a steady flow of internationally renowned artists have played here; talented musicians such as Stan Getz, Keith Jarret, Sting, Miles Davies, Dizzy Gillespie; to name just a few of the performers to have honoured the festival with their presence.
For the sweet toothed, October is the ideal month to visit this stunning Umbrian city; when the great Eurochocolate exhibition takes place, and the streets are lined with stalls brimming with chocolate in every form imaginable. Of course, Perugia offers mush more than this delectable combination of music and confectionary, and, in fact, is home to one of the region's most important art collections.
The walls of the National Gallery of Umbria, situated in the splendid Palazzo dei Priori, are hung with the masterpieces of Duccio di Buoninsegna, Beato Angelico, Pinturicchio, Perugino, and Piero della Francesca. After a visit to the Gallery, one should take the time to admire the Fontana Maggiore and the Cathedral. Having left Perugia, those travelling with children may like to stop off at the Città della Domenica, Umbria's response to Disneyland.
Having joined the Via Cortonese road, we soon reach the shores of Trasimeno, the largest lake in central Italy, where the reed thickets permeated by shallow channels of water create an ideal habitat for wild ducks, herons, coots and birds of prey. Not surprisingly, there are a number of areas especially equipped for birdwatchers.
Travelling along the lakeside we come to the town of Passignano, from where to take a ferry boast to the Isola Maggiore, the lake's second largest island complete with picturesque fishing village.
A few kilometers from Passignano, we find Tuoro where, in 217 B.C., the final stages of the battle of the Trasimeno were fought; a ferocious encounter between the Roman military forces guided by Caio Falminio and the Carthaginan troops of Hannibal, which in just 3 hours led to the death of some 15000 Roman soldiers.
Continuing along the highway which skirts the Trasimeno, on the western shores of the lake we reach Castiglione del Lago. The most enchanting of the towns overlooking the lake and, arguably, one of the most beautiful towns in the whole of Italy. A walk through the narrow lanes of the old center leads to the Castle, built under the reign of Federico II of Svevia in the mid 13th century, and now a fabulous venue for cultural events and concerts held in Castiglione del Lago during the summer season.
Having returned to the SS71, we head towards Città della Pieve, birth town of Pietro Vannucci, better known as Perugino. In the cathedral, the churches of S.Maria and S. Antonio Abate, and in the oratory of S. Maria dei Bianchi, some of the artists greatest works can be admired. The town, encircled by brick walls which date back to the 14th century, has gained additional popularity after having been chosen as the set for the successful Italian television series.
Perched on a great spur of rock just 7 kilometers away from Città della Pieve, we find Monteleone di Orvieto, a typical medieval village comprised of a cluster of buildings linked by narrow lanes and shady alleyways, where to breath an atmosphere of times past. To the south of the village there is a panoramic terrace offering a stunning view across the hillside of Orvieto. Whilst at Montelone di Orvieto, visitors should take the time to have a look at the Collegiate Church of SS. Pietro and Paolo.
Against the charming green landscape of Umbria, the unmistakable silhouette of the town of Orvieto rises up some 315m above the plain. At the gates of the city, we take a quick detour along the road which hugs the rock to the west so as to visit La Badia; an ancient Abbey constructed in the 4th century, complete with cloisters, porticoes and bell tower. From the abbey, now a historical residence, spectacular views of Orvieto can be enjoyed.
In the heart of the city, dominating the large piazza, we find the Cathedral. Inside, in the San Brizio chapel, frescoes by Beato Angelico and Luca Signorelli never fail to inspire the visitor. On a clear day, those who decide to climb up to the top of the Torre del Moro are rewarded by a panorama which extends across the surrounding countryside as far as Monte Amiata.
Beneath the city there is a complex network of tunnels, cisterns, and wells. The most famous of the wells is the Pozzo di San Patrizio. Designed by Antonio da Sangallo for Pope Clement VII, the well descends some 62meters underground and features a pair of wide spiral staircases of 248 steps, lit by 72 internal windows. A stroll around the medieval quarter of the town takes us through any number of picturesque lanes and small squares lined with artists' studios and galleries.
In late December Orvieto transforms in spectacular venue for the winter edition of Umbra Jazz when, from the early hours of the morning till long past midnight, the streets and palazzi of the center are filled with the sounds of music coming from the various concerts, jamming sessions, jazz lunches and jazz dinners held in the city.
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