Little sister to the better known region of Tuscany, Umbria is a slice of heaven for food lovers. The rolling green hills and tiny hill top town are home to fantastic little markets and great restaurants as well. We hired a villa with a group of friends during our time in Umbria so spent most of our stay cooking at home rather than eating out but we still stumbled across some lovely places that are worth sharing.
The view from the bedroom window of our villa
Umbertide was the closest village to our villa. Every Wednesday morning the tiny village (which the Italians refer to as Um-berrrrr-ti-day) holds a wonderful market in the main square. There are lots of fantastic cheese, fruit and vegetable, meat and fish on offer. The sheer variety of wild mushrooms was particularly impressive for what is a defiantly local rather than tourist market.
Chillis at the market arranged like a bunch of flowers
We were amused to see prices on produce increase during the course of the morning, which seemed the opposite to markets in England where stall holders are more likely to want to get rid of their stock by the end of the day. The food not to be missed at the market is the porchetta stall which features a whole roasted wild boar, a specialty of the region. For €2.50 a roll filled with carefully selected and carved slices of pig can be yours.
Details: Main square, Umbertide, Umbria, Italy
Cured meat and cheeses at the market
The Taverna restaurant was described in some reviews as hard to find which seemed strange as there was a large sign from Perugia’s main square pointing the way. Admittedly, you do then descend a winding set of steps to get to the restaurant but it is not too tricky. Taverna is set into the hill with soaring arched ceiling which make you feel you are dining in a wine cellar. The tables are set with starched linen cloths and the place has a certain air of formality to it but the prices are not too bad if you stick to the pasta and avoid the grill section.
Entrance to the Taverna
Half moons of melon wrapped in pearly, pink prosciutto (€8) made a simple but satisfying starter. There were also a few cured meat options and a range of soups including a hearty lentil broth served in a kilner jar. The house speciality pasta is the caramelle rosse al gorgonzola (€12) which was pasta filled with roasted beetroot and twisted to look like a sweet before being slathered in a creamy gorgonzola sauce and finished with a flourish of poppy seeds. For a lighter option try the incredibly simple but delicious tagiatelle al pepe nero e pecorino, pasta plainly dressed with black pepper and sharp pecorino cheese.
Details: Via del Streghe, 8, Perugia, Umbria, Italy (Ph 075 572 4128)
Parma ham and melon
Run by the inimitable Penny Radford, this small collection of villas ranges in size from a one bedroom apartment to the four bedroom villa we hired. Penny has lovingly restored the villas over 17 years, rebuilding them from stone ruins and furnishing them meticulously to such a standard that the villas have featured in Italian interior decoration books. She has also established the beautiful gardens with sweeping views over the surrounding countryside and complete with fresh herbs to use in your cooking. There is an infinity pool which is shared by all the villas.
Staying at Prato di Sotto is very sociable and Penny hosts regular “cocktail parties” for guests where she supplies home made tarts and flagons of wine. We enjoyed meeting our fellow guest but if you are in search of complete isolation and solitude this is probably not the villa experience for you. Penny also has about six dogs as she rescues strays so you need to be tolerant of their occasional barking.
Details: Prato di Sotto, Santo Giuliana, Pierantonio, Umbria, Italy (Ph +39 075 941 7383)
Damage: Reasonable. It is dependent on the time of year you visit and the size of your villa, ours was €2,000 for the week between eight people.
Kitchen of the villa
Gourmet Travel Tips
- We flew into Pisa with Easyjet for £40 and hired a car and drove from there. The closest airport is actually Perugia followed by Bologna but Pisa was most convenient for us timing wise.
- In this area of Italy, everything and I mean closes between 1 – 4pm. This is a great excuse to lie by the pool.