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Upper Tiber Valley of Northern Umbria

Peter Clifford

Experience the Less Traveled Upper Tiber Valley of Northern Umbria

While Central Tuscany has a magic that cannot be matched with towns like Siena, Cortona, Pienza, Montepulciano, and Montalcino, you'll be sharing this magic with many tourists and woefully few Italians. Nearby, in the Upper Tiber Valley of Umbria, a drive of an hour or less from the towns above, there awaits a magic that is different, but equally as special. Don't come to this region expecting to share your experiences with other English-speaking tourists. This is where the language heard most often is Italian and so are the tourists.

The Upper Tiber Valley is the northernmost Umbrian territory. Wedged between Tuscany and the rugged mountains of the Marches, this region has a unique cultural and social character. The people of this region have been master hunters and gatherers for centuries. Wild mushroom varieties (porcini), tartufo bianco e nero (white and black truffles), cinghiale (wild boar), coniglio (rabbit) are foods typically found on kitchen tables. The Tiber River runs through the entire length of the valley for 50 kilometers and provides the valley with great fertility. Still largely farmed with tobacco, each year sees more fields turned over to produce and feed for livestock.

There are eight leading towns in the region. The hill towns of Citerna, Montone, Monte Santa Maria Tiberina, and Pietralunga are sleepy hamlets with magnificent views with one or two good places to eat and some memorable art in their local museums and churches. Their real attractions, however, are the vistas from each town, the joy of the winding drive up to each hilltop location and searching out a place to sample the local food and wine. Citt di Castello, Lisciano Niccone, San Giustino, and Umbertide are valley towns bustling with the energy of daily Italian culture and are the leading towns for art, culture, great restaurants.

Window in Citta di Castello, Umbria, fall 2001

Window ledge in Citt di Castello

Citt di Castello

Citt di Castello is the leading town of the region with good museums; the Pinacoteca, Museo del Duomo, Burri Museum. But for me, Citt di Castello's greatest quality is to observe the daily flow of Italian life without the pressure of international tourists. Within the ancient city walls you can check out the four neighborhoods, or visit the museums or the Terme di Fontecchio thermal center where the waters have been an attraction since Roman times.

At lunch time you must sample the cucina italiana at one of several excellent pizzerias, ristorante or trattorias. These are few of our favorites:

Ristorante Lea has great local food of the area and is a very popular with locals, but stop early or make a reservation as it can fill up quickly.

L'Osteria has the best pizza in the historic center of town at reasonable prices. Go for the signature Pizza Osteria.

For a special experience in great food, a wine list that is as good as it gets and an owner who will keep you entertained with his lively conversation, go for lunch or dinner at Trattoria Il Feudo. Owners Luigi and Nadia opened Il Feudo in 2001 and have quickly become a destination spot for local professionals, ex-patriots and Italian businessmen who travel frequently through the area. Serving dishes that use the meats, fishes, and produce available in each season, Luigi is a master at matching superb, wines from small, obscure producers that compliment each delicious dish. The cuisine is characteristic of Puglia where Luigi grew up.

Citta di Castello's main Piazza Mateotti is larger than most towns its size and has a excellent public market on Thursday and Saturday mornings. This piazza is also the site of several internationally known festivals. The top festas are the Festival of Chamber Music in August and Truffle Festival in early November. During the Truffle Festival the piazza and adjoining streets are jammed with vendors selling food, wine, and above all truffles. The town is bathed in the fragrance of white truffles for three days. There are several websites you can access to get more information on Citta di Castello. Upon arrival into the central piazza, go to the tourist office in Piazza Manteotti for friendly, thorough information on current activities. Look for the big blue sign with the letter "I".

Yes, Tuscany is magnificent, Florence and Siena are breathtakingly beautiful, Montepulciano is picturesque, Pienza is quaint, and you can spend a week tasting Brunellos in Montalcino, but have you really experienced the culture of rural Italy? Not unless you take the less traveled road into the Upper Tiber Valley.

Buon viaggio, buona panoramica, buon appetito!

Peter Clifford and his wife, Marsha, have spent the spring and fall in the Upper Tiber River Valley of Umbria for the last few years. They testify they have only begun to experience a small portion of what this very special region of Italy has to offer.

© Peter Clifford, 2004

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