Ultimate Umbria in 4 Weeks

Old Oct 13th, 2021, 10:37 AM
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Ultimate Umbria in 4 Weeks


Olive trees, grapevines and mountains in Umbria

In the last two years, we cancelled two trips to Italy, one due to a house move and the other due to Covid. Although Delta changed our latest flight multiple times, this time nothing would stop us. Our travel style in the past has included such trip reports as 16 countries in 30 days, but, apprehensive about Covid, we decided to hunker down this time in one place. And what better place than Umbria with its dozens of hill towns. Mom and Dad introduced us to Umbria 21 years ago when they rented a villa outside of Spoleto. Our grandson had his first gelato in Spello, and we had never been there.

We booked an apartment in the center of Spello for 30 days, and Covid would not contain us. During the month, we drove 2500 miles (4000km), walked close to 200 miles; rode on six trains, four taxis and two round trips on different funiculars.

We visited more than 40 towns and cities, nearly 3 dozen of them in Umbria. To count for us as a “visit”, we needed at least to walk through most of the village, maybe stop in a church or museum, and possibly grab a bite to eat. We drove through many other towns not included in these totals.

This report will include our arrival and departure days in Rome, a few unplanned days on the Mediterranean and, of course, our four weeks based in Umbria, with some day trips into Tuscany and Marche. This is a work in progress, but we will try to share a few of the thousands of photos we took along the way. We flew to Italy August 22 and returned to US on September 27.

Umbria towns and locations to be included in this report:

Spello
Trevi
Montefalco
Bevagna
Todi
Assisi
Castiglione del Lago
Isola Maggiore
Passignano sul Trasimeno
Deruta
Bettona
Gubbio
Collepino
Nocera
Foligno
Orvieto
Cesi
Spoleto
Norcia
Casteluccio
Perugia
Pale di Foligno
Cerreto Borgo
Cerreto di Spoleto
Triponzo
Sellano
Rasiglia
Cannara
Corciano
Montone
Citta di Castello
Citerna
Umbertide
Marmore Falls
Citta della Pieve

Last edited by whitehall; Oct 13th, 2021 at 10:40 AM. Reason: added info
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 11:29 AM
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Holy cow, whitehall! I'm all in for this trip.
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 11:30 AM
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Looking forward to your report: we stayed in Spello for 5 days (in an apartment in the center) in 2016 and loved it.
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 03:24 PM
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Arrival/Departure

We kept reviewing cancellation policies for our airfare and lodging places prior to travel. We had a lot of anxiety about traveling with Covid still circling us. But as cancellation deadlines passed, we knew we were going. We travel light, never check baggage, but for the first time we had to go to the ticket counter. No online check-in allowed for this trip. It turned out to be simple: show your QR code for the EU contact tracing form (PLF) and show our CDC vaccination records (we traveled during a period when vaccinated passengers did not have to also show a negative Covid test result to go to Italy). We were at our gate in 15 minutes, kicking ourselves for coming three hours early as Delta had warned.

In Atlanta, at the gate, we were met by a team and had to again show them all our documents, and get a temperature check. Unvaccinated people needed negative Covid tests, and just around the corner from our gate was a huge testing center, with no wait, allowing anyone who showed up without the proper stuff to get tested and get on the plane, even if they came as the plane was boarding.

The plane was about 90% full, and before we knew it we were looking at August ice and snow in the Alps.




Delta personnel prepared us all for rigorous document checks once in Rome, but, to our amazement, for the first time ever, there was little human interaction there. Passport control was all automated. You put your passport in a machine, have your photo taken and that was it. The only human encountered was a lady, who, without a word, stamped passports one after the next so you have a record or a souvenir. No document checks. No vaccination or Covid test checks.They simply relied on Delta to make sure everyone had everything in order.
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 07:55 PM
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I am looking forward to reading all about your adventures in Italy.
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 09:58 PM
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Food

Our food tastes are simple, often tilted in Italy toward pizza, pasta, bruschetta (and, as my Italian Dad always implored, please pronounce this “ch” with a “k” not a “sh”) and gelato. We had planned to do a lot of cooking at home, but, of course, Italian food is wonderful and cheap, so we ate out more than expected. And, we did have more meat than we usually eat and some fish along the way.

We do start every day in our apartment with a fresh bowl of homemade fruit, 8-12 different types. It is difficult for us to pass up the beautiful fruits in weekly markets or at the local fruit and veggie shops. We sometimes ruin the health benefits of that morning treat with a pastry, hopefully full of “crema”.
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 10:02 PM
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Lodging



This beautiful two-story apartment in the center of Spello, with all taxes and fees, was less than $100 per day. We stayed in four separate places on this trip, a well-located apartment in Rome that we stayed in both upon arrival and departure; another apartment in Rome when we went to pick up our daughter, who made a surprise decision to pop in; an apartment with a sweeping water view on the Med toward the end of our trip; and our apartment in Spello where we stayed four weeks. Three were rented on airbnb and the fourth on booking.com.

Last edited by whitehall; Oct 13th, 2021 at 10:04 PM.
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 10:11 PM
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Car Lease


Auto Europe/Renault Lease
Perhaps the most amazing part of this trip was the car leasing experience. When we booked in the spring, car rentals were beginning to soar due to global auto shortages. Through AutoEurope, we were able to lease a brand new car (we wanted the smallest car possible, but that ended up as a “small SUV”, a Romanian built Dacia from Renault). Prior to the rental, we had to supply drivers license info to Renault so that the car could be registered in France in our name. The pick-up, other than a quick new car intro, and return in Rome were quick (as in minutes) and much more efficient than a normal car rental. The part that was most surprising was the price. $1,040 total (comparable base rentals ranged from $2-4,000 prior to our trip). Our lease included full insurance, unlimited mileage and GPS. Five star experience all around. We have a Romanian daughter-in-law, who as a child won a Dacia in a national lottery, but, at the time, they were junky cars. Much nicer today. (And, on the subject of Romania, we had a Romanian taxi driver we used four times in Rome who simply was the best we have ever had there.)
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 12:05 AM
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Whitehall, I am so impressed with the care you are taking in this trip report. It is just fascinating and I was especially interested to see photos of the booking-in process. Along for the ride!

Lavandula
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 01:43 AM
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Looking forward to more! Thanks!!!
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 05:41 AM
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A very cool apartment and a nice way of arranging your experiences. More soon, per favore.
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 06:37 AM
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I am so excited to read your report! We spent two weeks in a house in top section of Spello. Loved the town and whole area. We kept our car in lot at the very top of town and explored the surrounding area too. It was one of our very favorite stays in Italy. We found the house offered in a charity fund raiser. No one else bid on it either which surprised us. It is not normally rented.

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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 01:59 PM
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What a fabulous trip, looking forward to more.
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 02:38 PM
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Following along and looking forward to more of your trip !
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 04:40 PM
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@Jackie44 Our son and grandson were in Spello in 2017, and nothing has changed. At their home in New York, they have two large canvas prints on the wall of our grandson in Spello at age one. We posed in the same spots and all was the same.

@TDudette I appreciate your comments, and yes it was a cool apartment.

@lavandula Hoping I can make the report of the ride worth your while

@walkingarchive @[email protected] @NE Thank you

@HappyTrvlr You were in the right place at the right time to score that apartment in Spello; hope your experience there was as wonderful as ours.

We are taking an unplanned fall trip to the North Carolina mountains to catch what might be the last gasp of summer, but the report will continue tomorrow.
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Old Oct 15th, 2021, 03:49 AM
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GPS & Cell Service



Initially, we gave the big screen GPS system that was included in our lease a try. It got us to our first destination. We especially liked the warning system for the plentiful speed cameras we passed. As we began our travels to small Umbrian towns, we found that the system just did not include many of them We decided to use our cell phone instead. It was an easy switch (although there was no “carplay” capability to allow us to connect our IPhone to the car’s screen). On our last pre-Covid trip to Italy, we relied on pre-downloaded google maps for our GPS. It worked well and kept our cell phone data to a minimum. With a newly available AT&T international plan, we splurged a bit and paid the $10/day (or maximum $100 per billing period) for the same unlimited internet and data we are used to at home. For $200 for our five weeks away, it worked like a charm, and we always had phone, internet, data, wifi hotspot. And, our Apple Maps also usually provided the same speed warnings. Not that we have ever had a ticket after lots of driving in Italy, but speed changes seem to come more often in Italy.
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Old Oct 15th, 2021, 04:11 AM
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Days 1 and 2: Rome


We have an upcoming wedding, and our plan was to do some shopping in Rome. Italy dictates when merchants can have sales, and this year, the summer sales period was extended (due to Covid) into late August (perfect for us). But, for the most part, we explored, people watched, enjoyed food we have dreamed of, saw some new things and walked over 10 miles each of the two days we were there including the day we should have been jet lagged. Yes, we walked 10 miles after a sleepless flight from Atlanta to Rome and an arrival at our apartment very early afternoon. Not to brag (although we are both on Medicare), but it showed our enthusiasm for being back to Italy.

The first thing we noticed was how empty the streets were. No traffic between the airport and the city. Our first time in Rome was 21 years ago, and we likened the vibe to that time. Few crowds anywhere. Vatican Square nearly empty. Same for Spanish Steps, the Coliseum, and Piazza del Popolo. Small crowd at Trevi Fountain, but nothing like the last few times we were there. The biggest lines were the green pass checkpoints at places like the Forum and even McDonald’s.



Green Pass required even at McDonalds



Some businesses were permanently closed; others had signs providing some final dates of their August vacations. We were told many Romans were at the beach for the rest of the week. Even our favorite pizza place was on vacation. But almost everyone we saw were Italians, probably from other regions, on their own summer vacations. Ours were almost the only English voices we heard in our two days in Rome.

While there, we saw someone’s online list, where Rome was on top as one of the world’s filthiest cities. And, yes, it is still filthy, with trash nearly everywhere, but, for those of us who love the grit and chaos, along with the history and the food, we keep coming back. Added to the garbage now are Covid masks, lots of them, and electric scooters that are left everywhere.





The busiest and most lively area was Trastevere, where we went to a packed Tonnarello’s and had one of the best “flatbread” style pizzas ever. Again, all Italians. We had a 20 minute downpour while walking in Trastevere, purchased a decent large umbrella from a street vendor after haggling it down from $10 to $7. We thought it would come in handy during the next five weeks, but, miraculously, this was the only time we needed it before giving it to our taxi driver at the Rome airport more than a month later.



Chicory and sausage flatbread at Tonnarello's with a perfect crust.


We always talk about how safe we feel in Rome, walking everywhere, never looking over our shoulders, day and night, but, while in Trastevere, a car was cordoned off by lots of police including a bomb disposal squad. We were amused at how the police used an electric scooter to attach their crime scene tape. (In fairness to Italians, the car that was the subject of whatever was going on, was registered in Sweden).



Bomb squad at entrance to Trastevere.




We had never spent much time on the Tiber riverwalk, but for the first time visited the many shops, restaurants, bars, and arcades especially in the Trastevere area. There was even a Jamaican reggae duo on one side of a bridge and a country singer, with cowboy boots, on the other side.



Tiber Riverwalk near Trastevere




It has been a couple years since we had good gelato, so we indulged two favorites and added two more. We highly recommend all: Giolitti, Frigidarium, Gelateria del Teatro, Fatamorgana, and we had all of them with “panna” (whipped cream on top).

Six years ago, we encountered what seemed like the entire college of cardinals at the Palazzo Venezia (where Mussolini gave his many speeches). The dozens of cardinals were blessing tourists, some of whom were falling to their knees, but we noticed some of the cardinals were chain smoking, others were on cell phones and at least one was snuggled up with a very attractive young woman. Turns out they were actors in an HBO series, having some fun with their costumes. This time, we came across an entrance to the Homeless World Cup and a soccer stadium of sorts behind Castel san Angelo. We googled it, and yes, there is a Homeless World Cup, played in various international locations, but this one wasn’t it. We saw lines of trailers for actors, one even a full laundry, all for an upcoming film “A Beautiful Game” (starring English actor Bill Nighy). They created a mini-soccer filed and grandstands with the typical fans (colored hair and all), all of this ironically only yards away from a real homeless encampment that will still be there when the film crews depart.



Homeless, real and fiction, behind Castel San Angelo


Aside from Covid changes and many more outside dining tables, there were some new things, such as what seemed to us to be more streets turned into pedestrian only. And, a large and beautiful salute to refugees with a bronze sculpture in Vatican Square.



Vatican Square

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Old Oct 15th, 2021, 03:40 PM
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what a wonderful report.. I am so looking forward to the rest..
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Old Oct 16th, 2021, 04:56 AM
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millie2112 Thank you.
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Old Oct 16th, 2021, 05:20 AM
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Day 3: Spello

It was close to noon before we were on our way out of Rome in our brand spanking new car. Fortunately, there was not a lot of traffic as we adjusted our driving style to the narrow roads, large trucks and lots of speed cameras. Not bad compared to say our driving in southern Italy, where the narrow two lanes need to accommodate a third middle lane for fast moving cars (for both directions), no matter if there are bicyclists also jockeying for room.

On the way, we stopped at a Lidl grocery store. We have purchased many housewares, tools and mostly clothes, even jackets and boots, at their US stores. We are amazed at the department store merchandise, some of it decent, that they fit in next to the frozen food aisle and change out every week. You have to remember to have one euro with you to free up a grocery cart, and this time, the inside doors to the store would not open unless you stood in front of an automated machine that made sure your temperature was normal. On this trip, we bought some groceries, including some wine there. You can’t beat Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP for $1.69 (euro) a bottle.




By mid-afternoon, we were in Spello, a hill town in the sense that it started at the bottom of Mount Subasio and worked its way up. Some “hill towns” are all at the top of a hill or small mount, but they can be relatively flat from end to end. Spello is all uphill. Unlike Rome, it is also impeccable in every way. The medieval buildings are all restored, and there are signs of Roman days, most notably at a couple of the gates.





We had a little trouble finding a parking space in the middle of our first day, as we soon learned that tiny Spello, every day, gets more than its share of tourists. And, these were all Italians, mostly enjoying the late stages of their summer vacations. Nearly all the tourist traffic is confined to the main road that runs from top to bottom and includes most of the bars, restaurants, shops and churches.







Before our arrival, we weren’t sure what impact Covid concerns would have on our daily life here for the next four weeks. We had entertained the idea of simply staying put, living like a local, shopping the markets, cooking all our meals at home and just hanging out. Although we love to cook at home (and did many times), once we realized that Covid in Italy wasn’t much different than Covid at home, we knew that masks would be the only real difference between past trips to Italy and this one. And, there are only a few masks in these crowds, although it was 100% indoors.

There is one little Spello grocer, a very busy one, and a good source for those big bottles of water, since the store was only a short walk from our apartment. This tiny market had some produce, and we bought some fruit, including grapes, there, even though the cost was double the bigger supermarket outside the town walls. It seemed that a lot of their business was shaving prosciutto and other cold cuts and making sandwiches. But, it is sad to see the larger "supermercatos" slowly putting the butchers, the fruit and veggie vendors and other small family retailers out of business. In some villages, these are remnants of a past that long ago disappeared in the US.

Evenings bring people to town for the many restaurants, but, by then, the bus trips have ended. There are a couple of streets that are lined by homeowners with pots of beautiful flowers, and it would be an under-statement to say these streets are well-photographed. At times, a tour group of 30 or 40 people jockey for position with their smart phones and cameras to take the same picture. The same one in my collage above.




Before we found a free parking lot closer to our apartment, we used a small one at the top of he village. Few people venture all the way up, and the only person we saw the first day was a nun. We later learned that an unmarked building nearby houses a cloistered order of nuns, who rarely leave their home. The Pope heard about these nuns, and two years ago he reportedly "drove up" (maybe as a passenger) from Rome to Spello (a really big deal for this small town) and, without notice, knocked on their door. Obviously, he knew they would be home, and undoubtedly there was lots of security. Last year, the Pope got headlines writing an encyclical in Assisi, addressed to “all brothers” to make social commitments aimed at world peace. Little notice, except here, was paid to his stop-over in Spello on the way to again visit the sisters.



There are flowers everywhere in Spello, often referred to as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages. Never as beautiful, we have heard, as “L’infiorata” or Spello’s annual spring flower festival. This is not like flower shows we have all seen. Rather, hundreds of millions of fresh flower petals are assembled by 2,000 volunteers, who, in one night, make a carpet of flowers for various sections of the main street of Spello. They are arranged to create beautiful and colorful pictures, designs and religious symbols. There are many photos on the internet, but someday we hope to return just for this.

In this short day, we put our clothes and other things into a new house, food in the refrigerator, got our bearings and talked for the first time about what we might do on Day 4 or even Day 5 or 6. This was a trip without a plan.

*All photos in this trip report were taken with our iPhone. We took the one of the Pope at the Vatican in 2015.



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