In search of the light: Touring Umbria

Series by Hans Couwenbergh.

Previous visits to Umbria had been most about photography, and then mainly focused on nature and more in particular the beauty of Monti Sibillini National Park. Although this was also a high priority item on this year’s list, I did want to visit some of the beautiful Umbrian cities and villages. So far, we’d only been to Assisi.

One thing every visitor to Umbria (and indeed also Tuscany) must realize is that on a first trip you’re bound to underestimate travel times. The main reason for this is that the main highways all run along the North-South axis of the country. In Umbria, there really isn’t any major road going East-West. That’s not a problem, is it? You see a lot more along the country roads, it is just something to be aware off when planning your daily itenaries. You may well drive over 1,5 hours over, say, 45 kms.


Orvieto and Todi

Our first destinations were Todi and Orvieto. From Montefalco, this means going West. So taking into account what I said earlier, we planned ample time and decided to go for the most scenic roads. Michelin maps are very handy for that as they show you how to  see the most en route.

We immediately liked Orvieto. A beautiful city, with obviously tourists, but we found it not very busy at all, considering it was the start of the summer season. One word of caution: one has to realize that all Umbrian (and indeed Tuscan) villages and cities are built on hilltops. City centres are, except for residents, kept traffic free (and that’s a good thing), but it does mean you need to park the car outside the city and walk up. Some of these climbs are more demanding than one may expect.

Orvieto Umbria Italy

Orvieto’s Cathedral is a stunningly beautiful building © Hans Couwenbergh Photography

Orvieto’s cathedral is magnificent. It is in the middle of a large square with unobstructed views from all sides and plenty of space to take pictures (although you will need a very wide angle lens to capture all of it). While the main piazza is a large open space, all around are narrow streets and alleys with typical shops, trattorias and enoteca. I lost Sonia in one of those alleys only to see her emerge of a small boutique with a brand new custom made handbag…

Orvieto Umbria Tuscany Italy

Narrow streets with cosy shops full of temptation © Hans Couwenbergh Photography

Todi then again is also typical but still a different story altogether. Of course perched on a hilltop this charming village is not only beautiful on its own but it also offers magnificent views on the surrounding valley. With the warm weather and harsh daylight there was a lot of haze but I did make a note to come back sometime and photograph the place at dawn and dusk. I already found the right angle for both pictures and they are safely bookmarked in my GPS.

Todi Umbria Tuscany Italy

A distant view on the hamlet of Todi © Hans Couwenbergh Photography

Todi Umbria Tuscany Italy

A toy landscape, seen from Todi © Hans Couwenbergh Photography

Todi Umbria Tuscany Italy

No lack of churches anywhere in Italy © Hans Couwenbergh Photography

Todi Umbria Tuscany Italy

Plenty of cosy places to eat © Hans Couwenbergh Photography

Todi Umbria Tuscany Italy

Another view from Todi on the surrounding valleys © Hans Couwenbergh Photography

Todi Umbria Tuscany Italy

Todi is also perched on a hill top © Hans Couwenbergh Photography



More hilltop cities and hamlets

We explored several other locations. Each time, both the destinations as well as the trip were beautiful. I can be picky saying the sunflowers were late and therefore to tiny still to make a good picture, but that is just an incentive to come back!

Trevi Umbria Tuscany Italy

Trevi © Hans Couwenbergh Photography

Trevi Umbria Tuscany Italy

Typical alleys in Trevi © Hans Couwenbergh Photography

Trevi Umbria Tuscany Italy

Of the beaten tourist path: beautiful corners in Trevi

I’ll let the photographs tell the story. We went to Spoleto (again a big climb!), to Spello (more gorgeous little alleys and a very special enoteca I must tell you about later), discovered Trevi, and last but not least “came home” to Norcia when once again heading into Monte Sibillini National Park. But that part merits a report on its own.

Spoleto Umbria Tuscany Italy

View on the old part of Spoleto up the hill

Spoleto does deserve specific mentioning: when we were there, preparations were ongoing for the world famous  “Festival dei 2 mondi”. This is a unique festival of classical performance arts: dance, theatre, opera during 3 summer weeks. The 2 worlds mentioned in the name refer to the US and Europe: it is the Festival’s intention to have cultural Europe and US facing each other in this event. Furthermore, there is a twin “Spoleto Festival US” held annually in South Carolina. There has always been a struggle around the “ownership” of this event and after the founder, Gian Carlo Menotti, passed away, his adopted son was removed as chairman in 2007. The whole history of the festival is full of intrigues and supporters of the “old management” continue to maintain a website and fuel the fued.

spoleto umbria tuscany italy

Preparations for the Festival dei 2 Mondi at the Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunta in Spoleto © Hans Couwenbergh Photography

At the risk of repeating myself: it does pay to buy a good detailed map up front and find the most scenic routes, and then be ready to take the time and enjoy. There are so many views to enjoy on the way, and every once in a while stopping for a little stroll will reveal yet even more gorgeous scenery.

trevi umbria tuscany italy

Discovering Trevi’s hidden gems © Hans Couwenbergh Photography

spoleto umbria tuscany italy

Spoleto requires some climbing © Hans Couwenbergh Photography
(Note from Sofie: I LOVE this picture of my moms!)

As a side note, for those interested: I started off planning using the Michelin of Umbria (1:200:000) which already has plenty of detail; later on I also purchased the excellent Kompass map-guide combinations (1:50.000).


Hans Couwenbergh is a food and travel loving photographer. Snapping away, he tells you all about the stories behind his photographs. Check out his website and connect with him on facebook.



Your Thoughts

  1. says

    And once again I learn something new from you! re: the North-South running roads. The pics were all terrific, Sophie. My favorite was Trevi in the background on the hill and the green field in the foreground. Absolutely gorgeous! :)


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