The best of Umbria traditions
Umbria – it’s the most central region of Italy. It’s historic and modern, and the only region in Italy that doesn’t share a coastline or border another country. Umbria is a wonderland of diverse landscapes, traditions, sagre, history, and cultural and artistic legacy. It’s a land whose rolling hills are generously adorned with castles and fortresses. Whose meticulously preserved hill towns produce famous handmade ceramics. And whose many monasteries were founded by a many local saint.
Its capital, Perugia, dates back to the Etruscan period. The picturesque town of Assisi boasts the World Heritage Sight associated with St. Francis of Assisi (a common stop for our pilgrimage Jubilee tour). It’s the home of Lake Trasimeno, central Italy’s largest lake, and the Cascate delle Marmore waterfalls near Terni, some of the most beautiful in Europe. It boasts hidden gems, such as the quaint ancient Roman town Carsulae, and the Dunarobba Fossil Forest, a rare example of a forest that existed 3 million years ago.
The Green Heart of Italy
But perhaps Umbria is best characterized by a poetic reference of Giosue Carducci, who referred to her as “…il coure verde d’Italia” (the green heart of Italy). Untouched landscapes in the green winding valleys make Umbria a region that will never fail to amaze. Some might say that Umbria is at its most charming during Foliage, where the once green hills, chestnut groves, elm forests, mountains and plains that extend along the Tiber’s central basin turn red, brown, and yellow under the autumn sky.
October to December is when the food festivities (le sagre) really peak in Umbria. One of the largest and most famous is the Festa di Olio in Trevi, which celebrates the olive oil harvest in November. I still remember as a child dipping bread into fresh, first press olive oil – unforgettable. Orvieto also hosts another major olive oil event, Le Vei Dell’Olio, while the Sagre di Olio runs in Montecchio. During these Sagre, the frantoi (olive oil plantations and producers) allow visitors an up close and personal experience with olive oil tours; visitors can stroll the grounds, meet the producers, observe the pressing process, and of course my favorite, taste test!
Umbria traditions include cultivating chestnuts, a vital component of many Umbrian dishes and a huge part of its history and heritage. Montecchio celebrates chestnuts as well as olive oils with their own festival. The San Martino Festival in Sigillo offers free tasting sessions of chestnuts and local wines over the course of nine days.
Traditions, stories, and myths
There is much tradition in San Martino, a soldier of the Roman Empire who became a Saint for his great humility and generosity. The story goes that while he was riding at the gates of the city of Amiens with his soldiers, he met a poor, freezing beggar. In an act of kindness, he cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with him. That same night he dreamt of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given to the poor man and thanking him for his compassionate gesture. It is also said that at the moment he shared his cloak, the sun came out. In the United Kingdom and the United States this is known as Indian summer. While in Italy is called Estate di San Martino: a short period of time during the first weeks of November characterized by relatively good, warm weather.
The luxurious local product of white truffles and other important woodland products are celebrated in a festival in Città di Castello in the days of November. It’s a very significant venue for truffle tasting, but also offers excellent and rare forest honey, mushrooms and wild berry jams. It’s the ideal spot for pre-Christmas food shopping, as is the festive feast of St. Nicholas in early December in Bevagna. It showcases the region’s excellent and very tasty pastries, amongst other specialties. With this unique range of riches on offer, it’s truly the ideal time to learn more about this stunning and quintessentially Italian destination.
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