Sampling the delights of Umbria, Italy…

English: The cathedral of Santa Maria dell'Ass...

English: The cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunta in Spoleto, Umbria, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For us, Umbria was a huge contrast to its neighbouring province of Tuscany which is known throughout the World for its art, architecture and red wine. Umbria boasts many famous towns perched on hills, including Perugia, Assisi, Todi and Spoleto, wonderful food with truffles seemingly added to everything except breakfast, more fish and wonderful white wines. So foodies who like red meat and red wine should target Tuscany and leave Umbria for white wines and truffles!

We based ourselves for a two night weekend in Spoleto, Southern Umbria, World renowned for its outdoor festival of performing arts, including music, dance and theatre. Just an hour from Rome, we noted that Spoleto was a favourite weekend retreat for Romans. Split into two levels, Spoleto abounds with Roman ruins, wonderful architecture and stunning views. We were staying in a comfortable and inexpensive hotel, adjacent to the famous Roman amphitheatre and the wall of the old city. Our first afternoon took in seeing a wedding at the beautiful cathedral, wandering the ancient hilly streets and alleys, climbing the hills to the castle and crossing the viaduct, taking hundreds of photos, and resting for a glass of the famous local white wine. With a thousand years of history, beautiful architecture, superb food and wine, and apart from the Spring arts festival, Spoleto is largely off the tourist radar – a true gem.

Sunday morning we set out for Assisi which we immediately noticed had more tourists than Spoleto. We arrived to the sound of the church bells. Apart from Italian families having a day out, we met Japanese groups, Americans and French. The old town, perched at the top of the hill is quite beautiful. We started our visit with a climb to the castle and stunning views of the Umbrian panorama. It was Sunday, so settled on a simple restaurant for lunch, popular with the locals, and tasted pasta with truffles and wild mushrooms. We had a pleasant conversation with a French couple at the next table from Toulouse, swapping travel tales. In the afternoon, the SatNav was being naughty and took the car around some dangerous mountain ledges, which was quite scary at the time but on reflection provided some wonderful and memorable views of Umbria.

Today we head South for the Amalfi Coast…..

Four amazing days in Florence…

English: Michelangelo's David (original statue...

English: Michelangelo’s David (original statue) Deutsch: David von Michelangelo (Original aus der “Accademia” in Florenz) Nederlands: David van Michelangelo (het originele beeld) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For us, Florence will surely be one of the highlights of our “Taking the slow road to Cyprus” adventure.

There are two key reasons why Florence, one of the World’s most beautiful cities, attracts UNESCO millions of tourists annually:

  1. Art
  2. Architecture

Supporting attractions include restaurants, shops and markets.

The biggest attractions are probably:

One of the personal highlights for Marilyn was the Gucci Museum with its ninety year history of Gucci fashion.

The main downsides for Florence are probably the crowds and the costs.

We observed tourists from around the World and most noticeably Americans, Japanese, French, and Germans, plus, of course, Italians.

Personally, we stayed in a quite boutique hotel about twenty minutes walk South of the Old City. We were fortunate to find the delightful area South of the Arno River, to the West of the Old Bridge – this abounded with more competitively priced restaurants and bars. Be warned that North of Arno River, near the major tourist attractions prices are very high.

Yesterday, we left the city of Florence and explored some of Tuscany by car. We followed the amazingly beautiful countryside of the famous Chianti Trail on Tourist Route TR 222 to Siena, passing through famous Chianti towns. We stopped for lunch in Castellina in Chianti and spent the late afternoon in Siena.

Siena has rivaled with Florence for centuries but is very different, with main attracting including:

Siena is more comfortable than Florence, with more space and far less crowds. It also has a wonderful selection of shops.

For us, the most vivid memory of Florence and Tuscany will probably be Michelangelo’s five hundred year old statue of Davide….