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Umbria’s 3 Essential Cities

The region of Umbria in Italy is known as the “Green Heart” of the country, thanks to the vast expanse of beautiful natural parks and reserves within its borders. But there’s plenty to see and do in Umbria’s cities too, whether it’s noshing on some famous chocolate or following in the footsteps of St. Francis. Here are our top three cities in Umbria that you definitely shouldn’t miss. Umbria’s 3 Essential Cities.

Perugia

As the capital of Umbria, Perugia charms with an ancient city center dominated by Italy’s largest fortress, Rocca Paolina. In fact, Perugia’s history can be seen throughout the city, from Etruscan ruins to medieval fountains and art galleries of national importance, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sleepy city.

Perugia is home to a vibrant university community and the Perugina Chocolate Factory, home to the world-famous “stale” bonbons. In fact, Perugia hosts a chocolate festival each October, and the streets of the old town are lined with chocolate stalls selling their wares, which is more impressive than the next.

Speaking of festivals, Perugia is home to one of the most important jazz events in the world: the Umbria Jazz Festival. Every summer since 1973, the city welcomes jazz legends and royalty to play under the stars. Notable guests have included B.B. King, Prince, Sarah Vaughan, Herbie Hancock, Elton John, and Alicia Keys, just to name a few. Whether looking to take a brush with fame, be taken back in time, or simply satisfy a sweet tooth, there is definitely something for everyone in Perugia.

Assisi

Lovers of the outdoors can’t miss the city of Assisi, set against the breathtaking green backdrop of Mount Subiaco. Arguably one of the most famous landmarks in the region, the city is home to the Basilica of St. Francis—the patron saint of animals and ecology. The bright white complex and UNESCO heritage site, consisting of churches and monasteries on two levels, hosts the 13th c. The frescoes of Giotto and Cimabue detail the life of the saint and are so vast that they can be seen from miles away in the mountain town.

Assisi has many other impressive sites, including the ancient Roman amphitheater, the Temple of Minerva, and the underground Roman forum located beneath the city’s main square. But if you prefer to stretch your legs like San Francesco, hike up to nearby Rocca Maggiore, 14th c. The fort is perched high above the city which offers incredible views of the valleys below. Whether visiting as a tourist or a pilgrim, you will find a lovely reverence for the city of Assisi.

Orvieto

When your train rolls into the station, Orvieto captivates: the ancient Etruscan city stands dramatically on top of a sheer cliff, once a volcanic slope south of Umbria. Jump in a cable car for a scenic ride to the city center while admiring the breathtaking views of the surrounding area and catch a glimpse of the ingenious ways in which the city has been built to sustain itself over the centuries.

Orvieto offers everything a quaint Italian city is expected to offer: a stunning Gothic cathedral, quiet cobblestone streets, and the perfect trattoria to sample the region’s traditional and delectable cuisine. However, Orvieto has a secret layer that is sure to awaken your inner Indiana Jones. The underground of the city is a complex system of tunnels, caves, and cisterns dating from the Etruscan and Medieval eras.

Most notable is St. Patrick’s Well, a masterpiece of Renaissance engineering that allows visitors to plunge into the middle of the 53-meter (175 ft) mountain with an impressive spiral staircase. With a necropolis, ancient Etruscan temple sites, and current archaeological excavations, Orvieto is a fascinating double face of adventure and natural charm.

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