Just Back From
Indagare’s Simone Girner spent the last week scouting (and olive harvesting!) in Umbria, a two-hour drive north of Rome. It’s one of Italy’s smallest regions but it packs a punch, especially when it comes to culinary treasures, including black and white truffles, gorgeous wines (Sagrantino anyone?) and the renowned olive oil that was harvested across the region these last two weeks and then immediately turned into the Kermit-green liquid that is so flavorful and fresh that it transforms a simple bruschetta into religious experience. Here are some of my favorite finds across Umbria, often described as Tuscany’s wild little sister, but a happening up-and-coming destination in its own right. If you love Italy and experiences that are not entirely pre-packaged and polished (read, that feel authentic and yes, a little wild), Umbria should be at the top of your Europe list for 2024.
Passionate, connected and down-to-earth, Carlotta Carabba Tettamanti and her husband own the fantastic Tenuta di Murlo, an estate that’s larger than Manhattan and has been in the family for 300+ years. They have been slowly converting the atmospheric farmsteads into a luxury villa-hotel, preserving as many original details as possible but infusing them with a serious sense of what the team calls “Carlotta style.” Of the villas, which can sleep from two to 20 guests, a favorite is the hilltop La Penna with gorgeous alfresco sitting areas and wood-oven for pizza-making; soulful San Savino, meanwhile, has a fabulous wooden hot tub with views so sweeping they look surreal. The family’s roots in this region and love for sharing the best parts with guests are unmatched. Up next: look for additional deluxe guest rooms in a villa with its own pool.
Powered by the vision of two inspired hoteliers, the 12-room Vocabolo Moscatelli manages to be both a statement of high design in which every corner has been beautifully (often hand-) crafted, as well as a place that feels effortlessly rooted in the serene agricultural setting of northern Umbria. Don't be surprised when you make new friends at the fire-pit or leave with the address of Cotto Etrusco (the local brand behind the eye-popping ceramic tiles) in your pocket. In short, this is a newcomer to watch.
Fortified Norcia in the eastern border with Le Marche still feels a bit wild (think Game of Thrones backdrop) so it comes as a beautiful surprise that one of Umbria’s sole Michelin stars is found here. Run by two talented chefs (one local, one visiting), Vespasia, the gastronomic marvel of Palazzo Seneca, the area’s most elegant hotel, is an absolute feat. Here, the gastronomy crafts and elevates the best products of the region into flavorful marvels, with an eye on serious sustainability: earlier in the month, the restaurant just earned a green Michelin star, thanks in part, to ingredients from its own farm and natural truffle fields.
Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, you have to plan your trip wisely (insider tips on how to do that coming in our Umbria Guide). But the two churches that make up the Basilica di San Francesco are a Unesco World Heritage site for a reason. Brush up on your Old and New Testament stories and come prepared to marvel. Perhaps best of all: photography is forbidden inside, so all you can do is be present and maybe, if you're inspired, bring a sketchbook.
In sum: if you manage to get yourself invited to join an olive harvest, do. The experience is meditative (parts are still done by hand) and wonderfully communal (in the valley between Spoleto and Assisi, most families have olive campos of various sizes). Best of all, the fruits of your labor are often turned into oil within days, and it’s easy to make the decision to check luggage knowing you have these handcrafted treasures in your suitcase.
Addendum for Italian aficionadoes: Marco is an excellent teacher for all levels who does classes as well we privates. Contact Indagare for details if becoming fluent in this beautiful language has been a dream...)
An in-depth Umbria Destination Guide, including reviews of the top hotels and experiences, will post to Indagare soon. If you’re dreaming of planning a trip for next Spring or Summer, contact our team.
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