advertisement

Consistently overshadowed by its culturally mega-rich neighbor, Northern Umbria is nevertheless brimming with gorgeous medieval hill-towns, plenty of art treasures of its own and an olive-growing industry that's been thriving for thousands of years.

The capital city, Perugia, is the birthplace of the Umbrian style of painting, which took form during the Renaissance in the work of Perugino and his students Pinturicchio and Raphael. Perugia gets hip each fall with one of Europe's greatest jazz festivals and spends the rest of its time selling Baci chocolates to the world.

At Umbria's spiritual heart is Assisi, a place of pilgrimage second only to Rome -- not just the birthplace of Italy's patron saint but also of Western art in the form of Giotto's frescoes covering the Basilica di San Francesco.

Northern Umbria was the stronghold of the ancient Umbri tribes, neighbors to the Etruscans and even more mysterious. Their strange half-forgotten culture continues to manifest itself in colorful pagan festivals such as the Corso dei Ceri in the stony northern border town of Gubbio. Up here in the far north is a landscape of contemplation, and a historic core of overgrown villages surrounded by wild corners of the Apennines where wolves still roam and roads don't go.