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More than anywhere else in the region, life in southern Umbria remains governed by the rhythms of the sun and the path of the seasons. It's a land of historic villages, family vineyards and sunny slopes thick with olive groves, ideal territory for escaping to a secluded villa or farmhouse. The food is richer, the traffic slower and life in general much more laid-back. Within an hour's drive of Rome's outskirts, the popular culture and architectural legacy of this region draw threads from its many epochs, from the Stone Age through early Umbri settlers, powerful Etruscan colonists, haughty Roman conquerors, iron-fisted Lombard dukes, and centuries of politically active scheming popes who used Spoleto and Orvieto as homes away from the Vatican.

Etruscan Orvieto is the pearl of the south, Umbria's magnificent cathedral città and wine centre at the meeting point of Lazio and Tuscany, while Todi offers the stoniest medieval town within Rome's reach. Spoleto plays down its Roman theater, medieval remains, and Renaissance art to promote instead its urbane attitude -- exemplified by the annual Spoleto Festival, one of Europe's most important and anticipated carnivals of contemporary music, art, dance, and theater.