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43km (27 miles) W of Spoleto; 40km (25 miles) S of Perugia; 203km (126 miles) S of Florence; 130km (81 miles) N of Rome

One of the most picturesque Umbrian hill towns, Todi is a warren of narrow medieval streets twisting and plunging off at every angle, with many alleys whose graceful sets of shallow stairs flow down the center. It's a cobble of mottled grays accented with brick, all surrounding a picture-perfect central square justly celebrated as one of the finest medieval spaces on the peninsula.

A backwater for the past 500 years or so, Todi headed its own small Umbrian empire for a while in the early 13th century, and during the long Dark Ages of Lombard rule in central Italy, the comune apparently maintained its independence from the Lombard dukes in Spoleto. Todi claims a 2nd-century-A.D. martyr to prove it was Christianized early; while only a few bits of the 42 B.C. Roman Tuder survive, traces of the Etruscan border town Tutare are scarcer still. Even the Etruscans were relative newcomers, having conquered the city from an Umbri tribe that probably had displaced the Iron Age squatters who occupied the site in 2700 B.C.

Todi doesn't harbor much great art, with the exception of one jewel of High Renaissance architecture. People come here mainly just to look; to drink in the vistas from the town's terraces and the medieval character of its alleyways; to nap, picnic, and play in the public gardens; and to sit on the Duomo steps and stare at the Gothic public palaces across the way. Todi's once-upon-a-time atmosphere hasn't gone unnoticed. It sees its share of film crews and English-speaking expats, property speculators and Italian businessmen, who have taken advantage of its relative proximity to Rome to buy medieval palazzi. Yet Todi remains a showcase hill town, and a refreshing break from a culture-heavy Italian tour.