Italy never ceases to amaze. Just when you think there's little more to discover, this place offers ancora di più (more and better). As the regional manager for Backroads' trips in Italy, I'm no stranger to the country's diverse regions. Nevertheless, as we sought to craft new itineraries in the heart of "the Boot," I was amazed when Italy revealed an endless array of quaint villages and stunning landscapes waiting to be explored. As you'll hopefully soon see for yourself, the addition of Monti Sibillini National Park and the neighboring village of Norcia to our Walking & Hiking Trip in Tuscany and Umbria is a true bonus.
As soon as you exit the electric pulse of the Autostrada del Sole toward Umbria, the kilometers pass quickly as the landscape shifts almost instantly to a patchwork of ordered fields and dense oak forest. Just past scenic Spoleto, a four-kilometer tunnel serves as a portal to a different planet, where, all of a sudden, the road snakes along a steep river valley, punctuated by the occasional osteria advertising tartufi and porchetta. There's nothing fancy about these roadside restaurants, but they give the undeniable sense that superb dining with zero pretense is the priority in the "Norcia zone."
Norcia itself is both friendly and full of local pride. Our friend Federico Bianconi extends us a personal welcome to his Relais & Châteaux-member hotel, Palazzo Seneca. While some hotel owners are rarely seen, Federico is everywhere, always hospitable--even when you see him strolling the piazza during the evening passeggiata!
Hiking the famed Altopiano di Castelluccio in Sibillini National Park, you may have a hard time believing that you're in Italy. This expansive valley is a verdant carpet of wildflowers crowned with jagged peaks. Finish the day with a Michelin-starred dinner at Federico's gourmet restaurant, Vespasia, and you'll be ready to take up residence in Norcia!
But wait, there's more!
- Retrace the pensive footsteps of St. Francis to visit the world-renowned pilgrimage destination of Assisi, a World Heritage city. We take the high road to arrive in town where the views are breathtaking and the trails are lightly traveled.
- In Cortona, meet longtime Backroads friend and hotelier David Papi, as fiercely passionate about his beautiful property as he is proud to be Cortonese. We'll taste wine with David and don't be surprised to see his mother, Gabriela, keeping a proud eye over David's efforts!
- Walk the best selection of trails in the Val d'Orcia region of Tuscany. These are the Tuscan panoramas that inspired Renaissance artists to paint landscapes. Plus, the parade of World Heritage towns continues with visits to Pienza and Montalcino.
- Be blown away by spectacular views while walking the 360-degree perimeter of Castello di Velona, a castle-turned-luxury hotel. A sea of prized Brunello vineyards in all directions assures you that there will be no shortage of Tuscany's finest vino rosso (phew!). Backroads has been a proud partner with Castello di Velona since 2003. Our roots here run deep!
If you're looking to expand your horizons in Italy or have a fresh taste of what this amazing country can offer, slow down, get out on foot and soak up a healthy dose of the warm hospitality, remarkable geography and the world-class cuisine of Tuscany and Umbria. Non sarai deluso! (You will not be disappointed!)