Rebecca Winke

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Rebecca moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter opened an agriturismo in a renovated family farmhouse at the foot of Mount Subasio near Assisi, Umbria. She spends her time taking care of guests at Brigolante Guest Apartments, writing about the lovely country she now calls home, and wondering what strange winds blew an urban vegetarian to a farm in Umbria.

Rebecca Winke

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Dreamy Lake Trasimeno, located in Umbria but hugging the border of neighboring Tuscany, is the perfect destination for travelling families who need to strike that delicate holiday balance between water fun and sports (for the kids) and cuisine and culture (for the grown-ups). The lake itself is ringed with family-friendly beaches and parks, a leisurely walking and biking trail, and casual restaurants and pizzerias. Further up in the surrounding hills, more active (and older) families can take advantage of a number of scenic walking trails, visit pretty Medieval lakeside villages, and sample some of the area’s excellent wine and olive oil.

If you tell any Italian that you are headed to the region of Abruzzo, the very first thing they will ask is, “Are you visiting Gran Sasso?”. Gran Sasso is shorthand for Abruzzo’s sprawling Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga (Gran Sasso and Laga Mountain National Park), one of Italy’s largest national parks—indeed, covering almost 350,000 acres, one of the largest protected areas in all of Europe.

Puglia—or, more specifically, the Salento Peninsula that forms the heel of Italy’s “boot”—is a fantastic destination for families, both for the wide range of things to do and see packed into this relatively compact area, and for the laid-back, kid-friendly pace that characterizes much of southern Italy.

Most visitors to Le Marche come for its beachside resort towns, which line the almost 200 kilometres of coastline lapped by the waves of the placid Adriatic sea – but this pretty (and largely unsung) central Italian region has much more to offer. The dramatic Sibilline mountains which border the region to the west boast some of Italy’s most breathtaking scenery, and the rolling hills which tumble eastward toward the sea are covered with tidy vineyards, pretty villages, and isolated castles.

Venice is, like most Italian cities, an open-air museum with its 1,000 year history played out in the palazzi and piazze (called campi in Venice) which line its ubiquitous canals. This is good news for travelling families, as “churched-out” kids can spend almost their entire stay in La Serenissima in the fabulously traffic-free outdoors and still get a fine look at the city’s history and culture.

Venice has the unfortunate (and undeserved) reputation of being one of the few places in Italy where the restaurants are expensive and not particularly good. Though it’s true that there is a concentration of “tourist-trap” eateries along the main thoroughfares, it’s also true that La Serenissima is a place where it’s easy to distance yourself from the crowds and find small, neighbourhood trattorias where the dishes are excellent and prices reasonable.

The Italian Lakes, wine and wineries

When thinking of Italian wine, it is most often the central and southern regions of Italy that come to mind. The crowd-pleasing super-Tuscans, the bold Sicilian Nero d’Avola, and the mouth-tingling tannic Sagrantino from Umbria all seem to dominate the collective wine consciousness (and worldwide menus), encapsulating in their deep red hues the Italy of long, languishing afternoon meals warmed by the Mediterranean sun and serenaded by sweet sounds of mandolins.

The central Italian region of Le Marche is best known for its pretty landscape; the interior runs from rolling, vineyard-covered hillsides dotted with medieval towns and castles, to the rugged, majestic peaks of the Sibilline Mountain range. To the west, Le Marche shares a border with five neighbouring regions (Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, and Abruzzo), but its entire length to the east is lapped by the mild-tempered waves of the Adriatic Sea.

Perhaps the most fun, authentic summer evening you can spend in Umbria is at one of this region’s many “sagre”. These popular local festivals are organized by either an entire village or a single neighbourhood and almost always centre around a specific food or dish. Featured dishes are generally local specialities—truffles, wild boar, or “torta al testo” (a type of flat bread), for example—but you can find sagre featuring oddities like seafood or crepes, as well.

Umbria, with its undulating landscape, tiny hilltop hamlets, and isolated abbeys and fortresses, is a hiker’s paradise and yet not seemingly hiker-friendly. Though this region sometimes falls short in trail signage, itinerary information, and logistical support for walkers, the scenery and history along its walking routes more than make up for these inconveniences.

Spring in Umbria, like in most of world, seems to be the season of unpredictable weather. The skies go from sunny to downpour in just minutes; plans of sipping a cappuccino at a cafè table while watching the world go by, or having a leisurely picnic on a hillside overlooking olive groves, may have to be quickly scrapped when the clouds start to gather.

One of the biggest advantages to visiting Umbria in spring and summer is the number of wonderful festivals—from medieval-themed traditional fetes, to events celebrating the region’s local wine and food, to excellent music festivals--during which the small Umbrian towns awaken from their winter slumber and celebrate the coming of warm days and nights.

The world has a new Pope, one who has made history by taking the name of Francis - in homage to Saint Francis of Assisi - for the first time. There has been a surge in interest in this popular and beloved Saint and his life and work since the papal news, and with it an increasing number of visitors to Franciscan sites across Umbria - Francis’ home region - by the devout and the curious of all faiths and religions.

Italy’s famed and varied cuisine is closely linked to each of its 20 regions’ history and topography, and nowhere is this more true (or more varied) than in the largely unsung yet gorgeous region of Abruzzo. Often overshadowed by The Marches to the North and Puglia to the south, Abruzzo offers rugged mountains and bucolic beaches that can match—if not surpass—its neighbors, and its position under the tourism radar means that visitors often get the feeling that they have the region all to themselves.

One of the benefits of visiting Umbria—indeed, visiting just about anywhere--with kids how they change the way we travel. Crafting a trip suitable for your entire family inevitably means adjusting (slowing!) the customary frantic pace and tailoring the itinerary to include activities that go beyond the typical museum/church relay.

 

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