Family holidays in Umbria (Italy)
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. These adjustments, however, end up giving everyone in the family the opportunity to experience this beautiful Italian region in whole new way. Here are five suggestions for unique stops in Umbria that are fun for both grown-ups and kids (and may give the former enough bargaining power to get the latter to tour just one more church!):
Rebecca's verdict on Umbria
Assisi's Rocca Maggiore is a great place to picnic and run off steam after the a visit to the staid Basilica of Saint Francis. Make sure you bring your camera.
The mercato delle Gaite in Bevagna (late June) features medieval artisan workshops making silk, paper, candles, iron, and other crafts with period costumes and tools. Fascinating for adults and kids.
The wide open expanse of the Piano Grande plateau in the Sibilline National Park is one of the most breathtaking vistas in the region, and a fabulous place to hike, bike, or take a donkey trek. Pair it with a visit to nearby foodie-mecca, Norcia.
Historic chocolatier Perugina offers chocolate classes at their museum and factory in Perugia. You have to pre-book but they do have an English-speaking pastry chef available for lessons. Don’t miss a visit to the factory, as well!
Games of Thrones
Umbria is covered with rolling hills—nearly each is topped by a town, and almost every hill town is topped by a fortress or castle! Exploring these medieval strongholds for aspiring rulers (while their parental kings and queens enjoy the views from the strategic vantage-points) is always great fun. Assisi’s Rocca Maggiore is by far the best castle in Umbria for kids to conquer—only partially restored, this stone fortress boasts tunnels, towers, and turrets galore. Less dramatic, but still fun to visit, are the Castello del Leone in Castiglione del Lago and the Rocca Albornoziana in Spoleto.
Most towns in Umbria have one main annual festival--often center around the patron Saint’s feast day and in period medieval garb--and the town gets decked out with flags and banners from every window, taverne (temporary outdoor eating areas which range from refreshment stands to all out restaurant fare) sprout in the piazzas, and street musicians, costumed processions, reinacted medieval markets, crossbow tournaments, jousting, singing and dancing put everyone in a festive mood. Some festivals worth checking out are the Corsa all’Anello in Narni in April, Calendimaggio in Assisi and the Corsa dei Ceri in Gubbio in May, the Mercato delle Gaite in Bevagna in June. Another traditional Umbrian event is the “sagra”, a locally-organized festival which highlights a specific food or dish--generally traditional specialties (in Umbria this could mean truffles or wild boar or goose)--and is publicized with posters hung along the roads and in the piazzas. Sagras usually have a booth to place your food order, a tent with long communal tables to dine, a few carnival games, and a dance floor. A sort of benign pandemonium reigns, which is the perfect vibe for kids who have spent the past few days being “good” in restaurants and churches and need an evening to let their hair down. One of the most popular is the annual onion festival in tiny Cannara (near Bevagna) in September.
Umbria is one of the most beautifully green places in Italy, so it’s easy to skip the churches and museums for a day and instead spend some time at one of the many regional parks. They’re great places to relax and enjoy the view while the kids blow off some vacation steam, or you can walk the trails, eat al fresco, take a dip in the rivers or lakes, or enjoy a scenic drive. Perhaps the most spectacular parks in Umbria are the Piano Grande in the Mount Sibilline National Park (where there are horse and donkey riding excursions) and the Mount Subasio and Mount Cucco Regional Parks (both of which have hiking trails or offer paragliding, for the courageous).
Back to school
The fun kind of school, of course. There are many different day courses in Umbria which can be customized for kids. Try learning how to roll out pasta with a local cook, make finger-licking desserts at Perugina’s School of Chocolate, head to the woods with a guide and dog to sniff out truffles, or pick grapes or olives in harvest season. Your family can experience one of your most memorable—and fun—trips in Umbria with just a bit of creativity, research, and advance planning. Come and discover what Italy’s Green Heart has to offer!
The reason Umbria is known as the “green heart of Italy” is both its position in the center of the peninsula and its lush vegetation--the result of the region’s ample annual precipitation. Because of this, there’s no lack of bodies of water for frolicking: lakes and rivers abound and can both amuse your kids and cool them off in the hot summer months. Placid Lake Trasimeno on the Tuscan border offers beaches for swimming or ferries to two of the lake’s tiny islands, Isola Maggiore and Isola Polvese. The roaring Marmore Waterfall has trails which skirt the falls so closely that at times you get a refreshing natural spray. Nearby, on the Nera or Corna rivers you can spend a day white water rafting with professional outfitters.