Four idyllic Umbrian hideaways

by Anne.Hanley

Wedged between fashionable Tuscany and Le Marche, Umbria is often overlooked. However, it has panoramas to rival Chianti’s and hotels that are stylish and relatively cheap. Here are four of the best

Paradise on a budget

The location is perfect – on a ridge with sweeping views over an unspoilt landscape of wooded hills and olive groves – but the Locanda del Gallo, a 10-room converted farmhouse, delivers more than a great setting. The German-Italian couple who run it are not so much hoteliers as design-conscious livers of the Umbrian good life who happen to take in guests. They make their own olive oil, grow vegetables and herbs and bake some of the bread and cakes that form part of the healthy breakfasts. Bedrooms (doubles from €120) are done out in warm earthy tones and furnished with a mix of shabby-chic local antiques and Balinese pieces. The infinity pool is one reason to hang around, and there are some fine walks in the area – but should you want to sightsee, Gubbio is nearby, while Assisi and Perugia are within easy day-trip radius. Personable chef Jimmy comes in to cook dinner for guests who order it, and lunch can also be arranged.

Live like a count

A medieval town built on Roman foundations, Bevagna is a lovely, low-key place to while away a few days. In L'Orto degli Angeli it has one of Umbria’s most all-round compelling luxury hotels (though, with doubles from €200, we’re talking affordable luxury). Built partly into the remains of the town’s Roman amphitheatre (the gourmet restaurant Redibis is housed inside its curving underground walkway), the hotel sprawls across several adjacent historic properties, unified some time in the 18th century by the local conte. Of the 14 guestrooms, those on the first-floor piano nobile boast original frescoes, but all breathe the atmosphere of a stylish nobleman’s residence, with elegant antique furniture and (in some rooms) huge stone bathtubs. There’s a lovely hanging garden between the two main wings of the hotel. Service is discreet – there when you need it, but otherwise taking a back seat to allow guests to make this historic jewel their home. For day trips, you are spoilt for choice: Assisi is just half an hour away, and lofty Montefalco – famous for its red wine and Renaissance art – is even closer.

Artsy rural relaxation

The cream and teak sun loungers by the dinky blue pool are just right. So is the view back up through the olives to the main house – an old medieval manor. So are the spacious bedrooms (doubles from €150): warm but elegant with their sunflower, ochre, baby blue or old rose walls, their family heirloom antiques and their colourful gauze drapes over four-poster beds. Tenuta di Canonica gets the Umbrian country house ambience exactly right. The retreat stands on a rise with views across to the cultured, handsome walled town of Todi, with its international artists’ community, and partakes of the same atmosphere: there is a well-stocked library, and owner Maria is a professor of art history who is a fount of knowledge on little-known local sights and curiosities. There is even a parrot called Mozart. Hedonism has its place here too, however: breakfast is a feast of homemade breads, cakes, jams and pastries, and no objections are raised if you prefer to swim and sunbathe instead of leafing through Vasari’s Lives of the Artists.

Design meets Dante

Built around a 12th-century watchtower, Torre di Moravola is a striking mix of ancient walls and contemporary add-ons. Architect Christopher Chong and his designer wife, Seonaid Mackenzie, bought what was virtually a ruin in 2000 and set about turning it into the cool rural retreat you see today. But it’s not just readers of Wallpaper* and World of Interiors who will feel at home here: the location, on a ridge with views across to distant mountains, is spectacular, the pool inviting as well as stylish, and the food served in the evening (much of it sourced from local producers) delicious. A cultured house-party vibe prevails, so your experience will depend partly on that week’s mix. In the unlikely event that one’s next-door neighbours are not fascinating, stylish globetrotters, there are great walks around the rural hamlets of the Carpina valley. Or hop in the car and explore Montone – a walled town with fine places to eat. A tip: there is no need to pay a premium at Moravola, as some mid-range rooms – such as the North or East Tower Suites – are as nice as the larger, pricier suites. Doubles from €200.





I have been writing about Italy for over 25 years for papers (Sunday Telegraph, Independent), magazines, news agencies and – most prolifically – travel guides, editing many editions of Time Out's Venice and Rome guides.

I pitched up in Rome in 1984, thinking of staying for a year or two; but I've never managed to drag myself away from Italy. After 20 years in the Eternal City, I'm now in the wilds of the Umbrian countryside where I continue to edit guides, and design gardens (

Of all Italy's glorious cities, Venice is undoubtedly my favourite: I love its unique beauty and that special feeling of complicity it gives anyone who gets to know it well. I make sure I visit the lagoon city three or four times a year: sometimes for a few days, occasionally for weeks. Any excuse will do: an article to write, a garden to look at, my Time Out Venice guides to update, a new hotel to check out, or just a much-loved restaurant with a pavement table and a view I find myself hankering after. What never ceases to amaze me about the place is how, despite my constant visits and endless exploring, every time I go there, I happen across something new. There’s always a reason to return to a city that reveals its secrets so slowly but so surely.

My Venice

Where I always grab a coffee - The selection of excellent coffees at the Caffè del Doge (Calle del Cinque, San Polo 609, means that there’s always the perfect cup to match my mood.

My favourite stroll - With construction work at the Punta della Dogana finally over, I can once again do my walk; the view across to San Marco from this easternmost end of the Dorsoduro district is stunning.

Fiction for inspiration - Donna Leon’s Commissioner Brunetti crime novels show this American writer’s excellent knowledge of the city. But I have a sneaky affection for Henry James’ wordy The Wings of the Dove.

The most breathtaking view - The spectacle from the campanile (bell tower) of San Giorgio Maggiore is heart-stopping. But the view from the Molino Stucky Hilton’s Skyline bar (Giudecca 810, is pretty good too – and you can enjoy this one with a glass in hand.

The best spot for some peace and quiet - When busy Venice gets too much for me, I hop on a vaporetto to the Giudecca and wander through to the boatyards and echoing alleys on the southern side. So atmospheric.

Shopaholics beware! I find the purposeful bustle and real Venetian spirit of the food morning market at the north-western foot of the Rialto bridge quite wonderful, even if I’m not buying.

City soundtrack - Anything by Vivaldi is the obvious choice here in his city, but I also find the works of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli very fitting. These 16th-century composer-brothers wrote works for performance in St Mark’s basilica in the 16th century.

Don’t leave without…trying to round the column: looking at the Doge’s palace from the lagoon side, go to the third column from the right. To one side, stand with your back against it; now try to walk around it without falling off the pavement. I’ve never managed.