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.