I don’t think that anyone would argue that Tuscany isn’t the most well known of these two Italian regions. Tuscany attracts 7 times more visitors than Umbria each year and, when it comes to foreign visitors, Florence is the 4th most visited city in Italy. There isn’t even a city in Umbria that features in this list’s top 40! If you ask someone to name a city in Tuscany, they would probably rattle off a few suggestions quite easily – Florence, Siena, Pisa – but I’m not sure the same would be true for its neighbour, Umbria.
Tuscany’s popularity is not a recent phenomenon either. As far back as the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Tuscany attracted renowned poets, authors, composers, artists and gentlemen of the upper classes when they came of age. The opportunity for the last group to view some key pieces of art and architecture was deemed essential to their education. The incredible Renaissance works that Florence is home to meant many could easily spend a few months there. Other Italian cities that would feature heavily in their Grand Tour included Turin, Venice and Bologna but Umbria’s smaller cities didn’t really get a look in!
But, does this mean Tuscany is better than Umbria? We’d argue not! We think that Umbria definitely holds its own against its more famous neighbour. Here are four good reasons why you may prefer a stay in villa in Umbria rather than a villa in Tuscany:
1. It’s cheaper!
You’ll typically get much more for your money on a villa in Umbria than in Tuscany. Due to the increased number of visitors in Tuscany, you’ll find demand for accommodation that little bit higher which in turn leads to higher prices, not just for a hotel or a Tuscany villa or apartment rental, but also for food and excursions. You are also much more likely to find inflated ‘tourist’ prices for food in Tuscany in the Summer months whilst in Umbria prices tend to stay much more constant all year round.
2. It’s just as beautiful!
There is no denying that Tuscany is incredibly beautiful. Its cities are just as breathtaking as its rural landscape from the vineyards of the Chianti countryside to the rolling hills of the Val d’Orcia. And to top it all, it can also boast a glorious coastline with swathes of beautiful beaches. However, we reckon you’ll find Umbria’s hilltop villages just as charming and attractive. And one of the most beautiful natural sights in the world is the wildflower fields of Umbria’s Castelluccio di Norcia. Across May and June each year, the Pian Grande and the Pian Perduto are filled with a rainbow of colour as poppies, cornflowers, daisies, violets, orchids and other wildflowers bloom and blossom. The spectacle is quite simply jaw-dropping.
3. It’s more authentic!
Whilst, of course, it’s still possible to find places off the beaten track in Tuscany, we do find Umbria is that little bit more authentic than Tuscany. For us, Tuscany is the place to explore iconic cities that are instantly recognisable, whilst Umbria is a chance to discover smaller towns and villages away from the crowds. In fact, Umbria really only has two really major cities – Perugia and Terni – with Assisi and Orvieto the next largest places in Umbria in terms of size. Instead the ‘green heart’ of Italy is dotted with charming and picturesque hilltop towns and villages. Our favourite of these is Spello but coming a close second is the walled town of Montefalco, followed by Spoleto, Norcia, Bevagna and Narni.
5. Life is just that little bit slower!
For us, Umbria epitomises the slow travel movement. Slow travel is an approach to travel that focuses on connections with people and the local culture. This is not about instagram-worthy photo opportunities but about the opportunity to take a step back from day to day life and instead truly submerge yourself in what the country has to offer. Whereas you may find yourself ticking off the bucket list attractions in Tuscany’s big cities on an almost military schedule – the Uffizi, Santa Maria del Fiore, the Accademia and the Ponte Vecchio for example – in Umbria, you will have the time to embrace the simpler pleasures… a long leisurely lunch for example or the chance to explore a hidden church that didn’t even feature in the guide book. For us, these ‘slow’ experiences create the more genuine, longer lasting memories. And if travelling ‘slow’ means that you don’t manage to get everything done in one trip…. it doesn’t matter. We think it’s always wise to leave a reason to return!
All that being said, you won’t go wrong with either a Tuscany villa holiday or an Umbria villa holiday. Both regions are stunning and both have a timeless appeal that draws holidaymakers and tourists back year after year. Yes, we often prefer the slower pace of Umbria to the hustle and bustle of Tuscany, but that perhaps reflects the need to escape from the crazy pace of normal life for a week or two.