Epicureans, to Italy! Bite-size adventures await away from the tourist trail on our latest boutique road trip, inspired by our upcoming Italy guide. Food, wine and history will tempt you from Rome to Umbria for a fresh taste of Italy – and without the crowds. Move over, Tuscany…
Fly to Rome, and you could hop straight into a car and head for the hills. But this is Rome: who can tire of its mediaeval, Renaissance and Baroque splendour? Food, fashion and fun – this capital city celebrates the art of life with religious zeal. Live la dolce vita as locals do: colonise a café in Campo de’ Fiori or linger over la cucina povera in a traditional trattoria. Savour rustic staples such as rigatoni all’amatriciana or saltimbocca, then attend a private tasting tutorial at the Rome International Wine School. Head to Trastavere to scour dozens of delis – take snacks back to your suite in converted palazzo hotel Babuino 181, or spend a night or two in chic townhouse abode Portrait Roma, just off Via Condotti, near the Spanish Steps.
Next, to Norcia in landlocked Umbria. The route north rolls along a bucolic blanket of hills, peaks and plains; the three-hour drive takes you past picturesque terracotta-topped villages, lined up like a pageant of fortified beauties showcasing ancient churches and castles. Culture is not the region’s only rich vein – the Slow Food movement is strong in this produce-laden province, land of wild boar, mountain lamb, river trout and earthy truffles. Summer’s scorzone truffles enhance patés and pasta, with winter-harvested black and white tartufi all the more sought after. Sixteenth-century Palazzo Seneca is a luxury stay tricked out with a restaurant and spa, where you can even sign up for truffle-hunting. Shadow a tracker and his dog, then devour your foodie gold – while stealing gastronomic secrets – care of a cooking class at Casa Bianconi (arranged by your hotel). Tagliolini with fresh black Norcian truffle? Delizioso.
Art and fine wine enrich this land. Wend your way west, and you’ll have your pick of mediaeval hilltowns. Perched high in Montefalco, Palazzo Bontadosi is a vaulted palace and former home of a 15th-century cardinal. From here, visit Orvieto, an hour and a half away, and gawp at the dramatic Gothic cathedral’s centuries-old façade. Or head to thriving Etruscan city of Perugia, home of the annual chocolate festival, an hour to the north. En route, make a pilgrimage to Assisi: this Unesco-listed site is considered second only to Rome for its religious significance; the frescoes in its sprawling Basilica of St Francis are awe-inspiring. Return to Bontadosi’s gilded restaurant to feast on the season’s finest, such as gnocchi with wild boar ragu, washed down with an inky local sagrantino. Overindulged? Book time in the 12th-century cellar: this subterranean spa has a Turkish bath, saltwater pool, warm-water massages and grape facials. Buon appetito and buon viaggio…
ITALY ROAD TRIP ADDRESS BOOK: WHERE TO STAY
PORTRAIT ROMA Rome
Style Roman fashion house
Setting Spanish Steps shopping streets
An elegant Italian townhouse off designer-store-strewn Via Condotti, a handbag’s throw from the Piazza di Spagna, this one-time Ferragamo atelier is festooned with shoe-related artwork and photos of the shoemaker’s star-studded heyday.
Doubles from €370. Read review.
BABUINO 181 Rome
Style Chic renovated palazzo
Setting Bustling via del Babuino
Babuino 181 has a quiet elegance that belies its central location near the Spanish Steps, with luxurious but understated suites decorated in earthy hues. Staying here is like having your own high-end apartment, with a city-savvy concierge.
Doubles from €220. Read review.
PALAZZO BONTADOSI Umbria
Style Cardinal’s inn
Setting Mountainous Montefalco
This fresco-filled hotel is the former home of a 15th-century cardinal, the place he once entertained his many ragazze. Perched high on an Umbrian hilltop, it’s a vaulted palace, with an underground spa, gilded restaurant and its own art gallery.
Doubles from €160. Read review.
PALAZZO SENECA Umbria
Style Aristocrat’s peaceful palace
Setting Narrow Norcian streets
From its 16th-century façade to its locally crafted leather and wood furnishings, this palazzo is a distinctively Umbrian affair, tricked out with a ravishing restaurant and spa. An understated colour scheme backdrops four-posters and antique armoires.
Doubles from €130. Read review.
GETTING THERE Spring and autumn are dreamy in Rome and Umbria. Winter is cold but wonderfully peaceful – do check ahead, though: some places in the countryside close off-season. Alitalia is the national airline, with direct flights into Rome from around the world; Continental Airlines flies direct to Rome from major US cities. When hiring wheels, a Fiat Cinquecento may tempt for city-street negotiating, but you’ll want more horsepower to tackle Umbria’s mountain roads.
Inspired? Keep your eyes peeled for our soon-to-be-published Italy hotel guide – out in autumn – packed with loads more amazing Italian tips, hilltop villas, sexy city stays and quirky hamlet conversions. This eye-soothing coffee-table corker is on the presses as we type and we can’t wait to share it with you!