So you have decided to go to Umbria; the only region of Italy that has neither a seacoast nor a border with a foreign country. Let's hope that won't stop you from visiting this beautiful region, still somewhat unknown to tourists. Whether or not you are Catholic, you should see the Basilica di San Franceso dedicate to Italy's patron saint, St, Francis of Assisi. Don't miss the frescoes illustrating his life. On the other hand, you may want to avoid Calendimaggio (May 1), Easter, the feast of St. Francis (October 4), and Christmas because of the crowds.
Perugia, the capital is an artistic center. The Duomo (Cathedral), Palazzo dei Priori (Town Hall) which contains the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria (Umbria National Gallery), and Collegio dei Cambio (Bankers' Guild Hall) are steps from each other. They and the nearby Museo Archeologico Nazionale with its excellent collection of Etruscan artifacts are all worth seeing. In addition Perugia is known for at least three things, Perugina chocolate, the Umbria Jazz Festival held during July, and Italian language schools. Head about ten miles (fifteen kilometers) southeast to the town of Torgiano to see the Cantine Lungarotti winery and the neighboring Museo del Vino with a great collection of historic wine tools and equipment.
Umbria's most highly ranked wines are Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG and Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG. The first is made southeast of Perugia from virtually 100% Sagrantino grapes. This wine may be dry or sweet. The second is vinified southeast of but much closer to Perugia from the red Sangiovese, one of Italy's signature grapes, and some lesser local red or white grapes. Another well known but often overrated Umbria wine is Orvieto DOC produced southwest of Perugia from a variety of white local grapes. This wine is usually dry. Sweet Orvieto is highly recommended but hard to find.
Common white grape varieties include the local Grechetto, the ubiquitous Trebbiano, and Chardonnay. Common local red varieties include Sangiovese, and the international Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Sagrantino is hardly common; it's found on some 250 acres (about 100 hectares), and only in Umbria.
Companies selling wine tours of Umbria include iExplore, LeBaccanti, Umbria Wine Tours, and Alabaster and Clark Wine Tours Worldwide. Umbria wineries that accept visits and provide lodgings (agriturismo) include Antonelli-San Marco in Montefalco, Azienda Agricola La Fiorita S.R.L. - Lamborghini in Panicale, Barberani, Azienda Agricola Vallesanta in Baschi, and Decugnano dei Barbi in Orvieto. A few words of warning are in order. Make sure that you check ahead of time for opening hours and whether English is spoken.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten computer and Internet books, but prefers drinking fine French wine with the right foods. He teaches computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his Italian travel website www.travelitalytravel.com and his global wine website www.theworldwidewine.com with a weekly column reviewing $10 wines and new sections writing about and tasting organic and kosher wines.