Todi holiday guide
Life here is as Italian as you are going to find, and is lived among tumbling streets and tiny alleys that seem stuck in the Middle Ages. Despite a steady stream of visitors and day-trippers, it remains undisturbed by the bustle of modern tourism. There is also no better base for exploring Umbria: Spoleto, wine-making country around Montefalco, the art and architecture of Perugia, and foodie Bevagna are all within a short drive of the town walls.
Written by Donald Strachan, Italy specialist and Travel Writer for The Guardian.
Art & architecture
Todi has one of central Italy's most photogenic piazzas. There is nothing showy about Piazza del Popolo, just an understated serenity enclosed by the 13th-century Palazzo del Capitano and Palazzo dei Priori. Surveying it from one end is the minimalist façade and rose window of Todi's Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral.
The town's most photographed building stands just downhill from the walls: the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione was designed by Cola da Caprarola, and its divine geometry follows the classic Greek Cross pattern that became fashionable during the High Renaissance. To get the best view of it—and the hills of central Umbria that form its backdrop—climb the campanile (bell tower) of San Fortunato church.
Step back—a couple of millennia back—at Carsulae, a Roman resort in the 1st century AD. You can still see the Basilica and Forum, and walk on the basalt flagstones of the Via Flaminia, the ancient road that once connected Rome with Rimini and the Adriatic coast.
Eating and drinking
Tiny Bevagna, 35km north-east of Todi, is Umbria's foodie capital, with several restaurants crammed into its small, walkable centre. Prices are generally reasonable, too. For a meat feast, Osteria Scottadito keeps it nice and simple, with the best local meat whisked straight from the butcher to the grill. Lamb, pork, and beef are all tasty. (And if you fancy cooking back at your villa, stock up at the family butcher and salami shop, Tagliavento, just along the street.)
Umbria's markets are a great place to stock up on fresh produce or chow down on a hot porchetta (rolled, and often herbed, pork) sandwich. Look out for Umbrian specialities like delicate Castelluccio lentils, that grow in the Monti Sibillini (also great with pork); DOP olive oil from the Colli Assisi-Spoleto zone; and formaggio di fossa (literally, 'ditch cheese'), a sheep's milk cheese that is wrapped and aged underground. Todi's market runs every Saturday.
Umbria's best wines hail from the gentle hills north-east of Todi. Dark and powerful, Sagrantino di Montefalco is a blockbuster that can age for a decade or more and partners strong meats like wild boar perfectly. Rossi di Montefalco is still full-bodied, but a little gentler (and more affordable). Queues are sometimes long—but it's worth the wait—at Todi's best gelateria, Pianegiani.
Local towns and villages
Perugia, 45km north of Todi, is Umbria's capital, and is kept lively by its large Italian and foreign student population. In Piazza IV Novembre it has one of Umbria's most dramatic public squares, with the Fontana Maggiore at its centre. The fountain was decorated in the 1270s by Tuscan Gothic sculptors Nicola and Giovanni Pisano.
Alongside Perugia Spoleto, 42km east of Todi, is Umbria's major cultural centre. For three weeks in late June and early July, the town hosts one of Europe's most prestigious classical music festivals, with events staged around town, including outdoors in Spoleto's Roman theatre and in the piazza fronting its cathedral. Inside the Duomo, Florentine painter Filippo Lippi painted the apse with 'Scenesfrom the Life of the Virgin'. He died in Spoleto in 1469, before completing the work, and is buried in the cathedral.
East of Todi, on the fringes of the Apennine mountains, the Valnerina is Umbria's whitewater rafting mecca. Several companies run rafting, kayaking, canyoning, canoeing and other (wet) excursions along and around the Nera and Corno rivers. See www.umbriavalnerina.it for a rundown of outdoor adventures in the area.
Deruta, 27km north of Todi, has been a centre for majolica ceramic production for centuries. Its central streets are lined with small shops selling this glazed, brightly-painted pottery in various useful and souvenir-friendly shapes and sizes. Explore the backstreets if you want to find craft wares made by small-scale producers.
Perugia's Corso Vannucci is a broad pedestrian avenue lined with street cafes and clothing boutiques, named after the city's best-known painter, Perugino (Vannucci was his real surname). Here you will also find a retail outlet for Umbria's most famous chocolatier, Perugina.
The Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria has the region's most wide-ranging painting collection, displayed inside a crenellated town hall that dates to the 1290s, the Palazzo dei Priori. Renaissance painter Perugino (teacher of Raphael) is the local notable and well represented, and the large collection also has several works by another Umbrian painter, Pinturicchio, Piero della Francesca's 'Polyptych of St. Anthony' (1469), and plenty more.
The Museo del Vino, in Torgiano, has ethnographic displays dedicated to the history, science and culture of winemaking in Umbria, and Europe more generally. The museum is run by the Lungarotti wine-making family (and, yes, there's a wine shop just down the road from the front door).
Todi's friendly tourist office is at Piazza del Popolo 38, tel. 075/8956227, e. firstname.lastname@example.org. There are also tourist offices in Spoleto, at Piazza della Libertà 7, tel. 0743/218620, www.visitspoleto.it; and in Perugia, at Piazza Matteotti 18, tel. 075/5736458. Umbria's online tourism portal is www.regioneumbria.eu.
Insider tipDon't try to walk up to the centre of Todi from one it its gates; the hill is seriously steep. Use the well-signed Porta Orvietana car park and ride up in style in the (free) lift.
Best & Finds
- For the palate. Tenuta Marchesi Fezia, San Bartolomeo 'Very good and even cheaper than most of the supermarket wines.' 2009
- For the appetite.Le Scalette, Todi 'Excellent for food and views from the outside seating area.' 2010
- For the kids. White water rafting below the Marmore Falls.
- For the mind. The Roman ruins at Carsulae 'The ruins at Carsulae are worth a visit and make a nice destination for a picnic.' 2010