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By Rebecca Winke in Assisi, Umbria—
Not too long ago, Umbria–with its rolling hills covered in vineyards and olive groves and topped by tiny medieval stone villages–was touted as the cheaper alternative to Tuscany (her neighbor to the north). This is not so true anymore, as this region in central Italy has begun to show up on more travelers’ radars and prices have risen according to demand.
That said, Umbria doesn’t necessarily have to take a Tuscany-sized bite out of your wallet. Be it shoe-string or tight, here are four tips to help you stick to your trip budget in Umbria.
Time it right
The chances of scoring deals on flights, accommodations and car rentals rise exponentially by choosing a “shoulder” season (those buffer months between high and low seasons). This doesn’t mean you are stuck with the dog-days of January; shoulder season for Umbria generally includes the months of March (and some of April) and November (and some of October).
The weather can be spottier than it would be at the height of summer–with cool, crisp days interspersed with some showers—so bring clothes you can layer, and make sure you have both indoor and outdoor sights on your itinerary so you can work around anything the weather might toss at you.
Stay in an agriturismo
You can hardly spit in rural Umbria without hitting an agriturismo, or “farm holiday,” which are scattered throughout the region. These working farms offer accommodation (and sometimes small restaurants) and are a great choice for travelers counting their pennies.
Rates tend to be lower than hotels, many offer self-catering apartments so you can do some of your own cooking, and if you’re lucky and time it right you often have access to a vegetable garden, farm-fresh eggs, homemade wine, and olive oil. You also have the chance to savor authentic country life with an Italian family… an experience no money can buy.
Bring home the bacon (or prosciutto)
While we’re on the subject of the advantages of an agriturismo, let’s talk food. With access to a kitchen, you can dramatically cut down your restaurant expenditures by cooking at home and preparing picnics to take along on day trips. If you’re worried about missing out on Umbria’s fabulous regional cuisine, don’t fret; this simple fare is founded more on fresh, local ingredients than fancy preparation techniques.
Take the time to wander through the region’s farmers’ markets, local butchers, specialty cheese, pasta, and bread shops and pick up a little culture along with your dinner ingredients.
Sometimes the best things in life are free
Umbria is particularly budget travel friendly because so many of its sights are free. Almost all major artworks and architectural treasures are in churches open to the public. Much of the region’s charm is in taking scenic drives through the rolling landscape, walks in one of the region’s parks, or simply wandering the streets of its numerous picturesque hilltowns.
Umbria also has a plethora of music festivals from spring through late summer, and many hold free concerts during their program. A stroll through sleepy Spello, a drive along the Nera river, gazing upon the iconic frescoes in the Basilica of Saint Francis, watching the sun set over Lake Trasimeno, dropping in on an open-air jam session in Perugia, a picnic on Mount Subasio: all unforgettable moments in Umbria that won’t cost you a cent.
About the author: Rebecca Winke moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter opened an agriturismo in her husband’s renovated family farmhouse at the foot of Mount Subasio near Assisi, Umbria. She spends her time taking care of guests at Brigolante, blogging about the lovely region she now calls home at Rebecca’s Ruminations, and wondering about what strange winds blew an urban vegetarian to a farm in Umbria.