Umbria - Italy's 'Green Heart'

It probably didn't take a team of geniuses hours of toil to conjure up Umbria's popular sobriquet, 'the green heart of Italy'. One fleeting look at its patchwork of woods and olive groves, fields and vineyards succinctly demonstrates that this is a land existing in tones of green, and one that is inviting for that. Grand oaks and fir trees, cypresses and figs – the varied and ancient forests of Umbria have a transporting stillness that make walking here a pleasure, but they also harbour diverting watery sights as well. The willow-shrouded springs of the Clitunno River have been heralded by poets since Virgil, visited by Caligula, and are said to contain the secret of everlasting youth. And not far away lie the spectacular Marmore Waterfalls, the tallest man-made waterfall in the world, a sudden, joyous burst of excited energy amidst Umbria's timeless tranquillity.

No other country can match the variety of Italy's regional food, and Umbria has one of the country’s most distinctive and delicious cuisines. Good ingredients prepared simply characterises the Umbrian table. The jewel in the culinary crown here is the black truffle, and tasting this at least once is essential. Having it with strangozzi, the region’s pasta, is a good starting point. Now for the main course – the secundo. Often robust, gutsy fare is served, perfect comfort food or post-hiking fare. Try porchetta – slow-roasted, melt-in-your-mouth pork stuffed with rosemary – or piccioni all spiedo - spit-roasted pigeon. Accompany any meal with plenty of bread (pan nociato, made with pecorino cheese, walnuts and pine nuts, is a must) and olive oil – lots of it; Umbria has a fair claim to produce Italy’s finest. If you’ve still got room, it’s worth seeking out the region’s sweets. Focciata is a roll of sweet pasta bursting with almonds and walnuts, dried fruit, sugar and cinnamon, and the moreish torcolo is a delicious doughnut with candied fruits, pine nuts and anise. Enjoy the feast.

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