You’ll often hear Italy travel writers talk about Tuscany’s delightful “hilltop towns,” many of which are small enough and out-of-the-way enough that visitors can still feel like they’ve discovered something no other traveler knows about. What tends to be forgotten, however, is that there are delightful hilltop towns all over Italy – including in neighboring Umbria, which has many of the same landscapes we’ve come to love in Tuscany. One Umbrian hilltop town worth visiting is Gubbio – and because access to Gubbio is more limited than some other towns, you really are likely to find it far less crowded.
Gubbio, Italy, is in the northeast of Umbria, and rather than being a true hilltop town (in that it towers over everything around it), this medieval walled city is actually on the slopes of a mountain in the Apennine range. So while there are some great views from Gubbio looking down, there are also hills overlooking Gubbio. As is the case with many hilltop towns, there’s no train station in Gubbio, so in order to get there you’ll either need to catch a bus from Perugia or the nearest train station, or you’ll have to rent a car. While this may seem like a hassle for travelers who want to avoid driving in Italy or who just prefer the ease of getting around by train, it’s this added challenge in accessing Gubbio that makes it a better candidate for the kinds of smaller crowds most of us seek out when traveling.
The main sights in Gubbio are the Roman theater (dating from the 1st century B.C.E.), the 14th century Palazzo Consoli (which now houses a museum), the 12th century Duomo, the Basilica of Sant’Ubaldo (dedicated to the city’s patron saint), the 15th century Palazzo Ducale, and an interesting collection of Tibetan, Nepalese, Chinese, and Indian art that once belonged to a British colonial officer who was a descendent of a noble family of Gubbio.
Lucky visitors who are in Gubbio on May 15th will get to see the city’s famous “Corsa dei Ceri” race. In this event, three teams carrying an enormous (and heavy) statue of their saint race uphill through the streets of the city. Carrying such a burden, they can’t move too quickly, especially with the crowds of onlookers on either side of the street. It’s an historic festival, and certainly worth checking out if your travel plans will bring you anywhere near Gubbio in mid-May.