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Tantalizing Todi

Sonia Tardetti

Umbria is a verdant landscape of olive groves and vineyards, breathtaking countryside and woodland opening onto spectacular vistas. Crowned with picturesque medieval hill towns, the region has inspired countless artists and mystics.

One such picturesque hill town is Todi, a small but perfectly formed ancient town famous for its heritage, architectural beauty, food and wine. It rises up in the midst of scenic hills in the south of Umbria and its strategic position makes it an ideal base from which to explore other Umbrian towns such as Perugia, Spoleto, Assisi and Orvieto.

View of the countryside around Todi

View of the countryside around Todi

In sunlight its buildings glow with the pink and gold hues of the local stone, and after dark, lights from the town shine out across the valley with an air of fairytale magic. The town's triple walls, still easily discernible, trace its history: the innermost wall, built of rough grey travertine, is Umbrian or Etruscan; the middle wall is Roman; and the outermost wall dates from the sixth or seventh century.

However, Todi is more than just a pretty face. In the 1990s, Professor Richard Levine, a researcher at University of Kentucky in the US, conducted a study on sustainability in towns around the world. Gorgeous Todi came out on top. After that, the Italian press called Todi the world's most livable city - that is, the city with the world's highest quality of life. This led to an immediate hike in property prices as people from all over the world flocked here to get a piece of good living. Thankfully, the hullabaloo has died down over the past 20 years, leaving Todi with its peaceful elegance once more. But that famed quality of life has stayed as high as ever.

On every turn, Todi's impressive architecture provides a visual feast, a masterful amalgam of Medieval, Renaissance, and Gothic churches and palaces. Life here centers on its Piazza Grande, one of the most renowned and beautiful medieval piazzas in all of Italy.

In late summer, the Todi Art Festival holds art exhibits and drama, opera, classical music, and ethnic music performances, and there are summer evening events scheduled throughout the season.

All year round, the bustling Saturday morning market is a popular, multi-generational meeting place offering fresh local produce, clothing, household items, groceries, knick-knacks and munchies. Restaurants and bars provide a cuisine that ranges from traditional Umbrian fare to more artsy and creative cooking.

There is much to discover in Todi, such as the Ab Ovo art gallery hidden in a side alley. It is a small, contemporary gallery that is a temple for handmade artifacts. The name Ab Ovo is a Latin motto meaning, "from the very beginning, from the origins."

There is limited parking inside the ancient city walls, so your best bet for discovering Todi is to leave your vehicle in one of the car parks outside the walls and go on foot. There is also a funicular to take you up the hill, which provides a wonderful view of the Umbrian countryside and the spectacular valley below.

As you approach the city, the first building you see is the noble Renaissance temple of Santa Maria della Consolazione. Probably based on a design by Bramante, it is one of the top architectural masterpieces of the 16th century.

Besides the richness of Todi itself, the surrounding area is dotted with interesting places to visit. For example, in Montecastello di Vibio you will find the smallest wooden theatre in the world. It is La Scala in miniature – 99 seats complete with boxes and decor.

Sonia writes for Homes and Villas Abroad, which advertises 6,000 properties for sale in Italy, including some lovely homes in Umbria.

© Sonia Tardetti, 2013

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