If real estate agents blindfolded you, drove you to Umbria, and told you it was Tuscany, you’d have little reason to doubt them when the blindfold came off. Just about everything in Umbria looks, feels, and tastes like Tuscany, at least at first glance. There are fortified hilltop villages with Renaissance frescoes, rolling hills, fertile valleys, good local wines, and tasteful stone houses. Even the bread and prosciutto are made without salt, just like in Tuscany. This is a throwback to the days when the popes in Rome denied the central regions their salt to break their independent streak. That was in 1540. Like the Tuscans, the Umbrians don’t forget their past.
Aside from the distinct Umbrian accent, the biggest difference between the two regions is in their people’s respective characters. While the Tuscans are known for their sarcastic wit and appetite for a good, foul-mouthed debate, the Umbrians are more inward-looking and gentle people who prefer candid statements and shy from confrontation. After all, the region produced both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Valentine, from Terni, universal symbols of peace and love and all that warm, fuzzy stuff that would be mocked in Machiavelli’s Tuscany.
They say that this quiet introspection and humility come from the region’s landlocked hills and the agricultural lifestyle that they breed. Umbria is called the green heart of Italy, thanks to its position in the very center of the peninsula and its endless shades of green, from the tobacco plants of the Tiber Valley to the grassy hills dotted with olive groves. The painter Pietro Perugino was inspired by this idyllic countryside to produce The Adoration of the Magi (1504), considered the precursor of modern landscape painting. It is a lot more lush and fertile than the Middle Eastern shepherds might have remembered it.