Running down a list of Umbria’s cities, you’ll see a lot of familiar names, but they’re not necessarily the best places to look for a house. Assisi, for example, is a marvel of a city and a major stop on any religious pilgrimage because of the Basilica of San Francesco, but the ultra peaceful, almost lunar landscape around it is practically uninhabited. Perugia is another stunning hilltop city, renowned for its university for foreigners, but locals grumble that it has become crime-ridden in recent years. Terni, the home of St. Valentine, is not in itself a very lovable city, though the countryside nearby deserves some attention.
From a homeowner’s perspective, the number-one place to settle in Umbria has long been Todi, situated halfway between Perugia and Terni. Expat homeowners and those looking to join the club have already pushed the selling price of attractive houses there beyond the half-million-euro mark. Not far away, however, there are still intriguing stone farmhouses, with four bedrooms and set on a few square kilometers of land, for about ‚200,000, though you will probably have to invest that same amount to get them into livable shape. Alternatively, there are finished homes of similar dimensions and character for ‚400,000 to ‚500,000 if you want to spare yourself the effort. If your heart is set on living very close to Todi, but you are looking to spend about ‚200,000 or less for something in good shape, you should steer away from rustic farmhouses and look at one-family villas, something that might be called a cottage in the United States.
Pigeons flock to a fountain in Narni
Farther south, along the border with Lazio, is an even better option in the towns between Terni and Orvieto. It’s amazing this area isn’t more densely populated, the towns of Narni and Amelia in particular. Both are stunning fortified hill towns, surrounded by olive trees in the low-lying hills west of Terni. They started off life as Etruscan settlements, became important Roman strongholds, and later were medieval fortress towns. The flavor of the Middle Ages is everywhere here, especially when Narni holds its annual medieval celebration, La Corsa all’Anello. The municipally owned, underground taverns in each of the town’s quarters open their doors to the public, and the pasta and wine flow freely.
Best of all, this seemingly isolated corner of pastoral paradise, teeming with herds of sheep, is just 40 minutes by car from Rome. The prices hardly reflect this. Like anywhere else in Italy, the options range from a ‚500,000 architectural wonder to a pile of rocks, but there are some real bargains in between. A real estate agent from the Gabetti franchise in Terni told me a story of a Scottish couple who showed up in 2002 looking to spend less than ‚75,000, and found a nearly inhabitable farmhouse for ‚30,000. For that price, don’t expect anything too fancy, but at least the place will have charm.
Houses in this corner of Umbria are often warm and uncomplicated”much like the reputed character of Umbrians themselves. Many are built of rough fieldstones, approached by driveways that are little more than wheel tracks in the grass at the side of a white, limestone pebble road. Inside, the dominant feature will probably be a stone hearth where you can bake bread like the locals, sticking it on a grate over the coals and finishing the crust by covering it with ashes.
In Terni and the outlying towns, such as Narni, rents are low. The monthly rent for a threebedroom place there, even a massive one, will rarely crest ‚400 per month. Rents in Perugia, however, are quite a bit higher. A three-bedroom apartment near the University for Foreigners should run at least ‚750 per month.