Umbria, one of Italy's smallest regions, lies in the shadow of its better-known neighbour, Tuscany. Its hills and mountains throw long shadows over river valleys of lush chestnut and elm forests.
The landlocked region has a distinct medieval character and as Natalie Gruzlewski discovered, is uncrowded and suitable for a cycling journey.
Umbria has many monasteries, founded by a host of local saints. Towns such as Assisi, birth and burial town of Saint Francis, Spoleto and Orvieto are the perfect excuse for a rest, lunch and a cool drink.
The area is known for its unique ceramics and you may want to leave some space in your travel bag for a piece or two.
Halfway up the slopes of Monte Fumaiolo a trickle seeps from the ground and finds its way south until it becomes Rome's mighty Tiber River.
Spello, known as "The Jewel of Umbria" is a beautiful 2000-year-old Roman settlement which can really only be reached by bicycle. A welcome lunchbreak will cost less than $10 and you can enjoy local wine, olives, porcini mushrooms and truffles.
Of course, you can head off on your own, but to get the most out of your visit, Natalie recommends a UTrack cycle tour. Guides know the Italian regions very well and everything can be organised for you, freeing up your time to enjoy the best of Italy. They'll arrange your accommodation, breakfast, train tickets and bicycle as well as transport your luggage to your next destination.
Umbria, the Green Heart of Italy.
UTracks, a division of World Expeditions, have eight-day cycling trips which start in Florence and finish in Rome
. They include seven breakfasts, seven nights in three- or four-star twin-share accommodation, 21-speed bicycle with waterproof bags, daily luggage transfer, train tickets, information kit with maps and service hotline. Self-guided trips are $1890 per person and with a guide, $2390. They depart regularly between April and October.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 368 (toll free)
Visas: Australians don't need a visa to enter Italy for stays of up to 90 days.
Electricity: Standard voltage is 220V. Plugs are the European standard, with two or three round pins.
Time zone: GMT +1.
Currency: The euro.
International dialling code: +39.
Travellers should be "in date" for the standard Australia and New Zealand immunisation schedules. Depending on the time of year of travel and exact destination, other health precautions and preventions may be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, visit www.welltogo.com.au or www.smartraveller.gov.au.