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Secret Gems of Italy: Puglia & Umbria

Does watching Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy have your stomach growling and your itch to travel growing more and more intense with each episode? Until Italy opens back up, you're welcome to join us at the next Nine Muses Travel Culinary Passport event: Live from Tuscany: Make Italian Cavatelli - with a musical surprise! This week the CNN show visits Tuscany, Tucci's former home; what a perfect time to sign up for our homemade pasta cooking class - taught LIVE from our chef's kitchen in Tuscany!

When you're ready and able to indulge in an Italian escape, the oft-overlooked regions of Puglia and Umbria are filled with rich history, outstanding natural beauty, and fascinating villages all worth heading off the beaten path to experience. I hope you enjoy this guide of must-see secret gems in Italy!


  • Shares a border with Switzerland, France, Austria, and Slovenia

  • Highest number of UNESCO Heritage Sites in the world

  • Currency: Euro

  • Official language: Italian, but English is spoken in many cities

  • All three of Europe's active volcanos are here.

  • There are more than 1,500 lakes in Italy.


Italy has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The hottest months are July and August with temperatures in the high 80's. Throughout winter, northern Italy remains cooler and gets snow while southern Sicily near Africa has warmer winters. Unfortunately, Italy isn't currently open for tourism; in the meantime, they've got a lot of systems put into place to maintain safety as a priority especially at the major sights, using thermal body scanners, reduced capacity, and social distancing, and quarantine-free flights on select Italy/USA routes are in the works.


Italy has a record 55 UNESCO sites: 50 cultural and five natural. Neapolitan-style pizza was even recently awarded UNESCO status! (Mental note for a future Culinary Passport event.) Some of the UNESCO sites first named in Italy include:

  • Church and Covenant of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan (houses The Last Supper)

  • City of Rome

  • City of Florence

  • City of Venice

  • Piazza del Duomo, Pisa

  • Historic center of San Gimignano, Tuscany

  • Sassi di Matera


  • Located at the heel of the Italian boot

  • Greek heritage and settlements bring a Greek architectural flavor

  • Famous for its white-washed hill towns

  • Longest stretch of coastline in Italy with over 500 miles of crystal-clear water and sandy beaches

  • One of the richest archaeological regions within Italy

  • 50-60 million olive trees providing 40% of Italy's olive oil

  • Laid back, slower pace of life, off the beaten path, authentic small town feel

  • Capital city: Bari

  • One hour direct flight from Rome to Bari


The ideal months are May, June, and September followed by April and October, which are both shoulder season months when you might find some cooler temperatures and rain. You'll want to avoid July and August because of the high temperatures, and steer clear of the national holiday of Ferragosto in August when many businesses close for the whole month. Puglia is a hot spot for local Italian travel during July and August, when it's crowded with tourists from all over Italy.


The area is still an off the beaten track region of Italy, where most people don't speak English. Private guides are extremely helpful in less touristic areas like Puglia, where you'll run into language barriers.

  • Specialists in Puglia are hand-picked, thoroughly vetted, and familiar with American guests.

  • Tour at a pace that works best for you, with more flexibility for your personal interests.

  • Private transfers are especially important because there are almost no local taxi options.


  • Explore the "Trulli" of Alberobello (pictured above), the cone-shaped, stone dwellings dating back to the 16th century; they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Step inside a typical Trullo with a specialist guide to admire the architecture and learn about their unique history.

  • Visit Sassi di Matera - which translates to "Stones of Matera." The Passion of the Christ was filmed here, and the sassi/stones originate from a prehistoric settlement suspected to be some of the first human settlements in Italy. An expert guide will share how the Matera settlers lived as you tour the Casa Grotta cave dwellings. Matera held the 2019 title of European Capital of Culture.


  • Borgo Egnazia: This luxury village-in-a-village is steps from the Adriatic with sea views, surrounded by olive groves, and offers 183 rooms, casettas, and villa options plus four pools and three restaurants. Justin Timberlake was married here!

  • Palazzo Margherita: Renowned director Francis Ford Coppola realized his dream to convert a 19th-century palazzo into a luxurious boutique hotel in his grandfather's hometown of Bernalda. Choose from nine, uniquely special rooms and suites with original stone walls, frescoed ceilings, clawfoot tubs, and hand-painted tile floors. Amenities include 100 Italian films selected by Coppola you can watch in the hotel's screening room, an eat-in kitchen where you can take cooking classes, and a lovely café overlooking the town square.


  • Landlocked central region bordering Tuscany, Lazio, and Marche

  • Nicknamed the "Green Heart" of Italy for its woodlands, pastures, and meadows

  • Known for its medieval towns, wine, black truffles, and beautiful forests

  • Capital city: Perugia

  • Closes airports: Florence and Rome


The ideal months are May, June, and even July plus the grape harvest months of September and October followed next by the winter months; Umbria is near the Marche border and high Apennine Mountains with great skiing. Avoid August because of the high temperatures and Ferragosto holiday when many business close for the whole month, throughout Italy. Umbria also draws lots of local Italian tourists during August.


  • Admire the Umbrian hills with views from the elevated town of Orvieto; see its cathedral with a private guide and learn about St. Patrick's Well and Etruscan underground tunnels below Orvieto.

  • Make the popular pilgrimage stop in the well-preserved hill town of Assisi, birthplace of Saint Francis, and visit the famous 13th century Basilica of St. Francis and its stunning frescoes. Stop next at the village of Montefalco to taste DOC-awarded wines from this region.

  • Marmore Falls are the world's tallest man-made waterfalls, created by ancient Romans. If you're a thrill seeker, you can raft through the region's category four rapids with your own professional rafting guide and enjoy the beauty of the Umbrian forest.

  • The chocolate festival in Perugia is one of the largest in Europe and a decadent delight!


  • Palazzo Seneca: This premium 16th century Umbrian palace is located in Norcia, a small medieval town, and offers just 24 rooms and suites, a private garden, jazz lounge, and restaurant featuring local products.

  • Sina Brufani: Stay in Peruglia overlooking the Umbrian valley in an ancient mansion converted to a luxury hotel with 94 rooms and suites, delicious restaurant, and a really cool indoor swimming pool with a glass floor above 3,000-year-old Etruscan ruins.


Nine Muses Travel can custom build a completely private itinerary just for you, your family, or your group. We can arrange rental vehicles, private guides, and the best accommodations to maximize your time in Italy, with expert advice on how to get the most out of this incredible country. We can also INCLUDE these amenities at ALL the hotel properties mentioned in this article.

  • Complimentary room upgrades at check-in, subject to availability

  • Complimentary daily breakfast

  • Early check-in / late check-out, subject to availability

  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

  • And more!

Nine Muses Travel works with exceptional land operators who add unparalleled value:

  • RISK-FREE bookings you can change (dates & destination!) for any reason up to 7 days prior

  • World Travel & Tourism Council "Safe Travels" stamp of approval

  • Expert guides: historians, naturalists, artists, unique locals with insider tips & insights

  • Flexibility with your touring - See and do as much, or as little, as you prefer!

  • Custom-designed routings

  • Exclusive experiences

  • 24/7 real-time support

Contact Nine Muses Travel when you're ready to uncover Italy's secret gems and to learn more about me and what I can do for you!

I design journeys that inspire by highlighting local arts and culture, history, and cuisine for intellectually curious clients longing to feel deeply inspired by exciting destinations, culinary delights, and authentic cultural experiences on a life-changing, joyful journey of discovery.

Danielle Dybiec

Founder & President


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