It may be the dog days of summer, but no reason you should be living a dog’s life in the heat. Here are some suggestions to keep your temperature down on even the hottest summer days.
Retreat to the Hills
Mountain tops abound in Umbria, where the air is cooler, the breeze is constant, and the view itself is worth the trip. Pack a picnic, plenty of water, and a camera…by the time you’re ready to head back down towards the valley you’ll be refreshed and relaxed (and have a pretty good tan, to boot). My favorite places up high are Mount Subasio, Mount Cucco, and—my favorite—the Piano Grande in the Mount Sibilline National Park where, if you’re lucky and spring comes late, you can see the last of the wildflowers into July.
If there’s one thing humans understood soon after climbing out of the primordial soup, it’s that if you want to keep cool, the lower you go, the better. In guided underground tours of Narni and Orvieto you can check out how subterranean passages and cells, cisterns, crypts, and catecombs have been used by the local populations for hundreds—in some cases, thousands–of years…and cool off while you do. Still not ready to come back up to the surface? How about some cool caves? The Grotte di Frasassi (right over the border in Le Marche) is one of the most spectacular caves open to the public in the world, and is easily visited by a walkway. If you’re feeling more adventurous (and are over 11 years old) you can try your hand at real spelunking with professional guides in the Mount Cucco caves. Once you come out, you’ll both feel and be cool!
Water, water, everywhere
Umbria is known as the green heart of Italy, and much of that vegetation is the result of the ample annual precipitation which falls in this region…so there’s no lack of water to cool you off when the temperature starts rising. You can head to tranquil Lake Trasimeno for a cool dip or to the Mount Sibilline National Park to spend the day at one of my favorite lakes in the area, Lake Fiastra.
To cool off with a natural shower, visit the beautiful Marmore Waterfall in the south of Umbria…the sound of rushing water is refreshing, even before the first mist hits you.
Praise the Lord
Or, at least, stop by His house for a little natural air conditioning. With their thick stone walls, marble or terracotta floors, and small windows, the historic churches in Umbria provide a respite from the heat with their cool interiors. Choose one where there is something interesting to look at to keep you occupied long enough to really cool down: The Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi is, of course, a front runner as the entire interior of both the upper and lower church are covered in frescoes by some of the greatest painters of that time, including Giotto and Cimabue. Perugia’s Duomo di San Lorenzo, though the city’s cathedral, doesn’t offer much eye candy to keep you interested…head instead to San Pietro, which is chock-full of frescoes and paintings inside. For a city cathedral which will keep you inside long enough to cool off, visit Orvieto’s Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta. It will take you awhile to tear yourself away from gazing at its glorious facade, but once you get inside the simple grace of the striped stone walls is as soothing as the temperature. When you are feeling up to being overwhelmed again, stop by the chapel of San Brizio, richly frescoed by Signorelli.
Do as the Romans Do (and the Umbrians, too)
One of the hardest things to get accustomed to your first time in Italy is the mediterranean schedule, as the entire country grinds to a halt for roughly the same hours during which the Anglo-Saxon world is at its most productive. There are lots of explanations for this cultural difference (which, by the way, is becoming less and less the norm—especially in larger cities), but principal among them is that it is simply a pragmatic way to avoid being outdoors during the hottest hours of the day. So as long as you’re in Italy, do as the Romans do (and the rest of the Italians, for that matter) and try the siesta on for size. Get yourself out and about at a decent hour of the morning (when the temperature is still amenable to touring), enjoy Italian cuisine to its fullest at lunch, and retreat to base camp afterwards. Rest for a couple of hours: nap, read a book, have yourself a little afternoon delight, map out your next day of traveling, write in that travel journal that you vow with every trip you will keep, vacate (after all, you are on vacation). By the time you are back out on the streets, the grueling summer sun will have left but the rest of the Italians, who have disappeared indoors along with you, will have returned.