The Most Beautiful Villages of Umbria: Bettona

I recently discovered the charming organization I Borghi Più Belli dell’Italia, which formed in 2001 to promote the hundreds of small Italian towns at risk of depopulation and decline because they are not on the commercial and travel A-list.  The foundation states its goal as “to guarantee – through protection, restoration, promotion and utilization – the preservation of a great heritage of monuments and memories that would otherwise be irretrievably lost.”

Umbria is particularly rich of just these kinds of small towns (indeed, Umbria is the region which has the most towns listed…even more than her historic rival Tuscany), and the fact that many of these villages are faltering economically because they have been unable to attract industry and tourism is a not only a shame but also a huge loss for the local history and culture.

Perusing I Borghi’s list of Umbrian towns, I realized there were many I’d never visited myself (though three of my favorite spots in Umbria—Montefalco, Bevagna, and Spello—are all included) despite having lived in this region for almost 20 years.  So, I have officially set a personal goal to visit them all this year which, given my median to do list turn around time since my two sons were born, I foresee I will actually accomplish within the year 2018.   Late 2018.

I started a few days ago by stopping by the sleepy yet charming hill town of Bettona (I had decided to go in alphabetical order, so I should have visited Arrone first…but Arrone is more of a drive and I only had a morning free so it was Bettona.  I’ll get back to Arrone sometime before 2018.  My scientific methodology is already all shot to hell.) which, as it turns out, is the perfect place to begin as it is the quintessential Umbrian village.  A piazza, a church, a small museum, a view, some picturesque alleyways…nothing “important” to see, but just a lovely hour or two of slowly paced wandering.

Bettona floats over the Umbrian valley

Once you’ve wound your way up the hill on which Bettona perches—passing the town walls on the way, parts of which are made of large sandstone blocks dating to the Etruscan period–you can park your car right in the main piazza (!!) to begin your visit.  Take an outdoor table at one of the two bars in town to enjoy a cappuccino (the owner will stiff you slightly…take it in stride) while you admire the bell tower of Santa Maria Maggiore which dominates the space, flanked by the austere town hall and the 14th century stone Palazzetto del Podestà.

Bettona's bell tower in the main piazza

From here, stroll past the bell tower to the Oratory of S. Andrea—poke your head in to see the fabulous carved wooden roses on the coffered ceiling—and, at the end of the steet, the city gate Porta V. Emanuele.

Double back to the main piazza, pass the requisite central fountain and the church of San Crispolto, patron saint of Bettona, and continue on to one of the hidden jewels of the town:  Piazza IV Novembre.  Grab one of the benches along the railing on the far side of the tree-covered square and gaze across the Umbrian valley to the towns of Assisi, Spello, and Perugia.  This is one of the most enchanting views around, so kick back for a few minutes and enjoy it.

A town with a view

When you’re ready to stretch your legs, spend the next half hour wandering through the narrow streets and alleyways of the town.  The stone houses with their flowering window boxes, wooden shutters, and forged iron gates are captivating with their simplicity and charm.  I guarantee that by the end of your walk, you’ll be sizing up the houses with “for sale” signs out front and fantasizing about acquiring a little Umbrian pied-à-terre and easing into village life.

Your final stop should be the quaint Municipal Museum, housed in the stately Palazzo Biancalana in the main piazza.  My favorite room is upstairs in the painting collection…smack in the middle of the gallery, counter to the current fad of drive-thru museum going, they have plunked down two of the comfiest leather sofas I’ve ever had the pleasure to take for a test drive.  So settle yourself in and admire Perugino’s etheral Madonna della Misericordia at your leisure.

I find my appreciation for art grows exponentially given a comfortable seat

A quiet town, a meandering walk, a drink in the piazza, a park bench with a view.  This, my friends, is Umbria.

Bettona is known locally as host to one of the best sagre of the summer–La Sagra dell’Oca Arrosto—where thousands gather at long tables filling the piazza to feast on roast goose and trimmings.  If you happen to be around the first week of August, come witness this sleepy village come alive with crowds, food, and music.  Otherwise, the aptly named Osteria dell’Oca (they have a goose thing in Bettona) right in the main piazza is a solid choice for traditional Umbrian cooking.  Don’t be put off by the entrance—the interior is quite charming and they have outdoor seating in the summer.  If you’d rather opt for a quiet picnic in the vicinity, check here for a suggestion.


  1. Joe Romano |

    I was here,
    I want to go back, no, I want to live there.
    How could I be anything but Italian……Joe

  2. Lisa Lenn |

    I enjoyed reading this.I just returned from spending three weeks exploring different parts of Italy from the north to the western
    coast of Sicily. I mostly loved the small hilltop towns and villages.

    Thanks for this info-I’m already planning my next trip back.

    ps-I think I friend requested you on FB

    • rebecca |

      Yes, Lisa, we are now friends! Keep stopping by while you plan your trip…I will be continuing the village series through the next year…

  3. Diana Strinati Baur |

    I personally love your deeply ingrained desire to do things in an orderly way followed by an uncanny ability to shuck it off at the first sign of complication followed by a very orderly and well written story about it. I have a very similar desire to do this exact thing in Piemonte. We have a lot of A’s here. I live in an A town. And our B town is Bra, that’s easy to remember. Hill towns of Italy, from A to Z. Hmmmmm. I will be looking forward to further entries.

    • rebecca |

      Diana, you crack me up. Yep, it’s amazing how the combination of living in Italy and becoming a parent manages to suck the type A right out of a gal. I am truly loving this new project (see, there is a method to my madness…the method is do fun things and it will be more stimulating to keep your blog updated!)

  4. Mark Chilton |

    Thank you so much for the wonderful article. I’m a rural tourist planning my first trip to Italy. I have 10 days in Umbria this fall to visit the small villages you write so beautifully about. Looking forward to your future village posts.


    • rebecca |

      Thanks so much, Mark! Umbria is fabulous in the fall, and 10 days is a great block of time to really explore it well. Keep checking back for more updates!

  5. Robyn |

    Bettona is my absolute favorite place in the entire world. A dear friend lives in Bettona, to the left of San Crispolto, with his patio overlooking the valley below. Every morning, I’d step outside while having my espresso taking in the beautiful view, plotting my permanent return for when my youngest is grown.

  6. Robyn |

    Oh, the view. My photo on facebook is the view I had from my friend’s balcony during my time in Bettona. I keep it so that everyday, I can see my beautiful future home.

  7. Cynthia myers |

    So glad I found your site! It is so much better than the guidebooks. My husband and I will be spending 2 weeks in Bettona and a week in Rome this Oct. We are interested in visiting the Benelli Arms factory and some Spinoni breeders. Thank you for your site! Cynthia

    • rebecca |

      Thanks for stopping by, Cynthia. What a wonderful trip…you will love the area around Bettona! Keep checking here for some more ideas for things to do and see during your trip, and enjoy Umbria!

  8. Lenore Chicka |

    Rebecca – I was browsing your “Beautiful Villages of Umbria”
    and I thoroughly enjoyed viewing your website. Your pictures are “picture perfect” and to tell you the truth, I felt I was there (wishful thinking). Great job on your website, looking forward to viewing some more of your beautiful villages in Umbria. I haven’t been to Italy but after viewing, I feel I must pack a bag and “run”, not walk” to visit these lovely villages. The views are fantastically
    beautiful and the villages are full of charm. Thank you

    • rebecca |

      Hello, Lenore! How kind of you to stop by and thanks so much for your wonderful feedback…yes, it’s time you move from being an armchair Italy traveller to a real one!

  9. Hellen Barbara |

    Hello. I have traveled all over Italy but have never been to Umbria. I am 47, recently divorced , and am looking for towns that are charming and off the beaten path with local trattorias and pubs that I can relax in and mingle with the locals. Do you have any suggestions? WHich of the towns have the most character and cutest shops and little family run restaurants? How far are each of the towns from one another and how would i get from one to the other,. I did not plan on renting a car.
    I heard about Todi – is that quaint?
    Appreciate your feedback. Also, I am planning to go in November. DO you know what the temperature is that time of year. Thanks.

    • rebecca |

      Hello Barbara…thanks for stopping by. I strongly recommend that you rent a car for your stay in Umbria. Many of the small hilltowns you would like to visit are complicated to reach by bus or train. Todi would be a good choice for you; it’s one of the larges in the list of villages, but for that reason may still have enough going on in November (low season) to keep you busy. The smaller villages get very quiet during the winter. I also strongly recommend you check out the forum at…there you will find a treasure trove of information from a huge group of travellers (many of whom are Umbria-philes) who are very welcoming to newcomers. Expect crisp temperatures in November; pack layers!!


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