Umbria on a Budget: A Penny-Pincher’s Guide
Let’s face it: times are tough. We are all tightening our belts a little, trimming the fat, and watching our pennies. That said, a trip to Umbria may be more do-able than you think. Here are some suggestions to help keep your dream trip within reach (and without sacrifice!).
Time It Right
By choosing a low or “shoulder” season (those buffer months between high and low season), you will be more likely to find deals on flights, accommodations, and car rentals. This doesn’t mean you are stuck with the dog-days of January; shoulder season for Umbria generally includes the months of March (and some or all of April) and November (and some or all of October). The weather is, of course, spottier than it would be at the height of summer, but generally has cool, crisp days interspersed with some showers…and gets steadily warmer and sunnier the further you push forward into April or back into October. Bring clothes you can layer, and make sure you have both indoor and outdoor sights on your itinerary so you can work around anything the weather might toss at you.
Aim Low to Fly High
With a little time and patience, there are good deals to be scored on airline tickets. Time, patience, and a little bit of knowledge, that is. For an overview on how to play the cheap airfare game, a good place to start is here. Once you have a handle on how to work the system, stop by the new Airfares & Airlines Forum at Slow Talk (the Slow Travel forum), where there is an ongoing conversation going on with travellers about where, how, and when to find the best prices on tickets…and a specific thread to compare what others have paid for their flights. Remember that to fly to Umbria, you have a number of airport options to comparison shop: Perugia, Rome, Florence, Ancona, and (in a pinch) Pisa are all feasible. Perugia has discount European carrier RyanAir flights from London Stansted, so another option is to purchase a ticket to London and connect with a dirt-cheap intra-European London-Perugia flight (make sure you read RyanAir’s infamous baggage restrictions carefully!).
Stay in a Vacation Rental
Okay, anyone who has spent any time on this blog knows that I don’t shill very often, so bear with me while I do here. A vacation rental can be a great budget choice, both for the simple price advantage (Figure Brigolante’s rates average to less than €80/night in high season, which is €40/night per person for a couple and €20/night per person for a family of four. To put it bluntly, the Assisi campground charges more.) and for the added advantage of a kitchen to prepare meals and laundry facilities. When the timing is right, we also offer our guests free access to our vegetable garden and eggs, wine, and olive oil all year long. You do the math.
Get Cookin’, Good Lookin’
While we’re on the subject of the advantages of a vacation rental, let’s talk food. One of the biggest budget crushers when travelling is the cost of eating out three times a day, every day. If you have access to a kitchen, you can dramatically cut down your restaurant expenditures by cooking at home and preparing picnics to take along on day trips. If you’re worried about missing out on Umbria’s fabulous regional cuisine, don’t fret. Traditional Umbrian cooking is very simple–yet hearty–fare founded more on fresh, local ingredients than fancy preparation techniques. Take the time to wander through the region’s farmers’ markets, local butchers, specialty cheese, fresh pasta, and bread shops and pick up a little culture along with your dinner ingredients.
Sometimes The Best Things in Life are Free
Umbria is a particularly budget-travel friendly destination because so many of its sights are free of charge. The lion’s share of her major artworks are in chuches, which are largely open free to the public. Much of the region’s charm is in simply wandering the streets of its numerous medieval stone hilltowns, taking scenic drives through the rolling landscape, and walks in one of the region’s parks. A stroll through sleepy Spello, a drive along the Nera river, gazing upon the iconic frescoes in the Basilica of Saint Francis, watching the sun set over Lake Trasimeno, a picnic on Mount Subasio: all unforgettable moments in Umbria that won’t cost you a cent.
Here is a bucket list of money saving tips for Umbria:
Purchase a Perugia Città Museo Card: €10/person buys you access to any five of thirteen local museums, monuments, and archeological sights for 48 hours from your first use, €20 (€35 for a family of up to four) buys you access all thirteen local museums, monuments, and archeological sights for a full year from your first use. A good deal.
Other cities in Umbria have similar discount card options (for example Spoleto and Assisi), which can be deals if you intend on visiting the participating museums and monuments. For more information, contact the Tourist Info offices.
The Ministry for Art and Culture has periodic discount days for State museums and monuments across Italy. Around Valentine’s Day (for 2011 it’s 12 and 13 February), museums offer two tickets for the price of one. On 8 March, all women enter free to celebrate Women’s Day. And during the annual Culture Week (9-17 April in 2011), all State-owned museums, monuments, and archaeological sites are open free of charge.
Many music festivals offer some free concerts during their program (Umbria Jazz, for example, has free concerts in the public Giardini Carducci). See here for suggestions.
A great time to visit an Umbrian town is during their annual festival, which often includes costumed processions, concerts, crossbow tournaments and medieval reinactments open to the crowds. Just a walk through the town, all decked out with banners and flags and saturated with an air of celebration, makes for some wonderful memories.
Trawl for car rental deals with the same attention as airfare deals. I am a huge proponent of renting a car in Umbria, and, with some attention to detail, it is possible to shave quite a bit off your car rental price.
Groupon. Yes. Don’t make that face. Groupon is divided by city in Italy (as it is elsewhere), so you can register for Perugia to see what local deals are coming through the pipe. I admit that many won’t be of much interest to the average traveller (unless, of course, you are looking to get your teeth cleaned in Umbria), but there are often discounts on restaurant meals, accommodations, and spa treatments. You will have to sort through the Italian, but with a little work most offers are easily decipherable.