The region of Umbria is Tuscany without the price tag – and Italy’s ‘green heart’ has all the attributes of its famous neighbour.
If you follow the Tiber Valley from the point where Tuscany and Umbria meet, you will happen upon Città di Castello.
It may not have the notoriety of other Italian cities, but it has a warm heart and for Umbrians, this is the place to visit for an array of festivals, art galleries, museums, and delicious food at your own pace.
A brief history of Città di Castello
The historical centre of Città di Castello is enclosed by 16th century double walls, while the rest of the city is surrounded by hills, perfect for hiking and sniffing out the elusive truffle which is a local ingredient you’ll find across the Umbria region.
Its beginnings go back to the Etruscan period, but it was during the Roman reign that it became a prosperous municipality.
Over the years it has been under the rule of the Church, Perugia, and Florence. In World War Two it suffered, but it has since evolved into a place that balances the old with modern amenities, without compromising on the intimate feel Città di Castello is so well known for.
Best time of year to visit
It’s an all-year-round destination with seasonal food festivals and cultural events.
Flowers adorn the hills in spring, whilst during the summer Città di Castello enjoys music festival.
Autumn is when the harvest food festivals begin, and in winter, you can spend time indoors visiting galleries and museums.
Things to do in Città di Castello
Comparably smaller than nearby Arezzo or Perugia, Città di Castello feels quite compact, but walk around its medieval centre and feel the charm of the city’s cobblestone streets, alleyways, and the occasional piazza.
Lovingly referred to as the ‘city of museums‘ there’s a long history wrapped up in this small city.
Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera and Municipal Gallery
Built in 1521 in five blocks by the Vitelli family, this exquisite palace is one of five built by the family, completed in a Florentine style.
The palace was built for a wedding between Alessandro Vitelli and Paola Rossi di San Secondo Parmense. Restored in 1912 by the antiquarian Elia Volpi, he donated it back to the town as the Pinacoteca Comunale, which is now the Municipal Gallery.
Inside find elegant rooms, frescoes and works by Spinello Aretino, Giorgio di Andrea di Bartolo, Antonio Alberti di Ferrara, Neri di Bicci and Antonio Vivarini.
Palazzo del Podestà
A 14th-century public building built by Angelo da Orvieto. Above the workshop doors, you can see the coat of arms that belonged to the “Podestà” who governed the town. It has a grand archway that leads into a beautiful piazza.
Palazzo Albizzini – Burri Collection
Alberto Burri was an abstract painter and sculptor who was best known for his ‘sacks’ series and he described himself as a polymaterialist.
In 1978 Alberto Burri set up the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini “Collezione Burri” in this prestigious renaissance townhouse with the collection opening in 1981.
There are over 130 works from 1948 to 1989 covering twenty rooms, and what is unique about this place is that the artist chose the space, the artwork, and the layout and placed it here in his hometown.
This might seem like a strange place for an art gallery, but these large industrial units were converted by Alberto Burri to house a series of large paintings.
The building was a tobacco dryer for tropical tobacco grown locally but shut in the 70s.
Alberto Burri also used it as a workshop in the latter part of his career. Today it is an art gallery and you’ll find this space within a short walking distance from Città di Castello’s city centre.
The Cathedral Museum
Located next to the Basilica Cathedral of Saints Florido and Amanzio, this sacred art museum holds important pieces of jewellery discovered in the south of Citta di Castello in 1935 and belonged to the Canoscio Sanctuary.
The cathedral itself has a round bell tower and it was here where the tombs and reliquaries of the patron saints were discovered in 1356.
Church of St Francis
The church was consecrated in 1291 and it was transformed during the Baroque era in the 1700s.
Inside is the Vitelli chapel which was designed by Giorgio Vasari in the mid-1500s, and the church is notable for its exquisite plaster molding and decorations representing the life of Mary and Saint Frances.
Round Bell Tower and Civic Tower
The 11th-century bell tower is 43.5 meters tall and climbing the tower gives views across Città di Castello and the surrounding hills and Tiber Valley.
Another impressive structure is the 14th-century Civic Tower which symbolises a free town.
Look closely and see coats of arms, but currently, it’s only possible to see the tower from the piazza below.
Next to that piazza is a lovely park with sculptures and panoramic views.
Terme di Fontecchio
Fontecchio Thermal Baths and Spa are a walk, cycle, or short three km drive from the city center.
This ancient spa is particularly well known for its sulfurous water and mud baths.
Treatments here include mud therapy, hydro-massages, traditional massages, rehabilitation, and physiotherapy.
Antiques and Vintage Fair
On the third Sunday of every month on Piazza G. Matteotti is the vintage market.
It’s a veritable treasure trove of delights with bargains for retro lovers and collectors. It’s a lovely place to pick up a present or something to take home that didn’t come from a souvenir shop.
Step outside the city walls and discover this beautiful park along the Tiber River trail.
It’s populated by a range of wildlife, including swans in the pond and it has a play park for the kids to enjoy.
It’s also a lovely spot to go for an aperitif. Relax at a picnic table, grab a drink from the bar and they’ll provide you with piadina sandwiches or slices of pizza.
Tiber River and Hikes
There are opportunities to enjoy nature in Città di Castello too. Cycle along the river trails, canoe or kayak on the river or hike up into the hills.
A fantastic hiking trail is a three-hour endeavor uphill towards Monte Santa Maria Tiberina.
It’s a medieval village with gorgeous panoramic views over both Umbria and Tuscany, historic buildings, and amazing pizza in its campsite restaurant – well-needed post-hike!
Places to eat and drink in Città di Castello
During the day there are lovely cafés that spill onto the streets perfect for an espresso or cappuccino and people watching. A fantastic choice is Bar La Piazzetta on Via Guglielmo Marconi.
Delicious bread, pastries and cake can be found in PAN ART or Il Forno Di Rignaldello. Finally, on a sweltering day – or any day! – there is ALL iCE which is a self-styled ice cream laboratory across from the Civic Tower.
If you haven’t experienced Aperitivo culture in Italy, then start in Caffè Roma on Via Mario Angeloni in the evening for a buffet of delicious free food with a glass of vino or cocktail.
After an Aperitivo, the locals head to a pizzeria and the best place to go for a casual slice of pizza is Pizzeria Kentia Vicino Poste on Viale Antonio Gramsci.
There are tempting eateries tucked away in Città di Castello’s side streets, but locals will tell you that Fez e Mauro on Via Mario Angeloni is the place to visit.
It’s nothing fancy, just hearty Italian food with local flavors and ingredients – they gleefully advertise they speak English too! Our tip – sample dishes from their truffle menu, plus they do a marvelous steak made with local Umbrian beef.
Città di Castello Festivals
As well as being historically rich, there are festivals throughout the year which add more flavor and vibrancy to this small city.
There are festivals, events and markets every month but stand out options are the Festival delle Nazioni in August, a popular chamber music festival held in churches and outdoors.
In the second week of September, there is the National Horse Show, an event dating from the middle ages with horse races and funfairs.
The White Truffle Festival at the beginning of November includes cooking demonstrations by well-known chefs, music, and the opportunity to try local, fresh white truffle.
It’s around about this time they also have an artisan chocolate festival and there are wine and food festivals throughout the year that normally involve street food stands with seasonal fare to sample.
Christmas also brings beautiful street decorations and street markets.
Where to stay in Citta di Castello
In the Città di Castello’s city centre, Hotel Tiferno is a four-star hotel that resides in a 17th-century former monastery which has a spa complete with Turkish baths.
Families might prefer to stay in a nearby agriturismo, one option is L’agriturismo Cà Solare which offers apartments in the hills overlooking the city near Monte Santa Maria Tiberina.
For a relaxing break, Borgo dei Sapori is a spa, restaurant and boutique hotel that makes wine and it’s located in the outskirts of Città di Castello.
How to get here
Città di Castello is only accessible by bus or car with no train station. This does add to its ‘hidden gem’ appeal and it makes a wonderful day trip from nearby Perugia which is only 56 km away.
Buses also run from Arezzo (39 km) and you can even get here on a direct bus from Rome which is three hours away.