If you ask the locals, Italy in the winter is underrated. It’s a quieter time compared to the warmer months when many towns and cities are busier with tourists. It also provides a better perspective of what life is like for the locals in areas like Umbria, which is known as the green heart of Italy.
After the Christmas holidays, a lot of Italians take a week or two off, and some take off the whole month of January. In the valleys, the fog settles in most mornings, making for an exciting ride down the A1 between Florence and Rome or from Todi to Spoletto. The drive from Gubbio into Le Marche can be treacherous with ice and snow. Restaurants are often closed around this time of year. Life slows down. But in the small towns, the lives of those who work the land and run small mom-and-pop shops do not change much. The local grocery stores still stay open; gas stations still serve up fuel.
For those who look for bargains, January is a great time to shop. The clothing stores that are open offer big sales on winter clothes. A weekend of shopping in Florence was tempting with 30% to 50% discounts on some of the top brands.
For January 2023, the weather was unusually warm. The ski slopes have been starved for snow, and the small towns in Umbria have seen balmy temperatures in the 40s and 50s. The fog at night and early morning makes the countryside seem more mysterious. This time of year, farmers are preparing the fields for spring planting. Olive trees need to be pruned, and it is common to prune before bud break. With the warmer temperatures that have been fairly consistent this winter, the bud break is expected to occur earlier than normal.
Christmas decorations are still up in January, weeks after the official holiday is over. The decorations stay up at least through The Epiphany, which is a national holiday. On that day, the banks are closed and most of the small shops are, too. The bigger stores are open like always, but restaurants are likely to be closed either because of the holiday or because of the winter vacation.
The Epiphany is observed on January 6. On the eve of The Epiphany, the witch La Befana flies around and leaves gifts for the children. Some children leave a small sign on their house’s mailbox to tell La Befana where to go. In the stores, you can buy a witch costume, but it doesn’t appear to be a big selling item.
January is a very quiet time, but there are still things to do in Umbria. Besides the bargains for shopping, the museums are rarely crowded, and there are a few special events at the theaters. There are very few tourists, the pace of life is slower, and actually the whole experience can be quite pleasant.
A note on travel in winter – if you are renting a car, you will be charged for the winter package, i.e. cars driving in the north or in the mountains are required to have either snow tires or chains. With the warm winter, you may not really need them, but you will pay for them anyway. And if you do drive up to Norcia or from Gubbio to Urbino, you probably will be glad you have snow tires as the shady spots along the route are likely to be icy despite the warmer temps at lower altitudes.
If you can’t get to Umbria in the winter, please know that we carry artisanal products from the Umbria region throughout the year. Olio2go makes it easy to enjoy Umbrian cuisine at any time of the year, including exquisite extra virgin olive oils from the region’s lush olive groves located on hilly terrain.