If Tuscany is the heart of Italy, then Umbria is its lungs - some might even say its soul. Wooded, unspoilt and steeped in history, this landlocked province hides some of the country’s finest art (Piero della Francesca cycles) and music (Perugia's jazz festival, Citta di Castello's chamber music), as well as some unsung medieval hilltowns (Gubbio, Spoleto, Montone). We love it here: few crowds, lots of cultural treasures, and limitless fresh air. It's like Tuscany without the crowds - or the prices.
Bordered to the east by the Apennine mountains of the Marche, to the west by Tuscany’s Val di Chiana and to the south by Etruscan Lazio, Umbria is very centrally placed. It's also well served by flights: in addition to Perugia itself, Rome, Florence, Forli and Ancona are all within 2 hours.
If Umbria is too mainstream for you, Le Marche (pronounced Lé Marqué) is its smaller, overlooked sibling to the east. Rising from the Adriatic coast around Ancona and Pesaro, its high rolling hills conceal stunning Renaissance-rich towns like Urbania and Urbino, which Conde Nast calls 'one of Italy's great art towns'. Macerata is famous for its open-air theatre and festival; you may have heard of Ascoli Piceno, too. Outside these hubs, however, it's all rural seclusion and long views, most breath-takingly from the snowy summits and flower-carpeted uplands of the Monti Sibillini National Park. Wherever you are in Le Marche, it's only a short - if sinuous - drive down to the coast: the sandstone sea cliffs and windswept beaches of Monte San Bartolo are a highlight, or there are busy sandy beaches around Pesaro if you prefer.