Living in Umbria, Italy: The “Real” Italy for US Expats

Back before the internet age, Nancy Hampton eagerly anticipated her print subscriptions from International Living, so she’d clearly fostered a dream to live overseas for a long time. In the 1990s, she and her husband Luther, managed to garner some good work gigs in Germany; Nancy as a graphic artist and Luther in IT. They loved immersing themselves in a new culture.

When their work opportunities ended, they returned to the Washington, D.C. metro area, where they endured heavy traffic, a high cost of living, and crazy pace ,while looking for a place to retire abroad. “We knew we wanted to be back in Europe,” Nancy said, “and we tended to return again and again to Italy. We decided that was the place. We loved the beauty, the food, and the lifestyle, as well as the friendliness of the people.”

Nancy and Luther quickly settled on Umbria for its central location—midway between Rome and Florence and between both coasts. They also loved the bucolic lifestyle and food. “It offered the same qualities as Tuscany, but was less expensive, and less crowded. We felt there were too many foreigners already in Tuscany,” Nancy says. “We ultimately chose Umbertide because it was a ‘real’ town with regular Italians going about their lives.”

The regal town, named for Prince Umberto, sits along the Tiber; it has about 16,000 residents and a tangle of streets in the compact historic center. While it’s a rather small town, it has a beautiful castle, an active community, and some headliner Renaissance art that includes Pomarancio, Pinturicchio, and Signorelli.

Nancy says the size was right for them. “Everything we needed would be in walking distance.” There is also a couple dozen expats in the area for socializing and help with bureaucratic matters. “We are friends with all the local shopkeepers, and we have some good Italian friends here; we like to cook for each other,” she says. “I still have some difficulty speaking Italian, so it’s nice to also have expat friends.”

Nancy and Luther have been in Umbria for three years now. She says they’re having a happy retirement here, learning Italian and enjoying daily life. “We have lots of festivals here, which we enjoy a lot. We like having an aperitivo on the piazza [square], and never miss the two weekly markets.”

It’s also a good location for touring around, and for access to the airports in Perugia and Rome for trips around Italy and Europe. Since winter can be damp and dreary, that is when they usually visit other cities. They also like to go for a walk along the Tiber River, take a drive into Tuscany or other parts of Umbria, or go visit a winery.

Umbria affords the Hamptons a more affordable retirement than life in the U.S. Housing, groceries, healthcare, and dining out, are all less expensive. While their property tax in the U.S. cost them $7,500 a year, Nancy rejoices that in Italy you pay no property tax on your primary residence. They dine out more, too. “Many places cost just $17 per person for a three-course meal, including house wine. Great pizza is around $8 for a whole pie.”

Travel around Europe is within geographic and financial reach, too, with low-cost airlines offering easy flights. Europe’s rail system offers another choice for vacations. They recently hopped on a train to Venice for $60 each way.

Umbria has been a good choice for the Hamptons, which they say has absolutely met the expectations they envisioned as they endured those last working years while planning for a retirement in Italy.

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