Good morning everyone on Monday 15th March. The first day of spring is almost upon us but our winter of discontent keeps rolling on. As of this morning, the Coronavirus restrictions for large swathes of the country have become more severe, in response to the recent spike in new cases.
Yesterday in Italy there were 21,315 new positive tests reported, a significant drop from the previous day but more significantly, a slight increase from the equivalent day the previous week. One shred of good news however, is that the rate of increase seems to have slowed and it will be interesting to see how many cases are reported this evening. Last Monday there were just under 14 thousand cases reported so if we can see something around that figure or ideally, slightly lower, then perhaps we can start to head in the right direction again.
The raft of new measures from today will most certainly have an impact; we are in effect in a very similar situation to the first lockdown last year. More than half the country is now officially in the red zone which means non-essential shops, schools, restaurants and bars are all closed. It's possible to leave the home but only for essential trips such as grocery shopping, travelling to work or health reasons. Exercise is permitted for people on their own but only within the vicinity of their home.
Whilst this is all of course a far cry from normality, it doesn't come as such a shock to the system as it did last year. Italians and the world in general have become used to and hardened to these measures. The recent spike in cases simply could not be ignored and drastic action had to be taken. At least this time round, we know there are vaccines available and they'll be administered much more rapidly in the coming weeks and months.
There is a full breakdown of the new restrictions and the colour-coded regions on the home page, but I suspect most of you reading this will just need a general overview at this stage. One element of those restrictions really caught my eye and warmed my heart at the same time this morning. With all the doom and gloom around the closure of non-essential businesses, one shaft of light has shone on what qualifies as "essential" and what doesn't. So as you might expect, supermarkets, chemists, banks and post-offices come under that category, but in a quintessentially-Italian way, so are bookshops.
Other countries might not deem this as necessary but it's a credit to the Italian authorities that they've recognised the importance of this. With so much time having to be spent at home, people need some kind of diversion away from the endless hours of television and with the bookshops open, this allows the population to make use of the time by filling their minds with more beneficial pursuits. How nice it is that in the midst of this crisis, a really positive aspect of the Italian psyche should come to the fore.
Winter will officially turn to spring next weekend but we're not quite there yet and the wintery temperatures will linger a little while longer. If anything, we might see a colder week this week than last with temperatures today ranging from 8° Celsius in Venice to 16° C in Catania. Central areas of the country will be bathed in sunshine today while the south and some areas of the north will see a mixture of showers and cloudy spells.
For today's focus we're going to have a look at one of those regions of Italy that somehow flies under the radar for most visitors to Italy despite having a great deal to offer. The central region of Umbria is somewhat overshadowed by its much larger neighbour Tuscany, with which it shares a western border and some notable characteristics. Umbria can boast some of Italy's most historic hill towns such as Assisi, Todi, Orvieto, Gubbio and Spoleto, while its capital Perugia offers a beguiling mixture of Renaissance and medieval architecture.
Unlike Tuscany, Umbria is land-locked and shares its eastern border with the region of Marche. This border area is one of the most beautiful in the country as it's marked by the Monti Sibillini National Park with its dramatic landscapes of rolling hills and expansive plains. A short distance from the Monti Sibillini on the Umbrian side of the border is one of the country's most-treasured natural landscapes. At certain times of the year, the vast plains around the tiny village of Castelluccio turn into fields of colour with the bloom of lentils and poppies.
Despite being land-locked, Umbria can offer water-related pursuits as it's the home to Italy's fourth largest lake: Lake Trasimeno. At the centre of the lake are three islands and during the summer it's possible to take a ferry out to them. The two main islands of Isola Maggiore and Isola Polvese each offer something different from the other and when you add in the numerous lakeside towns such as Passignano sul Trasimeno and Castiglione del Lago, there's a great deal to hold one's attention here.
Further south from Lake Trasimeno and close to the city of Terni is another of Umbria's outstanding natural features. The Marmore Waterfalls can be viewed from several angles thanks to the carefully-landscaped area which is also popular with hikers or just for a simple day out with the family.
History is very much to the fore in Umbria with a number of churches of note. The facade of Orvieto Cathedral is one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance while the interior of the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is lavishly decorated with frescoes created by the same period's most venerated artists including Giotto, Cimabue and Lorenzetti among others. However, one of Umbria's most remarkable churches was created relatively recently. The Basilica of Santa Rita da Cascia only opened in 1937 but its own interior frescoes are among the most vibrant and impactful in Italy, making a trip to the otherwise-sleepy hill town of Cascia very much worthwhile.
Well that's all from me for today. I'll update the home page with the latest Coronavirus figures later today with a bulletin to follow on Twitter. I'm expecting a comparatively low figure which usually happens on a Monday due to the weekend lag. Last Monday there were just under fourteen thousand new cases so fingers crossed we something close to or lower than that as a sign that the tide is turning.
In the meantime, enjoy the images of Umbria and the rest of your day. I'll be back with another blog tomorrow.
My name is Dion Protani, founder of Italy Review. The Italy Review blog is designed to provide ideas and inspiration to visit places in Italy you might not have heard about, as well those you have.