Honey, we forgot the kids: a child-free holiday in Umbria

No kids for a week means a group of parents get the chance to be themselves again amid Umbria’s green hills

As usual we’re running late. Our three children help rush us down to the bus stop. They’re 24, 22 and 17, but it’s hard to remember that they’re not-kids-any-more. They bundle us on to the bus along with our suitcases and then wave and smile as if sending us off on some epic journey (we’re only flying to Rome). We wave back and then sit down next to a young French mother who has been watching the scene unfold. She laughs enviously and then says: “It is unimaginable!”

It’s unimaginable for us, too. For the first time in 24 years we are going on holiday without our children. We’ve spent the past decades building sandcastles, eating ice-cream and going on slo-mo treks on dozy ponies. They’ve been among the happiest and best holidays you could imagine, but it’s time for us to learn to be grown-ups again. And a ground-breaking trip like this shouldn’t be undertaken alone, so we round up our oldest friends, the ones we used to go on holiday with. Would they like to come on a child-free break? YES! Would they like some time to think about that? NO!

We decide on Italy; in particular, an Umbrian villa called Casa dei Falchi in the wooded hills above Città di Castello. We choose it for the uncomplicated reason that all eight of us like prosecco, burrata and reading next to swimming pools. And also because there are no petting farms within a three-hour drive.

Martin Love and group of friends on holiday in Italy
Heading out … Martin Love and friends walking to their local pizzeria at Fraccano. Photograph: Graham Booth/The Observer

Umbria is the slightly unruly cousin to its more polished neighbour, Tuscany. Both have swathes of stunning scenery, copper-bright rivers and ochre-stained villages perched on rocky hills. It’s the sort of countryside for which the word “charming” was invented or, as we are coming over all Italian, “affascinante”. Umbria’s trump card is that it feels more authentic, which is another way of saying less touristy. It’s often called “the green heart of Italy”. It’s certainly green and it’s smack bang in the middle of the country. But after a week of gorging on pecorino, olives and aubergines, “the pot belly of Italy” would be more accurate.

We arrive at the remote villa covered in fine white dust from the long and bumpy strade bianche. It’s very hot and the only thing on our minds is hitting the pool. Without kids, poolside etiquette is different. There are no toys, no balls and no wriggling children to smother in suncream. We lie on loungers and let the pampering rays and sumptuous scenery untie the middle-aged knots in our dimpled shoulders. “It’s Love Island with love handles,” laughs one friend.

‘We spent the week gorging on pecorino, olives and aubergines’: market day at Todi.
‘We spent the week gorging on pecorino, olives and aubergines’ … market day at Todi. Photograph: Stefano Valeri/Alamy

There is another upside to this parent-friendly holiday, too. For the first time in decades we’ve come away during term time and so avoided the premium of school holidays. Also, the family tariff has been cut from five to two, so every meal feels pleasurably cheaper.

After a long while, we drag ourselves upright and then stroll back up the lane to our nearest pizzeria. La Collina in Fraccano is run by Loredana and her son Lorenzo. On the large patio and in the cool, herb-scented evening air, we settle back into our old selves. Conversation flows like the ice-cold rosé (the waitress is delighted when we choose a wine from Umbria and not Tuscany). We talk about friends we’ve lost too soon and about medicinal cocktails; about forgotten adverts and lunar landings; and about the overdue return of “yacht rock”. Afterwards, walking home in the warm darkness under a spangled sky, I realise the one thing we haven’t talked about is our kids.

Martin Love and friend cool off in a pool
Beat the heat … cooling off in the pool at Casa dei Falchi Photograph: PR

Days at the villa start to follow a lazy pattern: late breakfasts ease into long lunches, which slowly become early drinks and then ever-later dinners. We talk and talk and talk. By the end of the week I have the odd feeling I’ve actually been at a marathon dinner party that’s lasted for seven days. After all the years of children hogging the headlines, we’ve got a lot to catch up on.

We drive up to Monterchi, a place so small it barely appears in the guide books. At the top we pause for a cold drink in Ristorante Al Travato. It’s hollowed out of the cliff and you sit out front under shady trees. On the wall next to it is a war memorial commemorating three deaths from the Central India Horse 4th Division – two men with Sikh names and one with an English name. The plaque is said to have inspired Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient.

Retracing our steps to the bottom of the hill and across several fields we end up at La Pieve Vecchia. It is one of the most popular restaurants in the area. The food is good, but few things can compete with the view from its olive-tree terrazza and the sun setting behind Monterchi.

Reflections: the river Tiber passing through Umbertide.
Reflections … the River Tiber passing through Umbertide. Photograph: Daniel Chetroni/Alamy

No holiday would be complete without an act of inexplicable foolishness. We discover some mountain bikes in the garage of Casa Amor, as we should have called the villa. Without a thought, three of us set off down an endless gravelly track. Hours later, we face the long hot haul up the hill. We’ve taken no water, no money, no map, no phones and, in my case, not even a shirt. “If one of our kids did this,” gasps one friend, “we’d have thought how bloody stupid they are.”

I, however, do learn the hard way that cycling for hours in swimming shorts is sub-optimal. The net pouch leaves my scrotum looking like a zested satsuma.

We visit Umbertide and its bustling market. We pop into the awe-inspiring circular church in the heart of the old town only to overhear an elderly couple gazing at the Renaissance ceiling and saying: “The colour scheme is exactly the same as Liz’s new kitchen.” Further afield, we stop at Todi, 90 minutes north of Rome. Somehow, it manages to be both ancient and hip at the same time. Near its vast cathedral, we have a last lunch in Osteria Valle – I can still taste the black truffle fettuccine now.

ivy clad house in italy
Living walls: the ivy-clad Casa dei Falchi Photograph: PR

A couple of regrets: we don’t walk the Tiber Trail, a stroll along the river starting at Città (it was just too hot) and we don’t make it to Trasimeno, Italy’s fourth largest lake and the site of Hannibal’s mauling of the Romans in 217BC. Neither do we make it up the road from Casa Amor to Il Grillo – scene of a more recent triumph. The restaurant holds an annual snail-eating competition: the record is currently 300 in one sitting.

After a glorious week, we arrive back at Heathrow. Phones start to ping with family WhatsApps coming back to life. The first text? “Mum! Hurry up, there’s no food in the house!” Sounds like they’ve missed us more than we missed them…

Way to go
Casa dei Falchi sleeps up to 12 and costs from £4,900 a week – or £412pp – through Scott Williams. EasyJet flies to nearby airports, including Rome, from £25 each way. Ryanair flies to Perugia which is only a 45-minute drive from the property

Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips


Martin Love

The GuardianTramp

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