Tuscany’s overdone and Rome’s overcrowded – sidestep instead to beautiful Perugia in Umbria (‘the green heart of Italy’), once an important Etruscan settlement and one of Italy’s oldest university cities.
The Weekender: Perugia, Italy
Following in the footsteps of the Perugini, the best way to experience the town’s historical centre is by joining the daily ritual of the passeggiata, a leisurely stroll along Corso Vannucci which begins at the 13th- century monumental fountain and ends by the Rocca Paolina, for breathtaking views across the hazy, hilly, evergreen countryside. The walk reveals the city’s Etruscan, Roman, medieval and renaissance heritage all blended in elegant harmony.
But the city’s not always this quiet. Come summer, the historical centre is brimming with people, processions and live music thanks to the annual Umbria Jazz Festival which is now in its 45th year (13-22 July). Free concerts pop up throughout the city, while the Arena Santa Giuliana plays host to big-name artists, this year including David Byrne, Benjamin Clementine, Massive Attack and music legend Quincy Jones.
Renaissance greats such as Perugino (Raphael’s tutor) and Pinturicchio called Perugia home, so a visit to the Museo Nazionale is a must, while history buffs shouldn’t miss the Etruscan Cai Cutu tomb in the Archaeological Museum and the hypogeum of the Volumnus family in the Ponte San Giovanni suburb.
But what is most enchanting of all isn’t what’s proudly displayed in the museums, it’s the secret Caravaggio and Raphael masterpieces, the hidden Paleochristian churches, the evocative underground passages of the Rocca Paolina and the covert bakeries that sell freshly made bread and pastries through grates at night. All you have to do is ask…
The classic Italian glamour of five-star Sina Brufani is second to none. It is perfectly poised at the end of the Corso with far-reaching views, while the underground swimming pool has a glass bottom revealing the Etruscan ruins below.
Ask to see the Raphael and Caravaggio pieces hiding in San Pietro’s sagrestia, and squeeze in a day trip to nearby UNESCO world heritage site, Assisi.
To try all of Umbria’s best produce in one place, head to Osteria a Priori. The ‘zero km’ menu is prepared by a charming elderly couple, while the 300-strong wine list is just crying out to be explored.
Hand luggage is just large enough for stockpiling black truffles and lentils from nearby Norcia, a few kilos of Baci Perugina chocolates which each have a love note inside and colourful Deruta ceramics.