Equidistant from both Rome and Florence, Perugia sprawls across a bucolic hillside in Umbria, the green heart of Italy. This buzzing, cosmopolitan city is liveliest when the streets swell with visitors during Umbria Jazz, EuroChocolate and the International Journalism Festival. Whether you’re there for the music, atmosphere, or to marvel at 700-year-old architecture, Perugia is the ideal city for an overnight or weekend excursion.
Corso Vannucci is the town’s main artery and feeds into a sinuous maze of tiny cobblestone streets and alleyways. Just off Piazza IV Novembre is Pozzo Etrusco – an eerie Etruscan well that dates back to the third century. For a spectacular view of this extraordinary feat of hydraulic engineering, pass dripping walls towards a bridge at the bottom of the well. Toss in a spare Euro for good luck before plunging back into daylight.
Just around the corner on Piazza Piccinino, Pizzeria Mediterranea serves up the best pie in town. The domed restaurant is filled with a warm, golden hue that emanates from its brick oven and spills onto its wooden tables. I ordered the Funghi and watched the pizzaiolo craft a masterpiece. It takes only 90 seconds in the oven before the perfect combination of chewiness, crunchiness and gooey cheesiness emerges.
Post-feast, meander through the third century Etruscan Arch of Augustus on Via Ulisse Rocchi (it was one of seven main entrances through the city walls) to find one of Italy’s delicious gifts to the world – plentiful servings of creamy gelato. Cioccolateria Augusta Perusia’s flavors include whiskey, white chocolate coconut and truffle cream. The owner was a 25-year employee of Perugina (the chocolate factory that produces delightful treats such as the Baci), so rest easy sweet-toothed connoisseurs; you’re in good hands.
Now walk to the Duomo steps for some of the best people-watching in Europe. In direct view is the majestic Fontana Maggiore built around 1277 and replete with sculptures of prophets, saints, Bible scenes and events from Roman history. Behind it is Palazzo dei Priori, built in 1297. Topped with crenellations, this gothic, coral-colored public building also houses the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, where you can view Umbria’s art oeuvre.
At the opposite end of Corso Vannucci, experience Perugia’s subterranean world. In the mid-1500s, Pope Paul III commissioned Rocca Paolina to be built above a commune. Most of the district was leveled, leaving locals to view the Renaissance fortress as a symbol of the oppressive Papal State. Enter the remaining foundation and meander through the well-preserved empty warren of medieval streets, piazzas and buildings. You’ll forget all about the bustling city above.
6:30pm is aperitivo time in Italy. To taste everything Umbrian, head to Osteria a Priori. This restaurant is dedicated exclusively to locally-sourced food and drink. Order a bottle of Montefalco Rosso Riserva (a difficult choice when handed a 320-label all-Umbrian wine list) with a side of Tagliere “A Priori,” a mixture of charcuterie including wild prosciutto and a generous portion of local goat, cow and sheep cheese.
It’s now time for la passeggiata up Via dei Priori towards La Taverna, arguably the best restaurant in central Perugia. Chef Claudio Brugalossi will have you drooling over Umbrian specialties such as the homemade ravioli with black truffle parmigiano or the fresh tuna steak smothered in a pepper crust. A wine list of over 100-labels will make for the perfect pairing.
After your epicurean dining experience, head to Hotel Brufani Palace, the most exquisite place to stay in town. Before heading to your elegantly styled room with a sweeping view of the countryside, dive into the hotel’s glass-bottomed pool. The glass isn’t just for aesthetic reasons; it exposes ancient Etruscan ruins below.
Stephanie Cavagnaro is a London-based travel and food writer whose work has been published by Secret Escapes, Sublime Magazine, 24th Letter and North Fork Patch, among others. Hailing from the North Fork of Long Island, she moved to Boston in 2006 to gain a B.A. in English literature and Italian. She has since lived in Italy, NYC, and England. Stephanie is an avid explorer, food aficionado, and sustainability advocate. You can read her online musings about travel, her tasty recipes and reviews at Wanderlust Foodie or follow her on Twitter @stacava.