off the beaten track in perugia

off the beaten track in perugia

February 7, 2011  |  travel tips and tales

The Rock of Ages and I floated through eight warm days in Perugia in September after the hordes of visitors had returned to work. We lived and breathed local culture, practising our Italian and soaking up the ambience and spirituality of a grand place. Perugia is a fairly large Umbrian city of 150,000 permanent residents and 30,000 itinerant students. We stayed in the heart of Centro Historica, which seamlessly and sublimely integrates hundreds of years of history with modern Italian commerce.

 From our base, we spent five days experiencing Perugia’s historic buildings, enotechas, pizzerias, boutiques and theatres, and day trips by train to Assisi, Foligno, Arezzo and Spello. The trip to Arezzo passed Lake Trasimeno, with some delightful views of rural life in northern Umbria and southern Tuscany. Lingering themes of Perugia include:

 • Brilliant food, often of the slow, or peasant type that is authentic to the area. Following the Italian bible on slow food, Osteria d’Italia, we discovered dishes like bean soup and pork in wild fennel. Good quality red is abundant and good value.

 • Classy, well dressed people….women talk of “Italian stallions”, but the women are at least as classy – well dressed with fine features.

 • The strength of religion and Catholicism in a town connected to the modern world. We took a mass (as imposters) at the famous Catedral – celebrated in Italian – and with a feeling hard to convey in words. The organ music and singing was moving and made me weep, it was so special.

 • The appreciation of music running richly through the veins of all Perugians – from school band concerts in the main piazza, to the free jazz and classical concert series, to the Italian folk bands having fun at the farmers markets. The city lives and breathes music and most kids carry instruments to school.

 • Heritage manifested in buildings; the demeanour of well-informed townsfolk, and the stories that people continue to tell.

 • An optimistic and calm spirit that is subtle yet pervasive. The locals may have trouble articulating this. It may result from a combination of religious faith, family values, enjoyment of simple pleasures and supportive communities.

 • Unabashed animation and debate among friends, family and colleagues. Hand waving and aggression soon give way to hugs and kisses – which is no different in Perugia to other parts of Italy. Perhaps it’s more about the process than the content.

• A well organized and generous tourism information facility with capable English speakers supported by a wide range of collateral material. For example we were provided with a detailed map of Umbria produced by the Touring Club of Italy – probably the best free map I’ve ever seen.

 • An emerging clash between the time honoured appreciation of subtlety, class and heritage, and the new commercialism fuelled from the west that is threatening to make this another version of any global town. Starbucks in Italy? Sadly, it’s a reality!

 • Despite a generous approach to refugees and a humanitarian tolerance of homelessness, there is a severe threat to the status quo with under privileged, beggars, drug addicts, gypsies and refugees making their mark on the city, often clashing with the romantic expectations of many visitors.

Treat yourself to a few days in and around Perugia…off the beaten track, when the numbers subside and when the weather is still warm. Truly memorable!


  1. Hello,
    I used to live in Perugia and now I live in Tasmania. Quite a nice double-whammy of travel reading for me today via you. Nice.
    I’d like to list your blog on my blog roll for a bit so that I can get to it easily and have a read; if that’s ok?

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