PART I covered Orvieto and Todi. This next part of my report from my July 2010 trip through Italy with my partner and young nephew, continues through Perugia and into the province of Le Marche
The capital of Umbria, I lived here for 6 weeks in 1976 while I studied at the Universita’ Italiana per Stranieri, aka the Italian University for Foreigners. The town structure hasn’t changed a bit, but then it was built around 1200 so what’s 34 years? The shops were all grown up – gone were the local places, now replaced with boutiques and chain stores. Alas, the store where I bought my green and yellow Rosignol ski cap was gone, but the memory of my ski weekend to Cervinia [the Italian side of the Matterhorn near Zermatt] is still pleasantly alive.
Perugia is still a University town. There’s the local university for Italians and another where foreigners go to learn Italian. The latter one is housed in a spectacular Baroque building adjacent to an Etruscan gate to the City. The road leading into the center of town from there winds around the edge of the city, and it’s as dramatic now as it was when I was 20. Combining 13th century charm and the buzz of students discovering the world outside of their home towns for the first time, makes this a great place. [Amanda Knox, the American unfairly convicted of murdering her British roommate , probably doesn’t feel this way, but that’s another story – I didn’t see her, although I did write to her.]
We were in Perugia during the annual Jazz festival and the FIFA World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands which added a lot of fun, too. While dining on the main square, we were treated to great American jazz on a stage set up adjacent to the Fontana Maggiore. And the evening of the FIFA final, a huge crowd was hanging out in front of the (still there!) Bar Medio Evo on Corso Vanucci. The Dutch were a quiet lot, sitting quietly in their orange sweatshirts, while the Spaniards were running up and down the street, waving their country’s flags. Not a huge surprise, I suppose. And this was before the game ended!
Logistics for Visiting Umbria
Since 1976 when Perugia was just a small town, a whole city has sprung up in the valley next to it. Don’t stay there! Find a hotel in the historical center, on top of the hill, and either bite the bullet on the expense of a 4/5 star property or stay in a basic hotel. We stayed in a 2 star with the most amazing view. So what if it was like a prison cell. We made up for it in nearby Castel santangelo at Il Giardino degli Ulivi. That’s the subject of my next post.
Plan on spending 2-3 nights in Perugia. Enjoy the town itself, and then discover the nearby villages of Assisi, Spello, Gubbio, Todi, Panicale and Lago di Trasimeno. At the lago (lake) you can take a ferry from the cute little modern town of Passignano to the wonderful and very historic island “Isola Maggiore.”
And one last word about driving to/from Perugia. IT’S A BLAST. But it’s very difficult and you have to have a small car. I’m from LA and loved it. Never had so much fun in a car, not even with my new BMW. But for others, I absolutely would not recommend it.
Part III, Castel S. Angelo, Le Marche and Bologna are next