Direct flights from Britain have made this stunning city far more accessible, writes Catherine Pepinster

It's only just over the hill from ever-so-holy Assisi, but Perugia is a buzzing, civilised town with a violent past, full of intrigue and Papal murders, birthplace of the Flagellants, who made whipping a religious pastime.

The moment that you enter the town is unforgettable: you climb up into the centro historico by a scali mobili (escalator), through the rocks of the original fortress, and emerge at the top of the town. Ahead lies the vast sweep of the Corso Vannucci and one of Italy's greatest public buildings: the Palazzo dei Priori. Pink, gothic and topped with crenellations, it looks as stunning as it must have done when it was first built in 1297.

Perugia's slick, cosmopolitan ambience is due in part to its two universities and its shops. It is also one of the most romantic of Italian hill towns, thanks to its medieval winding streets and alleyways. Until now, it has been little known to British visitors, but the launch last week of the first direct flight from Luton will surely change that.

When to go

Perugia is at its liveliest during term-time and during the Umbria Jazz Festival, held this year from 9-19 July. Past big-name attractions have included Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis. The surrounding Umbrian countryside looks at its best now, when wild flowers, particularly poppies, adorn every roadside.

Getting there

It used to be difficult to get to Perugia, but now that Debonair (tel: 0541 500 300) does thrice-weekly direct flights to the local airport, 16km from the town centre, those days are over. Prices vary according to availability at time of booking; in July, you will probably pay more than pounds 200 for a return ticket. The alternative is to fly to Rome or Pisa and drive - about two and a half hours either way - but that involves tackling the complex road system around the town. Cars are not allowed into the centro historico, but there are car parks adjacent to the various escalators which take you up to the top of Perugia. Or you could arrive by rail. There are regular trains from Terontola on the main Florence- Rome line. A bus connects the station to the main escalator and the centre.

What to see and do

The town hinges around Corso Vannucci, its vast sweep offering one of the great opportunities to people-watch in Italy. On its corner with the Piazza Italia stands the Palazzo dei Priori, containing a succession of stunning buildings. First, the Sala dei Notari, the lawyers' meeting place, replete with rich heraldic devices. Then the old seats of the two major medieval guilds in the town: the Sala del Collegio della Mercanzia, with intricate inlaid woodwork; next, the Collegio del Cambio, home of the town's money-changers. Its 15th-century frescoes by Perugino (Pietro Vannucci) are among the best of the Renaissance.

The other artistic treat is the Galleria Nazionale dell' Umbria, on the fourth floor of the Palazzo, with its masterpieces of the Umbrian school. The highlight is Piero della Francesca's Polyptych di Sant'Antonio. Outside, on Piazza IV Novembre is the newly restored Fontana Maggiore, a magnificent circular image of the medieval world, with its depictions of the months and their occupations, the zodiac, the lives of the saints, Roman legends, and personifications of the arts and sciences, all in stone relief.

Find the time to explore well beyond the centre. Walking in Perugia is a delight: the town is full of passageways, arches and alleys. Look about and you will see plenty of carved coats of arms and griffons, symbol of Perugia, and Porte del Mortuccio - Death's Doors - used only to carry out the dead. Among the most interesting of streets is the Via dell'Acquedotto, a road built on the old aqueduct which used to carry water to the Fontana Maggiore.

The beauty of Perugia is that, however urban the landscape, you are never far from green shade, for parks and open spaces cling to the hillsides. Its botanical gem is on the edge of town. Walk down Corso Cavour to the old Benedictine church of San Pietro, the buildings of which now form the university's department of agriculture. There you will find the Orto Medievale, a garden of symbolic plants, with plenty of benches to rest weary limbs. It offers a view across the plain to Assisi, as does the church. If you ask politely, a man with a key will open the shutters. Then you will be able to imagine how the monks would sing divine office, their voices carrying across the fields to the resting place of St Francis.

Where to stay

Brufani, Piazza Italia 12 (tel: 0039 075 5732541). The best hotel in town, with superb views and very traditional, 19th-century decor. Benefits include air-conditioning and its own underground car park. Double room: L450,000 (pounds 156).

Locanda della Posta, Corso Vannucci 97 (tel: 0039 075 5728925). Follow in the footsteps of Goethe and stop over in this four-star hotel, bang in the centre of town. Double room: L295,000.

La Rosetta, Piazza Italia/Via del Sette (tel: 0039 075 5720841). An old hotel but with some modern rooms, and a garden where dinner is served in the summer. Double room: L199,000.

Priori, Via Vermiglioli 3 (tel: 0039 075 5723378). A more moderate hotel, recently refurbished, within the historic centre. It has a terrace overlooking the rooftops. Double room: L130,000.

Signa, via del Grillo 9 (tel: 0039 075 5724180). A large modest hotel in the south-east of the town. Double room: L98,000.

Food and drink

Thanks to the strength of the pound and the insistence of Umbrian chefs on fresh, local produce, you can eat well and cheaply in Perugia. Meat- eaters are particularly well catered for: roast suckling pig is the traditional Umbrian dish and you may also want to try the local sausages, snipe and hare. Then there are truffles from the Valnerina region.

The key to good cooking is the oil you use, and Umbrian olive oil is among the best. The local wines are also excellent, including the most famous, Orvieto. Try Torgiano Rosso with game.

For cheap eats, visit Giancarlo at via dei Priori 36, serving simple trattoria fare. Il Cantinone, at via Ritorta 6, also offers the basics. If you want to splash out a little more, opt for the restaurants along the via Bartolo close to the cathedral. Falchetto at number 20 is a good place to try traditional Umbrian specialities, such as lamb with olives, or drop by Osteria del Bartolo at number 30, where they specialise in serving otherwise forgotten ancient Umbrian recipes.

You could also pay a visit to the wine store in the same street for some excellent (but pricey) local wines and olive oils to bring home. If you want an ice-cream, the best gelateria include Cafe del Cambio at Corso Vannucci 29, and its near neighbour Pasticceria Sandri at number 32 - a stylish fin de siecle cafe.

Or, if you fancy some fast food, look out for one of Perugia's oddest stall, next to the town's main post office, which sells nothing but bananas.


During the jazz festival, Perugia comes to life with concerts all day and night. As befits a university town, however, there are concerts, plays, films and even football matches all year round. But the best night-time event is free - watching the passeggiata, the traditional Italian evening stroll. No street could be better designed for watching people parade in their finery, eyeing up the competition, than the Corso Vannucci.

Out of town

Perugia is well placed for visiting many of Umbria's other hill towns. The obvious first stop is Assisi, but many of its most outstanding buildings are closed because of restoration work after the 1997 earthquake. However, the lower Basilica of St Francis, containing frescoes by Martini, Cimabue and Giotto, remains open, as does the crypt which houses the tomb of St Francis.

A little further south is Assisi's little sister, Spello, worth visiting if only to see Pinturrichio's glorious frescoes.

If you want a break from art, take a trip to Lake Trasimeno. Hop on a ferry to the islands, enjoy supper in one of the many fish restaurants, or wander along the lakeside. For a magnificent view of the lake, and an enjoyable waterfront walk, take the windy road to Monte del Lago - hidden away and utterly tranquil.

Deals and packages

Abercrombie & Kent (tel: 0171-730 9600) offers a four-night break in a four-star hotel just outside Perugia for pounds 614 per person, including return flights to Rome and car hire. Cresta (tel: 0161-927 7000) offers a three-night break in a five-star hotel in the centre of Perugia for pounds 594 per person, including return flights.

Further information

The tourist office is at Piazza IV Novembre 3 (tel: 075 573 6458). Here you can obtain maps, walking guides, accommodation information and buy tickets to concerts including Umbria Jazz.

In Britain, the Italian State Tourist Board is at 37 Sackville Street, London W1 (tel: 0171-408 1254).

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum