A local guide to Perugia, Italy: five great things to do | Holidays in Umbria

A writer and hiking guide living in Perugia for 12 years, Gianluigi Bettin is co-author of Via di Francesco guide (Land of Mezzo, 20 €).

Food

Perugia is a great place to taste products and specialties from all over Umbria. A recent restaurant discovery was Number zero, where the owners are concerned about social inclusion and employ young people with mental health problems. Their philosophy is to create a place where “being different is not a cause for embarrassment”.

I went there on a first date and although this relationship didn’t work out I’m still in love with the restaurant for its super friendly food and service. They make a lot of meat, all from small farms – I had a wonderful pigeon with chard and forest fruits – but my vegetarian date enjoyed his zucchini escabeche and strangozzi pasta with a vegetable ragù.

Inspiration

Underground tunnels and chambers of the Rocca Paolina fortress. Photograph: Bernard Bialoucki / Alamy

To help! How do I choose a place in a city with 2,500 years of history? The two miles of Etruscan ramparts? Medieval Torre degli Sciri? I am a flâneur, a Pérugin Baudelaire, and my favorite walk is in the dark Rocca Pauline, evoking the plots and power struggles of past centuries. It is a fortress built in 1543 for Pope Paul III, with an entire neighborhood – especially the home of his sworn enemies the Baglionis – demolished or remodeled. All very Game of Thrones. Today it’s a series of high-ceilinged passages under the Old Town – all open to the public, with exhibition spaces and a museum. Continue the journey through time with a visit (10 € pp) of the excavations under San Lorenzo Cathedral, which takes you to Roman Perugia, then back to the Acropolis of the Etruscans, with a temple from the 6th century BC.

Quick guide

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District

Porta Sole has become the city’s creative district, where there is always something new to see: performance art, street art, poetry, craft workshops. Start with Mannaggia (closest translation: “Damn it”) Via Cartolari bookstore, specializing in small publishers and regularly organizing parties, then follow Via della Viola through small shops and restaurants to Post Modernissimo cinema, in fact the oldest in Perugia. It closed in 2000 but reopened in 2014, thanks to crowdfunding from a social enterprise. The cinema has three screens and an outdoor terrace for aperitifs.

Green area

Many people connect the Tiber with Rome, but from its source in the Apennines, the river passes under Perugia and can be reached with a two-hour circular walk along Sentiero delle Lavandaie (Washerwomen’s walk, part of the 550 km path of Via di Francesco). Start at the Porta Pesa gate, where the washerwomen arrived from the riverside village of Pretola. Once the only route from the city to the river, the path is mentioned in a document from the town hall of Perugia from 1299, but was still used by washerwomen until the mid-1960s. linen for wealthy families. The path, restored in 2011, runs along a stream, crosses fields and woods to the Pretola watermill, with its medieval tower. To download Perugia InApp for more hiking routes marked by GPS.

Night life

Evening strollers on Corso Vanucci.
Evening strollers on Corso Vanucci. Photograph: Getty Images

Point of view bar, on the hill below the town hall, has stunning views over the Tiber valley, and good cocktails. But the best thing to do on an evening is stroll along Corso Vanucci, sit on a bar terrace, and people-watch. Dempsey, near the cathedral, is a cocktail bar open until 1.30am, with all the spirits in the world apparently on offer, and fantastic margaritas. The narrow Via del Sole is Bottega del Vino, with live jazz on Wednesdays and a wide selection of Umbrian wines.

To stay

Little Italy Inn was converted from an 11th century church. Dormitory beds cost from € 17, but it also has family rooms and a double in an old side chapel. Fortuna Hotel is in a 14th century building next to Corso Vanucci, with roof terrace, double from € 77 and apartments from € 380 per week.

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