After two days of al fresco dining, purple colored sunsets, lighthearted wandering around walled lake towns and castles by Trasimeno lake, we headed to Perugia. Our hosts warned us that it would be colder as Perugia was on the hill and had a different climate, but there, the season had changed completely, from late summer to autumn. We were greeted by chill air and livid skies.
I mostly knew Perugia as the home of Perugina (a producer of Baci, delicious chocolate kisses filled with an entire hazelnut, a true delicacy from my childhood), as the capital city of Umbria, and as a university city, specialized in languages. For us, it turned out to be a gastronomic capital as well, as we found there one of the best (yet, unpretentious) restaurants we've ever been to, and a certain delicious substitute for our favorite hazelnut spread- the Nocciolata.
I started liking Perugia as soon as we left our car at one of the parking lots at the foothill of the city, and hopped on the MiniMetro- a funicular built 10 years ago to relieve the center from the car traffic (I read later that the cars are succeeding one another in the intervals of 1,5 minutes!). We enjoyed the views through the large glass windows, without having to worry where to park our car in the unfamiliar city. Upon exiting the top station in the very center of the town, a beautiful view of the Valle Umbra (or Valle Spoletana) valley opened up in front of us.
We haven't had a plan for our visit to Perugia- as we've never been to the city before, walking down its narrow medieval streets, admiring the architecture and the views of the undulating landscape, followed by a delicious lunch was already exciting enough. The Piazza IV Novembre square is the heart of the city, framed and adorned by some exceptional examples of medieval and early Renaissance architecture and sculpture. The Palazzo dei Priori resembling a fortress with its crenelated walls, Gothic windows and two majestic sculptures presiding over the entrance- one of the griffon, a symbol of the city, and the other of the lion, a symbol of the Guelph fraction during political turmoil in the Middle Ages. The Fontana Maggiore, designed by famous father and son duo Nicola and Giovanni Pisano in the 13th century. The cathedral of San Lorenzo, unusually facing the main square with its flank side, adorned with beautiful quatrefoil relief in pink marble.
We found a motif of that quatrefoil relief again in a beautiful ceramic atelier in the Via dei Priori street- everything handmade by a mother and daughter duo, Materia Ceramica was a real treasure's chest. Even though the lamps with the quatrefoils and tableware depicting Umbrian countryside were lovely, I fell in love with a colorful necklace. It took me about half an hour to decide on taking it home, half an hour we spent in one of the best restaurants we've been to, the Osteria A Priori in that same street. But let me tell the story from the beginning- I found the Osteria on Tripadvisor and we headed there for lunch on our first day in Perugia. The restaurant was full, so we were seated on a bit improvised table by the entrance, which made us almost leaving. Luckily, we stayed, as the agnolotti filled with slow cooked beef in red wine, and the tail stew were the most succulent, delicious dishes we've ever tried. And that for a fair price as well! The next two days we slept near Assisi but decided to come back just to have another meal there. And while we were waiting for them to open for dinner, we discovered the Materia Ceramica atelier. I wanted to think a bit about buying the necklace so we sat for dinner- after the antipasti which consisted of bean salad, silky scrambled eggs and the greenest olive oil of all, I ran to the store and came back with the necklace, just in time for primi. I've been wanting to come back to Perugia ever since, to taste that delicious food again, and to find out what has been created in the ceramic studio.
We discovered another treasure's chest, or better yet, a chocolate box just outside the medieval city walls- the Augusta Perusia chocolate atelier. The owner, Giacomo Mangano, learned his craft of making artisanal chocolate in the 70's in the Perugina factory. Fearing that the traditional techniques of making chocolate might disappear, he opened his atelier in 2000, with the idea of making chocolates as they used to be made in the past. We bought two chocolate bars- one with pistachio, one with hazelnuts, and the pistachio spread, the most delicious thing since the hazelnut-cocoa spreads were invented.
The winding streets of Perugia led us to another foodie discovery- Umbro, an Eno-gastronomic concept, a deli shop, a butcher's, a farmers market, a bar, a restaurant, all under one roof, offering carefully selected Umbrian products. We were too full to try the restaurant, but I remembered that place for the next time.
Being a documentary geek that I am, I watched one about Umbria later and found out about a textile workshop situated in a beautiful open space of a former church. Giuditta Brozzeti is one of the last hand-weaving ateliers in Italy, with each of their beautiful scarves, table runners and cushions being woven by hand on 18th and 19th-century frames. In the world of fast fashion, I think that supporting this kind of small businesses is essential. I also think Perugia has a number of hidden gems left up its sleeve, just waiting to be discovered.
Us being us, we chatted a bit with the ladies from the ceramic atelier and found out that there was a ceramic-gastronomic fair the next day in Torgiano, a hilltop town near Perugia. And us being us again, we headed there the next day. Torgiano turned out to be a lovely little town, and the ceramics presented there exceptional- for a really fair price, again! I feel like Umbria is one of the most underrated regions of Italy, a place where you can get the best of Italian cuisine, crafts, hilltop towns, and landscapes, without the crowds, high prices, touristy restaurants and shops, and all the side effects of mass tourism. From the ceramics presented (and it was hard to choose), we took home two delicate, beautifully glazed pieces from Simona Baldelli- a white bowl and a plate with intense blue dot painted at the bottom. I would love to learn the secret of her glazes someday! For lunch, we sat down in a wine bar right next to the fair- by then, we already learned that you can hardly go wrong with Umbrian restaurants. We had a plate of cold cuts- locally sourced cheese, cured meats, pates and bread spreads, with a basket of bread and two glasses of wine. Do I have to mention that it was delicious?
Umbria really did leave us spellbound with its delicious, decisively regional cuisine, and simple, quiet beauty. After Perugia, we headed further to Assisi and Todi- first, a picture perfect Unesco World Heritage site, second, a hilltop town emerging out of the misty undulating landscape (and I am not being overly poetic here), with, after below pictured food at Osteria A Priori, one of the best dining experiences we've ever had.
Since I clearly enjoy discovering the lesser known regions of Italy, do you maybe have your favorite "unsung" part? I would love to know all about it! Also, if you want to save this article for your future travels, you can Pin it below! Thank you!