In this area visitors will have the chance to enjoy an atmosphere of bygone times, among the medieval paths, the palaces, the castles and the fortresses of charming villages and will probably feel a strong impulse to come back one day. Located in the centre of Italy, the Province of Perugia is Umbria’s largest, covering two-thirds of the entire region.
The landscape presents different aspects: a wide area of plains in the Umbra and Tiber Valleys, framed by hills, and mountains in the eastern part.
The rest of the territory is covered by woodland. In this panorama of changing vibrant colors many villages stand on hilltops, overlooking the plains below. These villages are remarkable for their historical and artistic heritage. This province is home to the largest lake in central Italy, Lake Trasimeno, which has three Islands of Polvese, Maggiore and Minore, and two promontories. The landscape is characterised by the relaxing intense green of the vegetation, and everything, from the villages overlooking the lake to the museums, its continuing traditions to its local products, all remind us of its past.
Not only art and nature, but also a touch of mysticism adds something special to each route or path in this region.
The most important is the Franciscan Path of Peace linking Assisi to Gubbio, which follows the route covered many times by Saint Francis after 1206 when he renounced his father’s properties. It's a relatively short trip, but it offers the unique chance to experience nature in prayer and friendship.
The province of Perugia offers all this and much more.
The journey may be a long one, but you will be rewarded by its great beauty.
What to see:
Over the centuries Perugia has been dominated by numerous different peoples, evidence of which can be found in the many archaeological remains. Starting with the Etruscans, who probably founded Perugia in the 6th century B.C..Remains of the Roman domination include paved roads , the forum, the cisterns, the Roman amphitheatre outside Porta Marzia, the thermal baths and what is assumed to be a mausoleum, located under St. Peter’s bell tower.
Perugia lies on a hill 1,640 ft above sea level, with the old town spreading all around it, and partly surrounded by Etruscan and Medieval Walls. There are two city walls: that external, dating back to the Middle Ages, is still intact for several miles and is marked by several entrances, such as the Cassero di Porta Sant'Angelo. The inner, Etruscan wall, was built using huge rocks.
Unfortunately, only a few remains of the old city have survived; the remaining urban centre is mainly medieval in style. The old town is in fact a typical Medieval village, one of the most beautiful in Italy.
Entering through Porta San Pietro, the first monument toto visit is the Basilica of San Domenico, where many statues and valuable works by local artists are housed.
The nearby cloisters and monasteries are now home of the National Museum of Umbrian Archaeology, which houses archaeological finds from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages discovered in local excavations.
A sightseeing tour should also include Piazza Matteotti, known in Antiquity as Sopramuro (above the walls), with the Palazzo dell'Università Vecchia, built in the 15th Century, and Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo. Beside it is one of the most important squares of Italy: Piazza IV Novembre, which can be considered the monumental and social core of the city, at its centre is the Maggiore Fountain, which with its elegant lines and shapes is a sculptural masterpiece by Giovanni and Nicola Pisano. This architectonical complex includes the Palazzo dei Priori built between the 13th and 14th Centuries, a symbol of the civil power of the time. It now houses the National Gallery of Umbria, and contains the most important collection of Umbrian paintings, including a number of pieces by Perugino.
Finally, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, the main façade is on Piazza Danti, while the façade looking onto Piazza IV Novembre boasts San Bernardino’s Pulpit, from where the saint used to preach.
Let’s leave the city of Perugia to explore its hinterland, where there are places of incomparable beauty, whose charm is increased by their religious interest.
The tourist visiting the area surrounding Perugia will probably be interested in following the paths of Saint Claire and Saint Francis, with their monasteries and holy places. The first step is Assisi, an UNESCO World Heritage Site an important destination for tourists and pilgrims for many centuries.
Assisi is built on the western flank of Mount Subasio and it is characterised by long steep streets leading to Piazza San Rufino, where the Romanesque cathedral of the same name can be seen, Piazza Santa Chiara (Saint Claire), and the town hall.
Among the many monuments and churches the city can boast are: the Basilica of Saint Claire with its characteristic façade of bands of pink and white, which houses the crucifix that spoke to Saint Francis; the Upper Basilica of St. Francis, which contains the frescoes by Cimabue and Giotto, and which is linked to the Lower Basilica by a stairway.
The Porziuncola, an ancient chapel where the Saint took refuge, is in the Basilica of Santa Maria Degli Angeli.
The Temple of Minerva is a wonderful temple dating back to the 1st century B.C. Today, where a well-preserved façade with six columns still remains.
Near Assisi Spello is considered one of the treasures of Umbria, rich in history, monuments and works of art such as those by Pinturicchio.
Montefalco, near Foligno, is considered the “balcony” of Umbria (a scenic overlook), because wherever you look from this hill, you can enjoy a view of the whole valley. The Church of Saint Francis with its convent is also worth a visit. Built during the 14th century, it contains many frescoes, including “Storie e Vita di San Francesco” (about the saint’s life), by Benozzo Bozzoli, the most famous paintings on this subject after those in Assisi. Today it houses the Saint Francis Civic Museum which displays many works of art.
The Church of Sant'Agostino is located along the main street and preserves some valuable frescoes of the 14th-16th centuries belonging to the Umbrian School.
Going towards the southern area of the province, Spoleto catches the visitor's attention. It is a wonderfully charming town, not only for its monuments but also for its intimate connection with nature. Clinging to the hillsides it is dominated by the 14th century fortress, the Rocca Albornonziana, the most representative monument of the town and now a national museum.
The scenic route from the fortress, leads to the Ponte delle Torri or Bridge of Towers, a 90 metre high daring bridge comprising 10 arches, joining Colle S. Elia to Monteluco.
Among other monuments and churches not to be missed are: the Arco di Druso, an arch built in 23 A.D., as the entrance to the ancient Roman Forum; the Cathedral, which has a wonderful Romanesque façade where an amazing mosaic dating back to the 13th Century stands out. Inside, there are some works by Pinturicchio, Filippo Lippi and other artists.
On the border with the Marche Region, but still in the province of Perugia is Norcia where Saint Benedict, the first Christian monk, was born. The Basilica dedicated to him was built during the 13th century and later transformed. In the main square are the Cathedral of Santa Maria Argentea, built on the remains of an ancient parish and the Palazzo Comunale (Council palace) whose façade has four big windows decorated with columns and with a bell tower to its side.
On the way back to Spoleto and Lake Trasimeno, we recommend visiting Todi: the view from its high position is imposing. The city is built on the side of a hill and its districts create a triangular shape. Piazza del Popolo is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy, surrounded by the Palazzo del Capitano, the Palazzo del Popolo - now home of the replete Municipal Gallery and the Roman Etruscan Museum - and by the Cathedral, dating back to the 11th century and dedicated to Santa Maria Annunziata.
Castiglione del Lago, one of the first villages to be recognised amongst the most beautiful of Italy, is part of the Lake Trasimeno Park which offers its visitors fully equipped beaches, swimming pools, tennis courts, surfing, sailing, and water-skiing opportunities.
The town of Gubbio is also linked to the fame of Saint Francis and carries the traces of its ancient past to this day: it has a Roman Theatre, dating back to the 1st century A.D., located just outside the walls.
The very symbol of the town is Palazzo dei Consoli, an imposing complex built in the 14th century and now home of the Gallery and the Archeological Museum; whereas the Palazzo Ducale, built to cater to the Renaissance tastes of Federico da Montefeltro, is located opposite the Cathedral built between the 13th and 14th centuries on the remains of a pre-existing Romanesque church.
What to do:
Thanks to the great variety of its territory – rich in art, nature and good food - tourists who want to explore the Province of Perugia can choose from amongst a wide range of activities.
Urban trekking is a great opportunity to explore hidden corners and little known historical places. An example of this is the “Umbria underground” route, where many towns, including Perugia and Todi, can be visited through underground passages and tunnels, enriching our historical and archaeological knowledge in a fascinating way.
Those who love contact with nature can choose from amongst a wide range of activities thanks to the great natural heritage of Umbria: hang-gliding from Mt. Subasio, hiking in the Monte Subasio Natural Park, cycling, nordic skiing, mountain biking, cycle tourism, horseback riding or fishing. The more skillful excursionists will find on Monte Cucco several routes to explore its underground caves.
In the Park of Lake Trasimeno, set among the Umbrian hills, it is possible to follow cycling, walking or equestrian itineraries, in order to discover the hills surrounding the lake and the towns overlooking it.
Thermal baths are another pleasant way of experiencing this territory, in a land dominated by green hills and wild woods. The thermal baths of Fontecchio, near Città di Castello, have been valued since the time of Pliny the Younger, while the thermal baths of San Faustino, near Massa Martana, with their waters gushing out from between the Martani Mounts and the Mounts of Todi, are surrounded by the vibrant green characterising the area. The Province of Perugia is also home to the Terme Francescane in Spello, whose thermal waters gush to the surface in the middle of the thermal complex, and the thermal baths of Santo Raggio in Assisi, where the tourist can enjoy, in addition to the modern spa, even some interesting archaeological traces from the Roman Period.
The Province of Perugia hosts events, such as Eurochocolate where chocolate, in all its varied forms is the rightful protagonist, and Umbria Jazz, the jazz music festival that every year gathers together the most important artists of the jazz world. In Spoleto, the Festival dei due Mondi immerses spectators in the noble arts of music, dance, theatre, and literature against the wonderful scenery the town has to offer. Amongst the festivals and popular traditions particularly worthy of attention are: the Festival of the Ceri in Gubbio, where the protagonists are three heavy candles carried in procession to the Basilica of San Ubaldo; and the Cross-Bow Palio held in Gubbio, a contest between the Gubbio crossbowmen and their Tuscan counterparts from Sansepolcro.
What to taste:
The cuisine in the Province of Perugia is frugal and made from genuine products such as olive oil, often accompanied by bruschetta, grilled meats, and vegetables.
Black truffles, a typical product of the region, are used in many dishes and are the main ingredient of the Easter Pizza, a salted panettone (Christmas cake) flavoured with pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese). The lentils from Castelluccio are known for to their tiny size and their very soft hull. Salami and cold cuts from Norcia are other products not to be missed, accompanied by extra-virgin olive oil.
Strangozzi, or Strozzapreti pasta made with water, flour and hard work, and served with various kinds of sauces, are amongst the most appetizing recipes, especially when served with meat sauces.
The types of meat that are mainly used for second courses are pork, boar and lamb cooked with spices.
Another delicious local product is the fish from Lake Trasimeno.
Special fish-based dishes are the Tegamaccio, a soup very similar to the Tuscan Caciucco, made using different types of lake fish such as perch, trout, carp and pike.
Another local dish is the Parmigiana di gobbi, an ancient dish made with cardoons (the gobbi), served with gravy, mozzarella and Parmigiano.
Sweet tooths and nut lovers will enjoy the pinoccate, pine nut-based sweets; the torciglione, with raisins, walnuts and dried figs; and the torcolo, essentially a large donut with raisins and candied fruit.
And of course Italy's version of the chocolate kiss is much more decadent than those found in America for instance: Baci Perugina, chocolate and hazelnut truffles in their famous silver and blue wrapping, with a romantic message tucked inside, were invented here. Also part of the panoply are Stinchetti (a mix of almond, cacao and sugar covered with merengue) and Struffoli (small balls of dough fried and sweetened with honey).
Local Christmas sweets add to the extravagance, including the famous Rocciata di Assisi.
Among the typical prized wines are the Sagrantino from Montefalco, passito (when the grapes used are dried on straw) red wine that pairs perfectly with both grilled meats and sweets, Torgiano and Colli Perugini.