When you visit Perugia, it isn’t just about travelling to another destination in Italy, because it remains tainted by a dark moment that created a mass media frenzy.
“Down there… is the house where it happened” explained our tour guide, Daniella, as we stood overlooking the beautiful valleys of Perugia from one of its cobbled hilltops.
It wasn’t the additional insight I was expecting to be told on our tour in Perugia but I sensed the Amanda Knox scandal in the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007 had certainly turned the world of this small and picturesque Capital of the Umbrian region upside down. This wasn’t a casual addition of information to the walking tour, like how some people find the gruesome fascinating, but a verbal note of the sheer anger, disgust and upset that the local people were still obviously expressing. It was a trail that went on until 2015.
I had asked if such a terrible crime had affected the numbers of people visiting and the local way of life. “We are very, very tired” was her answer. “Many journalists, many people took over this city. We just couldn’t handle it. It ruined Perugia.” And I can see why.
In short, Perugia is a small, everyone knows you and your business kind of place. It’s so small that you can see it all in one day or over a weekend if you want to sit back and soak up local life or go shopping. Perugia is famous for its chocolate and the Eurochocolate Festival which takes place every October and the Umbria Jazz Festival, which was a few days away from kicking off in April.
Now it’s also famous for something darker. The worldwide documented scandal may have tainted a traditional small-town Italian canvas, but it is one not to be missed and support in your visit if you are in the Umbria region of Italy.
What to See When You Visit Perugia
Perugia is built on hilly terrain so be prepared to walk if you want to take in the scenery in full. In short, the following quote from an Italian man sitting next to me on my flight over sums up the layout of Perugia, “There’s nothing at the bottom. Everything old, historical and beautiful is at the top.”
Paolina Fortress (Rocca Paolina)
Our walk started at the bottom of the hill (at the parking lot area so to speak). At first sight, the area looked dirty and graffiti-ridden, much the same as my first impressions of Pisa before you hit the area around the leaning tower. But after riding a handful of escalators we came to the huge stone bricked wall – the remains of the Paolina Fortress (Rocca Paolina).
The history of this 16th-century fortress, and what remains of it, is a bit intense but in 1540 the Pope at the time called for a fortress and self-enclosed town to be built on the hill as a show of dominance and became untouchable until the unification of Italy in 1860 when the locals pulled it down.
It calls for some exciting exploration, much like you feel in a half-abandoned place. What remains within the walls are a few of the dark medieval streets covered by brick ceilings, and spaces that were once houses and living spaces. It’s a chance to wander within the foundations of an old self-enclosed town before emerging once again into the sunlight of the city.
The Centre of Perugia City
From the Fortress, we ascended to the very centre of Perugia. You can use its one main street, Corso Vannucci, as a navigation point and at the end, you come to the large medieval Fontana Maggiore and the Cathedral of San Lorenzo.
Close by is the impressive third century BC Porta Marzia gate which was incorporated into the city walls and leads to more medieval streets to explore.
Ride the Minimetro
Make time to factor in a ride on the rollercoaster-like train ride, just as we did. We ended our day in Perugia on a high by riding the Minimetro. It was built four years ago, but the locals apparently are not big fans mainly as it’s expensive to them at 1 Euro 70 cents a ticket.
With seven stations, the Minimetro of Perugia is a great way to navigate the city if you are tired of the hike. If you take a ride from the top all the way to bottom, you will see what I mean about the rollercoaster style. The tiny carriage began with a steep climb, accompanied by a huge gasp of the big drop about to unfold before us, only to be met by flat track. But when it sped up a little as it went downhill, childish giggles filled the air.
Visit Perugia and Help Overturn its Dark Reputation
The Amanda Knox scandal may have turned the picturesque Capital of the Umbrian region upside down, but visiting Perugia, Italy is more than its tainted past.
From ancient torn down fortresses, a beautiful city centre, panoramic view walks to the hilltops and a mini metro to get you right back down to your start point, Perugia is a great addition to your Italian itinerary.
It’s accessible too. The main train station links to the other cities like Rome and Florence so is definitely worth squeezing in if you are on that main city to city route. Perugia is also 30 minutes away from the airport, so it would also make for a great weekend break.
What Makes Perugia Worth Visiting?
1. Perugia is an ideal city for walking. I personally really enjoy getting around a city by foot, and when you come across somewhere compact and easy to navigate, like Perugia, you can also spend extra time getting lost in alleyways and tucked away corners without feeling rushed on time. Walking here means taking on the cobbled streets, sloping hills and tiny steps that were pretty much everywhere, so a little extra stamina is required.
2. Perugia is postcard pretty. From coloured houses to the vast green Umbrian landscape, the streets are stunning and so is the rolling valley backdrop.
3. Perugia retains old traditions. As a city that hasn’t lost its character to modernisation, pockets of tradition still remain and mostly in the types of local businesses you come across. One of the best being to hang out in a local Italian coffee shop. Check out Pasticceria Sandri on the main street. It was like a step back in time, including one of those old tills that make the echoing ding sound, operated by a lady who has worked there most of her life.