After a couple of weeks working hard on Montecastelli Hill we managed our first proper day out and headed for the historic city of Perugia. Our Helpx host Gilly kindly drove us to the local town of Umbertide, apparently pronounced Umberteeday, where we could catch the bus.
Local railway and replacement buses
Not a standard bus though, one of those replacement buses that the railways put on when the line is temporarily closed. Although the line here has been temporarily closed for several years. The bus though was a new comfortable BusItalia coach and the hours journey to Perugia flew by.
Through fabulously named villages and towns such as Montecorona, San Bartolomeo, Ponte Felcino and finally stopping at Perugia Sant’Anna railway station. Even though it was still hellishly cold the sun was shining and we were full of anticipation and excitement for our first day out in Italy.
Where is Perugia?
It’s the capital city of the region of Umbria and lies virtually halfway between Florence and Rome. It has nearly two thousand years of history going back to the Roman Empire and was originally known as Perusia when it was one of the main Etruscan cities covering the central part of modern-day Italy. It has a decidedly unsettled history being conquered by various popes, the French in 1797, the Austrians in 1849, and only actually became part of Italy in 1860. It has approximately 170,000 people living in its steep windy streets and is famous across Italy for its chocolate.
Apart from all of its history what it is really famous for is steps! There are thousands of steps and staircases everywhere as the city is built across a couple of very steep hills. Huge wide stairways and tiny windy steep passages criss-cross the whole city giving it such character. You never quite know where you are or where you’re going though. And your calves hate you at the end of the day!
What to see in Perugia
So had we planned our route or researched what there was to see in the city? Had we heck! We thought we would play it by ear (whatever that means). Leaving the station we just headed towards the highest point as we assumed that would be where the cathedral was. Lots of steps to negotiate going up Via Oberdan and Piazza Matteotti but a couple of small street maps helped us locate the picturesque Cafe del Sol, a lovely little bar with views out to the Umbrian countryside.
So cappuccino for Jo and a Coke Zero for me (I’ve gone right off coffee recently) and we were ready to climb the rest of the way. The picturesque alleyways and winding streets haven’t changed in centuries and every building had a real story to tell.
The main square is the Piazza IV Novembre and features the beautiful Fontana Maggiore, a 13th century medieval fountain with statues and symbols of the city. Dominating the square though is the imposing Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, the cathedral. This felt like the heart of the city with locals and tourists milling around and sitting on the steps and even a small demonstration peacefully going on (no idea what they were demonstrating against).
Heading west we made our way down Via dei Priori to Porta Trascimena and into Piazza San Francesco where the University and Chiesa di San Francesco are. There are so many churches and chapels around every corner that’s it’s just impossible to take them all in, we wandered in to a few of them but there were just so many. After a long hilly walk back up to the square it was time for something to eat so a huge slice of pizza was obviously in order.
Sitting outside the museum watching the world go by was just fabulous and made us appreciate just how much we really appreciate these days out exploring new locations. It was sunny but still very cold so we headed down the main street Corso Vanucci through the Piazza del Republica to the lookout at Giardini Carducci. The views south of the city were amazing, we could make out the famous city of Assisi on the slopes of Mount Subasio.
After another couple of hours climbing and descending steep staircases it was time for a proper stop for some lunch. We’d noted a couple of little pizzerias just off Corso Vanucci but on our way back took a detour to one of the two remaining Etruscan arches that used to be part of the original city. They are the only remaining parts of that ancient city and are absolutely enormous dominating everything around them.
Another incredible feat of engineering is the aquaduct which runs right through the western part of the city. Built in the 13th century it’s 5 kms long and was constructed to bring water right up to the Fontana Maggiore in the main square. Abandoned in the 19th century it is now a footpath that runs above the houses and archways of the city below and looks very very cool.
Il Cantinone and yet more pizza
At the top of more stairs was a tiny little doorway to the Il Cantinone restaurant. We’re not really ones to go to restaurants or eat out a lot but we really felt like spoiling ourselves and it turned out to be a great little place. A glass of local wine and beer and two huge pizzas, tuna for Jo and sausage and potato for me, were perfect. Great atmosphere, great company, and we really felt like we were pushing the proverbial boat out even though it was fairly inexpensive.
Following lunch we headed towards the station but had once final special place to visit. Jo will tell you all about that next time as is just too much to add here and fully deserves it’s own limelight.
Return to Umbertide
Walking back to the station to get the bus we passed through narrow corridors, dimly lit stairways, underground walkways, and down a couple more escalators and couldn’t help but wonder how safe it would feel after dark around here. There didn’t appear to be hardly any street lighting anywhere so we hoped it wasn’t a worrying place to walk at night. Our bus was on time though and after another hours drive we were kindly met at Umbertide station by Gordon our host. We probably bored him silly on the ride home after that so apologies Don Gordioni, we were just a little over-excited.
A great day out and here’s hoping that we can do it again very soon.