When it comes to northern Umbria, Perugia tends to hog all the news. And for good reason. The Etruscan city is older than Rome and in modern times is far less crowded and more amenable to tourists than the hectic Italian capital.
The Amanda Knox case did its best to taint Perugia's image but the city and its surroundings survived the media circus that ensued the gruesome murder of Meredith Kercher.
The area continues to be a favourite with tourists and foreign residents due to the laid back lifestyle and high quality of life.
The city was also spared the earthquakes that rocked Central Italy last year and earlier this year, even if southeastern Umbria was affected.
Home of 'kisses'
Besides a plethora of Etruscan ruins, including the city's 3rd century Sorbello Well, Perugia also harbours several cultural galas and culinary delicacies.
The city is also home to the cupola-shaped chocolates wrapped in love notes, Perugina's Baci ('kisses'), served at Italian restaurants worldwide with coffee.
Perugia also recently opened the world's first school of wine. And beer lovers might try Fabbrica della Birra, which won Best Italian Brewery at the 2016 Beer Attraction awards. Twice a year the city is host to one of Europe's leading jazz festivals too, Umbria Jazz.
But venture beyond Perugia's ancient walls and you'll find several smaller yet equally charming towns that will not disappoint. We've highlighted five.
1. Castiglion del Lago
Castiglion del Lago is a town on the western shores of Lake Trasimeno, Italy's third largest lake. Over two thousand years ago Hannibal defeated the Romans at the Battle of Lake Trasimene on route to Rome with his elephants: Today the lake is far quieter and the perfect retreat.
While local residents still retain superstitions about the lake, its waters, while shallow, are far less populated than Italy's coasts in summer. Take a boat to Isola Maggiore, departing daily from both Castiglion del Lago and Passignano sul Trasimeno, to see a place lost in time.
View of Assisi and the Basilica of St Francis. Photo: karambol/Depositphotos
Once the home of St Francis, the hilltop town is one of the most visited sites for Catholic pilgrimage in the world. An earthquake in 1997 destroyed parts of the basilica – including frescos by Giotto – which has since been rebuilt.
Like Venice, pick a quiet season to go to enjoy the town's thoroughfares in peace.
Besides the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi and its breathtaking views over the surrounding green valleys, many Assisi artisan workshops design beautiful items using the local 'terracotta' – baked earth – discipline.
This walled medieval village will require a car for you to reach it but is well worth the drive, as it is a classic example of an Umbrian hilltop town, with a view perching over endless valleys, olive groves and the Umbrian countryside.
The Umbria Film Festival takes place in Montone every year in July.
The Roman amphitheatre in Gubbio. photo: Kassandra2/Depositphotos
This town high up in northeastern Umbria was where the Romans sent those deemed mentally unfit millennia ago. The city went on to become an important trading centre in the Middle Ages, but today the town in the Apennines is more famous for its Roman ruins and glorious sunsets than as the former outcast of Rome.
Visit at Christmas to see what is reportedly the largest Christmas tree in the world, perched on Monte Ingino, overlooking the city.
5. Città di Castello
Hidden away in the high valley of the River Tiber is Città di Castello, birthplace of the influential Italian sculptor Burri. While not as grand as some of its counterparts in this list, the town is worth visiting for several of its culinary festivals, including the annual chestnut celebration, La Sagra della Castagna.
Take the slow train – a dying breed – from Perugia Sant' Anna or Perugia Ponte San Giovanni, through the Umbrian countryside, to Città di Castello, passing via towns like Umbertide along the way.
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