Five great places to visit near Perugia in Umbria

The Etruscan city and capital of the 'green heart of Italy' is often the focus for tourists who visit the central Italian province of Umbria. But from the high valley of the River Tiber to the shores of Lake Trasimeno, northern Umbria has much more to offer.

Five great places to visit near Perugia in Umbria
Lake Trasimeno seen from the fortress at Castiglion del Lago. File photo: wallaceweeks/Depositphotos

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. 

2. Assisi


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.  

3. Montone

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. 

4. Gubbio


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. 

READ MORE: Italian property of the week: A lakeside fortress in Umbria






Italian right hopes to conquer left stronghold in key vote

Italians head to the polls in Umbria Sunday for a regional election heralded as a key test for both the young left-leaning government and a zealous new right-wing opposition alliance.

Italian right hopes to conquer left stronghold in key vote
A view of the Umbria countryside. Photo: AFP

Firebrand Matteo Salvini is determined to wrest the hilly region prized for its truffles and prosciutto from the left, which has governed it for 70 years, by capitalising on a health scandal and biting economic crisis.

“Never before has Umbria, with its 884,000 inhabitants, been such an important thermometer for national politics,” the Sole 24 Ore daily said in the run-up to the vote.

Salvini collapsed Italy's previous populist government two months ago in a failed bid to spark a parliamentary election the then-deputy prime minister hoped to win.

He was thwarted by an unexpected tie-up between former foes, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which joined forces to stop him.

Salvini has since channelled all his energies into a return to power, allying his anti-immigrant League with the smaller, far-right Brothers of Italy, and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia.

The M5S and PD believe running together locally is the only way to stop the right from taking not only Umbria but also key regions such as the left-wing heartland of Emilia-Romagna, which votes early next year.

“If the first experiment of the PD-M5S alliance ends with a League triumph… someone at Palazzo Chigi (the prime minister's office) should ask themselves why,” Salvini said at a campaign rally this week.

Should the right win, the 46-year old could “attempt the ascent to Palazzo Chigi, winning one region after another”, the Sole 24 Ore said.

“A defeat, however, would sting: it would mean he had made the wrong moves from August 8th (when he toppled the government) onwards.”

The latest polls put the right's candidate, Donatella Tesei, ahead with between 48 and 52 percent, compared to between 41 and 45 percent for PD-M5S candidate Vincenzo Bianconi.

“Many consider Umbria to be as fundamental as Ohio is for the US presidential elections: here we'll see what kind of future the 'Yellow and Red' government has,” the Corriere della Sera newspaper said, referring to the M5S and PD colours.

But while the right “marches as one”, the government coalition “bickers, every day, about everything… which makes electoral campaigning difficult”, it said.

Salvini hopes to tap into disillusionment over an economic crisis worsened by a series of earthquakes that struck central Italy in 2016, killing hundreds of people and devastating towns and villages.

With over 90 percent of agricultural businesses in Umbria run by families, the widespread loss of livestock and damage to crops of saffron and lentils dealt a vicious blow, and recovery has been slow.

The region was already suffering from the economic crisis, which hit historic companies like chocolate maker Perugina hard.

Umbria's biggest factory, the Terni steelworks, has struggled for years and periodically risks closure.

The left is also hampered at the ballot box by a health sector scandal: Umbria governor and PD member Catiuscia Marini quit in April following a probe into competitive exams for the hiring of hospital staff.

Political watchers have warned a serious defeat of the M5S could mean curtains for its leader Luigi Di Maio, with potentially serious repercussions for the fragile governing coalition.

It could also spell bad news for PD leader Nicola Zingaretti, who was initially set against the M5S tie-up but has since staked his political future on its success.

The left-wing Repubblica daily said Di Maio and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte were losing sleep over the vote — though the latter has laughed that off, insisting “Umbria is not a test for the government.”

Italian pollster Renato Mannheimer agreed, saying Friday that “the real test will be in Emilia-Romagna in January.”

READ ALSO: Salvini seeks to unite Italian right with Rome rally