The Umbrian capital of Perugia is famous for Buitoni pasta, Perugina chocolate and jazz. I spent a month in the city, soaking it all up
For jazz enthusiasts around the globe the annual Jazz Festival is the magnet that draws them to the provincial capital of Umbria each July. It’s dubbed one of the most important musical events in Europe and attracts over 200,000 international music lovers to get down to jazzy tunes. Since 1973 top artists making appearances here have included Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Enrico Rava.
Jazz aside, Perugia is also a top destination for feasting your eyes on stunning vistas, holidaying at one of Italy's finest lakes, Lago di Trasimeno, and visiting galleries and historical places of interest.
On my first day I took a wander around the fascinating old city, where historical monuments abound. The most charismatic walks are on Via Dei Priori, or either side of the Duomo, including the medieval palace and the gothic cathedral of San Lorenzo.
Located at the far end of Corso Vannucci (the main drag) is the austere Piazza Quattro Novembre. It's backed by the plain-faced Duomo, but the Fontana Maggiore (main fountain) is the masterpiece - and centrepiece - of the Piazza. Built around 1278, its three nymphs depict the three Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
The National Gallery of Umbria (located on the third floor of the Palazzo dei Priori) boasts an amazing array of artwork including paintings by Perugino, Benozzo Gozzoli, Beato Angelico and Bernardino di Betto (the Pinturicchio). Look out for the famous painting by Piero della Francesca, the 'Polittico di Sant'Antonio', as well as the 'Madonna col Bambino' of Duccio di Boninsegna, the Crocefisso by the maestro of San Francesco (XIII century) and the Madonna della consolazione.
Each evening in Perugia (especially Fridays and Saturdays) it’s time to get dressed up in your finest garb and strut your stuff along the main drag, Corso Vannucci, a broad pedestrian thoroughfare dripping with evening anticipation.
The younger students, not quite old enough to hit the bars, congregate on the fountain steps while the more sophisticated types frequent the hip and lively bars like Bar Centrale (Piazzi IV Novembre), Bar Blitz (Corso Vannucci), Bar Blu (opposite end of the Corso) and Punto di Vista (just off Piazza Italia), which has stunning views over the hills (as well as stunning views of Italian men who should be arrested for being so good-looking).
As the Italian nightlife gets going very late a solution to stay awake is required and the most obvious nighttime remedy is a 'shot'. Rhuma e pera (a rum and pear juice shot) is one of the favourites here, as is Limoncello, but the pièce de résistance has to be the caffe corretto. Italian coffees are strong at the best of times but try this with a blast of Sambucca or Grappa and you’ll be Euro-popping it till sunrise.
In the bars at night accents from all over the world can be heard as during the summer months Perugia is home to a plethora of foreign students who teach English to Italians while brushing up their own linguistic skills in the lively nightlife – or by actually attending language classes at the university.
The Gradisca at Ponte Valleceppi – an outdoor disco - is a must for any self-respecting party person of a Saturday evening, and a concept we simply couldn’t entertain in the inclement UK. Head down to the Corsa Vannucci between 7 and 8pm on a Saturday night and you'll spot a group of men with clipboards. Contrary to appearances, they won't try to sign you up for a life-time charity subscription. Instead they’re taking names and money (around €10 including a complimentary drink) for the Gradisca buses.
Turn up outside the Universita per Stranieri (Palazzo Gallenga) at around midnight and hop on the 'disco coach', which will spirit you back to town in around four hours' time. You may be tempted to abandon this arrangement and get a taxi home - but don't do it – there are no taxis and you’ll find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, until someone comes to rescue you!
If you plan to stay in Perugia for more than a week, then a cost-effective option is to hire an apartment. Italian apartments tend to be very clean and functional, with cool marble floors, shutters and high ceilings, and are generally situated in central positions. You can hire a studio apartment for around €520 a month, which is cheaper than paying daily hotel rates and lets you really live like an Italian, if only for a short while.
• Rynair flies from London to Perugia, as well as Florence and Rome, where you can take a connecting train to Perugia (see Tren Italia for train times: www.trenitalia.com).
• If you’re staying for more than a week consider an apartment. You’ll save money and can practise cooking your own pasta sauce! A studio apartment for two people costs from €500 per month.
• Talk Italian and study at the University for Foreigners (the Universita per Stranieri di Perugia). It costs around €250 for a one-month intensive course. Visit www.unistrapg.it/english/ for more information.
• The walled town of Assisi, where St Francis was born, is just a short journey from Perugia and you can hop on a train to Rome or Florence if you’re after more ancient buildings, museums and galleries (return fares cost around €25).
• If you’re longing to spend your time lazing at an Italian lake, head to Lago di Trasimeno, the lake at Tuoro sul Trasimeno, which is just a half-hour train journey from Perugia centre and is one of Italy’s most celebrated lake resorts.