Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town.
Welcome to Perugia – a hilly university town central to the Umbrian countryside, known for its chocolates. Today, locals Sara Necoechea & Angelo Panciarola are here to tell you what to explore, where to eat, and more.
First, tell us about you.
Sara: I am from Mexico City. I love to travel, live in other countries, and learn new languages. I studied communications in Mexico City and did my social services and thesis in Chiapas working with indigenous women. From there, I fell in love with anthropology and came to do my master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology here in Perugia.
I chose to come to Italy five years ago because my grandmother is Italian and always told me tales about this land. I met my neighbor, Angelo, and ended up staying here.
Nowadays, I work doing translations from Italian and English to Spanish. I love meeting people from all over the world and Perugia is perfect because it’s a very cosmopolitan town.
Angelo: I was born in Perugia and grew up in a little town called Montepetriolo (25 kilometers from Perugia). I studied architecture in Rome and Florence and then came back to Perugia, where I’ve been living for the last 10 years.
Since I was born in a bricklayer-builders family that lived in the countryside, I grew up loving nature and cultivating olive trees, making wine, taking care of the vegetable garden and orchard, and having the passion for creating beautiful places inspired by nature. That’s why I bought and restructured my house, which I now rent out on Airbnb.
Together, we like to relax, watch films, walk around beautiful landscapes, discover new little streets that we have never walked before, listen to music, cook with a glass of wine, and, of course, be with our friends. A lot of activities in Italy are related to good food and wine, and we love taking part in them. When possible, we love going to admire the sea.
If someone is visiting Perugia for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
Walk around the city to discover its many hidden secrets. Visit the panoramic views, the Etruscan places, the Medieval doors…we particularly like our neighborhood, Porta Sant’Angelo, as well as il Tempio Sant’ Michele Arcangelo, Borgo XX Giugno, and the center (of course).
We recommend the little cinemas inside the city for wintertime and the open-air ones during the summer.
Eat chocolate and have an ice cream at the little store at Via Pinturicchio called Perugina (the chocolatier that created the famous baci). And try Umbrian wine (one of the bests is Sagrantino di Montefalco).
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
Corso Garibaldi and Borgo XX Giugno are the best two neighborhoods in town. You can find things to visit and locals to talk to, especially if you go around visiting the old workshops (botteghe).
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
We love Assisi, Orvieto, Gubbio, Lago Trasimeno, Spello, Trevi, and Montone. If possible, rent a car and drive into little places. Umbria is full of tiny beautiful towns that don’t even appear on maps.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
The best pasta is homemade tagliatelle, pappardelle, or umbricelli with ragù or cinghiale (boar) or lepre (hare). Also, lasagne, cannelloni, and tortellini.
A must-try is white tartufo (the king of mushrooms, less strong but with a very special aroma) or black (more common, but delicious). If you ever have the chance, try gnocchi with pumpkin and tartufo or norcina pasta.
Another great dish is the very typical torta al testo, a dough crust filled with various ingredients. Torta al testo was created by farmers when there was no bread. Also, fun fact: bread in Umbria doesn’t have salt, because the taxes on salt are too high.
Also, make sure to do the scarpetta (bread used to wipe up the last of the pasta sauce on your plate…the Italian way is to never waste one bit!).
A few last things you should try: lenticchie di colfiorito (lentil soup), cheeses (fresh ricotta and pecorino), tozzetti with vin santo (dessert cookies and wine).
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
Restaurants in Perugia: Brizi, located at Via Ariodante Fabretti 75, (I’ve never seen such good deals), Civico 25, located at Via Viola 25, and Locanda dell’Arco (at Via Ulisse Rocchi 36).
In Assisi, try Gli Eremi, located at Via Eremo delle Carceri 32. In Città della Pieve, try Serenella, located at Via Fiorenzuola 28. And at Lago Trasimeno, try Faliero, known as “La Maria” and located at Via Case Sparse.
Our favorite bars in Perugia are Enoteca Il Tempio (at Z. Faina 50), Giardino Rosso Vino (a must in summer, at Corso Garibaldi 21), and Caffè Morlacchi (at Piazza Morlacchi 6/8)
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
Cappuccino is only for breakfast and with sweet stuff. Don’t mix your food (pasta and salad should not be on the same plate at the same time, especially if that mixes flavors).
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
Going to a bar, the little workshops, or the markets.
Why should people make sure to visit Perugia?
It’s a museum city. The landscape is gorgeous inside and outside the city. The food is great. Perugia is the capital city of Umbria, so you have artistic, industrial, cultural, musical, and gastronomic activities year-round. For example, Umbria Jazz in the summer. Also, it’s not crowded, so you can have a comfortable visit and get to know locals.
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
It’s a place rich with culture, quality of life, and food. Even inside the city you will find olive groves; it’s very common that people cultivate their own vegetables and produce olive oil or wine, so the quality is very high and not necessarily expensive.