A Weekend in Perugia


It was our 10-year wedding anniversary and we were on the hunt for a memorable holiday destination to celebrate. It should be somewhere different, somewhere to discover. And, after what felt like the wettest spring on record, necessitated a bit of sunshine.

But we only had two nights, as much as we could subject my in-laws in Suffolk to with our kids, so somewhere from Stansted would work best, and after much humming and harring – and checking flights to maximise our time there – we settled on Perugia.

No, not Puglia. To be fair, I kept getting them mixed up, and told several friends we were jetting off to the latter. We hadn’t heard of Perugia (the capital of Umbria, by the way, near the border with Tuscany) – so that ticked the box for somewhere new – and when we researched the area, we loved what we saw.

Beautiful scenery? Tick. Fantastic food? Tick. City life plus countryside? Tick. Do-able in three days? I reckoned so. And with its romantic, renaissance style, Relais La Corte Dei Papi, near the hilltop town of Cortona, certainly ticked the luxury box.

Surrounded by stunning scenery, the 17th-century manor house has been thoughtfully restored into a four-star boutique hotel. Retaining its ancient charm – think exposed beam ceilings and baroque-style furniture – the elegant rooms also have a focus on wellbeing. And with a five-year-old and seven-year-old at home, two busy jobs, and surviving 10 years of marriage (!), my husband and I could do with some wellbeing.

That wellbeing was manifest in our deluxe spa suite. How many hotel suites do you know that feature not only a double jacuzzi bath but a Starpool steam room, offering music therapy and aromatherapy? After that early morning flight, we were very happy to embrace a relaxing personalised spa experience as soon as we set foot in the door.

Recharged by the Nespresso machine, we went to explore the grounds; complementing the pool, a large garden, resplendent with cypress trees, blooming pergolas and a 900-year-old olive tree reaches out to a pine forest beyond the property, not to mention a spectacular panoramic view of Tuscany and Umbria’s rolling green hills, dotted with quiet hamlets, and beautiful vineyards and olive groves. This was the Italy we craved.

Cortona, made famous by the film Under the Tuscan Sun, lies right on the border between Tuscany and Umbria. We spend our second day wandering the town, soaking up its charm and walking up what felt like millions of steps to enjoy dozens of breathtaking views. The imposing neo-Gothic façade and lavish interior of the Basilica di Santa Margherita provided a generous helping of culture before a delightfully languid lunch at Ristorante La Loggetta overlooking the main square.

Back at La Corte Dei Papi, in the evening we dine at the hotel’s restaurant. Tucked away in what was the cellar it’s now a romantic space with ancient stone walls and terracotta tiles. Surprisingly, we have the space to ourselves, and while that makes it a bit more intimate than we would have liked, Slaven, our waiter, says it’s particularly popular with Italian guests, who come for the food, and American tourists seeking that quintessential Tuscan experience.

We start with a sparkling pinot noir and amuse bouches of coconut and pineapple sorbet with foie gras before cantering through the menu, taking in roast pigeon, drunken pasta, mushroom tagliatelle and roe deer loin with berries and pink chocolate buttons. Slaven wasn’t wrong; all the dishes are exceptional, with the roe deer a favourite for flavour and presentation. Obviously, we have dessert, it is a special occasion after all, and we indulge in “passion of chocolate” and an éclair with vanilla cream, fruit and – surprisingly but deliciously effectively, balsamic vinegar.

So, what about Perugia itself? Our flight isn’t until the evening so we spend our final day getting to know the city. It has a young, cosmopolitan feel due to its two universities, while its majestic architecture and treasured artwork and monuments give tourists plenty to see and do.

We stumble upon the ancient Rocca Paolina, a fortress built by Pope Paul III, hidden underground. It’s like stepping back in time as you descend (on an escalator) into the maze-like medieval village. We pop into the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, and spend several hours in the National Gallery of Umbria admiring art from the 1200s to the 1900s.

Perugia (photo by Y C Liao, courtesy of Unsplash)

But the first thing we did on our final day was a food tour. Our very first food tour was in Rome a decade ago, on our mini-moon, when food tours were just starting to become a thing. We’ve done a few more since then, and it felt fitting to squeeze one in on our anniversary trip.

My husband and I love to eat, and this food tour did not disappoint. We start with the classic Umbrian street food “torta al testo”, a delicious bread that we have stuffed with roast pork, rocket and other tasty morsels. We are completely full, but as with food tours, we must continue. A huge board of charcuterie and cheese greets us at our next stop – we get a doggy bag to take to the airport later – and then it is onto a restaurant for a pasta lunch (pistachio for hubby, tomato and mozzarella for me).

The finale is coffee and limoncello at Caffè Pasticceria Sandri, Perugia’s oldest café, and choosing sweet treats in one of the city’s many chocolate shops. Our lovely guide Giorgia tells us that Perugia is famous for its chocolate, and celebrates with the Eurochocolate International Chocolate Exhibition every year.

And with that, I’m already mentally planning our next trip. To the chocolate exhibition in November, and this time we might bring the kids, too.

For more information about Relais La Corte dei Papi, including details of their spa suites, please visit www.lacortedeipapi.com.