Postcard from Perugia

Six days away in Perugia. Where we’d never been before, despite the daily flights from Stansted Airport near Cambridge to the Umbrian airport very close to Perugia. But three weeks or so ago, Mrs Logic Matters saw a very warm review of an exhibition to mark the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Perugino, and that prompted us to get our act together and organize travel and a hotel. (I can’t but wonder, though, what St. Francis of Assisi makes of having an airport named after him …)

And the exhibition is indeed wonderful, more than worth the trip. It is quite beautifully presented, small enough not to be overwhelming, large enough both to give you a sense of Perugino’s mastery and very illuminatingly to put the artist in some context. The photo above is from the Perugino2023 website here (worth exploring). We very much enjoyed taking the exhibition slowly, a couple of times.

Perugia’s centro storico is rather stunning. And as is frequently the way in Italian cities, the ground-floor spaces in the old, often very old buildings, are used to accommodate shops and cafes in (mostly) such remarkably decorous and sympathetic ways. So the streetscape is a visual delight without being in the least a museum piece. The weather was still too chill for people to be sitting outside cafes late into the evening — Perugia is on the top of a hill, and catches the wind. But even so, there was a bustle to the ancient Corso Vannucci, and we found ourselves caught up in its early evening passeggiata.

Away from the very centre, the city starts to tumble down the sides of the hill along  steep narrow roads and down alleys which turn into staircases. We sent a lot of time just wandering around. But then of course there are all the churches worth visiting. And not least there is the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, where the Perugino exhibition was held. The main two-floor gallery in the Palazzo dei Priori had a complete renovation only last year, and the result is a triumph. The spaces are just beautiful and the collection  includes some real masterpieces, wonderfully well displayed. Visit GNU’s website and look through the rooms  to get an impression.

Since we were staying in a hotel rather than an apartment we had to eat out at restaurants every night. Tough, eh? And while in Cambridge you can eat mostly badly or very badly in a dozen different cuisines, in Perugia you get to eat well or very well in the one Umbrian style.

Well, I exaggerate. But only a little. And we had the best meal out in two or three years at Luce Ristorante — wonderful ambience and service, superb food and wine (imaginative without being over-the-top). We paid at most half what a comparable meal would cost in the handful of “fine dining” places in Cambridge.

And as for coffee … Italian cafés have mostly avoided the plague of “artisanal coffee” which makes for undrinkable brews unless drowned in milk in the English way. So the espresso still tastes as the good lord intended. Which is a relief.

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