Walking on a narrow dirt path past wide fields of cheery sunflowers with the imposing hilltop city of Perugia visible in the distance convinced me that Umbria is the most beautiful part of Italy. It wasn’t a planned stopping point, more of a place to kill time before seeing a friend on the Adriatic coast to be honest, but it’s hard to skip an opportunity to stay (cheaply) in a beautifully restored farmhouse on a working farm.
I had assumed I’d be one of the older backpackers when I started my travels, only to have people remark how young I was once on the road, so it was nice to fall into a nice group of people my own age in my Perugia hostel. There was Jeri, a baker from California and a yoga affectionato; Ben, a Brit from the absolute center of England who gave up a solid job to go travel for a while; Catherine, another Brit and a recent engineering graduate traveling through Italy improving her Italian before work started; and Michael, an urban design graduate from Louisiana whose true passion was for drawing and painting. The workaways (a program that helps people find employment abroad), Esther from the Netherlands and Flora from Hungary, would also spend time with us. We all spent a lot of time just sitting outside and enjoying the countryside, though our tour of the Perugina chocolate factory would probably be more interesting to read about. The machinery, from the long row of what looked liked side-by-side stainless steel refrigerators with windows revealing a conveyor belt to the piping with the reinforcement and fixtures reminiscent of liquid hydrogen containers, was fascinating. The tasting portion was obviously the best part though—when our tour passed by the room again on our way out I snagged a few of the leftover pieces of orange peel, 70% dark, and white chocolate pieces for the road.
As for Perugia itself, it’s a charming place. You can take the slightly sinister-looking minimetro (the silver cars are strangely tall and the way they move is alien) straight to the top of the hill the city is built on. I really enjoyed visiting San Lorenzo’s Cathedral because the “treasure hunt” English descriptions (Examples: ‘What is the subject holding in her hand?’ or ‘What is the common item between these two paintings?’), while designed for children, really encouraged me to examine the works closely. I also recommend walking through the remains of Rocca Paolina, a 16th century fortress. It was a nice contrast to see a modern art exhibition in those well-aged passageways.