I went to Perugia on a dare, said David Lansing in National Geographic Traveler. Over drinks one night, a friend and I were talking about our favorite cities, and the conversation turned to those that were “sexy.” We agreed that a sexy city ought to be alluring, classy, and able to stir a visitor’s emotions even in winter. Perugia, he assured me, met all of those criteria, and challenged me to go. “You’re on,” I said, and off I went to this medieval town in Umbria, central Italy—only to wind up in a cramped hotel room on a drizzly, gray day. Adding to my growing doubts, the bed was too small.
The next morning I moved to a larger room overlooking Corso Vannucci, “one of Perugia’s most historic and picturesque streets.” Then I set out, determined to fall in love with Perugia. Breakfast at Pasticceria Sandri, “a revered pastry shop dating to 1860,” was seductive. The elderly waiters here “dress in scarlet red waistcoats and matching bow ties.” I also hired a guide, Maura. She explained that the city itself, built on two hilltops, has the figure of a woman. We visited San Michele Arcangelo, a church that dates to the fifth century. It was empty, “peaceful, and quite beautiful.” Slowly I began to fall under the city’s spell—the “gorgeous arches” along the Via Maestà delle Volte, the “inviting openings that entice you onward.”
The next day, we drove to Assisi for a field trip. The Basilica di San Francesco, famed for its frescoes by Giotto and Cimabue, was “the most grandiose church in all of Umbria.” Its domed ceiling, “a sky of China blue with stars ablaze,” took my breath away. Maura later took me to the village of Città della Pieve. I assumed our destination was the local cathedral, but instead she led me to a lane less than three feet wide called the Vicolo Baciadonne, or Street of Kisses. The street was so narrow, she said, that when a man passed a woman he had to kiss her. I asked Maura what our next move was. She replied, “That is up to you.”