If you are planning a trip to central Italy, one of the items on your itinerary should be a visit to some of the Umbrian markets that have become so much a part of life there. These open-air markets spring up on designated weekdays or weekends, and shoppers flock there to find farm to table produce, regional antiques, or simply great bargains in general merchandise.
You may be wondering why a visit to one of the most picturesque areas in all of Europe should be interrupted by shopping. After all, Umbria is a land of beautifully rolling hills and valleys, charming villages, and slow-paced rural pleasures, from its wine and cuisine to its country festivals.
But if you want to really savor the native charms of Umbria, market day is the time to be out and about in the streetside stalls. Not only will you find excellent selections in such Umbrian wares as textiles, antiques, and gourmet foodstuffs; you will also experience the vibrancy of small-town life in Italy’s central region.
Types of Markets
There’s an Umbrian street market for every interest. Most open-air markets sell one or more of the following:
Regional foods. Farmers’ markets are the place to head if you crave some of the region’s gastronomic delicacies. For instance, the area is noted for producing almost half of Italy’s gourmet black truffles. Also look for sweet mazzafegati sausages, made with raisins, orange peel and sugar, and farm-fresh produce such as red pachino tomatoes and carciofini (baby artichoke). Umbrian cheeses and salamis are perfect for a picnic in the countryside. Or head to Perugia, home of one of the world’s most famous chocolate manufacturers and pick up some freshly made chocolates from the Perugina Chocolate Factory.
Antiques. Antique shopping is quite popular in Umbria. Several Umbrian towns offer antique stalls on specified days, and good bargains can be found on everything from antique jewelry to furniture. Don’t be afraid to haggle over prices!
General merchandise. From locally made ceramics to gently used clothing, Umbria’s open-air stalls and flea markets offer a wide selection of reasonable priced merchandise. Souvenir shopping is ideal, as local handicrafts are readily found. In Castiglione del Lago and other towns, the market offers local traditional ceramic pieces that have been designed the same way over many centuries.
The Market Environment
Umbrian markets take place around a generally predictable calendar. Almost every Umbrian town has a weekly or monthly market day. On some days, you may find five or more markets taking place over the region. For smaller towns, the same markets rotate from town to town, while larger towns tend to have their own markets. Local tourism offices and hotels can usually provide an up-to-date market calendar for the area.
Early on market day, a group of trucks pull up in a parking lot, piazza, or field, and unload wares for the market. Vendors will usually set up shop in front of their trucks. The markets are well organized in neat rows, and they are a colorful sight. Usually a few foot trucks will be on site, so while browsing vendors’ stalls, shoppers can enjoy the mouth-watering scents of porchetta sandwiches and other foods.
Most outdoor markets are held in the mornings, although larger markets may last all day. Many of the best markets carry a diverse selection of foods, home goods, textiles, and handicrafts, as well as vintage or antique items. Be aware, however, that town markets also carry a lot of “dime store” items, so be prepared to sort trash from treasure.
Our Favorite Umbrian Markets
While each town market has its own charms, some of the larger markets have become quite notable for their particular merchandise or amenities. A few of our favorites include:
Perugia. In addition to its chocolate factory, Umbria’s capital city offers a large and lively market on the last weekend of each month. It boats a large variety of ceramics, from everyday items to unique ornamental pieces. Local fabrics and textiles are popular market items, as well as food products such as cold cuts and olive oil. Perugia’s market also offers an excellent selection of antique jewelry. The market is held in the Palazzo della Prefettura, and the town’s old quarter has several other shops worth visiting.
Bastia Umbra. A large market is held here once each quarter (March, June, September, and December) in honor of the four seasons. It features 50-60 market stands with a dizzying array of items, sold at competitive prices. The market takes place against the lovely 14th-century backdrop of the Church of Santa Croce.
Castiglione del Lago. From April to September, this little town hosts a market in the Piazza Gramsci on the third Saturday of the month. Its famed local ceramics are available here, as well as antique items such as archery equipment. The town itself is lovely and overlooks Lake Trasimeno.
Todi. Once a year, on the last week in March, antique dealers from the entire country gather in Todi to sell a broad array of antiques, including paintings, rugs, antique ceramics, furniture, and bronze figurines. The market is located in the Piazza Comunale.
Wherever you go in Umbria, however, you’re sure to find a market nearby, filled with the vibrancy of Italians enjoying a beautiful morning outdoors, shopping!