Right around December 1st, Christmas Markets begin popping up all over Europe. Some people obsess over them—trying to find the best one to travel to, or even taking a European tour to see them all. The big ones stand to impress with wares from all over the world, unlimited options for food and drink, and everything from carnival rides to ice skating rinks to keep children busy while parents make last minute purchases.
Smaller cities, like Perugia, hope to imitate these larger markets by showcasing a miniature version of a Christmas Market. The Italians call them “Mercatino delle Strenne”. The word “strenna” is a gift you give or recieve during the Christmas. It stems from a tradition from ancient Rome in which you exchange presents during the Saturnalia in honor of the God Saturn before the day of Natalis Solis Invicti.
Our “Mercatino delle Strenne” is called “Natale alla Rocca” (in Rocca Paolina). Holiday shoppers can find silk scarves, little troll figurines, ornaments, a small selection of food for purchase, and a number of a handmade crafts from local Umbrian artists.
This year the mercatino got extended also at the fountain and in Piazza Matteotti where you can also find typical food and also something from Sicily like cannoli and arancini. Furthermore there is an amazing ice skating platform on the main street Corso Vannucci.
If you’re looking for a last-minute, not-so-expensive gift, this market could be the perfect spot for you. However, don’t be fooled-just because it’s a market doesn’t always mean it’s cheap. Some of the scarves and jewelry boast higher prices, but the more authentic Italian gifts (like pottery and ornaments) are more suited to a smaller budget. And, not only will those gifts be more authentic they will also be harder to find at other markets. Some of the stands’ wares can be found at any market, whereas I felt others were specific to this region of Italy.
When you need a breath of fresh air, there are also a few stands in Piazza Italia that showcase ornaments and Christmas decorations from Slovakia. If you’re hungry get a waffle or warm chestnuts before hopping on the Ferris Wheel (why the sign says “Carousel” is beyond me) to take pictures of the panorama (best moment is at sunset).
Willing to spend a bit more money on higher quality items? Corso Vannucci and Via de Priori will offer more of what you’re looking for. During the day, Christmas music booms out from the speakers and the streets are lined with festive trees. It is almost impossible not to feel the cheer in the air. Via Priori 70 boasts a homemade ceramics shope that handpaints Christmas bulbs among other wares. It is Mauro’s aunt’s favorite–but if it’s too expensive for you, a picture will still impress. You can also stop for hot chocolate at the famous Sandri, mentioned in the Lonely Planet Travel Guide (among others). Still looking for the chocolate fix? Check out Augusta Perusia on Via Via Pinturicchio (in front of Palazzo Gallenga). They shape their chocolate into Christmas designs, making for a yummy snack or perfect gift for the chocoholic in your life.
But, if you simply want a sense of Christmas awe, the only thing you have to do is bundle up for warmth with some wine and sit on Le Scalette and admire the beautiful lights that line the street.
The market at the fountain and Piazza Matteotti runs from December 6th until the 23rd of December, while the market inside Rocca Paolina lasts until January 6th.
Make sure you check our calendar of events in Perugia.
Thanks to Frankie Walsh for this article.