an enchanted house: Palazzo Bourbon di Sorbello in Perugia

a truly noble profile

I’ve always had a fascination for old houses. When I was a child the Umbrian countryside was full of abandoned houses, castles, hamlets. Now they have all been renovated into anything from humble agriturismo to fancy spa retreats.
My parents loved to picnic near old houses. If they were safe to walk into, we would even use the fireplace to grill sausages and bread for bruschetta. What  an adventure that was for us kids! The old stones told us tales of mysterious princes and queens, of secrets hidden beyond rickety stairs.
the whimsical Venetian chandelier

I have been “collecting” visits to old houses for a long time. It’s a wonderful way to bring yourself into the habits and culture of a place. Temples might have sublime art, but houses have stories of real people.
As a student I must have walked hundreds of times by Palazzo Bourbon di Sorbello never suspecting the wealth of art and culture hidden behind the imposing entrance. This stately mansion  is not in the countryside, but in Perugia’s city centre. It’s built atop the Etruscan walls and affording breathtaking views over the old town and the Umbrian emerald hills.
a magnificent view from Palazzo Sorbello's terrace

Life has changed from the times I explored abandoned castles.
This is a place which is still alive. I have been recently invited to visit  as the Palazzo has recently opened as a “house  museum“. And what a fascinating history I have learned!  The library holds an antiquarian collection of over 20 thousand volumes. The family has been in Northern Umbria for  a thousand years and in Perugia for over  300 years, can you imagine?  They have an Etruscan well in the basement, it’s 2500 years old.
And there is more: stories of poets and princes, of embroidery and porcelain, but I will not tell you everything.
Please go see it for yourself, it’s a truly special place. One more gem in the crown of our beautiful Umbria.


  1. Letizia, thanks so much for telling everyone about this — I cannot wait to visit in June (unbelievable, to think they have an Etruscan well in the basement!)

  2. Hi 🙂
    I saw your comment on “Cuochetta” where you said it’s difficult to find cardamomo in Italy, I maybe can help you. In my town, due to the Fincantieri, there’s the largest italian Bangladesh community and there are a lot of shops with typical spices. I can send you something if you tell me what you need (it’s Monfalcone, near Trieste!)

  3. Especially enjoyed the Palazzo di Sorbello during mu recent trip to Umbria with my sister–for obvious reasons. Plus it was beautiful, informative, and the bust looks amazingly like our Dad, as did a paintintg compare to our brother.
    –Valerie Sorbello

  4. Loved visiting the Palazzo on my recent Trip of a Lifetime with my sister. Learned lots there. Our Dad looks amazingly like the bust pictured, and we swear our brother’s picture hung on the wall! My name? Why, Sorbello, of course!

      • Distantly, I believe. I am really into genealogy, so I am working on that question. But it is probable as it is opined by that branch of Sorbello’s that the large branc in Giarre, Sicily is an off shoot and that is where my Nonni were from. I hope to find the connection…the names fit as do old family stories.

        • Well, if you consider that teh family has 1000 years of history, all it’s possible. Did you already check curch records? I understand all great findings about geneaology come from chrich records in Italy.

          • I am working on it…I use the Mormon Family History Center a great deal, Many records, both church and civil are available and the number continues to grow as people like us participate in indexing projects.

    • Thank you…Have to say that your childhood picnics surprised me…one of the things I loved in Italy was that buildings seemed seldom abandonned, but re-used. A pet peeve of mine is that we make our terrible inner cities, by always having to build shinier, new shopping malls and housing developments outside current city borders…creating sprawl, and impovershed inner cities.. Having taught school in an inner city, I saw first hand the difficulties. No business = no jobs = no money/poverty/crime so the businesses that are left flee= fewer jobs =less money, etc.!
      I absolutely loved the centro of the many cities visited in Umbria!

      • ahhh Valeria, my childhood picnics where held over 40 years ago, I’ll be 50 this year! At that time nobody would have dreamt that most farmhouses would have been saved from decay and turned into holiday houses like now. Even our own house here in the hills above Assisi was abandoned and half a ruin in 1997 when we bought it. Now ther’s not an abandoned house in the whole area around us. A good thing.

        • Amazing…how did the refurbishing catch on? I’m still waiting here, and am older than you by a decade! My husband and I have generally chosen older homes to rent, [we always moved a lot!]and our house we’ve bought is no spring chicken, but had already had a lot of work done on it…still needs more, and we are working at things bit by bit. So at least I practice what I preach. We live right in te middle of our smallish town, too. That is so I can get around as I am not allowed to drive for health reasons, so I ride a bike! Easy being pretty flat here!

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