When I lived in Rome, my favorite day tripping spot was the region of Umbria, and more specifically, Orvieto. In about an hour and less than $40 round trip, you can leave the chaos and bustle of the Eternal City and enjoy a quintessential hilltown that never fails to delight.
- Access to the town from the train station is by funicular (cable car)
- The city was sacked by Julius Caesar in 280 BC.
- It is known for its white wine, specifically Orvieto Classico and Est!Est!Est!
The Duomo – I love this church. It is elegant and awe-inspiring. I am particularly taken by the Signorelli Chapel which underwent an extensive seven-year restoration which was completed about 18 years ago. The details in the chapel are incredible depicting the Last Judgement. Signorelli was greatly admired by Michelangelo. I think that is all the praise one needs.
Off the Beaten Path
Etruscan ruins – The Etruscans lived in the area between Rome and Florence well before the period of the Roman Empire. There is still remains of an Etruscan temple and a necropolis which you can visit.
WAY off the Beaten Path
Orvieto Underground – this magnificent town was built on a hilltop for defense purposes. In the 1970s an entire underground city of more than 1200 caves and chambers was found dug into the tufa stone under the city. You can visit this fascinating piece of Orvieto history by guided tour only.
What is a day in Umbria without tasting some cured meats? This little gourmet shop has the most incredible cheeses, salamis (including the local speciality, wild boar sausage), sauces and other goodies. A perfect place to pick up provisions for a picnic on the walls of the city. They also vacuum pack everything to take home. As you head toward the Duomo, look for the wild boar head next to the door. And yes, I am serious.
La Palomba – This might not be the best restaurant in Orvieto, but to me, it represents everything that is good about Umbrian cuisine: a gracious host, excellent house wine and a menu that prominently features truffles. I eat the same thing every time I come, never daring to try anything else lest I have buyer’s remorse and am obligated to eat another meal of the “usual”. Lunch begins with a plate of crostini, some dressed simply with rich green olive oil and others with a truffle paste. Then comes umbrichelli al tartufo, a homemade pasta simply dressed with olive oil and truffles, further topped with freshly grated truffles which the waitstaff gladly grate with reckless abandon. Truffles are an acquired taste but if you like them, this dish is seriously the best thing you will ever eat.
On the far side of town, if you are coming from the cable car stop, is the church of San Giovenale, built in the 11th century. The simplicity and beauty of this church have me returning again and again as does the view of the countryside from the square right beyond it.
I don’t NEED more Italian pottery but somehow every time I go to Orvieto something seems to call to me. When I was there with my daughter six years ago we bought mugs with Italian countryside scenes on them. I still think about that trip every time I drink my morning coffee out of them. My most memorable purchase, however, was a large painted planter that I bought years ago at an age when I could not even fathom paying the shipping to have it sent home. So I carried that sucker with me – down the hill, on the cable car, on the train back to Rome and finally on the airplane where I had to beg the flight attendants to let me have an extra seat next to me for my new acquisition. I love that planter.
Visiting churches makes me thirsty so the next stop is at this charming cafe in the center of town. It may not be the best or the most elegant, but they make a mean cappuccino, the personnel is kind and I love to sit and enjoy the whimsical wooden sculptures crafted by the local artist Michelangeli. There is a pastry case that runs the length of the cafe but I try to exercise some restraint as I know that lunch will be one for the ages
Here, I would choose an apartment and stay for a week or more. This is the place that you want to call home.