By Mike Simmons
We had many day trip possibilities on this vacation but didn’t really spend much time away from Rome, with one exception… Orvieto.
I had checked TA for lodging options beforehand and had narrowed it down to two B&B’s in the historic (as opposed to the modern) town. I had hoped to make a reservation before we arrived but recent wet weather had made us unsure of when we’d visit. So when the weather was perfect that morning I went to arrange a room online. Unfortunately, the internet connection at a portal on Via Vittorio Emanuel II was running very slow (my regular places weren’t open yet) and I eventually gave up and figured that we’d just show up and find a room on arrival .
We grabbed a bus up to Termini and bought tickets for the next available train, a more expensive but faster IC train. (For the less expensive train take the local… 2nd class tickets are 7 Euro). An hour later the train pulled up at the Orvieto station. It was a beautiful day and we crossed the street to the funicular that climbs up to the hill town. (Your option is to take a bus to the Duomo) Note that the price of the funicular ticket includes a bus ride to the Duomo but we thought we’d walk the rest of the way so that we could get a feel for the place and maybe find a room on the way.
We purchased a map from the souvenir stand for 3 Euros (FYI…free maps that were every bit as useful turned up at the information center across from the Duomo later) and headed up the hill. We somehow missed the famous well nearby the funicular station but it was to the right and down a short walk as you exit the station.
On the way up we stopped at a few ceramics shops to get a sense of the types of work available locally. I have a collection of plates, vases, jars and other odds and ends of Italian majolica that we have picked up on other trips and I was hoping we’d find something here as well. The ceramics are beautiful and many shops included free shipping to home in the price.
When we reached the top we decided to look up the B&B’s and walked to the far end of town in the process. The views out over the new city and countryside are nothing short of phenomenal. I’m very used to spectacular views in the U.S. (looking over wilderness) but the Italian countryside of Orvieto is (for the most part) so groomed… each plant placed with care and each plot planted as if for my benefit high up on that wall looking down. I would not be surprised if the local council has worked with landowners to keep these views pristine. In fact, much about Orvieto felt very controlled after the lovely chaos of Rome.
Neither B&B had a room so we went back to the Information center across from the Duomo and got a list of hotels. The nearest one didn’t have a room but they very kindly made some calls and found two places for us that had rooms available, both for $90 per night, so off we went. We checked in to Albergo Filippeschi (via Filippeschi, 19), cleaned up and headed out for a glass of wine. The afternoon siesta was just ending (4:30 pm) and shops were re-opening so we window shopped on the way to the wine bar. The local Orvieto Classico wine is white and I encourage you to try it… we drink red though and the waiter suggested a Silentis that was just perfect! The wine arrived with some bruschetta nibblers so we sat and watched the afternoon tour bus folk march down to the Duomo for their departure.
We continued our tour, taking many photos and walking the picturesque streets through sunset. There is little in Orvieto that is not well maintained, recently rehabbed or is being currently rehabbed. The work done has been to exacting detail that leads me to believe that the local building code is very, very strict… downspouts, gutters and flashing all gleaming copper… hand hewn beams and stonework, tile roofs and perfect cobble paved streets. There is serious money here and a real understanding of what is important in the health and well being of an historic hill town. There was no graffiti that I noticed, no dog messes on the streets, public bathrooms were convenient, spacious and extremely clean and toilets had seats.
Debby (my wife) had seen a restaurant on our walk that caught her eye, the Tipica Trattoria Etrusca (Via Lorenzo Maitani, 10), and so we found ourselves there at 9 p.m. seated in the front dining room. The service here was a little funny really… every action presented with a flourish, from the decanting and swirling of the house red wine (decent if not inspirational after the Silentis) to the serving of courses (each wheeled out on it’s own special cart.. what we called “the amazing carts!”). Debby had cinghale (wild boar), I had papparadella with a rabbit ragu and we shared ceci (chick peas) served in oil with a lovely (almost lemony) bright flavored herb that the waiter called something like “berselmo”. I finished with an excellent grappa, a recommendation of our waiter, that was unlike any I’d ever had. It was a sweet grappa with a fruity, slightly perfume-y quality and it was excellent, as was all the food we ate in Orvieto.
In the back room a large group of older American tourists were finishing their meal and the wine had gone to their heads. The waiters took them on a tour, down into the carved rock wine cellar and the laughter and revelry grew louder and more reverberant, leading Debby to christen the cellar “the giggle well”… the rather somber table near us looked on in disgust and it was hard to hold back laughter at either them or the drunk Americans. We called for the check and headed home.
It had been a long day and we walked back to the hotel tired after 13 miles of walking, our longest mileage of the trip.
The next morning we checked-out of our comfortable and clean hotel, went for cappuccino, had the local gelato as a mid morning snack and toured the Pozza della Cava; the old cellars and wells carved from the tufa rock. We visited the Gothic Duomo with its’ impressive carvings and mosaics on the exterior, and inside; frescoes by Fra Angelico and Signorelli’s “Last Judgement”… fantastic!
We lunched at Vinosus (Piazza Duomo, 15). Debby had grilled goat cheese topped with sesame and poppy seeds served over greens and I had the fettucini (freshly made) with pesto and green beans… both were wonderful.
After lunch we went to the Museo Claudio Faino to see the Etruscan artifacts and collection of Roman and Etruscan coinage, both worthwhile to an enthusiast but perhaps not as impressive as other collections we have seen in larger museums in Rome.
Siesta was starting and Orvieto was beginning it’s afternoon nap so we wandered down the hill looking at ceramics (purchasing a few small pieces to carry back), taking pictures, having another wine along the way before stopping by the famous well (it was closed by that time) then taking the funicular down to the train back to Rome.
It was a wonderful time, a perfect side trip and light distraction from our time in Rome. I think it would be perfect for those who find Rome overwhelming or think she is too crowded, too dirty, too noisy (all the stuff I love about bustling Roma!) and it certainly was a nice mid-trip break for us. While it would be too sedate for me to stay there for any length of time I could see how it would be a perfect base for a tour of Umbria.
Many thanks to Mike Simmons, a guest contributor to Ron in Rome. Mike Simmons is a 50 year old, 5 time traveler to Italy with a special love of Rome. He posts as EternalCity1 at tripadvisor.com and was recently made a Destination Expert at their Rome forum where he has an incredible 2971 posts. He lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife of 22 years and their Chesapeake Bay Retriever. We welcome his input here on this blog and look forward to more pictures and postings!
How to Get to Orvieto
Orvieto is a very popular daytrip destination. It’s close to Rome – about 100 km – and the railway station access makes it quite easy to visit.
Spending the night is even better, as once the day-trippers have left, you can enjoy the peace and tranquility of the older streets. There are many excellent restaurants in Orvieto!
The tourist office is in Piazza del Duomo, just opposite the Duomo. Here you can pick up a town map, and buy tickets for the Capella inside the Duomo, and for tours. There are special “combined tickets” for several of the town’s attractions which you can purchase here.
Orvieto sits on a high plateau and the “Centro-area” is closed to non-resident traffic. Yet, there are many ways to get into the older parts of town.
If you drive, you’ll probably be coming up A1 from Rome – take the Orvieto/Fabro exit from the autostrada. You can leave your car below and take the Bracci funicular from the railway station or use the system of lifts and escalators from Campo della Fiera, where there is also a large covered parking lot.
By train, there are many options. The trains run all day and most of the evening and the costs are dependent on which type of train you take. See the Trenitalia site for more info on the trains. You can also ride the bus from the Roma Tiburtina Station.
The Funicolare Bracci was named after Giuseppe Bracci, who financed its building. It was first used in 1888. It was closed in the 1970’s and reopened in June 1990. Weekdays the funicular runs from 7.20am to 8.30pm about every 10 minutes. On Sundays and holidays it runs from 8am to 8.30pm every 15 minutes. You can buy tickets at the station newstand or in the building housing the funicular. Once you get to the top on the funicular you can walk up Corso Cavour into the center of town, or you can catch one of the small buses that runs right to the Piazza Duomo.
Things to see in Orvieto
The Duomo was started by Pope Urban IV in the late 14th century. It features a large rose window, golden mosaics, huge bronze doors, and beautiful frescoed chapels.
The Gothic façade of the Orvieto Cathedral is one of the great masterpieces of the Late Middle Ages. Perhaps the most beautiful and eye-catching section is the golden frontage. It is decorated by large bas-reliefs and statues with the symbols of the Evangelists created between 1325 and 1330.
But what attracts most folks is the incredible large rose window, built by the sculptor and architect Orcagna from 1354 to 1380. The religious symbolism in the rose window is significant. It features the twelve apostles, twelve Old Testament prophets, spandrels around decorated with mosaics representing the four Doctors of the Church, the frame of the window holds 52 carved heads, and the center of the window holds a carved head of the Christ. Incredible!
The large stained-glass window in the apse was made between 1328 and 1334 by Giovanni di Bonino, a glass master from Assisi.
The interior, like the exterior, is decorated with alternative rows of alabaster and travertine but only to a height of about 4 1/2 feet. The rows above this level were painted in alternative rows of black and white stripes in the 1800’s.
2500 years of digging has created a “city” under the city of Orvieto. The labyrinth of caves and tunnels are open to view through guided tours. Many of the homes of noble families were equipped with a means of escape from the elevated city during times of siege through secret escape tunnels carved from the soft rock. In the tunnels you’ll find storage areas, cisterns, wells, quarries, cellars, and living quarters. You can spend an hour with a local guide exploring these incredible sites. For more info, go to Orvieto Underground.
The Pozzo di San Patrizio (St. Patrick’s Well)
The Pozzo di San Patrizio was built in 1527 to supply water to the city in the event of a siege. The ingenious design of St. Patrick’s well uses two opposite doors. These doors lead to a spiraling staircases that go down to the water. It’s 248 steps down and due to it’s construction, the mules & donkeys headed down would never meet their counterparts coming up in the opposite direction. For more info, go to St. Patrick’s Well .
Other places to see in Orvieto…. The Cappella Nuova or San Brizio Chapel, Pozzo della Cava di Orvieto, The Torre del Moro, and The Palazzo del Capitano.
Whether you spend the night, or just do a Daytrip from Rome, Orvieto is a fascinating city with a long history. It proximity to Rome, and rail connections make it very accessible and a give you a great opportunity to see “another part of Italy.”
Header: Orvieto – Photo by portugalimmo.eu
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