Halfway between Florence and Rome, perched on the top of a hill, is the ancient city of Orvieto.
Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Its location off the A1 Autostrada makes it an ideal stopping point for tour buses traveling across Italy. And for us, it was for this same reason that we made a break from the fast-paced city life of Florence to spend a couple of days in the Italian countryside.
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The city of Orvieto sits atop a towering plateau, its steep cliffs serving to protect the city throughout history. At first glance, it doesn’t appear to be the easiest place to get to, but there are a few different options for visitors wishing to scale the hill and explore the town:
By Train | If arriving by train, you’ll disembark at Orvieto Station, at the base of the hill. After exiting the station, following signs to the funicular. This will take you up the hill to the far east edge of the city. From here you can walk Corso Cavour (the main street) into the center of town.
By Car | If arriving by car you’ll have two main options for entering the city. The first is to park your car at the base of the hill on the southwest side of the city (“Parcheggio Orvieto Percorso Meccanizzato“). From the carpark, follow signs to the escalators which will take you up a series of moving stairways to the top of the hill. You’ll emerge from the escalators near Piazza de Ranieri and can then carry on Via Guiseppe Garibaldi for a short walk to Piazza della Repubblica, one of the main squares in town.
A second option by car is to drive up the hill along Strada del Stazione and into the city. Park on the east side of town at “Parcheggio di Via Roma” (close to where to funicular drops visitors off), and again walk into town via Corso Cavour.
Where to Stay
When planning your stay in Orvieto, the first thing you’ll want to decide is if you’ll stay within the walled city or out in the country. Both have their pros and cons. Staying within the city’s walls will allow you to see much more in a short period of time, though if you have your sights set on country living and wine, then the many agriturismos that dot the countryside may be more your style.
Palazzo Piccolomini | Located in the heart of the city, Palazzo Piccolomini is a charming, and affordable, place to base yourself for a short stay in Orvieto.
Compare prices on Hotels.com | Agoda | Booking.com
Cantina Lapone Guest House | There are plenty of Agriturismos near Orvieto, but I could not recommend this Airbnb enough, which served as our home for 2 nights. The guest house is spacious and comfortable, easily fitting two small families or one large one. (Read more about our stay at Cantina Lapone here.)
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Planning a trip across Italy? Here are a few reasons why Orvieto should be included in your itinerary:
The plateau Orvieto sits on is thought to have been formed by rock that was thrown from a volcano which formed nearby Lake Bolsena. Orvieto was once the most important city for the Etruscans, the oldest known civilization in Italy before the Romans.
The Etruscans loved to build cities atop these steep cliffs because they served as a natural protection, and you’ll find several of these hilltop cities across central Italy as a result. Unfortunately, after being conquered and exiled by the Romans, the civilization eventually died out.
Sprawling Local Market
Upon our arrival into town, we first made our way to the local farmers market at Piazza del Popolo, which takes place each Thursday and Saturday from 8 am to 1 pm.
There you could find everything from meats, cheeses, and fresh produce, to textiles, trinkets, and kitchenwares. Overwhelmed with all of our options, we decided to load up on some dried fruits to fill our snack bag.
Playground with a View
From the market, we made our way towards the historic, northern edge of town. We were in search of a view from the city’s walls and found it as we stumbled upon a playground perched at the edge of the cliff at the intersection of Via del Popolo and Via di Loreto.
There were so many kids there, and Evelyn would look confused as little boys spoke to her in Italian, asking her questions she didn’t understand. We took breaks every now and again to eat more of our dried mangoes and strawberries while taking in the views of the countryside below.
Next, we made our way towards Orvieto’s most well-known attraction, the Duomo di Orvieto, a real feat of Roman architecture. The cathedral stands tall, and I could hardly capture it all in my camera lens even standing far on the edge of the plaza.
Every 20 minutes or so, swarms of tourists would come in off their buses, snap a picture, and then leave again. It was during these lulls that we found it most enjoyable to sit on the steps of the cathedral and have yet another snack. The details of the cathedral’s facade are incredible, and I can hardly wrap my head around how much time was spent to build such a creation.
Great Local Food
Hungry for lunch, it was time to find a place to eat. Our Airbnb hosts, Piero and Ramona, knew many of the restauranteurs in town, given that they owned a local vineyard and supplied many of the restaurants with wine. They’d given us many recommendations and we decided to go for a casual stop at Charlie, the “best pizza in Orvieto”.
But looking to eat around noon (way too early by Italian standards), it didn’t appear to be open yet. So we hopped over to nearby Il Malandrino instead, another favorite on Piero and Ramona’s list for classic local Italian food. And I was so glad we did! I had one of my favorite dishes in all of Italy there…a pappardelle pasta with Roman broccoli, sundried tomatoes, and a parmesan cream sauce. Delizioso!
Other recommendations from Piero and Ramona for great local food included Mama Angela, Trattoria del Moro, Vinosus (with its terrace looking over the Duomo), and Al Conte. They also recommended visitors try dishes special to the area including crostini, umbrichelli (similar to pasta carbonara), pork sausages, and coniglio a porchetta (aka, rabbit).
Under-the-Radar Wine Region
While we had only a short half-day to spend in the city of Orvieto, we made up for it by spending the other part of our time drinking and exploring the local wine region! We stayed outside of Orvieto at the guest house of Cantina Lapone, a local vineyard owned by Piero and Ramona Cantarelli. After our morning exploring Orvieto and a short afternoon nap, we met up with Piero who gave us a tour of his vineyard, on-site production facility, and then led us into their home to taste their 6 latest wines. You can read all about our stay at the vineyard farmhouse here.
The area surrounding Orvieto has one of the most perfect climates in Italy for growing grapes. While it’s usually Tuscany that most people think of as the premier wine region in Italy, thanks to its proximity near the large Lake Bolsena, this part of Umbria mimics a climate very similar to that of Napa Valley, making it ideal for wine growers. In fact, combined with the volcanic ashy soil from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (yes, it reached all the way up here!), perhaps that’s why the Etruscans had such great luck growing the first wines in Italy here!
After coming from busy Florence, our time in Orvieto was a welcome relief from the busy tourist scene. While not completely under-the-radar, Orvieto is a great place to experience “real life” for Italians.
So if you’re traveling through Italy and looking for a little more relaxed place to spend some time, I highly recommend a stop in Orvieto!
Have you been to Orvieto? What did you love about the city?
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