If you want to experience small town life in Italy that’s a quick and easy distance from Rome without needing to rent a car – I highly recommend visiting the medieval hill town of Orvieto. Orvieto is easily reachable by train from Rome’s Termini train station and depending on the train takes 50 minutes to an hour & twenty minutes to reach.
Orvieto sits up on a rock which when coming from Rome you can’t really see from the train. As you exit the station at Orvieto, cross the piazza and take the funicular up into town. The original funicular started running in 1888 and used a water powered system. The ride up is a smooth and effortless 2 minute climb up the side of the rock past people’s homes, olive groves and vineyards.
Exiting the funicular station, you can walk up Corso Cavour one of the main streets located directly in front you and be in the town’s center in about 10 minutes. Or you can jump on the A bus that takes you to the front of the Duomo – Orvieto’s cathedral – in less than 5 minutes.
Many Romans come to Orvieto on the weekend to stroll around the town and have a nice lunch. Orvieto is in the region of Umbria and has loads of great restaurants serving local, regional cuisine. Cinghiale (wild boar), truffles, umbrichelli (a thick spaghetti-type pasta made with flour & water) and the Orvieto Classico – a dry white wine, are typical specialties of the area.
There are a lot of very good restaurants in Orvieto. Our family’s favorite is Trattoria del Moro-Aronne. This family owned and run restaurant is very popular in the guidebooks so usually crowded with visitors, but they have not lost their integrity as some places that get popular do – their food is great. When eggplant is in season go for the polpette di melanzane (eggplant patties) and their roasted potatoes. Their nidi di rondine with pecorino and honey is a cheese-lovers delight (warning – sweet & rich, but oh so good) and they make a fantastic porcini mushroom/truffle pasta dish. The owners, Cristian and his mother Rolanda are super nice and friendly. Bistrotters is owned and run by Emiliano & Ilaria who took over a long-standing restaurant that had seen better days and transformed it into this stylish yet casual spot. The staff are super friendly and they have a large outdoor dining area with good pizzas, pastas and great wine. Trattoria del Orso is the two-man operation of Ciro and Gabriele. Ciro will explain the day’s dishes and Gabriele cooks in the kitchen. I particularly like their pasta dish with mushroom and truffles and they have some excellent meat dishes (I’m told. Being vegetarian, I have to trust the meat-eaters I know). After your meal, ask Ciro for his latest digestivo. They make their own liqueurs out of natural ingredients such as bay leaf and other plants. A bit hidden away is Mezzaluna if you are looking for a quick bite to eat with local grumpy ambiance. The owner is a bit gruff, but does serve up what my daughters consider some of the best carbonara they’ve ever eaten and the price is right.
THINGS TO SEE & DO:
– Underground Orvieto tour – tickets bought at ticket office next to Tourist Information located in front of the duomo, tour departs every day at 11, 12:15, 16:00 and 17:15.
– Torre del Moro – €2.60 entrance fee, you can take an elevator to the 2nd floor, but then have to walk the rest of the way 200 or so steps up – so not recommended for people with heart conditions. Great panoramic views of the entire town and its medieval layout as well as the surrounding countryside. Be careful of your ears though as the clock sounds every quarter past the hour.
– Pozzo della Cava vs Pozzo di San Patrizio – these are two underground well systems that are heavily advertised throughout Orvieto – Pozzo di San Patrizio is the most interesting from a historical, engineering and architectural perspective – it’s located right near the funicular station.
– Museo dell Opera del Duomo – Chiesa di Sant’Agostino, Piazza San Giovenale – This place is definitely off the beaten path in Orvieto and it’s a definite must-see. It’s only one large room, but it holds these slightly large than life statues of the Apostles and two huge brass bells with intricate details that used to be housed in the Duomo before they removed sometime in the 19th century.
– Churches – there are many churches in Orvieto such as Sant’ Andrea church in Piazza della Repubblica with it’s 12 sided bell tower. The oldest church in Orvieto is San Giovenale built in its original state in 1004 – recently re-opened after years of renovation it has beautiful restored frescoes and is a simpler, humbler, but not less beautiful church – from the inside, I personally like this church better than the Duomo. Nice views of the countryside from this vantage point and very quiet in this part of town as it is off the tourist path.
– Anello della Rupe (literally means “ring of the rock”) – there is a gorgeous walking trail that runs along the volcanic rock on which the town is built on. It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to circumnavigate the entire town on this trail, but you can do a shorter walk. There are 5 entrances to get onto the trail so if you get tired you can get off it at various spots. Just a few meters down from the town and you are in nature. There’s an Etruscan necropolis, a little church built into the rock and just a pleasant walk – some steep hills so a bit of a workout too. I usually enter on the Palazzo Crispo entrance and walk clockwise and exit at the Porta Vivaria entrance. There are gorgeous views of the countryside from this section of the path (including views of the 12th century Abbey of San Severo now a very nice hotel called La Badia) Near the Porta Vivaria exit is where you’ll find the necropolis.
– evening passeggiata – cozy up to a coffee bar like Barrique (in coffee bars above) with seating outside and enjoy a glass of wine or prosecco or an aperol spritz and people watch before taking the evening stroll with all the residents of Orvieto who go up and down the 2 main drags – Corso Cavour and via dell Duomo each evening. The residents here take their evening passeggiata very seriously and everyone comes out in full force. Only very bad weather will keep people inside.
– outdoor market at Piazza del Popolo – Thursday and Saturday mornings – best place to get vegetables, fruit, cheese, etc. and inexpensive clothes and household goods.
– theatre performance at Teatro Mancinelli on Corso Cavour. It’s a gorgeous little theatre built in the 1800’s. You can stop by the theatre and see what’s taking place while you’re there – they often have posters outside and the ticket office is to the right if you are facing it. They also have a pretty cafe open all day.
Dolceamaro – Corso Cavour, 78 – a chocolate shop with artisan handmade chocolates and cookies and in the winter – their excellent hot chocolate and in the summer, their gelato.
La Loggia – Corso Cavour, 129 – wine shop
Enoteca al Duomo – Corso Cavour 51 near Torre del Moro – wine shop owned by friends of ours who also have a location at the Duomo and owners of the Bistrotters restaurant mentioned previously.