If you haven’t yet made a trip to this medieval fortressed city in the heart of Umbria, this fall will be the perfect occasion. Absorb the rich history, you may discover secret underground ancient Etruscan ruins, and even evidence of a Eucharistic miracle. Take a tour of the whole town in just one day, but stay for a few more to bask in the peace and quiet, to taste the succulent autumn truffles, savoury wild boar, and sip on the world-famous Orvieto Classico.
Only 76 miles north of Rome, 104 miles south of Florence and easily accessible by train, Orvieto can be a one-day destination just like an unbelievably relaxing week-long stay.
Built on top of a volcanic rock, the townhouses Etruscan remains dating back to the IX century B.C. The Etruscans successfully defended their civilisation against Roman invasion with the help of the fortress they built to surround the city; this until 3 B.C., when the Romans conquered the city and sent the Etruscans to the nearby Bolsena. The city’s military bastion, because of its high altitude, became an asset during the Middle Ages; it provided refuge for Pope Urban IV in the XIII century and a series of other popes, including Clement VII, exiled from Rome after the Sack of Rome in 1527.
With this massive history, Orvieto has proven to be a sanctuary for tourists, Catholic pilgrims, foodies, and wine connoisseurs alike.
WHAT TO VISIT IN ORVIETO
An absolute must-see (it’s quite impossible to miss it, as it is a focal point in the tiny town) is the medieval Duomo. First built by Pope Urban IV in 1290, the construction did not finish until the year 1580. Inside the Duomo there is one chapel containing over a thousand elaborate frescoes by artists Luca Signorelli and Fra Angelico; another chapel contains the cloth that has still visible stains from the bleeding host in the famous Eucharistic miracle of nearby Bolsena in 1263.
Commissioned by both Pope Innocent VI and Cardinal Abornoz of Spain, this castle and fortress was built in 1359. Most of the castle’s remnants and surrounding fortress remain; from the public gardens, visitors can marvel at not only the medieval architecture, but also at the incredible views of the Orvieto valley.
San Patrizio’s Well
Right near the fortress, just a short walk through a lovely nature-filled park area, the Pozzo di San Patrizio lies underground. It’s a well initially constructed to secure water supply during the Sack of Rome in 1527. Tourists can enter at ground level and travel down a spiral staircase of over 200 steps. To experience the full depth of the well, you’ll have to descend about 53 meters underneath the city.
Visitors embark on a voyage back in time to experience the city’s over two-century-old Etruscan underground network of secret tunnels, passageways, and grottoes hewn into the volcanic rock. These passages were believed to be originally utilised for the transportation of water and other resources, such as olive oil, as well as refuge during military siege. For a guided discovery of the mysteries that lie in the underground city, tours occur as frequently as every fifteen minutes, starting from Piazza Duomo 23, where tickets can be purchased.
Torre del Moro
The Torre del Moro is right in the center of the city, located between Via del Duomo, Corso Cavour, the main street, and Via della Costituente. The tower was originally papal territory, but has been handed over to the town and renamed after the Moor, or Moro, Raffaele di Sante Gualterio, in the XVI century. Tourists can climb to the top of the tower any time from 10am to 7pm during fall, and within more limited hours in winter months. Spectacular views as far as the Apennine Mountains await you.
Not quite as old as the XI century church of San Giovenale (built on the ruins of an Etruscan temple), Sant’Andrea’s church stands with its twelve-sided bell tower in Piazza della Repubblica, right next to Orvieto’s Town Hall. It was built in the XII century over the remains of an Etruscan forum; the remains are still visible during tours through the church’s basement.
Teatro Mancinelli, Orvieto’s center for culture and the Arts, hosts anything from a folk music or opera concerts to weddings. Open since 1866, it was named after Orvieto native Luigi Mancinelli, a renowned composer and conductor. The theatre also hosts the annual Umbria Jazz Winter Festival, held at the end of every December.
WHERE TO EAT IN ORVIETO
Via dei Cartari, 4, Orvieto TR, Italy, +39 0763 341725
Known for its inviting ivy archway and covered outdoor patio seating area, Antico Bucchero has served authentic Umbrian cuisine since 1989. Taste an interesting array of delicacies, from tagliatelle al tartufo, made with fresh Umbrian truffles, to pappardelle al cinghiale, topped with a ragù of local wild boar, to braised rabbit, and enjoy the pleasant atmosphere all the while.
Trattoria del Moro Aronne
Via S. Leonardo, 7, 05018 Orvieto TR, Italy, +39 0763 342763
Closely resembling the inside of an Umbrian house, this trattoria, lovingly named after its first owner and original chef Aronne, gives the exact homey vibe you’d hope to experience after a day of wandering the narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways of Orvieto. Aronne’s specialties are its treasured family recipes: Scafata di fave e finocchio, a soup made with fresh fava beans and fennel, and its famous Nidi di rondine, a “bird’s nest” of lasagna in a cream sauce with pecorino cheese and warm honey, something you won’t find elsewhere in Orvieto.
And don’t forget to stop at the nearby Gelateria Pasqualetti, in Via del Duomo, for dessert!
Via della Misericordia, 18 05018 Orvieto; +39 0763 341642
All the warmth of Orvieto (along with an artistic nod to Etruscan culture) lies within the walls of Trattoria dell’Orso, especially due to the owners, head chef Gabriele and host Ciro. Patrons rave about the handmade tortellini stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a vegetable and herb sauce, as well as for the owners’ personal touches of hospitality. An example: a shot of a homemade basil liquor to top off a meal made of stufato di coniglio, a savoury rabbit stew with red peppers.
Ristorante Il Duca di Orvieto
Via della Pace, 5, 05018 Orvieto TR, Italy, +39 0763 344663
This restaurant is pretty much unique; in fact, it serves “country” cuisine, and prides itself on working class recipes dating back to the Middle Ages. You can enjoy dishes like Peposo, a slow-cooked braised beef topped with pears; this is the same treat that the builders of the Duomo waited for at the end of a long week. Try another old recipe of Umbrichelle, the pasta specialty of the region, with salted ricotta in a red wine cream sauce that is stewed for three days. You’ll feel like you really are at a medieval banquet while eating your meal.
WHERE TO STAY IN ORVIETO
Località Rocca Ripesena, 67, 05019 Orvieto TR, Italy, +39 0763 393614
Nestled in the middle of the Palazzone winery, this picturesque country farmhouse dates back to the XIII century; at that time, it served as a hostel for pilgrims. Restored for modern-minded guests, it is the perfect place to take advantage of Orvieto’s fine wine selection.
Double suite for 195€ per night.
Hotel Palazzo Piccolomini
Piazza Ranieri, 36, 05018 Orvieto TR, Italy, +39 0763 341743
An heirloom of the noble Piccolomini family since the end of the XVI century, Hotel Palazzo Piccolomini has the same luxurious style of the papal palaces of its original time period. It’s located within walking distance from Piazza della Repubblica and the Duomo.
Double rooms for about 150€ per night.
Hotel Villa Ciconia
Via dei Tigli, 69, 05018 Orvieto TR, Italy, +39 0763 305582
First built as a Roman tower and owned by the nobility, the Villa was constructed in the XVI century as a healthy sanctuary near the Carcaione stream. In fact, its original owner, Vincenzo Butius, suffered from poor health. The internal Roman artwork is as beautiful as the colourful, secluded gardens on the outside.
Double rooms from 70€ per night.
Località La Badia, 8, 05019 Orvieto TR, Italy, +39 0763 301959
La Badia, built on the spectacular grounds of a VI century abbey, opens its doors to a newer, XII century abbey. This five-star destination is a breathtaking location for a wedding, or simply to take a stress-free getaway. Fully recommended: the in-room spa services.
Double rooms from 150€ per night.