Dotting the picturesque Umbrian landscape between Rome and Florence, sit countless rustic towns and villages that are the stuff of postcards and oil paintings. Amongst these and reflecting its warm, golden-colored stone buildings, the hilltop town of Orvieto invites you to stroll through its quiet, cobbled streets for a much-needed respite from the hustle of busy Italian cities. But don’t let its secluded majesty deceive; this ancient setting offers Etruscan history, superb wines, delectable Italian cuisine, and boutique shopping, all poised to delight and soothe a traveler’s soul.
Situated conveniently between Rome and Florence, Orvieto is easy to access via train. Click here for tips on Italian train transportation.
Our anticipation seemed to rise with every meter as we rode the funicular to ascend to the top of the hill, …
…and after a brief shuttle bus ride, my daughter and I arrived, with the town center of Orvieto in view.
I was struck by how quiet and still the town seemed to be on this sunny afternoon.
This vast square is highlighted by the architecturally magnificent Orvieto Duomo, arguably one of the most stunning in Umbria, with interiors so breathtaking, it is said to have inspired Michelangelo’s work within the Sistine Chapel.
We were delighted with our accommodations at a Bed & Breakfast tucked away on a quieter side street.
A spacious and inviting ensuite room greeted us., and before long we were on our way to explore this charming little village.
In addition to the Duomo, Orvieto entices archaeology and history enthusiasts with its own Etruscan ruins to view either outdoors or inside, within two separate museums. Orvieto’s original city, occupied by the ancient Etruscan civilization, was subterranean, with the current city built on top of its fascinating labyrinth of tunnels.
Orvieto’s sense of ancient history is palpable. We enthusiastically entered well-lit, empty caves dug by hand into the volcanic ‘tufa’ rock over 2500 years ago.
An archaic olive press is still in its original place, able to rotate in the same way it has for centuries.
Some of the carvings were cut to gain access to open air. Small niches cut into the cave walls served as nesting areas for pigeons. A local docent shared the fascinating ways these caves continued to serve the Orvieto community during the Second World War for food, shelter and safety.
Shopping in a quaint Italian hilltop village was on our must-do traveler’s bucket list and Orvieto did not disappoint. The town boasts of a variety of boutique shopping experiences, including both a master goldsmith and a silversmith’s studio for an exquisite take-home memory of Italy.
As we expanded our explorations, we discovered old-world shops featuring buttery-soft cashmere, quintessential Italian handmade leather, designer fragrances, makeup, and chic sunglasses. The most delightful of all was the handmade toy store with an abundance of all sorts of wooden whimsy, all playfully on display, much like Geppetto’s from Pinocchio.
After a full day of shopping, there’s no better way to drink in more Italian culture than to actually taste it, and the white Orvieto wines, known as ‘Orvieto’ and ‘Orvieto Classico’ are a regional delight and a great place to start. It is the most evocative wine of the Umbrian region, made from no less than five different grapes. Connoisseurs of red wines will want to taste the ‘Orvietano Rosso’ as well.
Wine sampling from various delicatessens and merchants enticed us to relax at a window seat and take it all in.
And what would a day be without the comfort and delight of chocolate? Enjoy your choice of confections, whether solid chocolate or in the form of pastries or my favorite, gelato. Treats like these always seem to taste better when traveling, especially in this picture-perfect postcard setting!
To our surprise, as we were deciding on which direction to next take, a voice asked in perfect English, if we needed help. I didn’t think we did, but was happy to learn that the source of assistance was an American ex-pat, now living in Orvieto. It was wonderful to speak with her about the village and her experiences in it. She gave us recommendations for both shopping and eating.
We happily took her recommendation for an easy and fast lunch at the local deli. The simplicity of delectable Italian charcuteries and mild cheese on fresh focaccia or ciabatta bread left me in “culinary delight” at first bite. I paused before I took a bite of my sandwich—It had no mayonnaise. The fleeting thought of a dry sandwich was rapidly extinguished with the first bite—No condiments were necessary—it was that fabulous!
The tantalizing delights of the town’s restaurants tempted us with tagliolini, umbrichelli, antipasto, and much, much more.
The long-standing Orvieto tradition of Italian ceramics with its cheerful, bright paint beckoned us to peruse the selection of espresso cups or olive oil bowls, and other hand-painted earthenware.
The aromatic scents of Italian spices, herbs and artisanal olive oils, along with Umbrian pastas, serve as a reminder that even quiet, hilltop towns like Orvieto can meet any traveler’s needs.
Lastly, not to be missed is a walk around the perimeter of the city.
We set out to find four antiquated ‘portes’, or historic doors to the city.
From the city’s edges, we zealously sought to witness the breathtaking, panoramic views of the surrounding Italian countryside.
The clouds seem to skim our foreheads at this elevation. You will need time to gaze at the expanse of gentle Italian slopes, perfectly lined with grapevines and dotted with Italian Cypress trees.
Take all the time you need here in Orvieto; you’ll never want to leave.
Recommended duration: Minimum of 2 nights. Orvieto is ideally located between Florence and Rome.