Italy: Wandering through Orvieto in Umbria

Orvieto Cathedral, Umbria, Italy
The Umbrian hill town of Orvieto is one of the architectural and artistic highlights of Italy but many visit on a brief tour-party stop between Rome and Florence. Piazza Duomo is very busy around midday as coach-loads of tourists and school groups swarm around the famous cathedral.

But once they have moved on the town returns to its usual peaceful elegance and travellers clever enough to stay a night or a week can enjoy a real Italian treasure. In fact I love it so much I got married there!

Rising out of the olive groves and vineyards of the lush Umbrian countryside, there has been a settlement on this butte of volcanic tufa since Etruscan times. The Archaeological Museum (Museo Claudio Faina e Museo Civico) has a fascinating collection of artefacts from this ancient civilisation of the Italian peninsula. Under the city is a mysterious Etruscan necropolis and a labyrinth of caves and tunnels used over time for everything from pigeon farming to olive pressing.

Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

There is no doubt the cathedral is the crowning glory of Orvieto and its facade one of the most beautiful in Italy. It is decorated with colourful mosaics, writhing statues and coils of carved marble inlaid with red, gold and blue.

In the dim interior, with its tall columns of travertine marble and dark basalt, the sun reflects in the marble floor like faint flames through the translucent alabaster windows, while the frescoes by Signorelli and Fra’ Angelico light up the walls.

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The Romans also left their mark and Orvieto has always had a close relationship with the papacy, even becoming the refuge of Pope Clement VII during the sack of Rome in 1527 by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Anticipating a siege, Clement had the deep Pozzo di San Patrizio or Well of St Patrick built at this time.

I always like to climb to the highest point of a town or city and the medieval Torre del Moro offers the best views of Orvieto.

Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

But how to enjoy the real atmosphere of the town? In the evening the townsfolk come out for the passaggiata. Gossiping and strolling, Orvieto celebrates its own beauty and a relaxed pace of life that the centuries have not altered.

Women hold conversations across the narrow streets – window to window four storeys up – while hanging out their washing. There are many small artisan studios shops in Orvieto, including ceramic and wood carving artists.

Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

Lovers of Italian food know that an important part of travel in Italy is the food. I’ve had some wonderful meals in many places in Italy but the Zeppelin restaurant of gregarious chef Lorenzo Polegri, just a few steps form the Palazzo Communale in Orvieto, is one of my favourites. Lorenzo and the staff at the Zeppelin are passionate about the culinary traditions of this region and welcoming their guests with true Umbrian hospitality.

How about wild boar with black truffle sauce or Crespella stuffed with scallops seasoned with butter and basil, broccoli sauce and Mediterranean hot red pepper? Make sure you try the local Orvieto DOC white wine (generally a blend of Grechetto and Trebbiano) or if you want a red I’d go for a Primitivo from down the road in Puglia. The restaurant also runs hands-on cooking courses, from one day to four weeks, covering everything from preparing fresh pasta and traditional breads to truffle hunting.

Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

The other key thing for making the most of your time in Italy is to stay somewhere authentic – somewhere that’s dripping with beauty and history and personality. In Orvieto there’s a wonderful B&B – Palazzo del Cardinale – on Via Malabranca ([email protected]).

It really is a former cardinal’s palace, built in 1528, that has been owned by the current family since the 17th century and features beautiful frescoed ceilings and antique furniture. Anna Valeria is very kind and cooks a good breakfast, including freshly-squeezed orange juice and home-made jam from her own garden.

By Natasha von Geldern

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12 Replies to “Italy: Wandering through Orvieto in Umbria”

  1. [email protected]

    I loved reading your post. It took me back to the time we used to stay for the night before heading to Rome airport. Sounds as though we should stay longer! Can’t wait to try your B&B and restaurant suggestions.

    Reply
  2. Allison

    I love that photo of laundry on the line. & the idea of all the food? Yum! I’m a vegetarian but I know I would find so much to enjoy regardless.

    Reply
  3. Cherina

    What a great post! And such a romantic place to get married. Love the photos and I can’t wait to explore this area when I am there in April. As for the food and wine….what can I say?

    Reply
  4. Stu Evans

    Sounds beautiful, as so much of Italy is. I love Italy for its food and architecture, and the people in these places are just great. Must have brought back some happy memories.

    Reply
  5. Laurence

    I always like to climb to the highest point of a city too! I get terribly sad about churches or towers that you can’t climb to the top of 😉 Love the shot of the wiggly streets from the top of the tower!

    Reply
    • Natasha von Geldern Post author

      Russian poet Anna Akhmatova said something like “Italy is a dream you remember for the rest of your life.” I think I’ll always miss it too 🙂

      Reply
  6. Sherry

    An important part of Italy is their food. I think that the best places to eat in this country are around the Umbra (and Tuscany). Orvieto sounds like a place for good eats with lots of personality; I’m in!

    Reply

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