(Photo by: Andrea Anastasakis)
The Opera del Duomo di Orvieto is an astounding must-see in Orvieto, Italy.
Orvieto, the Best City You’ve Never Been To
Nestled 1,066 feet up a flat butte lies 108 square miles of Italian charm like none other. The city of Orvieto is a tiny Umbria “comune” that many in the world have never even heard of. Orvieto literally sits on top of a volcanic cliff and is surrounded by volcanic stone called “tufo.” Visitors to Orvieto feel as if they’re on top of the world – or at least a little higher up than the surrounding area! To see how this Italian city is nested up the volcanic cliffs is worth the visit itself. The beauty, architecture, and food and wine are just icing on the Italian cake.
How to Get There
If you’re thinking that a trip to Orvieto sounds really cool, it is… but I’ve already established that! You’re probably wondering how it is you get atop the volcanic tufa to visit this little community, and that’s also pretty darn cool. All you need to do is take a train to Orvieto and hop on the Orvieto funicular. This single-looping-track tram runs visitors from the bottom of the city all the way to the top of the butte about every 15 minutes. Don’t get frustrated if you have a bit of wait; Orvieto is a perfect day trip, and the small tram accommodates tons of visitors from Rome and Firenze. The ride up and Orvieto itself are worth the wait!
What to Do
It only takes a few minutes to ride to the top of Orvieto, and once you get there, you’ll be amazed at how much there is to see, not to mention the views of the Italian countryside below. Hop off the tram and head left to the community park; this is where the best views of below are. Once you’re done taking pictures, and I know you will snap a ton, head down the Corso, which is Orvieto’s main street and a charmer unto itself. As you wander down the Corso, you will begin to run into some of Orvieto’s most amazing sites. They are:
- Opera del Duomo di Orvieto: If you’ve been following my blog, you know that Italy is rich with breathtaking duomos – cathedrals, basically – and Orvieto’s Duomo will not disappoint. Construction began in 1290 and was not completed until 1591, so the cathedral’s design presents both Romanesque and Gothic architectural influence. The building is black and white marble, fronted with a brilliantly colored and golden facade. The sculptures and frescoes inside and out are breathtaking. In fact, it is said that Luca Signorelli’s fresco work inside the cathedral inspired Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Yep! It’s that amazing!
- Torre del Moro: Plan on spending some time in the Duomo; there is much to see, including a museum. Once done, however, head northwest through the Duomo’s plaza to the Torre del Moro. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it – it’s the gigantic clock tower that you see. The Torre del Moro was built in the 13th century, and the 250-step climb to the top is well worth the workout. You’ll see panoramic views of Orvieto that will cause you to use up a ton more space on your camera’s memory card. In fact, you might want to bring a few extra SD cards just in case!
- Museo Claudio Faina e Civico: Climb down from the clock tower and head back toward the Duomo and then across the street. Here, you will find the Museo Claudio Faina e Civico, or Claudio Faina Museum, whichever you want to call it. Orvieto is an Italian city steeped in Etruscan history; they founded this tiny city in the sky. Not much is known about the Etruscans – they are an Italian mystery. But the civilization dates from somewhere around 700 B.C.; at least, that’s what the earliest found inscriptions say. The Museo Claudio Faina e Civico has one of the best Etruscan artifact collections in Italy, so it’s worth the visit.
- Orvieto Underground: As you’re leaving the Museo Claudio Faina e Civico, continue your study of Etruscan history by visiting the Etruscan ruins underneath Orvieto’s streets. By now, you’ve been walking a bit in the warm Italian sun, and touring Orvieto underground gives you a cool, refreshing breather. Under Orvieto are 440 caves, which were initially used by the Etruscans and are still in use today, most recently as bomb shelters during World War II. Exploring the caves provides an extremely fascinating glimpse into Orvieto’s wonderful past.
Let me give you a quick travel tip: These four sites, and many other Orvieto gems, are included in the price of a “Carat Utica.” Travelers call the Carat Utica “the key to the city” because it gains you entry to many of Orvieto’s most famous sites. Purchase one before or the minute you get to Orvieto to enjoy everything I’ve mentioned for a good price.
Let’s Eat… and Drink!
Aside from breathtaking beauty, Orvieto also offers some of the best Italian food around, much of it infused with locally grown ingredients. Orvieto is also famous throughout the world as being one of the best white wine towns. When visiting Orvieto, you simply must eat until you can eat no more and wash it down with the city’s famous white wine, which is aptly named “Orvieto Classic.” So what’s noteworthy? Everything! (Come on, my faithful reader friends, you KNOW how I get about food!). Check out:
- Trattoria dell’Orso: This wonderful restaurant is Orvieto’s oldest, and its charming old-world style confirms that the minute you walk through the doors. There isn’t a menu, and you don’t have innumerable food choices: You have Gabriele, the owner, and he’ll tell you what’s good and then fix it for you. For the record, his spelt soup and fettuccine are to die for. It’s a truly old-world and delicious Italian eatery experience.
- Ristorante Zeppelin: Take a trip back to Italy’s 1920s in this wonderful ristorante. As you sit down at the wooden bar and enjoy the jazz music playing in the background, keep in mind that you’re going to be eating authentic Umbrian-region food at Ristorante Zeppelin. Some of the local dishes include umbrichelli pasta – it’s kind of like spaghetti – and wild boar, which is prepared with a cherry tomato, cocoa, and black olive sauce. It’s truly unique!
- Osteria Numero Uno: This is a very popular restaurant with Orvieto visitors and consistently receives rave reviews. I can tell you why: The owner, Angelo is super-friendly, the food is always freshly made with local ingredients, and the restaurant has tons of fun stuff for the kids. It’s also a place where vegetarians can find something meatless. Ever had a pizza topped with asparagus, bacon, and zucchini or a baked cauliflower gratin with pine nuts? Do I need to say more?
- Gelateria Pasqualetti: Well, we simply must have dessert after enjoying all of that amazing food, and when in Italy, say it with me, “Eat gelato!” The Gelateria Pasqualetti is located ideally in the Piazza del Duomo… heck, you can grab a scoop on your way from the Duomo to the Torre del Moro or the Museo Claudio Faina e Civico. I recommend the dark chocolate rum flavor. I mean really, dark chocolate, rum… dark chocolate, rum… what else is there to say?
You will not be disappointed if you take a day or two to wander through the Umbria region’s city in the sky. Orvieto offers its visitors a unique landscape that many call one of Europe’s most dramatic. The sites, shops, food, wine, and people top off this wonderful trip by leaving you feeling warm, fuzzy, and full inside. When in Italy, take the time to travel to Orvieto and marvel at its wonders.