May I present to you…
The most charming hill town in Italy…
AND the winner is?
ORVIETO! Seriously. The most charming. I know there are many hill towns in Italy and you may have your favorite. But this is mine. And maybe yours too? Ok. I’m happy to share.
Have you been to Orvieto? Yes? Let me take you back. Oh! Sorry. YOU. You HAVEN’T been to Orvieto yet – the tiny little hilltop gem that sits above Umbria like a present waiting to be opened. This post is also for you. Especially for you. Let me unwrap this little Italian gift of a town for you. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil everything – just a peek. Shake the present if you will. A teaser. You’ll want to visit and open it all for your ownself. I’m sure of it.
We recently took our family of five to Italy for our winter holiday from school. After four days chock full of Roman culture, antiquities, pizza and gelato, we were ready for a slightly slower pace and cozier surrounds. We rented an Italian car and drove out of the capital towards Umbria. It was my first foray into Umbria, not having let a car when my husband and I backpacked our way through Italy in our twenties. (Was that only 5 years ago? Cough, cough. Ahem.) But here we are again. In Italy. This time with our tweens and teens in tow. (You do the math.)
From Rome, we took the slow road to Orvieto, maybe to the chagrin of our children. The back roads off the main Italian highway (A1) are winding and slow and not necessarily always as picturesque as this:
But some are! It was definitely worth it when around a corner, new vistas were unveiled. Picture this – tall svelte Cyprus trees promenade along stony paths leading to yellow stuccoed homes in varying states of disrepair. Grove after grove of silvery green olive trees cover the rolling hillsides and signs of “olio” beckon you to stop. Fresh olive oil pressed here. Italian flag lycra clad groups of bicyclists move in their own syncopated rhythm while strains from the Barber of Seville accompanied them in my head. Little vintage Fiats and the like putter ahead of you around the curves. The vision of our growing family of five sardined into one of those little rolling motor cans, elicited a private smile. Now that would be cozy. Ha! Putter on little Fiat. Putter on.
Finally, around the day’s last corner – Orvieto calls like a siren from the next hill. Gasp. Ooh. Aaaah. We have to stop and take her in. Or just take pictures and fashion a quick car picnic made from the mortadella, prosciutto, cheese and crusty buns we’d brought along with us. Anxious to get behind those ramparts on yonder hill, we continue along the back road into the medieval walled city. Built on Etruscan foundations, Orvieto has roots older than Rome’s ruins not built in a day.
We curve up and into the old town and attempt to find our Airbnb apartment – a little cave of a place owned by the most charming Italian man. It wasn’t fancy, but did fit our family and was perfectly situated to explore. We dumped our bags and set off on foot. First stop? Gelato. A fabulous recommendation from our host led us to nearby Di Pasqualetti. Delicious and nutritious. Ok, maybe not nutritious? But fed our soul. For sure. Worth the drive alone.
From here it is a short skip to the Duomo. Every Italian town has one. Or two. Or a zillion. But the Orvieto Cathedral is super cool. Striped in a graphic black and white marble patterned suit, it definitely calls attention to itself adorning the main piazza atop the city. But wait until you see the front. Especially when a late afternoon sun starts setting over the city, melting under the low-lying clouds and throwing light against the gilt and redonkulously* ornate facade. Holy wow. And our family is not necessarily that wowed by holy. Gorgeous. Truly. And strangely peaceful in spite of our most recent gelato’d up sugar rush.
Sit for a moment. Listen to the bells. Then keep walking past the front of the cathedral, past the museum to the nearby vista overlooking the Umbrian countryside. You may be welcomed by a few of the darn friendliest Italian cats this side of – well, Italy. It’s true. They were friendly.
I will admit – I am not a huge fan of cats. I am a dog person. There, I said it. Don’t hate me. But my children did not inherit my feline insensitivity and after a fulfilling encounter with the locals – we spent the next two hours hearing persuasive speeches with regards to our familial procurement of a furry hairball. (There is no Italian cat-pat in our Dansk home. Don’t worry mom!)
Orvieto is made for strolling – we made our way in and out of a few shops – admired the local pottery – procured some fresh pasta and found a delicious Umbrian rosso for dinner. I loved the tiny niche shops along the walking street and realized quickly that the locals use of English was not as prevalent here as in our home Copenhagen. A memorable interaction with the charming, if somewhat crusty vino purveyor in some pretty bad Italian (mine) still produced an excellent selection that we enjoyed thoroughly – and so affordable!
Stroll down the cobblestones. Savor the flavors. Soak in tiny Orvieto. We adored this little hilltop gem. All of us. Even the teens. Hope you did too. Been there? What did we miss? I would NOT say no to a repeat.
- That’s a word.