The most charming hill town in Italy – Orvieto

And now…
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.)


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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:

The most charming hill town in Italy - Orvieto | Oregon Girl Around the World
Umbria, Italy hillside

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.

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73 thoughts on “The most charming hill town in Italy – Orvieto

  1. Martha

    We loved this town too. Think we hit that same store. Yes I read it all-no cat. Whew! Sorry B.
    That facade was spectacular !
    Love, Mom

  2. Will be back in Italy in May. Straight to Lucca and then I plan to visit Orvieto for my first time. Your post really whets my appetite. Great post

  3. I always think “Italy? Ehhh, been there, seen some stuff … think I’ll go somewhere a little weirder.” And then I read about places like this – little towns out in the countryside, cheap red wines, great food, gorgeous landscapes, and I re-think things! I will be in Europe this summer, I think, and if I head to this part of Italy, you will get all the credit! (Clearly, you got As in persuasive writing!)

  4. We’re visiting Italy soon – Turin and Piedmont – but now yes I want to include Orvieto as well. The duomos are just stupidly amazing. The one in Genova is like a big liquorice and mint sweet with all the stripes, but Milan’s one is utterly unbeatable.
    Thanks for sharing, what a beautiful place.

    1. I just read your plans – sounds fabulous! We wanted to stay in an agroturismo – just couldn’t find one that worked for us and our budget – we were happy with our Airbnb’s though! Enjoy your time and I look forward to the post! Cheers from Copenhagen!

  5. Love it! Orvieto sounds amazing and the monochrome cathedral is very stylish. Italy is my favourite place and somehow everything is just easier there, especially when on holiday! From a fellow dog lover, italophile and gelato eater

  6. Omg I have never heard of this place before! I had to google it. By the cathedral’s architecture I assumed Florence area but I was wrong. Such a lovely place. I love Italy! What a find. #mondayescapes

  7. It really looks gorgeous – you’ve really done it justice and great to find a place that the whole family loves. I’ve been to quite a few of the hill towns in Tuscany but not done Orvieto yet. Will definitely have to one of these days! #MondayEscapes

  8. Enjoyed your post. We were in Orvieto in November and it was a lovely town. They were doing repair work on the Duomo and it was covered up with scaffolding. I was so sorry to miss out on seeing the beautiful artwork that covered the front of the church. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Wow, Orvieto certainly looks like a very charming place. I’ve never heard of it, but I can tell you know judging from your photos! I am adding this to my list! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

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  11. travelsewhere

    I’m sold! I’ve been looking at places to visit in this part of Italy recently and I kept spotting Orvieto on the map. Now I know what’s there, I’m definitely keen to visit there. I love places where you can just stroll and take in a place. Thanks so much for sharing, pinned for future reference!

  12. I have never heard of Orvieto I have to admit, but you have reaaaaaaally sold it to me, it looks gorgeous! I love quaint towns and places to stroll around and simply soak up the atmosphere so this place is perfect, especially as it has a gorgeous black and white church similair to the one in Florence that I adored – so striking! Wonderful read … ps I’m a cat person … well, and a dog person, and a monkey person …. hey I love all animals so I won’t judge 🙂 #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes – your tolerance of all creatures (including spiders and snakes is impressive!) Orvieto is super charming. Cheers!

  13. Yes – Orvieto – about 21 years ago. I remember we parked our tiny hire car at the bottom of the hill (all these towns have one big car park at the bottom, if I remember rightly) and we walked up the hill to the centre of town. Our jaws dropped with we saw the cathedral. It really is magnificent.
    I can’t remember much else but it was a long time ago. But Umbria was beautiful. We really must revisit this area.
    #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes exactly. We drove the car through town – dropped off our bags and my husband had to park it down below and hike back up!

  14. Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad

    So pretty! We spent our honeymoon in Umbria and puttered happily around hilltop towns like this. Whether we actually went to Orvieto I can’t exactly remember… We navigated by sight not by name and that was BB (before the blog aka my online memory repository). I don’t think we did though because I would have remembered that magnificent cathedral. The stripes are so striking and as for the facade at sunset… Those Italians weren’t stupid, were they?

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      No – no they weren’t! What a lovely place to toodle around for a honeymoon! Thanks for connecting and engaging with #FarawayFiles

  15. I must admit, with all these posts I read about cute little European towns, I grow more and more convinced that we need to move to Europe in order to explore them all. Which hopefully will only be a few years off since my husband took a job that has the potential to send us overseas for a few years so it is something we’re working towards and hopefully it will happen before too long. #farawayfiles

  16. Ruth

    Ahhhhh, these are my kind of towns! I haven’t been to Italy in a long time. I remember how much I liked the country. The cities are great and I will cherish my moments there for a long time but I have to say small cities and towns such as Assisi, Verona and Sorrento stole my heart. I know there are even smaller places that way more charming. Orvieto looks lovely and you got me when you said the town is perfect for strolling (one of my favorite activities). #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Oooh – I haven’t been to any of those Italian towns – we’re dying to get back and explore more! Umbria is lovely. Cheers from Copenhagen right now! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles – we’re glad to have you join!

  17. I love tiny Italian towns! They’re so great for meandering and enjoying. I went to one called Lucca in Tuscany once and fell in love with it. The Duomo in Orvieto looks very striking as well. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes – we heard a lot about Lucca and stopped in Pisa (had to see the tower) that day and ran out of time to visit Lucca. I would like to check it out. Cheers from Copenhagen, thanks for engaging with #FarawayFiles – happy to have you along!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Oooh – what a charming place to be newlyweds! A little different with kids in tow, but we all loved it still! Cheers, Erin

  18. Wow! That black and white Cathedral looks amazing! I have never seen anything like it!. Orvieto looks beautiful. Sadly, Italy is still on my ‘not yet’ list! But I can’t wait till I finally visit and explore it’s beauty!

  19. Does indeed look charming! My girls would love all the cats, too. They’re obsessed, at least my older daughter is. Did your kids love the cats in Rome? Mine went crazy over them. So I’m putting this on the list to see how it holds up against my favorite Italian hillside town – Cortona :). #farawayfiles

  20. Kat

    I’ll be there for sure! Just give me picturesque rolling hills, vineyards, a glass of wine..and a little Fiat. Hmm, maybe the Fiat car and then a glass of wine once I reach Orvieto, LOL! #farawayfiles.

  21. I need no excuses to visit Italy its all so amazing – I haven’t been to Orvieto but it looks absolutely gorgeous! Pinned as it has to be done next time I am in Italy!! #FarawayFiles

  22. Isn’t it great when the whole family LOVES a location? I think that must be when the best travel memories happen in this state of pure wonder and amazement at your surroundings. I haven’t been to Orvieto (yet), but I loved every trip to Italy that I’ve ever taken. I also recall meeting several Italian cats on my travels too!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Well – if I’m being honest – the whole trip was a little more active so it was nice to have a chill break in the middle! Cheers, Erin

  23. I have never been to Umbria although every time I read a post about these gorgeous hill top towns, I think I must change that before long. Italy would be so perfect with my daughter too. #farawayfiles

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