About an hour north of Rome by train, Orvieto is one of the first major towns once you leave the region of Lazio and enter the region of Umbria. It’s a small, flat hill town, perched up on volcanic rock, with a history that dates back to the Etruscans. Once you arrive by train, exit the station, cross the street, and take the funicular up into the town for €1.30. From there, you can walk up Corso Cavour to the center in about 10 minutes, or the same funicular ticket entitles you to jump on the bus parked right out front that goes up to the Duomo.
One of the main and famous attractions for tourists is the Duomo – Orvieto’s cathedral. Compared to other small towns in Italy that are hot on the tourist trail, Orvieto, thankfully, has not met the fate of souvenir shops taking the place of all the things that make a town liveable for its residents such as food markets, pharmacies, or even just a place to get your shoes repaired or your clothes tailored. Orvieto has all of these things and more, so it’s a real treat to walk through the town and feel its vibrancy. Although just an hour from Rome, the architecture is different, with many of the buildings constructed out of tufo, a type of volcanic rock. The food is different, with the local specialties being wild boar (cinghiale), truffles (tartufi), an eggless pasta called umbrichelli, and the local white wine, Orvieto Classico.
Up on this rock, it feels like an island where you can walk without a map and never really get lost. A very pedestrian town within the center, you can cross it on foot in about 20 minutes. Just a few meters down and surrounding Orvieto is a path that goes around the entire town – a very nice nature walk with gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside and an Etruscan necropolis to explore along the way. For those who stay the night, the evening is always full of people and activity during the local evening stroll (the passeggiata) through the main streets of town, corso Cavour and via del Duomo. In the warmer months, there are often antique sellers and street performers on the main streets and near the Duomo. The winter highlight is the Umbria Jazz Festival with live music everywhere. At Piazza del Popolo every Thursday and Saturday morning there’s an outdoor market (mostly fruit and vegetables, but also some inexpensive household goods and clothes) with the local farmers taking up one side of the wall selling their fresh, organic produce.
There is no shortage of great restaurants in Orvieto and in high season it is imperative to book ahead. A few of our favorites are Trattoria del Moro-Aronne, via San Leonardo, 7, Phone: +39 0763342763. Rolanda and her son Cristian offer amazing, freshly prepared Umbrian specialties in their cozy restaurant, which is always packed.
Valentina is a one woman show — the delightful chef, hostess and proprietress of the bright and modern Il Saltapicchio located at Piazza XXIX Marzo, 8, a bit off the tourist path and well worth the extra 5-minute walk to get there. Phone: +39 3396672909. Valentina uses local and organic ingredients to create interesting and always delicious variations on traditional recipes.
Franco, the congenial owner of Trattoria della Grotta at via Luca Signorelli, 5, Phone: +39 0763341642, takes pride in what he serves and wants to make sure you enjoy your meal.
With Signora Giovanna in the kitchen and the friendly and professional Carla Enrica and Giampiero in the front rooms, it’s understandable why Trattoria La Palomba is always packed with both locals and foreigners. Located at via Cipriano Menente, 16, Phone: +39 0763 343395.
Trattoria del Orso, via della Misericordia, 18-20, Phone: +39 0763 341642. Owners Ciro and Gabriele make a delicious pasta dish with mushroom and truffles that even one of our daughters — a notorious picky eater — enjoys.
We have a soft spot for Duca di Orvieto, via della Pace, 5, Phone: +39 0763 344663. It was the first restaurant we ever ate at in Orvieto many years ago and we continued to go there for Sunday lunches often over the years. The owner, Adler Bonavera, has an impeccable memory and even if several years would go between visits, she would always remember us. She also makes some of the best damn mulled wine we ever tasted and a bean cake — yes, a bean cake — that is absolutely delicious.
VinCaffe at via Filippeschi, 39 is a wine bar that serves simple but delicious lunches and a great glass of wine. Also recommended for an evening drink and nibbles that make a meal is the excellent Champagneria at piazza Marconi, 2, just behind the Duomo. They open at 6:30pm.
FEBO, Via G. Michelangeli – cute bar in town on the oh so quiet and quaint Michelangeli street – no outdoor seating
Scarponi, Piazza del Popolo, 7 one of the older bars & pasticcerie in Orvieto – outdoor seating
Palace Bar, Piazza del Popolo, 24 – outdoor seating
Barrique, Corso Cavour 111 – outdoor seating and a great place to people watch as it is on the main street
Pasticceria Adriano, via della Pace, 26 - a bit hidden away in a not very touristed part of town, this tiny, yet elegant little bar serves good pastries and good coffee. Unfortunately, just not very comfortable to sit for a long period.
Montanucci, Corso Cavour, 21/23 Most well known coffee bar in town since it is on the main drag, has large selection of pastries in the morning and a good, but pricey tavola calda at lunch which has salad selections. No outdoor seating in front – outdoor seating in back garden
Pasqualetti is the main ice cream vendor in town and very good. They have two locations – via del Duomo, 10 and Piazza del Duomo, 14
Other sweet treats.
Dolceamaro – Corso Cavour, 78 – artisan chocolate makers who also make their own gelato in the summer months and very delicious hot chocolate in the winter months.
Roundup of things to see and do in Orvieto:
- The Duomo – €3 entrance fee.
- Underground Orvieto tour – tickets bought at ticket office next to Tourist Information located in front of the Duomo, tour departs every day at 11, 12:15, 16:00 and 17:15.
- Torre del Moro – €2.60 entrance fee, you can take an elevator to the 2nd floor, but then have to walk the rest of the way quite a few steps up — so not recommended for people with heart conditions. Great panoramic views of the entire town and countryside. Be careful of your ears though as the clock sounds every quarter past the hour.
- Pozzo della Cava vs. Pozzo di San Patrizio. These are two underground well systems that are heavily advertised throughout Orvieto,but Pozzo di San Patrizio is much more interesting from a historic and architectural perspective. Located right next to the funicular station.
- There are quite a few churches in Orvieto and while the Duomo gets prime billing and is indeed quite perspective – personally I have a preference for humblers churches such as San Giovenale – the oldest church in Orvieto built in 1004 and recently reopened after a major restoration. It’s open daily, but closed from 12-4pm.
- Museo dell Opera del Duomo – Chiesa di Sant’Agostino, Piazza San Giovenale – This place is definitely off the beaten path in Orvieto and it’s a definite must-see. In a building next to the church San Giovenale, it’s only one large room, but it holds these slightly large than life statues of the Apostles and two huge brass bells with intricate details that used to be housed in the Duomo before they removed sometime in the 19th century.
- Walk around the rock. Anello della Rupe (literally means “ring of the rock”) – there is a gorgeous walking trail that runs along the volcanic rock on which the town is built on. It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to circumnavigate the entire town on this trail, but you can do a shorter walk. There are 5 entrances to get onto the trail so if you get tired you can get off it at various spots. Just a few meters down from the town and you are in nature. There’s an Etruscan necropolis, a little church built into the rock and just a pleasant walk – some steep hills so a bit of a workout too. I usually enter on the Palazzo Crispo entrance and walk clockwise and exit at the Porta Vivaria entrance. There are gorgeous views of the countryside from this section of the path (including views of the 12th century Abbey of San Severo now a very nice hotel called La Badia) Near the Porta Vivaria exit is where you’ll find the necropolis.
- Evening passeggiata — cozy up to a coffee bar with seating outside and enjoy a glass of wine or prosecco and people-watch before taking the evening stroll with all the residents of Orvieto who go up and down the two main drags, corso Cavour and via del Duomo, starting at around 6 or 7 in the evening.
- Outdoor market at Piazza del Popolo on Thursday and Saturday mornings.
- Theatre performance at Teatro Mancinelli on corso Cavour. It’s a gorgeous little theatre built in the 1800s. You can stop by the theatre and see what’s taking place while you’re there — they have posters outside with upcoming performances.
B&B Ripa Medici: vicolo Ripa Medici, 14. Tel: +39 3287469620. Two lovely rooms with gorgeous views over the Umbrian countryside. The very friendly and welcoming owner, Sabrina Pasqualoni, comes in the morning to make homemade breakfast for you. She also has a small apartment with self-catering facilities on the ground floor.
B&B Sant’ Angelo 42: via Sant’ Angelo 42. +39 3487757136. Owner Giulia Donato’s lovely and modern little B&B is in the center of town.
Alla Scalette del Duomo (private apartment)
via dei Gualtieri, 34 Tel: +39 0763375009. Cell: +39 3381853570. Email: email@example.com Owned by the warm and hospitable Signora Franca who cleans and maintains the apartment herself, it’s a basic, affordable option for families or larger groups wanting a self-catering apartment right in the middle of town.
Federico Badia - leather goods – this young Roman cobbler moved to Orvieto and is continuing an artisan tradition that unfortunately is disappearing in Italy, but he’s made a success of it with his energy, enthusiasm and love for his craft. Here you’ll find handmade and custom made shoes, handbags, wallets, belts, etc. http://www.cross-pollinate.
Orogami - original, unique and beautiful handmade jewelry by master jewelers Massimo and Tiziana – the nicest and friendliest couple who will happily answer any questions you might have about the items in their shop. They have a range of pieces from simple and affordable to more intricate and expensive pieces. They can also work on custom designs. http://www.orogami.it
Dai Fratelli Batalocco – via del Duomo, 11 – you can pick up a small bottle of truffle oil or truffle scented olive oil here – a nice gift for foodie friends. There are a variety of cheeses here as well which you can ask for “sottovuoto” which means vacuum packed.
Dolceamaro – Corso Cavour, 78 – a chocolate shop with artisan handmade chocolates and cookies and in the winter – their excellent hot chocolate and in the summer, their gelato.
La Loggia – Corso Cavour, 129 – wine shop
Enoteca al Duomo – Corso Cavour 51 near Torre del Moro – wine shop owned by friends of ours