A Tale of Two Umbrian Towns, Part 1

September 5, 2017

It seems that no matter where you travel in Italy, you are surrounded by unforgettable landscapes, olive or grape trees growing on the hillside, and hilltop towns overlooking it all. One of the regions of Italy with so many romantic locales, wonderful people and fabulous food and wine, is The Green Heart of Italy, Umbria.

If you took a tour in Italy you may have had a sampling of Perugia and its famous chocolate. You may even have spent an afternoon in Orvieto or Assisi.  I have spent days and nights in my two favorites (so far) and would love to share the experience with you.

My first visit to Umbria was in 2004 to the hilltop town of Orvieto, halfway between Rome and Florence. I wanted to experience a small to medium sized city with art, architecture and some Gothic construction. I was also very interested in the history of the Etruscans, natives of the area. The entire visit was a delight.

I took the train from Roma Centrale to Orvieto near the end of a 3-month journey. Across the street from the station was a Funiculare, or vertical transport up a steep hill. I dragged my 21’ suitcase and myself across the street and rode to the top of the hill.

There I transferred to a small bus into the city and Hotel Piccolomini. The views at the top were spectacular.

My hotel was a palace which possessed ancient pottery and ruins below it. We enjoyed viewing it while we ate our breakfast.

Walking the winding hilltop streets with flying buttresses (archways) supporting the gothic structures enchanted me.

The tour busses arrived around 10am and the tourists crowded the streets and piazzas. Who can blame them? They were filled with beauty, great restaurants to taste their cuisine and sample the Vino Orvieto Classico, a light, bright wine I enjoy on a warm summer night. And plenty of places to purchase wine, ceramics and other souvenirs abound.

Experiencing the local cuisine and wine was delightful. However, besides the lovely people of Orvieto, my two favorite experiences on every visit to this hilltop paradise were the Etruscan Museums and the unforgettable Cathedral.

The Etruscans are a mysterious people conquered by the Roman Empire. They left no written language but from artwork it appears that women were treated as equals to men, life was prized and enjoyed to the fullest and they loved their food, wine and horses.

Their ceramics were exquisite. These people below look alive.


Stepping forward in time from around 100 B.C., the Cathedral of Orvieto occupies the same piazza as the museums.

Construction began on this magnificent structure in the year 1300 and lasted over a century. The façade detail,

complete with bas relief carvings, symbolism and most of the story of the Bible, all marble

And bronze.

Inside the church, the main attraction was the incredible frescoed Brizio Chapel, painted by the Renaissance artist, Luca Signorelli. This master depicted the Last Judgment with vivid scenes of Heaven and Hell, see damnation below.

With the enlargement of the woman on the demon’s back. You may have seen this before.

There is even a bystander staring out his window at the end of the world.

The unbelievable depth perception of this gigantic work of art and the faux painting techniques are quite remarkable. Do not miss this church, outside and in.

As the light begins to fade, the tour busses have departed and you have the streets of Orvieto mostly to yourself and the locals.

I would wander the streets looking for a good place for another glass of Orvieto Classico white wine and a lovely pasta for dinner. Sometimes I simply people watch as life gets back to normal in the evening.

I have returned 2 more times. I will visit Orvieto again soon. Wouldn’t you?

Next week you will discover my second favorite Umbrian hill town. Let’s explore it together.

Ciao for now!

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