Orvieto: the Perfect Hideout


We found ourselves in Rome after Luke attended a conference there and with a free weekend ahead we decided to visit Orvieto, a small cliff-top village in Umbria.  It was early December, the air was numbing, neither one of us owned boots, and there was rain in the forecast: not the most promising conditions for a weekend getaway.  But spontaneity had taken its hold on us, so we donned all warm layers in possession (including some wish-they-were-boots leg warmers for me) and we boarded the hour-long train ride from Rome to Orvieto.

Lucky for us, once we arrived in Orvieto, we found it to be the perfect hideout from Winter’s chill.  We spent a fair share of our time outdoors feeling chilly for sure: we strolled around the city’s charismatic streets photographing cute cats, and we walked around the city’s walls taking in the bella vista of the Umbrian countryside.  But when we could no longer ignore our burning toes, there were plenty of perfect places to hideout.  We bought Orvieto’s all-inclusive tourist pass for €18/each which allowed us to slip indoors (or underground) when we needed a break from the elements.  We checked out the interior of the Duomo and headed underground into Orvieto’s caves and wells (not the warmest, but warmer than being outside). Meals and coffee breaks were highly anticipated as an escape from the cold and we lingered over our plates and warm tea cups longer than usual. And when needed, we’d head back to our room at the B&B, slip under the covers, & warm up with a good book (or Twitter feed).

We later learned that Orvieto was also a place of refuge for Popes during the 13th & 14th centuries. Its cliff-top position offered protection from invaders and its underground caves (where pigeons were bred) and wells offered long term supplies of food, water, and emergency refuge.  Orvieto was the Pope’s Pick for refuge; that’s a pretty good endorsement if you ask me.


Stop 1: Piazza del Duomo – the door of Cantina Foresi, where we ate lunch, is directly to the right of the shadow underneath the clock tower


Duomo di Orvieto with its orante rose window


The Duomo’s distinctive striped sides are made from alternating rows of alabaster and travertine


The church’s golden facade


Walking around the city’s walls & taking in the good views of the Umbrian countryside


A friendly car offers to wait for our photo shoot to end but I wave them on


We spotted a number of photogenic cats in Orvieto (be thankful I’ve only included one here)


Guided tour of Orvieto’s Underground


Holes in the caves’ walls that were used for pigeon breeding. Pigeon remains a tradition dish of Orvieto today. Our tour guide’s father breeds pigeons at home and she eats pigeon about once a week.


Couldn’t help taking a picture of this scene: antiquity, bike, brick & moss

The Pozzo di San Patrizio or St. Patrick's Well -- commissioned by Pope Clement VII who was hiding in Orvieto during the sack of Rome in 1527 by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V; the pope feared that the city's water supply would be insufficient in the event of a siege.

The Pozzo di San Patrizio or St. Patrick’s Well — commissioned by Pope Clement VII who was hiding in Orvieto during the sack of Rome in 1527 by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V; the pope feared that the city’s water supply would be insufficient in the event of a siege.  We also visited the well known as the Pozzo della Cava.


We strategically planned our climb up il Torre del Moro for sunset only to amble in and find that the tower was closing in five minutes. We dashed to the top, snapped a few photos, were terrified when the bell started ringing, and dashed back down.

View of Orvieto from the top of il Torre del Moro

View of Orvieto from the top of il Torre del Moro

We made a stop at all three of these places: we had lunch at La Pergola, bought an olive wood tasting spoon, and splurged on a Perugina chocolate gift box (for us)

We made a stop at all three of these places: we had lunch at La Pergola, bought an olive wood tasting spoon, and splurged on a Perugina chocolate gift box (for us).  I was very tempted by the olive wood cheese boards as well.

Food orvieto

Si mangia bene in Orvieto! The bottom right photo is of umbricelli arrabbiata. Umbricelli is the typical handmade pasta in Umbria.


One reason I loved this trip was because it was unplanned, a refreshing change after much trip planning (and some overplanning) this past year. We had no plans for where to stay or where to eat; we showed up and figured it out upon arrival asking locals for recommendations along the way. (Of course, this is easier to do in a small city in the off-season and when you speak some Italian.)

Where we stayed
Affitacamere Valentina, Via Vivaria, 7 – A 5-minute walk from the Duomo.  Comfortable room.  Breakfast of your preference served in your room.  €65/night.

Where we ate
Cantina Foresi, Piazza Duomo, 2 – Small cantina just steps from the Duomo.  We wandered in here straight from the train station, our tummies grumbling and overnight bags in tow.  The warm minestrone soup was just what we needed.  On the third chair at our table, we were joined by the restaurant’s cute cat.  The other patrons were all English-speaking tourists like us (no surprise considering the cantina’s location).
La Pergola, Via dei Magoni 9/B – Recommended by our waiter at Cantina Foresi.  “Si mangia bene per un prezzo giusto,” he said.  He was right.  The decor in the front dining room looked a bit fancy at first glance, but the prices were fair and the food was no-fuss and delicious. Hands down our favorite meal of the trip.
L’Antica Rupe, Vicolo S.Antonio, 2/A – Recommended by our cave tour guide.  Modern decor.  Typical foods of Orvieto.  Family-run: Mamma Angela in the kitchen with sons in the dining room.  Fair prices.
Caffè Clandestino, Corso Cavour 40 – The most popular bar in town as the waiters will tell you.  We made a couple stops here, once for aperitivo and the next day for an afternoon break from the cold with a prolonged caffè and .  The aperitivo snacks are NOT lacking; we actually were forced to skip dinner after munching on one too many crostini.
L’Oste del Re, Corso Cavour, 58 – We ate here for a quick lunch before we headed for the train home and were not disappointed.  Panini as well as soups, pastas, and secondi.

Wish we ate at
Trattoria del Moro Aronne, Via S.Leonardo 7 – Also recommended by our waiter at Cantina Foresi.  When we strolled by at lunch to get a look at the menu, an Italian couple intervened to tell us that’s where they eat in Orvieto and that the food is ottimo. But alas, they were booked for the night.

How we got there
We took the train from Rome Termini to Orvieto.  Right across the street from Orvieto train station there is a funicular that takes you to the top of the cliff. From there, jump on the bus heading to the Duomo (the price of the funicular ticket includes a bus ride to the Duomo) or walk there yourself in 10-15 minutes.  Or as Miss Expatria suggests, “when you get to the top, go to your immediate left, walk up the ramp and head through the ornate castle-looking archway to the community park. As soon as you enter, head to your right and walk around the guards’ catwalks for a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside.”

Ornate Orvieto by Rick Steves
Unexpectedly in Orvieto by Jodi Ettenberg from Legal Nomads
Getting to and Eating in Orvieto, Italy by Christine Cantera from Miss Expatria
Eccentric Orvieto by Laura Rainbow from the American Magazine

Orvieto: the perfect hideout, yesterday and today.


3 thoughts on “Orvieto: the Perfect Hideout

  1. kat

    What a beautiful city! And a really interesting history, with all the caves and wells underground. I love your picture of the mossy wall! 🙂

    1. ciaobologna Post author

      Thanks for the note, Kat! Yea, the geology and history of the cliff is pretty extraordinary. It’s hard to wrap our heads around how old the caves are coming from the States where little is more than a couple of hundred years old.


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