Rome is a glorious monument to Western civilization, and rightly so. It’s packed with epic history, delicious food, vibrant culture… and a million ravenous tourists scrambling over its streets and statuary from dawn to well after sundown.
Rome 2023 was a banner year for two things: tourists and temperatures. The influx of global travelers crawling over the city caused unprecedented damage and disruption, and rising mercury baked the Roman concrete with highs over 40°C (104°F). As if that wasn’t enough, a freak anticyclone (appropriately named “Nero”) burned up what was left of the Eternal City to close out the season.
Without a doubt, expats, lifelong visitors, and natives alike are wondering how to weather the storm and reconnect with the lifestyle and authenticity that drew them to the Italian peninsula in the first place.
The answer? The same today as it’s been for Romans since time immemorial:
Escape to the countryside.
In Search of Authenticity
The real Italy still exists in the wine glasses and quiet cobblestone streets that dot the hillsides between Rome and Florence, and nowhere is it more alive than Orvieto. The trip from Rome to Orvieto is just over an hour by train, and this untouched gem’s medieval walls have managed to keep out the hordes and preserve some of the finest historical, culinary, and artistic legacies you’ll find anywhere in the world.
What is Special About Orvieto?
In a word: everything, and that’s been a fact since its ancient Etruscan forbearers first settled in the fertile countryside in the 9th century BCE. The modern city was founded in 1137 atop a hill with a commanding view of the surrounding landscape, and Orvieto’s stature made it an obvious focal point for popes, merchants, and the wealthy elite alike. The medieval walls girdling the citadel encompass the tombs of its ancient inhabitants, and in 1591 its pinnacle was finally crowned with one of the most beautiful and enchanting cathedrals in all Europe.
Life has certainly modernized, but the cultural attitude of its inhabitants is much the same as it has been for the last 10 centuries. Local shops for cured meats, cheeses, produce, and bread are still the go-to options for its townspeople, and the sumptuous and deceptively complex combination of juicy pork, creamy fat, and crispy skin that goes into a porchetta sandwich—a purely Umbrian creation—is easy to find from local vendors.
The Thursday/Saturday market offers a dazzling assortment of goods and produce from across the region, and the cool evenings are a time to socialize and exercise as grandmothers and granddaughters stroll arm in arm through the streets. And yet, for its welcoming and vivacious natural character, Orvieto still manages to offer its visitors something unheard of anywhere near the confines of the Roman pomerium:
There are no cars on the streets of Orvieto Centro, and it’s never more than a five-minute walk from its lively squares to a quiet space overlooking the countryside for some relaxation and reflection.
Food and wine in Orvieto are still served as they ought to be; the locals have very distinct ideas about both that have not bowed to the pressure of generic touristic expectations. Its white, crisp Orvieto Classicos and Superiores represent the high viticultural achievement of the clayey soils throughout Umbria and Lazio, and stand confidently beside the rich Tuscan Brunellos from the north.
Equally individualized is the Umbrian take on ragú di cinghiale—the velvety braise made from the wild boar roaming the forests of central Italy. Unlike the unctuous shreds steeped in red wine found in Florence, Orvieto ristoranti are still turning out their time-honored classic of ground boar and white wine that pairs magnificently with a generous garnish of locally-sourced black truffles.
Best Ways to Get There
You can take a bus or drive yourself from Rome to Orvieto, but the easiest (and fastest) option is by train. They start early and operate all day, and the last train back to Roma Termini leaves Orvieto at 11:25 pm so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy yourself late into the night.
If you’re taking a car, you’ll have to park either at the bottom of the hill or in the lot at the entrance to the old city. If you park down below or take the train, there are two options to make your way up:
- The funicolore is a vertical cable car you can book for €1.30, and it’s right across the street from the train station.
- You can catch a free shuttle at the funicolore station.
Planning Your Trip
Because Orvieto is entirely walkable, you won’t have to do much planning to find exciting things to see and do. Giving yourself permission to wander is the best way to find all the highlights with ease without missing the hidden treasures secreted down spiral staircases and unassuming alleyways.
History and Archeology
If you travel from Rome to Orvieto and miss a tour of the cathedral and Etruscan archeology, can you really say you went? The facade of the duomo is an extraordinarily ornate Gothic masterpiece, featuring bas-reliefs, statuary, and glittering golden-framed mosaics of unparalleled expressive quality. Tickets can be purchased across the piazza, and while you’re there don’t forget to book a tour of the underground ruins that lurk beneath the surface.
And for a more in-depth look at the treasures that have been unearthed from the hillside, make sure to visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Orvieto. It contains some of the finest examples of Etruscan art, artifacts, and culture anywhere in the country.
Mountain biking, Ferrari, and… Tango!
Orvieto is a natural gathering place for Florentines and Romans alike, and you’re sure to find something exciting going on any time of year. Whether it’s the Orvieto Wine Marathon (a mountain bike race through the Umbrian countryside), the legendary Ferrari Cavalcade, or the Umbria Tango Festival, there’s no shortage of cultural events and activities you’ll find at the top of the Orvieto funicolare.
Shopping as it Should Be
Orvieto may offer a peaceful respite from the Roman chaos, but its shopping districts are not without their bustle. Unlike larger cities (omg Milan) the vibe is all about the artisan and the bespoke. Craftspeople and local entrepreneurs offer the finest in hand-made leather goods, and Orvieto’s master ceramicists are still producing the enduring patterns now featured in museums and galleries across the nation.
Olive wood utensils, bowls, and art pieces are a regional point of pride, and if you’re looking for something more exotic and mysterious, you must pay a visit to L’Orvietan. A blend of history and edible alchemy, it features traditional Umbrian aperitivi and digestivi, including regional amari and its namesake liqueur L’Orvietan—a traditional tincture once made with (hold your breath!) charred viper skin. It’s a must for any trip from Rome to Orvieto.
Your perfect summer escape wouldn’t be complete without taking in a concert, and Orvieto is the home of Orvieto Musica—one of Italy’s foremost chamber music festivals for strings, brass, voice, and piano. Featuring emerging professionals from around the world and an internationally-acclaimed faculty, it’s a chance to hear some of the finest classical musicians performing in the most attractive and ornate historical venues in the Umbrian countryside.
OM is a can’t-miss cultural and artistic experience, and the festival and its civic partners have ensured admission is always free and open to the public. It’s the perfect way to finish a day of shopping, sightseeing, and tasting everything that Orvieto has to offer. Find out more about the upcoming season here.
Escape to the Heart of Italy
Rome is wonderful, but there’s a reason all roads lead to and from it. 9 months of the year is plenty in the City of Seven Hills, and summer is for escaping the heat and exploring the secrets and scenery of the Italian countryside. No tour would be complete without a day trip from Rome to Orvieto, and you’ll undoubtedly find yourself returning year after year for another breath of the fresh Umbrian air.