If you are looking for an excursion from Rome, why not try a day trip to Orvieto? This is a classic Italian hill town in the southwest of Umbria. Visit for the scenic location, medieval quarter and artisan shops. And don’t miss the historic cathedral – or its miraculous relic.
A Scenic Hilltop Setting
Umbria is full of medieval hill towns, but Orvieto is the most accessible from Rome. Sitting on top of a tall volcanic rock, it was originally an Etruscan settlement, and later a fortress. The walls surrounding the fortress still remain, and provide several vantage points from which to appreciate the spectacular views of the Umbrian countryside.
Outside the walls (close to Piazza Cahen) you will find the remains of the Temple of Belvedere, an old Etruscan temple from the 5th or 6th century BCE. Nearby is the Pozzo di San Patrizio (St Patrick’s Well), built in the 16th century to allow the town to survive in the event of siege. The remarkable thing about this well is that it has two stairways to the very bottom, designed to allow people (and animals) to descend and collect the water. Today visitors can follow in their footsteps and climb the 496 steps to the depths of the well.
Medieval Quarter Of Orvieto
Walking through the old town of Orvieto, the whole place feels very ancient. However, at its heart is the area designated as the “medieval quarter”. Here you will find narrow streets, cobblestones and pots of flowers hanging from every house.
There is limited access for cars, so you can explore without having to dodge the traffic. Browse the artisan shops, with their ceramics and handicrafts, wines and regional foods, or take time out at one of the restaurants. (I enjoyed a typical Umbrian meal at the Ristorante Antico Bocchero.)
Duomo Di Orvieto
One of the most impressive sights in the town is the Duomo (cathedral). This massive Gothic building, its façade covered with carvings and mosaics, towers above its surroundings. However, the interior is even more magnificent, a wide open space with columns, statues and other artworks. Look out in particular for the frescoes in the crypt and in the two side chapels.
The Duomo was originally built to house the “Miracle of Blood”. This was a piece of linen that mopped up a stream of blood that spontaneously sprang from the communion host in 1263, apparently to persuade a doubting priest of the reality of transubstantiation. The miracle attracted pilgrims to the church, and it is now re-enacted each year during the Feast of Corpus Domini.
An unusual aspect of Orvieto is that it is built on top of a whole complex of caves and tunnels. Many of these are private spaces, belonging to individual houses. However, it is possible to visit some of the caves by taking a Tour of the Cave System.
(I haven’t done this one myself, as some of the passages look rather narrow. However it could be an interesting tour if you don’t mind confined spaces.)
How To Take A Day Trip To Orvieto
The train from Roma Termini to Orvieto takes just over an hour (or you can get there from Florence in around two hours). The railway station is situated in the new town, at the bottom of the hill. You can either walk to the top, or take the funicular railway: either way, you will be rewarded with views on the way up. The funicular railway runs regularly during the daytime from the station to Piazza Cahen. Buses are available after the funicular has closed.
If you are looking for more inspiration for day trips from Rome, have a look at this post – Top Day Trips From Rome By Train