Venice, Florence, and Rome? Definitely. Milan or Naples? Maybe. Oh, wait. You forgot the Amalfi Coast. Planning your next Italy trip is like putting together a puzzle. There are so many places you want to visit, but they don’t all seem to fit together. Especially with your limited amount of time. And you haven’t left room for any surprises—the hill towns, the wineries, or the family run restaurants—that will become the highlights of your trip. It’s time to slow down and rethink Italy.
New plan. Pick two cities that are relatively close together. Fly into one, out of the other, and spend your time leisurely traveling between the two. Discover the coast between Bologna and Venice. Explore the mountains between Milan and Turin. Or drive through the countryside between Rome and Florence.
During this drive, you wind through vineyards, around olive groves, and past fortified villages. In the distance, you start to see a mountain higher than all the other hills. As you get closer and it becomes clearer, you see a flat summit, a huge cathedral, and a town on top of this mountain. It’s time for a detour.
Orvieto is located 75 miles north of Rome and 95 miles south of Florence. It’s in Umbria, a Central Italian region that’s considered the green heart of the country. To reach the hillside, historic center of Orvieto, park at the train station and ride the funicular to Piazza Cahen. You pass Renaissance homes and little wine-and-cheese shops along Corso Cavour, but your sights are locked on the Duomo.
By now, you’ve seen a lot of Italian churches. Orvieto Cathedral may be the most impressive of them all. The Romanesque and Gothic church has alternating bands of greenish-black basalt and white travertine, plus sculptures adorning the façade. Pope Nicholas IV began constructing the cathedral in 1290 to commemorate the Miracle at Bolsena. Fra Angelico’s frescoes and Luca Signorelli’s Last Judgment were later added to the chapel, tombs of the Gualterio family were put on the left side of the chapel, and Emilio Greco’s bronze doors, the final touch, were added in the 1960s.
You could wander around inside the Duomo all day, but you shouldn’t miss the rest of Orvieto. Next door, see sculptures in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. People watch in the Piazza della Repubblica. Visit the Museo Claudio Faina e Museo Civico, an archaeological museum that houses pottery and jewelry from the Etruscan era. Visit the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo where popes lived in the 13th century. Check out the massive, 14th-century fortress, Fortezza dell’Albornoz, in Piazza Cahen. Visit more churches. San Giovenale, Orvieto’s oldest church, was built in 1094. San Domenico was one of the first Dominican churches. And, during the afternoon heat, escape to the Orvieto Underground, a labyrinth of underground caves and tunnels that have been used as escape routes, bomb shelters, wine storage, and anything else you can think of.
After walking around for hours, you’re ready for a late lunch and a glass of wine. Just a few blocks from the Duomo, Antico Bucchero has a quiet back garden. Order a carafe of Orvieto Classico—a refreshing white wine—crostini al tartufo, and ravioli verde or umbricelli. Pass on the palombo, unless you’ve had pigeon before. And see if you can change your hotel reservation. Surprise, you might not be leaving Orvieto as soon as you expected.