Io resto a casa – the Italian battle cry of Spring 2020. But, before Italy (and the world) took an extended time out in March 2020, I was able to spend a few weeks there. A friend and I drove from Rome to Tuscany and Umbria, on to Emilia-Romagna, and into the Veneto (and Venice, sans car) before returning to Rome.
As it turns out, that was, indeed, a once in a lifetime journey. I’ll share some of my favorite stories in a series here on Wander Eat and Tell. Orvieto is part one.
I hope you’ll be inspired to wander along with me. And don’t forget to share your own stories of personal grand tours in the comments!
Climb the hill, or ride the funicular. It’s worth the small effort to find yourself on the enchanted streets of Orvieto. This ancient city rises above the rolling hills and vineyards of Umbria. It’s a short day-trip from Rome and borders the southern part of Tuscany. If you live to wander, eat, drink, learn, and enjoy as I do, you must make the journey.
Wander: Above and Below Ground
Orvieto has been a city since the time of the Etruscans. It became part of Rome in the Third Century BC, and has been a major cultural center since the Middle Ages. Below Orvieto, dug into the tufa rock, is an extensive underground labyrinth of Etruscan-era tunnels and caves. You can explore these caves on scheduled tours. Then take another dip below ground to visit Saint Patrick’s Well. It’s a real well, 496 steps down, designed in a double helix for efficiency. Great for a post-pranzo workout.
Prefer to stay above ground? Art is everywhere. And it’s not all serious. As you stroll narrow streets, you’ll find a bit of whimsy. A bench guarded by a large friendly cow? An oversized Pinocchio who obviously had been telling a few tales? An adult-sized toy horse? A friendly Dionysus tending the next harvest? Yes. All by the woodworking artisans of Bottega Michelangeli. Five generations of the Michelangeli family have made fine furniture in Orvieto. The 20th Century brought the addition of puppet-like contemporary wood sculpture. Their atelier can be found at the corner of the main Corso and Via Gualverio Michelangeli.
Since you’ll already be headed in that direction, the Duomo di Orvieto is a Gothic masterpiece. Don’t miss it. Every inch is adorned with sculpture, mosaics, and more. And, the black and white striped sides are like optical illusions.
Eat: Pranzo – Lunch Like a Local
When a real Italian recommends a place for lunch, you trust her. Without question. You’ll be happy you did. I was. Now, you can trust me. Ristorante al Pozzo Etrusco da Giovanni specializes in local, Umbrian, cuisine. The handmade egg pasta, strangozzi, with locally bred pork ragú (see photo) was transcendent. We also had a creamy risotto piled high with shaved truffles, tender duck breast, and braised lamb shank. And, can’t forget the rabbit spiedini – tender bits of herb marinated rabbit skewered and grilled. Desserts were also exceptional. Pictured above is a warm pistachio fondant cake that seems to be a specialty of the house. It also comes in chocolate – have both!
As I’m writing this in July 2020, the restaurant’s website indicates they’ve moved to a new location to accommodate the need for more outdoor space. It’s still in the heart of town, Al Giardino da Giovanni is located at via di Piazza del Popolo 9. Here they have a large garden for outdoor dining to keep up with the requirements of global health concerns.
Wine: My Real Reason for Visiting Orvieto
I’m a wine writer. Some of you may have landed here after visiting Eat Something Sexy. I’ve been writing Wine of the Week (and more) there since 2005. Orvieto has been on my “must visit” list for over a decade.
Orvieto is known for its lush white wines. The Classico and the Classico Superiore are both based on a minimum of 60% Grechetto (also known as Greco) and Trebbiano Toscano (known as Procanico in this area). These wines can be dry or sweet.
One of the reasons we were in the area was to visit Decugnano Dei Barbi. However, that was not meant to be. So, we did the next best thing – ordered their Orvieto Classico Superiore to go with our meal. It was the perfect pairing for a variety of dishes and even held its own with the richness of the braised lamb. For my review of this wine, you can visit Wine of the Week for July 10, 2020.
Decugnano Dei Barbi even makes a sparkling version. Next time I’m in the area, I will definitely be making a visit to taste all the goodies!
Now, Your Turn
Tell me in the comments below if you’ve visited Orvieto, and what your favorite part was!