We have just spent a week touring around the Umbria region of Italy and have been blown away by its beauty, I didn’t realise it was such a strong rival for Tuscany, it might even be prettier, at least to drive through, and some of the hill top towns are fantastic.
We haven’t seen all of either region of course, you could spend months traveling and still not do that. We did though have a good drive around and spent some time in a number of hill top towns and enjoyed every minute.
Civitella Del Lago is a very small hill top village with an amazingly picturesque outlook over the Umbrian hills and Lago di Cordoba (lake). We stayed in a camp ground set amongst a working Olive Grove about 1km from the village itself. On the walk to the village there was a curious little section of forest with dozens of little houses made out of wine barrels, we later found out it is part of a natural wild life conservation park of which there are many in Umbria. The Village has numerous little churches, a few bars, old city walls etc., and quant little steep stone streets. It is very homely and quiet.
Orvieto is a much larger walled hilltop city. It was quite an amazing place to visit and we were glad we stumbled upon it. The access to the city from the car park up the cliff face and through the high city walls is via a funicular. We had only thought we’d spend a couple of hours walking around with the kids and so did not look at the operating hours, we ended up really enjoying our time and stayed for dinner and walked into the night, only to find the funicular closed for our return trip, which made for a lot of fun finding our way through the archways in the city walls and down the very steep winding paths and streets in the dark, we were all half jogging down, giggling most of the way, whilst taking turns at randomly guessing the directions at each junction, eventually getting to the right ground level at least and then finding our way to the van from there.
Whilst there are many, many things to see and do in Orvieto, other than exploring the city walls, streets, quirky shops and restaurants, we particularly enjoyed:
St Patricks Well, commissioned in 1527 by Pope Clement VII and completed in 1537 this amazing well was cut into the rock to tap into a spring at the bottom of the cliffs when Rome was becoming unsafe for the Catholic church and they wanted a safe back-up, but it is no ordinary hole in the ground, it is 13m wide to allow for two independent spiral staircases (one up and one down) to wrap around the main shaft, wide enough for donkeys to carry the water up, and with 70 holes cut between the shaft and staircases for light. It’s an eerie feeling heading to the bottom and looking up and it’s hard to imagine that it was dug almost 500 years ago. Tess insisted on walking the WHOLE 248 steps from the bottom back to the top, and was clearly elated with her own achievement once she completed her mission.
The Underground City, a network of more than 1,200 underground ‘houses’ (they have mapped 1,200 so far and there are at least 400 known that are not yet mapped because they are in private ownership beneath existing houses and generally used as wine cellars), some dating back to 100BC! Originally built as Etrucian homes and since used for various reasons from olive pressing or wine cellars (due to the constant 15 degree temperature), to pigeon breeding and extensions to the above ground houses. We took a tour through a couple of sections of caves used hundreds of years ago for olive pressing and pigeon breeding (for food, not messages, they still serve pigeon in restaurants in Orvieto) and a section modified during the war with seating cut into the walls and a tunnel cut up to the Duomo and Hospital to house people living outside the city walls, because a treaty was signed to protect the walled part of the city from bombing due to its historic significance. Touring through these caves, seeing how large some of the cavernous rooms are, climbing their many hand dug steps and ducking through the narrow doorways to find an expansive view of the countryside from a cutout window is an amazing experience, the kids loved it as much as we did and it’s something not to miss in Orvieto.
The Duomo, an expansive marble clad church on the highest point in the centre of town.
Todi is another walled hill top town we enjoyed visiting, smaller than Orvieto but larger than Civitella, also accessed by funicular. We simply enjoyed a wander round between bars and gelaterias, looking for respite from the heat and admiring the views.
Assisi probably needs little introduction, mostly thanks to St Francis. We camped at a fairly large camp ground about 800m from the city walls (well, they say 800m, it feels MUCH further when carrying two sleeping kids up the hill after a long day in town). It’s a very pretty city and we enjoyed getting lost in its steep winding streets. I think the highlight for us was St Francis Bassilica itself, although we were not allowed to take photos inside. It is multi level, basically with a whole church on top of another, and a crypt housing St Francis’s remains, plus a room with his original cloak, shoes, chalice etc., which are more than 800 years old!
I just have to add this last photo from a deli in Assisi, it just doesn’t seem right in the home of the Patron Saint of Animals!
I am really glad we spent some time in Umbria rather than just racing past it to get to Tuscany or Venice, it was a very pleasant surprise and I hope we get to come back and see more of it when the kids are older.