Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town.
Bustling with university students and locals, this walled Italian hill town is a popular destination in the countryside north of Rome. If you’re heading that way, here are some suggestions for what to do, see, and eat according to local freelance journalist, blogger, and expat, Toni DeBella.
First, tell us about you.
I was born and raised in a quintessentially Italian-American family in San Jose, California. Following university, I relocated to San Francisco, where I lived and worked happily for over 20 years. It was after a visit to Orvieto in 2004, however, that I began to long for the Italian way of life.
In November 2012, after many years of plotting and planning, I sold my car and all my furniture, packed two suitcases, and headed to Italy to begin a new chapter. When I am not writing, you’ll probably find me working on my clay court tennis game.
If someone is visiting Orvieto for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
First, tour the magnificent Duomo containing Luca Signorelli’s masterpiece, The Last Judgment. Next, climb to the top of the Torre del Moro (the clock tower) for a spectacular 360-degree view of the city below. Third, take a guided tour of the Orvieto Underground—a fascinating labyrinth of Etruscan wells and Medieval caves that lie just beneath the town’s surface.
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
Orvieto’s centro storico (historical center) can be reached by taking the three-minute ride on the funicolare (mountain train) from the train station below to the top of the rock. From there, it’s an easy 20-minute stroll up the Corso Cavour to the main part of town. If you have a lot of luggage, you might want to take the small bus that carries you from the funicular to the heart of the city. Remember, no matter where you stay in the center, you are only minutes by foot to virtually everything.
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
The town of Civita di Bagnoregio is one of my favorite places in all of Italy! It’s perched high atop a pinnacle surrounded by deep canyons. This traffic-free village is a marvel and one that you’ll never forget.
Lago di Bolsena is a beautiful and ancient town on the shores of Lake Bolsena, just 20 kilometers away. Stroll the narrow streets and walk down to the lake where you’ll find sandy beaches and restaurants serving fresh fish caught in its waters.
Because Orvieto is so well situated on the main train line between Rome (one hour) and Florence (2.5 hours), day trips to these cities (and more) are a breeze. If you want to see some of the many towns dotting the Umbrian and nearby Tuscan countryside, renting a car for a day or two is the way to go.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
Eating well in Orvieto is like shooting fish in a barrel—you can’t miss. The most typical Umbrian dishes are cinghiale (wild boar), tartufo Nero (black truffles), porcini mushrooms, pigeon, dove, and umbricelli (a strand pasta that is a thicker, chewier version of spaghetti). Butter is rarely used in Umbrian cooking. Instead, the region’s smooth and peppery olive oil is a daily staple. Be sure to try a glass (or two or three) of Orvieto Classico—the town’s world-renowned white wine—and, after dinner, take an evening walk while eating Pasqualetti’s award-winning gelato.
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
Ristorante al Saltapicchio (located at Piazza XXIX Marzo 8) is a bright and contemporary restaurant that’s slightly off the main drag near the Church of San Domenico. Young Chef Valentina prepares dishes that are classic Umbrian, but with a slow food, artistic, and modern twist.
Trattoria Del Moro Aronne (located at Via San Leonardo 7) is always filled with locals and savvy foodies. On weekends and during the high season, be sure to make a reservation ahead of time because Cristian and his mother Emiliana serve food and wine that are a cut above. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. (Note that it’s closed Tuesdays.)
Pizzeria Charlie (located at Via Loggia dei Mercanti 14) is an Oriveto institution. Pizza can be had any time of the year, but in the warmer weather sit outside in the courtyard and enjoy the best pizza (and beer) in town all’aperto (open air). (Closed Tuesdays.)
As for bars, FEBO – Officina del Gusto (located at Via G. Michelangeli 7) is a warm and cozy place to sip your cappuccino and have a quiet lunch or dinner in its upstairs café.
Caffe ClanDestino (located at Corso Cavour 40) serves coffee and pastries in the morning, light lunches in the afternoon, and cocktails (aperitivi) in the evening. Take a table underneath the umbrellas on the main drag for prime people watching.
Scarponi Pasticceria (located at Pizza Del Popolo 7) makes the best pastries, cakes, cookies, and interestingly-shaped chocolates. This spot hasn’t changed one iota since it’s opening in 1975…and that’s a good thing. (Closed Mondays.)
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
Social formalities are very important in Italian culture, therefore it’s considered disrespectful and even downright rude to ask for help or directions without first offering a polite greeting. Saying buongiorno (good day) or buonasera (good evening) before launching into your question will go a long way around here.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
My best advice is to slow down and take your time. Strolling is big in Orvieto—the Sunday passeggiata is legendary. To get the most authentic experience, eat where the locals eat and drink where the locals drink. Talk to people. Be interested. Be an Orvietano for a day.
Why should people make sure to visit Orvieto?
Besides the obvious (a magnificent Duomo, Etruscan wells, and charming cobblestone streets), Oriveto is a great place to visit because of its convenient location. Literally smack-dab in the center of Italy, it can be reached easily by car or train and is the perfect base from which to travel all over Italy.
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
Head to the Medieval quarter of town, where panoramas of the lush, green Umbrian countryside can only be described as breathtaking.
Anything else you want us to know?
Umbria is the new Tuscany: less crowded, slower-paced, yet sophisticated and urbane. Art, music, culture, history, and grand traditions—Orvieto has it all and more.
Find Toni at orvietoorbust.com.