Another beautiful and memorable experience I had in Italy was a day trip to Orvieto, a medieval fortress built 1000 feet above ground upon a magnificent cliff in Southwestern Umbria. After we left Rome, we decided to wind our way up north to our final destination of Venice, and Orvieto was our first stop, about two hours out of Rome by train. The stunning views of the surrounding countryside and the idyllic cobbled pedestrian paths were the highlights of this stop for me.
The train from Rome stops below the butte upon which the city lies. We had a nice pizza and focaccia lunch in a family restaurant near the station, and the friendly staff agreed to store our luggage behind the bar while we spent a few hours above in Orvieto. There is a funicular train that transports visitors up to the nearly impenetrable fortress for a few euros in about 10 minutes.
Once you reach the top, there is a nice public park right next to the station with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. It was a misty, chilly day, and the gray weather seemed to enhance the lushness of the natural scenery.
Orvieto is easily walkable, and there are little alleyways and paths that traverse the town in all directions. Many of the streets are just for pedestrians and there are few cars. The main street has lots of shops and cafes, though most weren't open in the early afternoon when we were there, probably because it was the low season for tourism.
One of the main attractions in Orvieto is the bell tower in the middle of the town, called Toro del Moro. For a small fee, you can climb all the way up to the top (about 240 steps), and be rewarded with a 360 degree view.
We were the only tourists there! After a short but strenuous hike up, we reached the roof and saw these breath-taking views, with the town sprawling out in front of us in all directions.
After soaking in the beauty for a while, we climbed back down and continued exploring the rest of the town. We ventured off the main roads to get a glimpse of the hidden nooks and crannies of small town life.
There were barely any people around, tourists or locals, which made the whole town have a rather magical and mysterious vibe. Side streets led to ancient arched walkways and verdant garden courtyards.
Some of the alleys led us to seemingly private residences, but again no one was around. I felt like I was intruding on someone's domestic peace, but these picturesque facades were begging to be photographed!
Finally, we came to the end of town, on the other side of the butte. Again, we were greeted with the flat expanse of rolling patchwork land.
Umbria is at the heart of Italy, and it is the only region that neither borders the water nor a neighboring country. It is famous as a wine-producing region, so I imagine that some of these hills must have contained vineyards.
Here's a close-up of a stone farmhouse, and the twisting driveway that leads up to it, bordered by narrow evergreen trees.
It was time to turn around and head back through the town!
We made sure to loop back to see a famous 14th century cathedral. The beautiful facade has many detailed mosaics, sculptures, and base reliefs.
As we had come to expect now of Italian churches, the interior was equally as gorgeous as the exterior.
As the sun set, we took one last stroll around the park near the station of the funicular train. In the dusky light, the landscape looked more like a masterpiece painting than reality.
After we rode the funicular train down, we went back to the family restaurant where our luggage was waiting. To thank the owners for helping us with our belongings, we ate another delicious meal there before catching a train to our next stop in Italy, Pisa.