ORVIETO, ITALY — For me, the ‘I’ in Italy has always stood for indulgence — an indulgence in great food, beautiful views and an alluring culture. In other words, an indulgence in la dolce vita. And a couple of wonderful places to indulge in all that Italy has to offer, I discovered, were Orvieto and Civita di Bagnoregio, two hilltop towns hidden away from the rest of the tourist frenzy. Both left me dreaming about what it would be like to live there and not just be a visitor, briefly passing by.
I joined a tour group early one morning at Rome's Termini Railway Station for a day trip to Civita di Bagnoregio. We piled into the guide’s car and she drove us 120km north to what has been called “the dying city.”
My first glimpse of the hilltop town left me in awe. From afar, the city looked more like a suspended island, floating in the middle of a lush green landscape, seemingly out of the reach from the rest of Italy. It looked like a castle in the sky.
Our tour car was only allowed to drop us off at the entrance to the pedestrian-only footbridge, and so, we walked the rest of the distance, the city looming above us, getting closer and closer. I remember that walk so clearly — it felt like I was suspended in the heavens. Civita is situated in the valley of the badlands and so, left and right, all I saw were rolling green hills.
Above: Visitors to charming Orvieto like to sit and sample food and wine at the cafés that ring the main piazza, where the impressive Duomo di Orvieto casts a shadow.
To enter, I walked through the Porta Santa Maria, a gateway carved by the Etruscans, and once in town, I let go and allowed myself to indulge.
I poked my head into the San Donato Church, which dates back to the 7th century and is located in the town’s main square. I strolled through the lanes, footpaths and alleyways, admiring the simple architecture of the Medieval houses and truly enjoying the lack of an agenda.
That is the best part about Civita di Bagnoregio — you’re not hunting for anything in particular, the way you normally would with a bucket list of attractions in Rome or Venice. It’s meant to be an empty scavenger hunt; you can stay for an hour or stay for the day.
After my stroll, I ended up back in the main piazza, where I gladly took a seat at one of the cafés and ordered the Italian staple diet: espresso, a pasta dish, wine and gelato. I closed my eyes and listened to the white noise around me — the conversations in Italian, the soft music being played in the distance, and the sound of the cicadas buzzing in the afternoon heat.
With every sip of wine, I couldn’t help but think, “I am so lucky to have been able to visit this place, even if it’s just this once in my lifetime.”
Next, my tour group headed to Orvieto, a city perched on a rock cliff where time seems to stand still. Less than 90 minutes from Rome, it has been described as being “between heaven and earth” and boasts over 3,000 years of history.
As if Civita di Bagnoregio wasn’t enough indulgence, here I was, in Orvieto, for more. The car dropped our group off in the main square and the first thing I saw – the first thing anybody sees — was the Duomo di Orvieto, a 14th-century Roman Cathedral which is the town’s shining star. I craned my neck to see its full façade (53 metres high) glowing in the sunlight, and I marvelled at the intricate carvings, the bronze statues and the mosaics.
After the spell wore off, I wandered in the direction of the renowned St. Patrick’s Well, built between 1527 and 1537, that runs 54m deep and has a base diameter of 13m. But along the way, I kept getting distracted by the simple beauty of the town and the seemingly infinite number of cobblestone paths where one could get lost.
Above: Walking down the narrow alleys that run off the towns' main piazzas, leads visitors to ancient landmarks that have stood the test of time.
I felt like a kid in a candy store, seeing treats everywhere, and I ducked into all the ceramic and souvenir shops that I could find. I felt inebriated by the Orvieto air.
Finally, after a quick tour of the well and of Orvieto Underground, a subterranean labyrinth of grottoes that has existed below the city for more than 2,500 years, I ended up making my way back to an outdoor café that sat in the shadow of the remarkable Duomo. Its magnetic pull was too hard to escape. I gorged on all that the server recommended: a platter of cheese and deli meats and a generous serving of meat lasagna, all while sampling various wines.
Looking back, it all seems so simple — a stroll around the old village, a glass of wine, a piazza, a town on a cliff. But for me, it was enough; everything Italy has allowed me to indulge in has always been so much more than enough.
Just me and the wine.
Just me and the town.
Just me and this breathtaking country.