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In Love With Orvieto
My personal addiction to Italian culture happened several years before my encounter with the extraordinary hill town of Orvieto over 12 years ago, when friends brought me for three weeks of travel to this densely artistic place. I fell so in love with what I experienced that I’ve made two or three trips annually – and even bought property nearby - to continue the adventure.
This is a unique spot because it maintains an elegance that many hill towns cannot claim. Besides one of the largest, most spectacular cathedrals in all of Italy (with a chapel fresco that inspired Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel), Orvieto has one of the most extensive underground tunnel systems of any city in the country, carved from the era of the Etruscan civilization that had few tools beyond their hands and bodies. Orvieto also houses one of the best-appointed national museums of Etruscan artifacts, including a tomb of original frescoes from almost three thousand years ago. The guided underground tour of the cave network is not to be missed, as in it one learns so much about this now extinct civilization, the geography and geology of the area.
And then, there is the wine! Orvieto is the only region that grows the grechetto grape for one of the best white wines in all of Italy. One of the local organic wine growers/vintners in the area, Sergio Mottura, has won international awards and recognition among the world’s best vintners with his wine.
There is something about Orvieto that holds it above many other ordinary hill towns in Italy. I’ve called it elegance, but it is also a continuity of history as well as a pride in its own presence that is regal. One of my favorite places to stay when I choose to stay in town is the Hotel Palazzo Piccolomini, which was at one time a palace. This small boutique hotel retains the feeling of royalty and I do indeed feel special when I stay there. I’m greeted with kisses on both cheeks by the staff and there is warmth everywhere I go in this little enclave. There is a charming little wine bar/bistro around the corner from the hotel and the two men who own it always welcome me like a visiting family member.
I’ve befriended a local couple that has a high-end jewelry shop, Orogami, on the main corso. They always stop their work to spend time chatting and catching up with me when I visit. Titiana, the beautiful wife and artistic partner of the couple, reminds me of a Roman empress dressed in the most up-to-date fashion from Rome, but with the facial structure of the royalty in the local frescoes. The jewelry is designed by Titiana's inspiration/interpretation of the Italian love of nature that she sees around on a daily basis. A simple walk in the country has inspired her collection that resembles a "seed"- a teardrop of golden filigree for a necklace or as earrings.
This small town feeling extends to all of the businesses. If I look lost, someone there is always someone to answer my question and point me in the right direction. Twice a week, the local farmers bring their wares to the central piazza for sale. Just imagine the fresh produce of all types, the local, fresh cured meats, wild boar, lamb and beef. Sheep and cow’s cheese, all locally manufactured. Fresh grown and harvested olive oil, herbs, fruits.
Orvieto, because of its farming and food culture, is naturally a part of the “Slow Food” movement that is so important to Italians. It hosts many festivals and celebrations around this theme. If you are an aficionado of art, history or culture, that would be enough for a visit to this wonderful city. But, if you are also a food and wine lover, then you will be fulfilled beyond your wildest imagination.
Cheryl Alexander leads small-group tours of Orvieto and the surrounding area.
© Cheryl Alexander 2009
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