Travel /
Umbria

Orvieto’s Autumn Sun

Autumn in Italy is mellow and tinged golden in my mind’s eye. The aggressive  summer sun gives way to a gentler, warm, glow as the days grow shorter and  tramonto and alba fall increasingly earlier and later. I spent a month there as the  summer came to a close and Italians began to don jackets and coats, shedding  their hot-weather attire for chic jackets and coats, but clinging onto their ever present pairs of occhiali da sole. 

Rome in the Autumn kept its warmth as the tourists began to thin out and the  morning air grew crisp. Rain descended for days, complete with storms, thunder  and lightning, as I peered out of my attic window, overlooking the terracotta  mishmash of Roman roofs. Cries rose from the street below as shoppers dodged  puddles, josling umbrellas along the narrow alleyways which surround the  Spanish Steps. 

The rains lifted and summer seemed to creep away too, retreating south as  central and northern Italy changed seasons. As the sun reappeared from behind  storm clouds, an escape from the capital suddenly seemed rather appealing.  Rome is situated in Lazio, which borders onto a number of different regions and I  was spoilt for choice. There’s Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Abruzzo, Molise and  Campania, all varying in both their landscapes and their degrees of popularity  with tourists. I decided on Umbria and found myself, earlier than planned one  Saturday morning, boarding a train from Roma Tiburtina and speeding north  towards Orvieto.   

Perched atop a steeply sided rocky outcrop, rising out of the Tiber river valley, Orvieto is quite the spectacle when approached from the north. I’d seen it before when travelling down to Rome by car, the facade of its golden cathedral  sparkling in the evening light, even visible from several miles away on the  autostrada. Arriving on the train from the south was somewhat less dramatic,  although views of autumnal Umbrian fields, olive groves and woodland certainly  did not disappoint. 

From the station, the city can be reached either by following a winding road  around the side of the hill, or via a funicular. I went for the latter option,  watching the countryside grow smaller and smaller as we rose gently up the  slopes and into the city. The delicately proportioned city is fairly popular with  visitors, but should you choose to visit in autumn, the tourists seem to have (for  the most part) left with the scorching summer sun. The area around the duomo  and near to the centre may be fairly busy, but just a few streets back and the  hubbub and chatter give way to relative silence and a maze of winding alleyways  lined with homes and tiny gardens. Window stills and walls complete with both  window boxes and cats can be found in abundance.   

The Duomo di Orvieto dates from the 1290 and showcases both Gothic and  Romanesque styles of architecture. Its vast golden facade reaches skyward,  seemingly miles high, complete with numerous multicoloured mosaics depicting 

scenes from the life of the Virgin. The glistening gold of the tiling shone out in the  autumn light, illuminating the square below. This, together with the piercing  reds in the images on the facade, contrasted beautifully with the clear, turquoise  sky above. Inside I found yet more vividly painted scenes from the bible in the  form of frescoes on various parts of the immense building. Circumnavigating the  Duomo reveals its attractive sides, striped in green and white marble and similar  to the Tuscan cathedrals of Siena and Florence. The Duomo is in fact so large it  dominates the main piazza, appearing almost out of place among the otherwise  relatively plain and fairly rustic-looking architecture. 

I continued my stroll through the town, away from the glistening Duomo and  headed towards the ramparts. These surround the hilltop town, rising and falling  with the land, all the time protecting the city from potential invaders with a low  wall protruding above an extremely steep, sandy coloured drop. Views from here  seemed endless and spectacular, perhaps the feeling of stealing an extra day of  golden autumn sun made the moment all the more special. The breeze was  gentle and sweet, clear country air contrasting with the hot dusty stuffiness of  Rome. 

A visit to Orvieto in the autumn would not have been complete without sampling  some of the local produce. Autumn is the season of the mushroom, grape and  olive harvests and as a result, mushrooms, wine and olive oil were all plentiful in  Orvieto when I visited. Restaurant owners offered local vini as well as specialities  such as rabbit and wild boar, served in hearty stews, roasted and grilled. I even  managed a plate of the thick, local Umbricelli (a spaghetti-like pasta made from  flour and water) served with truffle mushroom, on the terrace of a tiny local  trattoria, as I lapped up the last of the sun’s warmth before a trip down the hill  beckoned, back to normality and the train south.