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.