Day 37: Orvieto to Montefiascone

Distance: 27.74 km

Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

Average speed: 14.2 kph

Cumulative distance: 1862.75 km

Cumulative time: 93 hours 19 minutes

Word of the day: ‘sopra‘ (sop-rah) – above

Orvieto, what a great place for a rest day. Well, not that much resting, actually, there was loads to do. We went up the Torre del Moro, fabulous views of the town from the top.

Then we went underground! Orvieto is built on a volcanic cliff, and it has been discovered that under the town, in the soft rock, the Etruscan people who built the town had dug out wells and caves. Thousands of them, linked to the houses above, and originally used for storage of food and water. There are guided tours to see some of the caves, and we were taken round by a very knowledgable and vibrant lady.

The Romans wanted to get their hands on Orvieto, and placed the town under siege. The Etruscans lasted for more than two years, and the caves explain how they managed to feed themselves up there for all that time, 25,000 people squashed into a small town, with no space for growing crops or keeping animals.

The niches are for pigeons! After the first pigeons were ‘settled’ by the Etruscans into the niches, they considered them home, flew out to feed, built nests, bred, and doubled their numbers in a month. A perfectly sustainable food source, and pigeon is still a popular dish in Orvieto today.

Our large English-speaking group had asked a lot of intelligent questions of our guide. At this point, the story of the pigeons having been explained, there was a pause, and then a shout from the back.


Our guide didn’t miss a beat.

“Fertiliser!”, she said.

I’m afraid we’ve been childishly repeating the question to each other ever since…

It was a fascinating tour, and a real insight into the life and times of the original people of Orvieto. We discussed it all over a bottle of their famous white wine and some pasta for lunch. After lunch we had a look in the duomo, whose beautiful external stripes are repeated inside, along with some extraordinary ‘rock slice’ windows, really striking.

Our last touristy thing was to go down the well of Saint Patrick. It’s huge! And 243 steps down, and back up again. There are two sets of steps running around the outside, one going down, and the other going back up. This was so the donkeys who were used to transport water up from the well could go up and down at the same time.

After all that, we were exhausted! We had a rest before dinner, and then went out for a simple but delicious meal with a bottle of Orvieto red wine.

Today we had just thirty kilometres to do, but having descended from Orvieto, we had a long, long hill to conquer. It was at least an hour of climbing, a reasonable gradient, some hairpins. We had fabulous views back to Orvieto.

We found ourselves actually above it eventually.

Once at the top, we found that the road had been newly surfaced, it was lovely and smooth! We bimbled along, the road rising and falling a little, and finally saw today’s destination on the horizon, Montefiascone. After a bit of navigational faffing and a bit of uphill, we located our lodgings right at the foot of the Rocca dei Papi. Our house is amazing – huge, historic, and it even has a wine cellar. There are two problems with this. There’s no actual wine in the wine cellar. And even if there were, it’s official ‘Alcohol-Free Day’ today, so we wouldn’t be able to drink it.

There’s a great view of Lago Bolsena from up here, unmistakably a volcanic crater.

A longer day tomorrow, to Civita Castellana.

Here’s today’s track.