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swirl and savor

Orvieto: Day Tripping in Umbria

Beth Ribblett

Our base in Cortona makes the region of Umbria just a short distance away and Tuesday we spent the day in the medieval city of Orvieto. Few places in Italy are more dramatically situated than this Umbrian town, which sits atop a cliff of red volcanic rock. A stronghold in Etruscan times, sacked by the Romans, reborn in the Middle Ages, Orvieto has one of the most beautiful duomos in Italy, ancient churches and towers, as well as a maze of quarries, tunnels and tufo cellars.

We took the funiculare up the hill from Orvieto Scalo so we could start the day with a trip down to Pozzo di St. Patrizio. In 1527, in the day following the sacking of Rome, Pope Clement VII took refuge in Orvieto. To provision the town with water in case of siege or conflict, this well was built, based on a plan of Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane. The St. Patrick's Well, completed in 1537, features two double-spiralled stairwells of 248 steps made for easier transportation of water.

We checked out the Etruscan temple ruins and then meandered down to the duomo with it's stunning gothic facade of mosaics and bas-reliefs, rivaling the famous duomo in Siena. Inside we were treated to beautiful frescos painted by Cortona born Luca Signorelli, said to be the inspiration for Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel.

By now our stomach's were grumbling so we went in search of another famous item in Umbria, porchetta. Porchetta is a savory, fatty, moist, boneless pork roast that is said to have originated in Umbria and can be eaten on almost every corner, at every bar, at every food stand when passing through the area. They take a whole pig, gut it, debone it, and stuff it with rosemary, salt, garlic, fennel, lard, pig organs, pepper, whatever your special wild herb mix is…and then slow roast it over a wood fire. We ducked in to Catina Foresi right by the duomo, and ordered a round of Porchetta Panini for the group.

Skeptical at first about the size of the sandwich and the lack of mayonnaise, feelings soon turned upon first bite of the moist, succulent meat finished off with a little olive oil and washed down with the local Orvieto white wine. After a round of espresso, everyone was off to shop for ceramics while a few of us searched for gelato before we headed back to Cortona for our Bistecca dinner at Trattoria Dardano.

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