Orvieto, Italy

Today, I am sharing some photos and snippets from our short visit to Orvieto, Italy. If you didn’t read my blog posts on Florence or Praiano, Ryan and I went on a two week trip to Italy last fall. It was the kind of trip that you spend months dreaming about before, and years dreaming about afterwards. I still think of this trip regularly, and cannot recommend a stop in Orvieto enough. I know that traveling to Italy and much of the world is impossible right now, but it has been amazing to revisit these trips through photos and memories. There will come a time when it is safe to explore, and when that time comes, I know Italy will again be at the top of our list.

Orvieto is a small town in the Umbria region in central(ish) Italy. We wanted to visit this town for a number of reasons. First of all, it was in a convenient location for us, having not rented a car. It is right off the train in between Florence and Rome, so logistically, it was a no brainer. Secondly, Orvieto is a very unique town with so much history. Founded by the Etruscans (or perhaps even an earlier civilization), it sits on top of a cliff in the middle of one of the most beautiful regions in the world. It is truly stunning to behold.

The town is very small and easily walkable. To enter the city, you can either take the funicular up to the top or walk up from a number of roads, however, I do not recommend this. It is an extremely steep and challenging walk and there are no sidewalks for pedestrians until you reach the very top, at which point, you may be covered in sweat, blood and tears (just me?). If you are renting a car, there is ample parking once you make your way up the winding roads to the top. Although the town is small, there is plenty to do. We visited the Orvieto Cathedral which was incredible, saw ancient underground caves, ate delicious food, and walked all around town. We also did an incredible sunset bike tour, where we learned all about the history of Orvieto and enjoyed spectacular views along the way.

We had two full days in Orvieto which was amazing. I think three would be even better, but you probably don’t need too much more time if you are just hoping to get a sense of what a small Umbrian town is like. If you have more time, I encourage you to stay even longer and see everything it has to offer.

Things to do in Orvieto:

Visit the Duomo. The Cathedral in Orvieto is breathtaking, especially when you consider it was built in the Middle Ages (starting in the 1300s) on top of a giant cliff. The church has a striped basalt facade with beautiful frescos inside. It is reminiscent of other churches in Italy, including the cathedral in Siena. The exterior, especially the sculpture and marble work, is exquisite.

The stunning exterior. It had just drizzled, hence the water droplets on my camera.
Detail of the interior. The beautiful carvings, the interior gate, and frescoes. Swoon!
Detail of tile work. I love this pattern and the colors so much.
The magnificent organ. How?!

Because of the town’s strategic location (and topography) between Rome and Florence, it became popular with Popes during the 13th and 14th Century. Several papal palaces were built and various Popes sought refuge in the town during wartime. It became a Papal State until 1860 – when Italy as we know it was formally created.

A look at the Cathedral from atop a Bell Tower. The beautiful surrounding countryside beckons.

Climb the bell tower for the most beautiful views! The bell tower is in the center of town and is a fairly easy climb. Enjoy beautiful vistas with rolling countryside and farms as far as eye can see.

The view from the bell tower. This is what dreams are made of!
While it was upper 70s and low 80s in Praiano, it was mid 60s in Orvieto!
The Bell Tower we climbed.

Visit the underground caves: This sounds pretty mundane, but hear me out. Orvieto has a massive system of over 1200 underground caves, passages, labyrinths, etc. Back in ancient times, the caves served as means for rich folks to escape siege or conflicts. In fact, most homes/ buildings in Orvieto have their own personal wine cellars built under ground. On our second night, we enjoyed a feast at a local restaurant and the owner took us underground to check out his cellar, stocked with his family’s own wine! Sidebar: Orvieto also has it’s own distinct white wine, which we found delicious.

Holes that used to keep pigeons. Pigeons were used for messaging hundreds of years ago.

Walk around town! This should be a given, but walk around and take in the ancient and rustic alleyways of Orvieto without any plans. When we visited it was not crowded at all. We had some gelato as we strolled, admiring the sites and beautiful buildings at our own pace.

The beautiful streets of Orvieto.
Beautiful carved door.

Visit and Have Dinner at La Badia di Orvieto: We actually stayed in this hotel during our time in Orvieto. I would NOT recommend staying here as it is removed from town (amongst other reasons) and it ended up being difficult to get back and forth during our few days here. Learn from us, stay in town, save money, and spend more time exploring! Now, all that being said, the hotel and surrounding area itself was breathtaking and I think it is completely worth it to go visit during your stay. We also enjoyed an amazing dinner here, so I would definitely add it to your to do to list if you are in the area.

On our first day we arrived, it was drizzling a little bit and we walked into town. As noted above, I do NOT recommend doing this, but, it ended up being an amazing day. We had a glass of wine on the main square and saw the Cathedral. After a few hours, we went back to the hotel, via one of two town taxis, and were greeted by one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen.

The town is in the distance under the arch.
The sky changed dramatically from one moment to the next.
This is kind of how I pictured Umbria. Cyprus trees, olive groves, hills and mist rising from the green valleys

Have lunch at Antica Bottega del Duomo. We had lunch here and it was one of my favorite meals on our whole trip. It is a small deli type of place and we enjoyed some of the most delectable sandwiches ever. Friendly service and family owned with very reasonable price points. I highly recommend.

Bike Tour: If I could recommend doing one activity in Orvieto, it would be this night time bike tour. We found this last minute on AirBNB and it was one of the most memorable nights we had (on any trip we have been on). I cannot recommend this tour enough. Paolo took us all over the city where we were able to take in incredible views and learn about Oriveto’s storied past. We stopped at churches, cycled through residential neighborhoods, and ended the night with a fantastic dinner at a small restaurant. Paolo had invited some Italian friends to join us for dinner, so it ended up being a fun group. We had course after course of amazing local cuisine, homemade in the restaurant (our server’s grandma cooked for us). Each course came paired with wine and our server explained the significance of each dish. We had pasta, truffles, rabbit, roasted duck, cured meats, cheeses of every variety, and more. I loved everything, especially the chocolate torte. Our stomachs and hearts were completely full by the end of the night and we are so thankful we were able to experience the magic of Orvieto at night.

We rode around the perimeter of Orvieto, and were able to see our hotel from afar!
At the end of our bike tour, Paolo offered to take a pic. A rare photo op with us both!

Even though Ryan and I only stayed in Orvieto for two nights, it has a special place in our heart. We would definitely go back and loved every minute of our stay. There are soooo many amazing small towns in Italy, I would love to see many more some day.

I am slowly but surely working on my fourth and final Italy post- Rome. Until then, stay safe everyone!

My Lazy Bolognese Recipe

TGIF everyone!

Today I want to share a quick and delicious recipe Ryan and I have enjoyed several times in recent weeks. It is somewhat similar to a bolognese (although citizens of Bologna would likely *strongly* disagree 🤣), but doesn’t require any sweating of onions, braising of meats, or long waiting periods. This dish is not meant to replace a traditional bolognese, it’s just an easier, quicker take on it.

This recipe comes together in under 30 minutes, so it fits right into my #lazydinner vibes. Next time we make it, I will take some photos and update this post. We usually devour it so quickly I forget to capture anything!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 lb ground beef, we used 85% lean grass fed beef
  • 2-3 large carrots, peeled and shredded (I use a cheese grater and it works great, or you can buy pre-shredded carrots)
  • 1 jar of pasta sauce or 1-2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes (we used Rao’s Marinara Sauce – bc we had it, and did not have any fire roasted tomatoes. I love it because it’s all natural with no sugar and is very yummy.)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic; very finely chopped or Micro-planed
  • 2-3 tbps tomato paste
  • 1 tbps Italian seasoning (we used Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset)
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pasta of your choice, prepared per instructions – we used Banza (chickpea pasta) again!
  • Parmesan, ricotta, or mozzarella for topping

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Start by browning your ground beef in a large skillet over medium- high heat. I do not use any olive oil or anything due to the fat content in the beef. Simultaneously, start boiling the water to prepare your pasta, if using dry pasta.
  2. While beef is cooking, shred your carrots. Again, I used a cheese grater to do this but you can do it in seconds with a food processor or buy shredded carrots at the store. I do think home shredded carrots would work better because they are fresher and more likely to take on the flavor of the sauce.
  3. After the beef has cooked around 5-6 minutes, add in the shredded carrots and stir. Add in the Italian seasoning, oregano, a few dashes of red pepper flakes, and a pinch or two of salt and pepper. Stir to make sure everything is coated.
  4. Add in the tomato paste, stir to combine.
  5. Add in your garlic. I usually do this live, so I just microplane the garlic right into the sauce. Stir to combine.
  6. Finally, crack open the jar of pasta sauce and add the whole thing in. Stir well. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. After the mixture is boiling, reduce to a simmer.
  7. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes, however long you need to wait while your pasta cooks. The longer it simmers, the more the flavors will meld.
  8. Once your pasta is cooked and strained, your dinner is ready! Serve in bowls and top with an additional sprinkle of red pepper flakes and cheese. I’m partial to Parmesan but ricotta, mozzarella, or a blend would work great too!

That’s it! This makes four large servings. It could easily be 5 medium servings. It is delicious the next day and heats up well. I love this recipe so much – it’s delicious, filling and so easy. Let me know if you make it! Bon Appetit!

Florence, Italy

Ryan and I went to Italy 🇮🇹 in October of last year, and I am finally getting ready to post some pictures six months later! First up, Florence!

I won’t be doing a traditional post with extensive recommendations, etc., because we barely scratched the surface with what we saw in our few days there. I do have one recommendation if you are planning a trip to Italy – it helps to do some reading and research prior to going. Various websites, travel forums online, and podcasts all proved helpful. I also read a couple of books about the Duomo di Firenze and Florentine art. I ended up purchasing ‘Florence: The Paintings and Frescoes’ which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in art, history, or if you are planning to visit several museums or churches throughout Italy. It provided great context for Italian Renaissance art and beyond. It’s also a gorgeous book. You can purchase it here.

Florence has to be one of the most magical cities in the world. It is truly breathtaking and of another time. Around every corner lies a piece of history on full display. The cobblestone alleys, marble facades, worn wooden doors and ochre stucco buildings form an enchanting maze of streets that are a joy to explore. There is an overwhelming amount of museums, churches, palaces and places to visit. Incredible food and wine are just the icing on the cake! Florence is also very walkable and easy to navigate, especially with the Arno river serving as a beautiful landmark. It’s almost indescribable and I can’t recommend visiting enough.

Shots from around the Arno River:

A look across the Arno.
The spectacular view from our AirBNB.
This was taken on our last night.

Views of the city:

One of my favorite shots ever ☺️
Golden hour, my favorite time of day!
The most dramatic lighting I have ever seen. A storm had just passed through and the sun illuminated the Duomo in brilliant light.
The narrow streets of Florence.

One of the “must sees” in Florence is the Florence Cathedral, aka, ‘the Duomo.’ It is located in the center of the city and cannot be missed due to its sheer size. It’s truly an architectural marvel and a wonder to behold. On this trip, Ryan and I did a guided tour to the top which was amazing and so informative. I definitely think it’s worth it to make the climb up, and the views are stunning. The inside of the cathedral itself is fairly simple vs. the outside, however, the dome has an amazing fresco by Vasari which is an incredible sight as you make your way up.

A caveat: Yes, it is extremely touristy. The wait was four hours to get into the cathedral (if you hadn’t purchased a ticket ahead of time). The square where the cathedral is located is also swarming with tourists. However, that said, it is completely worth it to at least walk around it and observe from the outside. The exterior is much more detailed than the interior, other than the dome. Also, only a tiny percentage of tourists climb to the top, so when we got up there, it was hardly crowded at all! Another option is to walk around at night. We did this multiple times and it was very enjoyable.

Pictures can’t do it justice.
😩😩😩
The Last Judgement – Vasari + Zuccari (sponsored by Cosimo I de’ Medici)
Don’t look down!
Giotto’s Bell Tower and terra cotta rooftops.

We also visited Sante Croce on this trip. It is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever been in. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini, to name a few* (*this sentence came straight out of Wikipedia, but it sums it up quite nicely 🤣). Sante Croce was much less crowded than the area around the Duomo, and I truly think the interior is more aesthetically pleasing. We just waited in a very short line right when it opened and bought our tickets then and there! Timing is everything – if you visit places on the earlier side, they are much less hectic.

The exterior.
Wow.
Again, pictures don’t come close.
Incredible frescos and stained glass throughout.
Ryan in the Sacristy of Sante Croce. The frescos behind him were so beautiful! (Gaddi, Gerini and Arentino). Opposite Ryan (and out of the frame) is the crucifix of Cimabue, which was unfortunately irreparably damaged during flooding in the 1960s. Still beautiful!
A beautiful courtyard within a museum housed in a former Medici villa.
Detail of fresco.

Some other favorite shots from Florence:

Detail at the top of the Duomo.
Interior of San Miniato al Monte
Interior of San Miniato al Monte. One of my favorites.
Winding streets and Cyprus trees 🌳.
Just couldn’t get over this view!
Amazing pizza. I came to this same pizza place with my Mom three years prior! Still just as good.
Enjoying some rosé on our balcony.
Quintessential Italian trattoria.

I have so many incredible photos to share but as you can see, my blog post would be book length at that point. To summarize: if you’re thinking about visiting, do it! My only regret is that we didn’t have more time.

Highlights:

  • The unbelievable art and architecture throughout the city. It felt like a treat to wander down each and every street. Unparalleled museums and history everywhere you look!
  • Gelato every night – the one by our apartment happened to be incredible! Il Procopio is another favorite.
  • Walking tour of the city at night. It wasn’t crowded, the temperature was perfect, and we learned so much history along the way. Pro tip: Try to do any guided (or self guided) tour early on in your stay so you can become familiar with the city.
  • Climbing up to the top of the Duomo – would also have loved to climb to the top of the bell tower.
  • The food! There is no shortage of amazing food. Cured meats, cheeses, Florentine steaks, pasta, gelato, croissants, cappuccinos, etc.
  • Wine. I’ll just leave that here.
  • Walkability – truly a walkable city which makes it easy to explore. I especially loved walking along the river and up to San Miniato al Monte.
  • The incredible churches. I am not religious and I would highly recommend adding several into your itinerary.
  • The Uffizi Gallery – unbelievable to see all of the pieces in here. The building itself rivals the Louvre.
  • Wandering around. So fun to walk through the streets, peruse shops and stalls, and stop for a glass of wine along the way!
  • The Giardino di Boboli- acres and acres of manicured gardens overlooking rolling green hills. A perfect escape from the crowds if you need it!

What I’d like to see next time:

  • The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
  • Basilica di San Lorenzo
  • The Bargello
  • Santa Maria Novella
  • A few more of the palazzos-turned-museums
  • More photos of Ryan and I, and more food pics! Not to worry, I more than made up for this on other legs of our trip ☺️.

We had four full days in Florence and it was incredible. We can’t wait to return someday. Next up: Rome, Praiano, and Orvieto. I hope you enjoyed this post! What do you love to do in Florence?