After three days in Rome, Dan and I took the train to Orvieto, where we rented a car and drove to Cioccoleta, a farmhouse just outside of town. We passed several sunflower fields on the way. I was obsessed with them. The owner was away, but her mother and uncle looked after us, despite them not speaking English and us not speaking Italian. Cioccoleta is a lovely spot.
Sunflower field near Orvieto
Our room is the top right window
View from the deck
Cinquecento! (Our rental car)
We settled into our room and explored the farm, Dan checked out the vegetable garden and identified fruit trees while I picked and ate some blackberries. Then we drove to Orvieto. The free parking lot in town was full, so we parked by the train station and took the funicular up to the walled city.
The Duomo in Orvieto is truly a sight to behold. I was hungry, so we searched for food before entering the church. It was after lunchtime, and the restaurants on our list were closed. I was getting increasingly cranky when thankfully, we found a shopkeeper who made prosciutto and cheese panini for us. Divine intervention, according to Dan. Then I had gelato, and we went inside the church. The interior is also very impressive.
Then we decided to walk along Anello della Rupe, the path outside the city walls. The views were sweeping...olive groves, vineyards, farmhouses, castles...
Dan outside the city wall
We made our way around most of the path, when we got to the part of the city wall where there is a giant parking lot and a series of escalators up to the city. So we rode the escalators up and went to Le Grotte del Funaro for dinner. The restaurant is inside the caves! But we ate outside to see the sunset.
Dan ready for dinner
We had the cured meat plate and truffle bruschetta for antipasti. Then Dan had suckling pig, and I had umbricelli, thick chewy pasta with TRUFFLES. Yummm. The Orvieto Classico white wine was delicious too. And we shared grilled vegetables.
Then after dinner, we saw a beagle named Lila! I got to pet her. We saw another beagle a few minutes later! So I was feeling quite pleased as we walked across town back to the funicular station, until we discovered it had stopped running hours ago! Oops, probably should have checked that earlier. We tried to make out the bus schedule, it seemed a bus might be coming in an hour. Dan decided we could walk down the hill to where our car was parked, but I was skeptical as it was very dark out, and we were on a very high hill. (Remember the escalators?) We ventured down a path, when a car pulled up. I asked which way to the train station and was told it was very far, but then these kind strangers cleared the back seat and drove us there! The lady in the passenger seat spoke English and had even visited San Francisco. It was totally out of their way, and so incredibly kind of them. We were very grateful. What an adventure! Beagle count: 2
The next morning we were greeted with a huge breakfast spread, despite us being the only guests at the farmhouse. Homemade cakes, jams, cereal, yogurt, fruit, and eggs made to order. And cappuccino for me...the perfect way to start the day. Then we set off for Assisi, passing more sunflower fields, rolling hills, hay bales, vineyards, olive groves, and even a reservoir on the drive there.
Driving up to Assisi
Assisi is a charming town, as we wandered its cobblestone streets it seemed that every turn lead to still lovelier flower displays.
We visited the church where St. Francis was baptized, and well as the Basilica of St. Clare, then stopped for porchetta panini at La Bottega dei Sapori, where we sampled many truffle condiments. Mmm. Then after an affogato for me and the typical Umbrian dessert rocciata for Dan (he said it was dry), we set off for the Basilica of St. Francis. We made our way through the frescoes illustrating stories from St. Francis' life in the Upper Church before going downstairs to the crypt. It was neat to see restoration work on other frescoes in the Lower Church.
Checking out the pilgrims
View from Basilica of St. Francis
Unfortunately there wasn't enough time for Perugia...will have to visit the Perugina Baci factory next time. We returned to Orvieto for dinner, this time we found a parking spot within the city walls! The next morning we drove to Civita di Bagnoregio, it was raining as we crossed the pedestrian bridge to town. The views were spectacular.
Dan on the bridge to Civita
We checked out the piazza, went inside the church, wandered around town, then stopped for lunch...bruschetta and a cured meat and cheese plate. After lunch we saw six cats gathered where earlier there were two. There were flowers everywhere.
Flowers in Civita
It began to pour rain as we were about to leave Civita and cross the pedestrian bridge back to Bagnoregio, so we hid out in the Etruscan tunnel with some other travelers. The gusting wind pelted rain and gravel at us, and I ran to the nearest doorway, which luckily was a gift shop. We waited it out there until the wind calmed down, and walked across the bridge in the rain. Luckily we had our umbrellas!
In the tunnel
Civita di Bagnoregio
On the way back we stopped at Tenuta Le Velette, a winery near Orvieto. We tasted some wines, the pours were very generous. We bought a few bottles to take home. The grounds are beautiful. There was a great view of the Duomo and Orvieto.
View from Tenuta Le Velette
After all that wine, it was time for a nap! We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at Cioccoleta, reading our books, soaking in the view, with a spot of afternoon tea and cake, and just-picked apricots.
We had dinner at Il Girarrosto del Buongustaio, where there was another great view of Orvieto. Dan had a giant platter of grilled meats, and I had another tasty pasta dish. And the eggplant, of course. It was already our last night in Orvieto!
After breakfast the next morning (freshly baked blackberry muffins!) we chatted with the owner (who had returned the previous evening) about the farm, San Francisco, and California prunes (apparently famous in Italy), then bid farewell to Cioccoleta and Umbria. Our next destination was Lucca, the walled city in Tuscany. It was an easy drive until Florence, where the traffic was terrible. When we finally made it to Lucca, the car rental office was closed and there was no drop-off box for the key. (It was Saturday.) We decided to park the car and ask at the B&B what to do with the key. So we rolled our luggage into the city walls and found B&B Evelina. After showing us our room and various spots on the map, our host called the rental car company and learned that we had to drop off the car at the Pisa airport! It was the closest rental office that was open on Saturday. After a quick panini and cecina (chickpea crepe) at Felice, we walked back to the car and drove to the Pisa airport. I was so frustrated about losing time in Lucca, but then we saw the leaning tower on the way! We saw it again on the bus back to Lucca, and this teeny tiny church by the river that I thought was fake. Lesson learned: Next time take the train. Or make sure the car rental return does not fall on Saturday.
We rented bikes in Lucca and rode along the city walls, which was a great way to see the city. There were lots of people enjoying the evening, kids playing, and dogs, but no beagles.
Biking the city wall
Lucca is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini, and there is a festival celebrating his music every night of the year. After the bike ride we went to hear that evening's performance, which I enjoyed although it was very hot in the church. Then we had dinner at Osteria del Neni, where Dan had pork rolled with cheese and arugula and I had tortelli lucchese, pasta stuffed with meat and topped with meat sauce. Very meaty.
The next morning we checked out the antique market, Piazza Anfiteatro, San Michele and wandered the streets. We enjoyed our time in Lucca, though it was brief. Next stop, Cinque Terre!
Outside the city wall