Working Out In Italian Hill Towns

If you’ve ever worried about keeping up with your exercise regime while vacationing, just alter your vacation to one where you’ll be expected to feel the burn. How about visiting some Italian hill towns? The Cinque Terre will give you a run for your money but it doesn’t have to end there. From Sienna we hopped a train to the next Italian hill town on our list, Orvieto. Arriving by train puts you humbly at the bottom of the hill in the new town.

A dramatic view of the countryside surrounding Orvieto.
A dramatic view of the countryside surrounding Orvieto.

From there visitors have the option of riding a bus, taking the lift, or walking 1,000 feet to the top. We took the bus to the center of the old town marked by the stunning facade of the cathedral. All traffic stops here, the main streets that cut through the old town are reserved for pedestrians only. We follow the tiny streets to the doorstep of our bed and breakfast rolling our suitcases behind us, as if we we’re following a map for gold.

Flower child

Google maps leaves us standing in front of a very shiny elevator that just happens to be shoved in the back corner of town. We get in and go the only logical direction, down. The doors open up to a large but empty parking lot. Following a trail of invisible bread crumbs marked largely by instinct we cross the lot and figure we must go down the other side of the hill by following the road.

After dodging traffic we make it around the bend and see the first clue that our bed and breakfast Casa Selita actually exists. Our host shows us around the property and asks about our car. Parking is available out front. We shake our heads.

“No, we don’t have a car.”

But, our host doesn’t miss a beat. Straight up the hill behind their property is a short cut back into town. A small trail has been paved through the olive trees. Perfect! With all this climbing and ascending we’ll definitely get a work out.

Olive trees on the winding path down to Casa Selita. We LOVE olives!
Olive trees on the winding path down to Casa Selita. We LOVE olives!

What to see in Orvieto?

Cathedral – Probably the most spectacular jewel in this small town is the colorful facade of the Duomo (cathedral) that graces the main square. It’s a glittering mosaic with the entire history of the bible carved on display. From left to right the facade is read by design like a picture book depicting four central themes, creation, old testament, new testament, last judgement. At the top are four bronze statues representing the four evangelists, Matthew (angel), Mark (lion), Luke (eagle) and John (ox).

Duomo di Orvieto


Facade as a book

Towering columns

Marble detail

Mark the lion

Inside the Chapel of San Brizio showcases artist Luca Signorelli’s interpretation of the Last Judgement and Life After Death. This is worth a pause to take in all four walls surrounding you in vivid colors and figures. Entering the room and reading from left to right you find that it’s another big picture book where a story unfolds. A cameo is painted by the artist himself who added his figure to one of the scenes. The entire painting took five years to complete in the early 16th century. (More info on Luca’s artistic cycles in the Chapel here.)


Beautiful stained glass artwork

The Chapel of San Brizio
The Chapel of San Brizio

The chapel San Brizio

The ceiling in the chapel

Moses and the Doctors of the Church
The Doctors of the Church. Note the Torah in the hands of Moses at the bottom right.
Signorelli’s “The Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist”

Clock Tower – After our warm up walking around the duomo its time to get our heart rate up by lugging ourselves and our camera up 174 stairs to the top of the clock tower for another unobstructed 360 degree view of the countryside.

Again with the climbing. Argh!
Again with the climbing. Argh!

St. Patrick’s Well – Let’s keep doing stairs as we plunge ourselves 175 feet deep into the earth by going inside the town’s water well. At the bottom is a bridge where animals and people would mingle to scoop up water. With 496 steps total (try not to get dizzy), the well is built with a double helix staircase. This is a genius way to avoid any traffic jams on the stairs making each way, up or down, one way. You wouldn’t want to accidentally butt heads with a donkey inside a well, would you?

Outside St Patrick's well.
Outside St Patrick’s well.
What horrors lie in wait in the bottom of the deep dark well?
What horrors lie in wait in the bottom of the deep dark well?
The is what it really looked like (sans flash).
The is what it looked like most of the way down (sans flash.)

Hike Around The Rupe – Next it’s time for our 3 mile cool down as we walk around the Rupe. The Rupe is a nicely paved trail that passes around the base of the cliff that the old town sits on. Along the way we stop to view the Estruscan Necropolis.

Day Trip – Civita di Bagnoregio

Just when you thought we ran out of hill towns, Civita is the most dramatic, perched high atop a rocky pinnacle and surrounded by a deep canyon. The bus drops us a mile from the start of the footbridge. We used this walk as our warm up, then crossed the canyon on the footbridge to start our 40 degree climb up the steep pinnacle to the entrance inside town.

On the way


Up up up we go!
Up up up we go!

At the top we duck inside a small town church in the main square to cool off after our climb. On one of the walls is a fresco painting of a madonna and child. The painting appeared after an earthquake in 1695 shook plaster off the wall revealing the treasure. As we exit the church we notice a familiar couple who had traveled with us on the same bus from Ovieto to Civita. Except now they were wearing different outfits. We had no idea this was a two outfit kind of outing.


Wandering again

A bridal party having a good time.
A bridal party having a good time.

We continued around town wearing the same outfits. Luckily no one noticed except maybe the cats.

Careful kittens cower while quick cats cruise.
Careful kittens cower while quick cats cruise.
This kitten was the size of a mouse, and attracted so many
This kitten was the size of a mouse, and attracted so many “oooohs” and “awwwwws” it pretty much shut the town down briefly.
Kittens galore!
Kittens galore!

One comment

  • Amazing pictures as always. Beautiful art work in the churches, so many of them lack that here.

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