Viva La Italia – Part 2 – Orvieto and Assisi

We left the eternal city en route to Assisi, and made a stop by the beautiful town of Orvieto. Orvieto is situated in the Umbria region, and the whole city sits on top of rocky cliffs and surrounded by a wall made with Tufa stone. To get to the beautiful city on the cliff, one can choose take a short scenic ride up in a funicular. The small town is so quaint with beautiful view of the valley, and with alleys full of cute shops selling gourmet food, olive wood cookware, and ceramics.

We pretty much had to plead to let the students perform in the Orvieto Cathedral in exchange of paying the 3 Euro admission fee per person, and the church finally agreed after several attempts. The black and white stripes of marble was simply stunning and the acoustic was out of this world. Remember to cover your shoulder and knees when entering a Catholic church to show respect. A quick tip for the girls, instead of bringing a jacket or cardigan with you in the hot summer weather, bring a big light-weight scarf with you, it fits in your purses easily and you can quickly cover up your shoulders or wrap around your legs like a skirt when entering the church.

After our performance in the beautiful cathedral, we had a scheduled tour stop for lunch + cave tour at Pasticceria/Ristorante Adriano (Via della Pace, 26 Orvieto, Tel/ fax 0763 342527). This was probably the best tour included food we had on the trip. Just a tiny restaurant with half the restaurant on ground level, and half the restaurant in part of the cave. The lunch we had was a beautiful looking plate of small bites. I can’t remember every single thing on there but every bite was delicious – pork, roasted potatoes, cured lardo on toast, savory bites of focaccia and pastries with tomato sauce and herbs, piped and baked potatoes (kind of like duchess potato), roast vegetable salad, frittata, porciutto, gnocchi served in a thin crust bowl…etc.

Here is a picture of my friend’s gluten-free plate. The salmon was expertly prepared and cooked! Other things on the plate – mozzarella tomato salad, roasted zucchini, rice with marinara sauce, frittata (really outstanding), and the obligatory rice cake.

We also got a cute little plate of desserts which I forgot to take a picture – amaretti cookies, a sliver of chiffon cake with stewed peaches, cream puffs, meringue cookies, and a very adorable pastry with blueberry preserve that was shaped as a lobster (at least that’s what we thought it was). Just the right amount of cuteness with a hint of rusticity and every bit of deliciousness. I later on did some research on the restaurant, it’s a family owned business that is very famous for its pastries and even offer chocolate tastings.

After our delicious lunch, we went downstairs for a quick trip to explore the underground caves and passageways in Orvieto. This was family-owned and certain areas were blocked off so I’m not sure if the tunnels and caves connect to other parts of Orvieto. It was nice and cool down in the caves, such a nice change from the heat outside. Here is a picture of an underground cellar. It was very exciting to see the old world of Orvieto!

Also check out Orvieto Underground, a much more extensive tour about the underground world (but still on a 45-minute tour so won’t take up your whole day.)

I spotted quite a few ceramic shops in Orvieto but I wasn’t ready to spend so much money so earlier on in the trip. But of course I regret this decision tremendously…I am still thinking about these serving platters I spotted at Ceramiche Giacomini (Piazza Duomo 34 – Orvieto) – facing the duomo, it’s the second store on your left on Via Duomo, the first store being a bar/gelateria. It’s the best store I spotted after comparing all the ceramic shops on the street. It’s a mother-daughter team, the daughter being the artist and the mom being quite the business woman. Let this be a lesson to all you travelers, if you see something you really love, just buy it! This is especially true if you are on a tight schedule and traveling to different regions because I’m not talking about regular souvenirs like magnets or mugs that you can find everywhere. Don’t try to wait and see if you can find something similar later on. I had missed out on so many purchases that I later regret and wished I could’ve just pay up. It’s a good thing I am reminded of this lesson so early on in the trip, I did get my ceramics in Assisi but still wished I could’ve bought the set I had my heart set on in Orvieto.

Finally arrived in the absolutely beautiful and medieval-ish town of Assisi. It is situated on the hill in the Umbria region and offers breathtaking view from the hills. Because the streets are so narrow, buses are not allowed in the town. We were dropped off at the bus depot near the bottom of the hills and walked all the way up the hills to our hotel room. It was such a challenging walk for me because of all the bags I had to carry in the 90 degree heat and the sandals I was wearing didn’t help either. But hey once we made it to the hotel, drenched with sweat, we were rewarded with a nicely air conditioned room and this magnificent view.

How does that not make your jaw drop?

Assisi is a very religious town, it’s the birth place of St. Francis and St. Clare. This town is absolutely gorgeous, I can walk up and town the streets to just take in the beautiful alleyways and medieval decorations, and because it’s so hilly, I would be in the greatest shape of my life if I lived there a little longer. A lot of stores close early in the afternoon probably due to religious reasons and a lot of them don’t open up again until the next day! It was extremely difficult to find a restaurant that opened late but we dragged our tired feet, worked our glutes, and climbed our way towards the town center, and finally found this place called Taverna Dei Consoli (06081 Assisi (PG) – Piazza Del Comune, TEL e FAX 075.812516). The heat wave has slowly died down by then and offered a very welcomed gentle breeze, so of course we had to sit outside and take in the panoramic terrace view the restaurant offered.

A sip from a nice and inexpensive bottle of Chianti Classico and our bodies were immediately relaxed. This particular bottle is very popular and I spotted it at different restaurants throughout our journey. It probably costs less than $20 and at the restaurant we paid €25, which is a little over $30.

Simple homemade tagliatelle with fresh black truffles, garlic olive oil, salt and pepper. I can eat this EVERY DAY.

homamde raviolis with wild mushrooms, simple cream sauce.

Very well cooked lamb chop. So tender and well seasoned, very clean in flavoring.

After returning from a long but beautiful walking tour of the town of Assisi, we returned back to our hotel in search of lunch. Just next door was Hotel Giotto (Via Fontebella, 41, 06081 Assisi, Province of Perugia), where light lunch was offered. Here is a salad with tuna. There is something about Italian canned tuna, it’s so much meatier and flavorful, and is used widely in dishes like salads, sandwiches, and even on pizza. One of the best pizza I had this summer was in Siena and it was a tuna onion pizza.

A plate of prosciutto and melon. YUMMM! Also ate a few slices of freshly baked bread drizzled with local extra virgin olive oil. Life is SO good.

Just a typical view of the streets of Assisi, isn’t it stunning?

Due to my regret for not buying those beautiful serving platters in Orvieto, we searched the streets for more ceramic shops in Assisi. Came across quite a few display show room but they were all closed in the afternoon. So you can imagine us jumping and screaming with joy when we passed by I Due Soli and saw the store owner inside.

Check out this store! It’s so tiny, where that customer is standing is the end of that room. There is another display room about the same size next to this, just wall to wall, floor to ceiling filled with majolica ceramics. No big bags are allowed inside and only two people can enter one room at a time. Us three ceramic lover entered and the store owner had to close the shop down to other customers while we shopped.

I saw so many serving platters with traditional designs that I wanted. Most big serving platters can be hung on the wall as decorations, but I had to face the reality…will the plates fit my house’s contemporary color scheme and design and where will I hang them? In the end, I settled with some smaller plates, every day bowls, some adorable egg cups, and some snack dishes. There is no camera allowed in the shop unless you are buying something, then you should take a picture as record to show what you purchased. The no picture policy is probably due to the competitive industry of ceramics and since the traditional designs are not patented, artists can rip and copy each others’ designs at will. The one design that makes I Due Soli’s patterns stand out is the addition of lady bugs. Here is a picture of some of the plates that I bought.

Majolica ceramics are fired twice thus it’s extra strong and less prone to cracking. All of these pieces are hand crafted and hand painted by masters with delicate and expert craftsmanship. Their website gives a very thorough descriptions on the majolica making process and history,  it also has a great descriptions on all of the classic designs. Check it out! My favorite was the peacock and the fruits, thus all my selections reflected that choice.
The sun sets behind the magnificent Basilica of San Francesco D’Assisi. We had a quick tour of the Basilica, performed in a 11am mass on the lower level, and performed in an exchange concert in the upper level later on in the evening.

A picture of another small but cozy hotel room, Hotel Fontebella.

But hey, I ain’t complaining about the size of the room. Check out the exterior. I stayed in the wing that is not connected to the hotel, had to walk up the stairs on the left to get to the lobby and the hotel restaurant. And the view from my hotel room window? It was similar to the picture taken from the hotel lobby, and the bell tower stands right in front of it. Every morning starting at 7am, the bell tower chimes and serves as the pleasant alarm clock.

Oh and in case you were wondering how small my hotel room was in Rome? Here it is. Though the bathroom through that door on the right is half the size of the bedroom! This was at Hotel Medici. But really, I was there to sight see and not stay in the room, so the room size didn’t really matter. Plus, the more central you are, the smaller and older the rooms will be.

Next up, Siena (my favorite town) and Lucca!


4 thoughts on “Viva La Italia – Part 2 – Orvieto and Assisi

  1. Jealous of your travels! But thanks so much for sharing. Love living vicariously through you! My favorite line? “Life is SO good.” 🙂

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