RetroGusto

Arriving in Bolsena, we found a very convenient car park in Piazza Matteotti, a perfect starting point to explore the town. Through the medieval arch leading to Corso Cavour,

we were distracted from our mission upon discovering RetroGusto. The unassuming exterior belied the wonder within,

this place was much more than just a grocery store.

The range of local produce was boggling

but with a little help and a few samples to taste, we indulged in a delicious platter accompanied by a glass of exquisite vino rosso.

Armed with a selection of goodies for future consumption (the truffle salami could not be left behind), we thanked la bella signora and returned to our mission.

Orvieto underground

While in Orvieto, we signed up for the tour underground, a fascinating insight into the lives of the inhabitants thousands of years ago. At the end of the 1970s, a landslide opened up a large hole a few hundred metres from the duomo, tempting a number of speleologists (a new word I have learnt meaning someone who studies caves) to investigate. They found an incredible underground world, dug by hand out of the tufa beneath the town, that had been forgotten. The beautiful Umbrian countryside accompanied us as we made our way to the entrance of the caves.

1.Orvieto

We found ourselves at the centre of medieval olive oil production, complete with millstones, a press, furnace and mangers for the animals working the grindstones.

2.grinding stone

3.olive press

Intriguing tunnels led in all directions, beckoning us to investigate further.

The Etruscans created cisterns for holding rainwater and very deep narrow wells in search of underground springs. There are small notches on the two longest sides called pedarole, footholds to enable someone to climb down and out again.

10.well

The tour continued, revealing more grottoes that had a variety of uses such as wine storage and pottery kilns, over twelve hundred have been discovered.

11.caves

The walls of some were covered in small cubic niches created to breed pigeons, now a classic dish of the local cuisine.

12.columbarium

16.columbarium

There are narrow tunnels at the back of the walls, just big enough for a person to pass on all fours. Unfortunately, their destinations remain unknown, the mystery secured by centuries of landslides.

Every so often, light streamed in from openings in the cliff and we were treated to another glimpse of the spectacular vista.

19.view

There seemed to be an endless labyrinth of tunnels, stairs and passageways intersecting in all directions.

25.tunnels

Thank goodness we had a guide, we may never have made it back.

26.view

Grotte di Castro

On our way to Bolsena for a lakeside lunch, we stopped to explore the town of Grotte di Castro. The Etruscans lived here quite happily, even after the Romans conquered in the 3rd century BC. That all changed when the Lombards invaded in the 8th century and the inhabitants, deprived of all their possessions, were forced to live in the many caves around the cliffs. Fast forward to 1537 when the town was bought by the Farnese family and became part of the Duchy of Castro. Hence the name, meaning Caves of Castro. We parked on the outskirts and wandered along Via Vittorio Veneto

to the main square, Piazza Cavour. The colourful buildings added some brightness to the overcast day and the war memorial stands proudly as a centrepiece.

5.Piazza Cavour6.Piazza Cavour

We caught glimpses of Lake Bolsena between the houses,

10.Lake Bolsena

some of which must have magnificent views.

11.Grotte di Castro12.Grotte di Castro13.Grotte di Castro

This is the best way to traverse the narrow, cobbled streets.

We continued on foot through the older part of town

20.Town Hall

21.Grotte di Castro

before returning to the car for the short drive to Bolsena.

22.Grotte di Castro

The vision of Grotte di Castro from the road as we left was stunning

23.Grotte di Castro24.Grotte di Castro25.Grotte di Castro26.Grotte di Castro27.Grotte di Castro

along with another enticing scene of Lake Bolsena.

28.Lake Bolsena

Orvieto

A scenic thirty minute drive from Montepozzo, the Etruscan hilltop town of Orvieto was the perfect destination for a day trip. Vertical tufa cliffs support the ancient buildings in spectacular fashion and the remains of original defensive walls are still standing.

1.Orvieto

After parking the car in Piazza Marconi, we walked a short distance to Piazza del Duomo, a huge square dominated by the magnificent Orvieto Cathedral. Not surprisingly, the construction lasted three centuries from the laying of the flagstone in November 1290.

2.Duomo di Orvieto

The design and style evolved from Romanesque to Gothic as it progressed, the side walls are a striking contrast of white travertine and grey basalt stone.

3.Duomo di Orvieto

The golden façade is stunning with intricate designs and detail and four bronze statues of the Angel, the Lion, the Eagle and the Ox symbolise the Evangelists. The three bronze doors, depicting mercies from the life of Christ, replaced the original wooden doors in 1970. Above the middle door, the sculpture of the Madonna and Child was created in 1347.

4.Duomo di Orvieto

13.Duomo di Orvieto12.Duomo di Orvieto

We didn’t go inside the cathedral, we had tickets for a tour underground instead but that’s another story. Orvieto has a strong papal history with five popes taking refuge there during the 13th century. Palazzo Soliano was built in 1297 and once a papal residence, is now home to the Museo Emilio Greco, dedicated to the artist who designed the cathedral doors and showing 100 of his works.

14.Palazzo Soliano

The small Church of San Giacomo all’Ospedale is now used as a venue for exhibitions. The building behind the church was a hospice for poor people and pilgrims established in 1187.

15.Chiesa di San Giacomo Maggiore

On the opposite side of the piazza are a row of houses where priests used to reside

16.Piazza del Duomo

and a fascinating clock tower. Built as a time clock for the cathedral construction site, it was originally a sundial in 1347 because there was no mechanical clock available. The bronze automaton on top, the earliest documented clock in Europe, was added two years later. The figure swings its body and strikes the bell with its hammer on the hour to let the workers know when it is time to knock off. The medieval word for a construction site was muriccio, hence it is now known as Maurizio Tower.

17.Maurizio Tower

We left the piazza and wandered along Via del Duomo past vibrant shops and intriguing alleys.

23.vicolo

27.vicolo31.Via del Duomo

After quenching our thirst

we ventured on. Torre del Moro stands 47 metres high exactly in the city centre. Built by the Della Terza family at the end of the 13th century, we would certainly have climbed the 250 steps for a 360° view had we known.

35.Torre del Moro

The Church of Sant’Andrea on the Piazza della Repubblica dates back to the 12th century and has a unique dodecagonal bell tower.

Adjacent to the church, the Town Hall is from the same era but has been enlarged and restored up until 1600.

38.Palazzo Comunale

We walked through the central arch onto Via Garibaldi, it seems no road is too narrow for the local buses.

On the other side of the arch

42.rear of Palazzo Comunale

we couldn’t resist lunch at Ristorante Il Cocco and the opportunity to sample one of Orvieto’s specialties, pigeon.

43.Ristorante Il Cocco

Deliciously sated, we continued along Via Garibaldi

47.Via Garibaldi

and wended our way down narrow, stone streets

48.Orvieto

to the ancient church of San Giovanni and the piazza of the same name.

49.Chiesa di San Giovanni50.Piazza San Giovanni

Just past the church, we followed the Vicolo Malcorini,

51.Vicolo Malcorini

rewarded with stunning vistas to the left

57.Orvieto58.Orvieto

and a tumble of homes to the right.

59.Medieval Quarter

The Medieval Quarter is a maze of steep, narrow streets and houses seem to defy gravity atop rocky cliffs.

61.Medieval Quarter

65.Medieval Quarter

We explored further with the feeling we had stepped back in time, having both fallen in love with Orvieto.

Pugnaloni

I was quite excited when I realised we would be in Acquapendente for the Festa dei Pugnaloni. The origin of the festival dates back to 1166AD when two farmers witnessed the blossoming of a dry cherry tree. This miracle was considered a good omen by the villagers who had been repressed under the reign of Emperor Federico I Barbarossa. Armed with prods and work tools, they destroyed the castle, drove out the tyrant and regained their freedom. The anniversary is celebrated on the third Sunday in May with a procession through the streets and much feasting. In ancient times, the peasants carried goads, implements used for prodding oxen, adorned with flowers to represent the weapons of battle and the cherry blossom.

The pugnaloni have evolved over the centuries and are now superb works of art, created by different groups in the community. Large panels, 2.6 metres wide and 3.6 metres high, are covered with intricate mosaics of leaves and flower petals to create images inspired by the theme of peace and freedom. The week before the main event, we discovered some smaller versions exhibited in the loggia of the town hall.

1.mini Pugnaloni2.mini Pugnaloni3.mini Pugnaloni4.mini Pugnaloni

The Mini Pugnaloni gives the Aquesian children the opportunity to take part in this wonderful celebration.

5.mini Pugnaloni6.mini Pugnaloni7.mini Pugnaloni

We decided not to attend the festival after being advised by some locals that there would be a lot of inebriated people, they obviously thought we were crazy to even contemplate it. We revisited the town a couple of days later but could only find one on display at the town hall, the entry by a group named Via Francigena.

I think patience and a steady hand would be essential attributes for anyone undertaking this art, the results are spectacular.

12.Via Francigena

We later found out the remainder were exhibited in the Duomo and they take turns being centre stage at the town hall.