Todi and Orvieto: Discovering Umbria
A lovely young woman is waiting for us in the dining hall of the Torre. We are up early, having slept with the angels, cocooned in our tower deep in the Umbrian woods and lulled by the hush and rush of the breeze through the trees outside our window.
The dining salon looks like it might once have been the stables where the animals were kept on the main floor of the tower. A high vaulted ceiling sits atop stuccoed walls; hanging low from the ceiling is an ultra modern light pendant. Everything in the room in fact, is a stark contradiction to this 12th century tower.
A long communal table is spread with appetizing breakfast foods prepared that morning just for us: all sorts of frittate, dishes of local cold meats, boards covered with different cheeses, jams marmalades, breads. Coffee is plentiful and aromatic.
photo courtesy of http://www.torrealmonte.com
Raffaella, the charming proprietress of Torre Almonte, pokes her beautiful coiffed head around the door to bid us all a good morning, After having assured herself of our comfort and well being, she asks about our plans. Her own suggestions for our Umbrian itinerary are welcomed and prove to be invaluable. Close by she tells us, is the factory and outlet store for cashmere fashion. Should we be interested, furthermore, ,Bruno Cuccinelli and his restored ,borgo Solomeo,, factory and store are a mere 40 minutes away. We learn that Cuccinelli, the undisputed cashmere king, is a native of Umbria, and this is where his beautiful handcrafted cashmere clothes are made. Hmmm!
We opt for a visit to Orvieto, and perhaps a brief stop to visit Brunello!
On the way we decide to detour to Todi. It would be foolish to skip over the small town “pasted to a hillside” where the turrets and bell towers poking up through the rooftops make it seem a fairytale place. This is an elegant Mediaeval town. Its narrow lanes are lined with arts and crafts shops, many of which sell stunning linen fabrics woven on looms in much the same way as was done in its glorious past.
The main Piazza del Popolo sits on a series of 12 ancient Etruscan / Roman cisterns. Long and rectangular, this piazza has been the noble center of the city since Roman times. At one end, crowning the top of a steep stairway, stands the Duomo, begun in the twelfth century and completed in the 14th century. It looks down onto the Piazza with an impervious aloofness worthy of its mediaeval grandeur.
Copyright: vaakeval / 123RF Stock Photo)
I make my way slowly up the steps, wondering how many calories of the delicious breakfast I had that morning I am actually burning off. I head for door of the Duomo for a quick visit but opt instead, at the last second, for a brief sit on the top step just to look at the piazza below. I want to pull out the postcard I didn’t buy and send it to someone back home. A hastily snapped picture with my phone and posted immediately on Instagram will have to freeze this moment and the sentiments. Somehow, I muse, the postcard would have had more effect.
Back on the road for Orvieto, we encounter some of the most glorious pastoral scenery, olive groves, vineyards and the occasional farmhouse on the hill with cypress trees flanking the road up to the front gate. Truly, Umbria has nothing to envy its more illustrious neighbour, Tuscany.
As we approach, Orvieto can be seen sitting astride a large volcanic rock overlooking the green plains below. This first sight of it makes me catch my breath; it is visually compelling—simply for its striking bearing.
The high plateau on which Orvieto stands is closed to non-resident traffic but there are a number of ways of getting up into the old centre of town from the valley below, including a funicular. We leave our car below and use the system of lifts and escalators from Campo della Fiera, where there is a large covered parking lot.
We are met by the crush of modern day tourism. Even so, the town seems to remain blessedly unaware of this: its narrow lanes are characteristic and very reminiscent of the Middle Ages.
But just now hunger is making itself felt and the tight crowded lanes are a maze, which we hope will eventually lead us to some place where we can sit and eat. Not even the interesting local crafts displayed in the shop windows are enough to halt our stride from reaching a trattoria. We are moving in the direction of the Cathedral which is our ultimate goal, and along the way on Via Del Duomo, we find ,Ristorante Maurizio
It is a pleasant, spacious restaurant— a collection of rooms, really— connected by arches. It has a convenient location, only a few steps from the Duomo of Orvieto, and even better, has an interesting menu. While everyone opts for the Umbrian specialty of truffles and orders the Umbrichelli tartufati con pancetta croccante, I settle for the less typical Spaghettoni con pomodori grigliati e ricotta salata.
Fortified with good food and an exceptional Orvieto Classico, we are ready to meet the great iconic monument that is the Duomo of Orvieto.
This church, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, known simply as the Duomo, is beyond compare—inimitable—-when it comes to models of perfection. Pictures cannot do it justice, and upon first sight, just like me, one is left speechless.
Slender, with pinnacles outstretched, this artistic masterpiece of the late middle ages seems to want to reach the heavens, touch God and say “ see what man has done in your honour.”
We approach the Duomo from the side, captivated by the majestic corner pillar, but never for a moment expecting the impact of the sublime façade, and the triumph of its golden mosaics.
I fall into a spell from which I am reluctant to awake; I gaze mesmerized from side to side, trying to take it all in and wondering how something such as this could ever be described. It is a perfect harmony of shapes; a well balanced composition starting from the central square which holds the beautiful circular rose window; the tryptic with triangular shapes within it, and finally the vertical thrust of the spires. I am no architect, but even I can appreciate the serene and balanced compositional order of this magnificent church.1. http://www.geometriefluide.com/pagina.asp?cat=gotico&prod=duomo-orvieto
Once inside I am drawn immediately to the luminescent colours of the vaulted ceiling. The interior feels more stern but still majestic. The three naves with huge cylindrical pillars are illuminated by the large stained glass widows and the main rosette.
I leave the Duomo with my companions, silent and still in awe of so wondrous a work of art.
Our journey back to the Torre is a quiet one, each of us lost in our own thoughts of all that we have seen. A small voice from the back seat brings our attention back to the present and to the road sign indicating the Cashmere outlet store of ,Fabiana Filippi. We are 30kms from Perugia, and this is the outlet Raffaella told us about; the perfect place to pick up a nifty new item of knitwear. The company, it seems is famous for its women’s cashmere collections, and, (what a coincidence)—-is located not far from our hotel. It is definitely worth a visit!
Umbria is a region which now boasts some 500 companies specializing in the noble art of making cashmere. Back in 1907, one of Italy’s first and most successful female entrepreneurs, Luisa Spagnoli, founded not only the Perugina chocolate company
(of the world famous Baci chocolates), but also started a knitwear business based on the fur of the Angora rabbits which were bred on her family farm. The ,Luisa Spagnoli label is still today one of the country’s most famous fashion brands.
At the end of our busy day one thought stays with me: the creation and love of beautiful things would appear to be in the DNA of those born in Umbria.
Laden with bags that hint at our brief but fruitful stopover at the outlet stores we return to Torre Almonte, our sweet idyll from a day bursting with activity. We are, needless to say, famished. Now, all we need is a great place to eat. But here, cloistered in our tower, off the beaten path, where could we possibly find food?
You cannot travel well, if you do not dine well!