It was drizzling as I walked from Febo, a bar in the center of town, back to my apartment in the Olmo quarter of town.
I held my umbrella firmly in my hand and made sure to avoid the puddles between the cracks of cobblestone.
As I walked across the bridge on via Malabranca, I looked to my left where an assortment of rooftops could usually be seen and could only make out their outlines with the help of a few streetlights.
Even though I had only been there for two weeks, I already felt the stirrings of integration within this little town randomly placed on a hill made of tufa rock.
Every day I walked the same path into town, said ciao to the same people sitting on the benches they had claimed as their own, and ordered bread from the same family.
I had met locals and had been entertained by their stories about their families and businesses in just a couple of weeks, and I couldn’t help wondering what would be possible if I stayed for two months, three months, or even a year.
When you visit small towns like Orvieto, it’s so much easier to feel like a fold in the daily fabric — especially if you make the effort to use the language to make connections.
While it is possible to do this in big cities, I’ve always found a warmth from small towns.
If you’re planning on going to Italy, and you’re not sure where to stop or use as a base while you travel around the country, Orvieto is a must.
Not only is it in the center of country and on the border between Tuscany and Umbria, but it’s full of Etruscan history, that slow feel that everyone loves to love from Italy, and friendly locals that will make you seriously consider buying a farmhouse and never leaving.
It’s often considered a day trip for many tourists as Orvieto is known for having a gorgeous, gasp-inducing Duomo, but I think it has more to offer than that, particularly when it comes to the diligent Italian student.
Below you’ll find a guide that I hope will help you meet people and practice the language when you visit, and it’s a mix of my favorite places to go as well as recommendations from friends who live there. If you’re looking for a guide that helps you learn and practice the language before your next trip to Italy, you might be looking for the Not Your Typical Tourist Workbook.
Where to eat
Seeing as Orvieto is right on the border of Tuscany and Umbria, it is known for having a mix of both region’s delicacies, including truffles, umbrichelli, and wild boar. If you’re looking for pizza, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of theirs, but I hear that Pizzeria Charlie (http://www.pizzeriacharlieorvieto.it/), via Loggia Dei Mercanti 14, is good.
Trattoria del Moro Aronne, Via San Leonardo 7
Trattoria del Moro Aronne is hands down my favorite restaurant in Orvieto.
They have a truffle lasagna that is creamy and perfect and a consistency in their quality of food that I appreciate.
Plus, like in many Italian restaurants, the staff will usually speak to you in Italian if you show a competency or a determination to learn.
They can get pretty busy at night, so make sure to call ahead and make a reservation.
If you need to know how to do that, use this article. (link to making reservations article)
Osteria da Mamma Angela, Piazza del Popolo, 2
While I’ve never personally eaten at this restaurant, it has great reviews from travelers and is owned by a friend of one of my friends.
If the weather is nice, ask to sit on the patio as it’s in the beautiful Piazza del Popolo.
La Palomba, Via Cipirano Menente, 16
La Palomba comes as the most recommended restaurant in Orvieto by tourists, students and locals alike.
It’s known for having really traditional dishes, like wild dove, as the name suggests, truffles, and pasta with wild boar sauce.
You’ll see a combination of family heirlooms and gifts from clients on the walls, and the main dining area is relatively small.
Make sure to reserve in advance as they’re always busy.
Da Carlo, Vicolo del popolo, 9
This restaurant basically consists of one tiny room, a kitchen, and a patio. It feels as if you’re in Carlos’ home, and his family is personally bringing the food to you.
I honestly don’t remember what I ate, but I do remember how cozy it felt.
Go + strike up a conversation with Carlos’ mom or give compliments to the kitchen staff.
Where to shop
Delizie di Orvieto, Corso Cavour, 6
From the outside, Delizie di Orvieto looks like the typical Italian shop that sells famous food products from the area, limoncello, and bottles of wine, but you have to step inside and meet the owners, Francesco Perra and his mother, to truly understand why this shop is special.
The very first time I walked into this store, Francesco was there and we ended up chatting about funny cultural differences between Italians and Americans, and like with many clients he talks to, he told me the story of his family’s business.
Besides being an amazing salesperson who will teach you how to use every product you buy in the authentic Orvietan way, he’s also fun to talk to and will be patient as you try to piece together your sentences.
If you go, strike up a conversation with him in Italian, buy some umbrichelli, and tell him Cher says ciao.
Bookshop – Via Filippeschi, across from Benetton Kids
I don’t actually know the name of this bookshop, but what I do know is that it’s owned by a lovely guy who grew up in Viterbo.
If you’re into books, he’s a perfect person to chat with, and his shop is full of interesting books about everything from composers to history.
Galleria del Pane Bakery – Via Malabranca, 6
Since this bakery was near our apartment, my mom and I would go here every day and got to know the owners.
When you walk in, it’s 95% likely that you’ll see a young man named John behind the counter. While he speaks good English, if you try in Italian and stick to it, he’ll definitely humor you.
The bakery itself is owned by his uncle who is laidback, nice, and easy to chat with.
He does have a stronger Orvietan accent, but once you get used to it, you can focus on his fun stories from Japan and the Philippines instead.
Once I didn’t have exact change and they didn’t have enough to break a twenty, so the owner told me to bring it by the next day. Oh how I love small towns and small businesses.
What to see
While there are lots of other things to do in Orvieto, like walk up the bell tower and visit the Duomo, I chose activities that will force you to interact with the language.
Orvieto Underground, Piazza del Duomo, 23
One of the reasons that Orvieto is a fascinating place to explore is because the entire city has tunnels and caverns beneath it that were used by the Etruscans. In fact, when the Romans were trying to invade Orvieto, it took them nearly two years because the Etruscans’ defense mechanisms and underground system were so brilliantly laid out.
This tour is around 45 minutes and can be experienced in both Italian and English. It’s really cool to see the systems that Etruscans set up and walk through areas that are so full of history.
Underground Chiesa S.S. Andrea & Bartolomeo, Piazza della Repubblica
This tour is similar to Orvieto Underground but is shorted and is privately guided, so if you email the tour guide, he’ll show up at a time that works for the both of you, unlock the gates, and show you around.
If you want to do it in Italian, just let him know and be sure to brush up on your archeological terms beforehand so you’re not completely floundering.
You can email the guide, Francesco Pacelli, at email@example.com to book a time and date.
Tiberi Arte e Storie di Terra, via dei Magoni 14
Orvieto is full of artisans that are known for their ceramics and paintings, and one really special bottega is Tiberi Arte. Their shop is full of beautiful bucchero vases and there is a garden in the back decorated with interesting sculptures.
Depending on the time of day, you might run into the artist, Michele, or his mother at the shop. Try chatting with either of them about the art, inspiration, or Orvieto.
What to do
Take an Italian class at I Love IT School
My first and only experience at an Italian language school in Italy was with I Love IT school, and I adored it.
You can read more about why in this article, but the short + sweet version is that Laura, the owner of the school, and her teachers are kind, smart, and helpful. The curriculum will be based around your level and the other students taking the class, and you’ll get lots of personal attention as class sizes are usually small.
Plus, instead of just taking grammar classes, you have the option to learn Italian through cooking, fashion, and film.
It’s a safe place to practice and learn Italian, and the staff are adamant about you speaking only in Italian while you’re there, so you’ll be forced out of your comfort zone, which is a must as you learn.
Address: Vicolo Ascanio Vitozzi, 2
Have a gelato at La Musa or L’Officina del Gelato
La Musa, Corso Cavour, 351, was the first gelateria I ever tried in Orvieto, and it was also the gelato with the freshest fragola flavor that I have ever tried.
I also really like the gelato at L’Officina del Gelato on Corso Cavour 79. I once secretly paid for two of my friends who were visiting, and he gave me my gelato for free because he wanted to treat me for treating them.
See a movie at Cinema Corso
Cinema Corso is hidden in a small alleyway off of Corso Cavour right next to the bar Clandestino. It is officially the smallest movie theater I have been in as it consists of three rooms, one of which is where you buy tickets, popcorn and soda.
At any given time, there are only two movies playing at this theater, and the posters will be prominently displayed outside.
When I went, I saw the movie Fury (yep, the one with Brad Pitt and the beautiful Shia LaBeouf). It was depressing, but the fact that it was in Italian made it a little lighter.
Address: Via dei Cartari
Go for a passeggiata down Corso Cavour
You can complete a pretty thorough passeggiata through Orvieto in just a half hour because it’s so small. If the weather is nice, you’ll see lots of people walking before dinner (roughly between 6-8 PM) and during the afternoon (roughly 11 AM – 1 PM).
It’s a great activity to get familiar with the locals, make friends, and explore other areas of town.
Get a haircut at any of the salons/barber shops
If you’re brave, getting a haircut is a brilliant way to practice Italian. You basically have to be with the same person for a period 20 minutes to an hour, so making small talk is a necessity.
I went to one on Corso Cavour, 142 called Parrucchiere Russo on a total whim. The stylist was this really fiery guy who was obsessed with the fact that I was from Las Vegas, and we launched into a long discussion about the problems of gambling in the states and in Italy.
I paid 35 euro for a shampoo, cut, and style. Not bad.
See a play at Teatro Mancinelli Orvieto
I always recommend that people find events wherever they’re staying to attend so they can get a feel for the people who live there and do activities that are only in Italian.
One of the bookshops, Mondadori on Corso Cavour, have book signings and events like that during the warm summer months.
You can also see a play or some kind of performance at the theater throughout the year.
When my mom and I were there, Sister Act II was the current play, and we sat in our own box for around 60 euro.
As you walk around the city, you’ll see posters plastered everywhere for whatever performance is coming up next.
Address: Corso Cavour 122