Travel Weekly editor Michael Ardizzone toured the Italian
region of Umbria by train, using Rome as his base. His report
ome is not your typical
day-trip hub. You could spend two weeks inside the city and still
not see everything.
But it's good to know that an agent can design a Rome itinerary
with convenient day trips to outlying destinations.
A recent trip to the Eternal City afforded me the opportunity to
take excursions to Orvieto, Spoleto and Assisi, all hill towns in
the region of Umbria, and each within two-and-a-half hours by train
Some people will tell you that traveling in Europe by car is
more convenient and preferable to trains. Not in Italy, and not for
me. The train generally is faster and, I would argue, much more
The 'new Tuscany'
Umbrians are hoping their home becomes the "new Tuscany," and it
seems only a matter of time before this Italian region joins its
more-celebrated neighbor as one of the most sought-after
international destinations for U.S. tourists.
It has much of the same appeal as Tuscany: interesting
city-towns, art treasures, excellent food, wonderful vistas, the
Italian enjoyment of life, but with -- for the time being --
On to Orvieto
Before this trip, my first to Orvieto, I had been told the
cathedral there was the most spectacular in Italy.
How could that be? It surpasses the duomos in Milan and
Florence? Not a chance. But upon seeing the cathedral, I had to
Dating from about 1290, the Gothic structure features a rose
window, bronze doors and colorful mosaics, while the facade has
huge, intricate bas-relief works that tell biblical stories.
interior is equally impressive, with vivid frescoes by Luca
Signorelli and large, stained-glass windows.
Train travelers arrive in Orvieto at the foot of a mountain;
from there, a funicular takes them to the top, where the views are
Orvieto, known for its wine since the time of the Etruscans,
boasts several piazzas, numerous other churches and a few
For an unusual experience, travelers should visit the Pozzo di
San Patrizio, or St. Patrick's Well, about 200 feet deep and now
A circular walkway -- once used by pack animals -- leads to the
bottom, and a corresponding walkway leads back up. There are arched
windows all along the way.
A small city with flower-bedecked balconies and narrow streets,
Spoleto stands out on the travel map thanks to an international
arts festival held there each year during the summer. (This year,
it ran from June 28 to July 14; 2003 dates have not been
Sponsored by maestro Gian Carlo Menotti and his son, Francis,
the Spoleto Festival features the biggest names in international
For more details, visit www.spoletofestival.it.
Because of the festival's popularity, hotels in the area fill up
quickly. Unless your clients are going to Spoleto specifically for
the festival, don't send them during that time.
Spoleto, like its Umbrian neighbors, is perfect for strol-ling,
stopping to eat and enjoying the easy pace of a beautiful hill
As in Orvieto, a highlight is its local duomo, which features
restored frescoes by Fra Filippo Lippi.
In addition, a walk to and across the Ponte delle Torri, a
14th-century bridge, is worth the trip. If visitors can stand the
750-foot walk 262 feet over the gorge below, they'll be rewarded
with a breathtaking view.
There is no direct train route to Assisi from Rome -- one must
make a quick change at Foligno. Arriving by train brings travelers
to the foot of a mountain, and shuttle buses take them into
From there, it's a few minutes' walk (uphill) to the main
attraction, the Basilica of St. Francis, a majestic structure that
dominates the town.
Within the basilica, a series of large frescoes by early
Renaissance master Giotto depict, in wonderful detail, the life of
There is a small museum with relics, including the saint's
habit. The tomb of St. Francis is in a small, subterranean
Assisi also is home to several other interesting churches,
including the small church where St. Francis is said to have been
For more information on Umbria, contact the Italian Government
Tourist Office in New York at (212) 245-5618 or (212) 245-4822, or
visit www.italiantourism.com and www.umbriatourism.com.