As we planned our drive from Bologna down to Rome, we chose Orvieto as a lunch stop, more-or-less at random: about 2/3 of the way along, some recommended restaurants for lunch, guide book says it has a good cathedral. (The guidebook seems to sing the praises of most cathedrals, to be honest.)
The meal was nothing special, but what a place to stop. Orvieto is a walled medieval town on a hill, and to judge by the acres of parking garages, clearly handles major crowds in peak season. But on a Tuesday in February, even if it was beautifully sunny, we practically had the place to ourselves.
But the guidebooks were quite correct — the cathedral in Orvieto really steals the show. We approached it through winding lanes, and saw it gleaming in the sunshine against the clear blue skies.
In full view, the cathedral was particularly stunning.
The inside is equally splendid, from its striped brickwork to its sculptures to its stained glass. (One point to note is that Orvieto is tiny and yet they have this massive, ornate church. It feels like the population of the town could probably fit in there four or five times.)
Off to one side is the New Chapel with frescos by Signorelli depicting the last judgement. The guide to the Duomo claims that these are better even than Michelangelo’s in the Sistine Chapel. While there may be a little bias there, no doubt they’re extremely impressive and entertaining:
We only had a few hours to spend in Orvieto before we were due in Rome. It was an almost magical stop, because we had come in without expectations, because the weather was so glorious, because there were so few tourists, it felt like a discovery of our very own.