A Rick Steves tour guide is quoted as having said, “Rome is an old lady, but still a charming one. See beyond the wrinkles.” We couldn’t agree more — and we adore her wrinkles. But we were ready for una piccola pausa — a little break. Today we were going outside the city to visit the tiny town of Civita in nearby Umbria.
This excursion would require a jaunty bus ride (boarded just down the street from our apartment) to the train station. Then a train would whisk us to Orvieto (an hour away). From Orvieto, we would take another bus (cushioned and smooth) which would deposit us into the sleepy town of Bagnoregio. From there, it would be a few minutes walk to Civita, a fairytale vision on a pinnacled perch.
Upon arrival in Orvieto, we learned that the awkward arrival time of the bus to Bagnoregio would afford us enough time to zip up the funicular to the old town on top of the hill and explore awhile. Up we went, jumping on the waiting jitney which took us into the heart of old town Orvieto. The last time Gino and I were here we happened to arrive on market day. Today we lucked out again — it was market day!
Spying a porchetta panini stand, I didn’t hesitate a moment to step up and place my order for these delectable sandwiches of tender, juicy pork, sprinkled with crunchy salt. Munching as we walked, we found a stand selling bright cotton tablecloths imprinted with grapes, olives, lemons, and flowers. We bought two.
Hiking up to the piazza at the top of town, we were delighted to find the facade of Orvieto’s famous Duomo free from the scaffolding that had masked its treasures from sight a few years back.
Now gleaming from its recent restoration, the seven-story facade glitters with golden mosaics and a crown of ornate Gothic spires. An elaborate rose window framed by pink-hued statuary claims center stage; dramatic stripes of white travertine and black basalt decorate the Duomo’s sides. We stood before it, dazzled.
But soon it was time to return to the bus stop below and continue our excursion. An hour’s bus ride through the rolling hills of Umbria brought us to Bagnoregio. A small group of us were all headed in the same direction — to Civita.
At the end of the town of Bagnoregio, a long footbridge came into view, spanning the deep canyon between it and Civita. The original donkey path that used to lead to Civita had been bombed out in WWII; the bridge we crossed today was built in 1966.
As we stepped onto this bridge to cross the canyon, we were stopped in our tracks by dramatic vistas in every direction. Fickle clouds scudded across the sky, first obscuring the sun, then releasing its rays, creating a moody sky over the surreal scene.
We trudged upwards, sure we were entering another world. At the end we ducked under a 12th century stone arch and through a stone passageway cut by the Etruscans 2500 years ago. From this lofty perspective, the town appeared to have been thrust into the sky — an island of stone hovering amidst the clouds.
This was Civita.