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Story and Photos by Nancy Morgantini
For Travel Writers' Tales

I have to tell you about the "sausage convention" in Orvieto. At least that is what we called them..."the sausage guys". They were everywhere, in packs of 6 or 7, strolling the streets in their "going-to-town" suits and ties. My husband, Luigi, the Italian linguist, said that their dialect was definitely from the "south"...but, no, they were not, or could not be associated with the "M" word. Their not-so-great-fitting suits and fake silk ties gave them away (and I think they bought their "designer" sunglasses from one of those street vendors). They strutted around like "flocks" of roosters, roosters with cell phones.

We asked a waiter at a small cafe' if they were locals...after he recovered from laughing, he said that they had been around for a week and no one knew who they were and why they were there. We decided that they must be in town for a sausage convention and nicknamed them "the Sausage Guys". So, days later, who do we see at the train station waiting for the train to Naples? "The Sausage Guys"!...still wearing the same attire, but with NO luggage! Who goes to Orvieto for a whole week with nothing but one suit and one tie?

Orvieto, was to be, for Luigi and I, "a place to drop off the rental car" in Italy, but it turned out to be much more than we had expected. Thanks to the 21st century Internet, we found the "perfect" home in Orvieto. CasaVera Bed and Breakfast felt more like our own apartment with a fully equipped Umbrian kitchen. It was quite a discovery, just a few metres from the heart of historic Orvieto.

Much of the city traces its history back to Etruscan times (800 BC). Built on a huge cliff of tufa (a soft volcanic rock), it dominates the surrounding hills and plains. It has seen millennia of history and civilizations.

We took the "underground tour" to see just two (out of 1200 known) of the Etruscan underground chambers and tunnels. Four hundred and fourty four of the chambers are still accessible, most privately owned and some used as wine cellars! One of the most interesting chambers was what I called the "pigeon hole". Dozens of pigeon roosts were carved out of the tufa walls, not by Etruscans, but during the medieval period when "pigeon pate" was profitable and the only source of protein during sieges. An early "home based business"!

The underground is only a small part of the charm of Orvieto. We could wander through the narrow, cobblestone streets, sit outside a small bar/caffe' with our "aperitivo" and feel like a local, among the locals. I almost felt Italian (if only it was that easy to learn the language!).

The buildings in our "neighbourhood" date back to around the 1300' amazing feeling of time travel. One night, as we wandered down Via del Duomo, I glanced up at a 3rd story window and discovered a beautifully frescoed ceiling! It made me wonder what other "treasures" hide inside those historic buildings.

After our visit to the underground, we headed above ground…way above, 47 metres to be exact. The Torre del Moro, a 13-14th centuries tower provided a "pigeon's" eye view of Orvieto and the Umbrian hills.

What could be a better way to enjoy Italy than to refine oneself and spend a night at the Opera? In Orvieto, I was finally able to shed my tourist attire, dig my skirt out of the suitcase and experience my first ever Italian opera, Rigoletto, in Teatro Mancinelli, a beautiful 150 year old theatre. These are theatres where operas were first performed....warm, small, intimate and elegant surroundings.

How could I forget the Duomo di Orvieto? The "Duomo", the famous Gothic style cathedral smack dab in the centre of historic Orvieto, with it's excessively decorated façade, and gothic design striped sides was a "must see." With camera in hand, hearing the distinctive "brides march", I rushed to "capture" the bride and groom exiting the cathedral into a shower of rice. The enormity of the Duomo gave me a feeling of unreality, but after seeing and hearing the 21st century wedding taking place, I had a different perspective.

Although our visit to Orvieto was short on time, it was long enough for me to fall in love with the feeling of being totally immersed in the Italian culture, even for my English-only speaking self. I see a return visit in my future.


Orvieto Tourist Information

Orvieto underground guided tours
Contact e-mail:

CasaVera Bed & Breakfast
Contact email:

Photos by Nancy Morgantini:

1 The Underground "Pigeon Hole"
2 Orvieto in the evening
3 View through 3rd floor window
4 Teatro Mancinelli before the opera
5 Duomo di Orvieto at sunset

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