The Hill Towns of Central Italy. South Italy - Best of Italy - Rick Steves

Best of Italy - Rick Steves (2016)

The Hill Towns of Central Italy. South Italy

The sun-soaked hill towns of central Italy offer the quintessential Italian experience. Wispy cypress-lined driveways lead to fortified 16th-century farmhouses set in rolling fields, atmospheric enoteche serve famous wines alongside homemade pasta, and dusty old-timers warm the same bench day after day while soccer balls buzz around them like innocuous flies. Hill towns are best enjoyed by adapting to the pace of the countryside. Slow...down...and savor the delights that this region offers.

How in Dante’s name does a traveler choose from Italy’s hundreds of hill towns? I’ve listed my favorites. If you linger longer to explore, you’re sure to find a favorite of your own. When sampling hill towns, spend the night if you can, as many towns can get mobbed by day-trippers.


Italy’s best hill towns are Siena, Assisi, and Orvieto. They’re each worth at least one full day and an overnight, and are accessible by train or bus.

Siena’s main sight is the city itself. Its elegant Il Campo main square is a people-magnet, marked by a tall City Tower you can climb. The cathedral’s eye-catching colorful facade draws you inside. The Duomo Museum and Pinacoteca gracefully exhibit graceful art for the pleasure of art lovers. Enjoy a sleepy medieval evening on the main square. Although you could day-trip from Florence, it’s worth staying over: Evenings are magical here.

Assisi’s old town has a half-day of sightseeing and another half-day of wonder. The essential sight is the Basilica of St. Francis. My self-guided Assisi walk leads downhill to the basilica, where you can follow my self-guided tour.

The town of Orvieto, conveniently close to Rome, can be seen in a few hours. It’s famous for its cathedral and Classico wine (tastings, anyone?). A 45-minute bus ride away, the tiny, neighboring hill village of Civita is nearly huggable.

With extra time (and a car): Visit the wineries of Montepulciano and Montalcino.


The towns I recommend can all be connected by public transportation, though you can get around easier and quicker by car. If you want to explore this area further and be able to stop at any hill town that appeals to you along the way, a car is the better choice.

By Public Transit: Buses are often the best option. While trains link some towns, hills don’t quite fit in the railroad plan. Stations are likely to be in the valley a couple of miles from the town center, connected by a local bus. If you’re using public transit and are pinched for time, you may need to narrow your focus to just one town.


By Car: Pick up your rental car in the last sizable town you visit (Florence or Siena are good options) or at the nearest airport (to avoid big-city traffic). Carry a good, detailed road map in addition to any digital navigation systems. Freeways (such as the toll autostrada and the non-toll superstrada) are the fastest way to connect two points, but smaller roads, including scenic S-222, which connects Florence and Siena, are more rewarding.

Parking can be challenging. Some towns don’t allow visitors to park or even drive in the center. Signs reading ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato)—often above a red circle—indicate no driving or parking allowed. Use a parking lot; identified by blue P signs, these are usually plentiful outside city walls (and sometimes linked to the town center by elevators or escalators). To minimize theft, avoid street parking. Your hotelier can also recommend parking options.



▲▲▲Siena Florence’s smaller and (some say) more appealing rival, with its grand Il Campo square and striking striped cathedral. See here.

▲▲Assisi St. Francis’ hometown, perched on a hillside, with a divinely Giotto-decorated basilica. See here.

▲▲Orvieto and Civita More hill-town adventures, featuring Orvieto’s classic views and ornate cathedral, plus the adorable pocket-sized village of Civita di Bagnoregio. See here and here.

Montepulciano and Montalcino Picturesque, wine-soaked villages of Italy’s heartland. See here.




Siena was medieval Florence’s archrival. And while Florence ultimately won the battle for political and economic superiority, Siena still competes for the tourists. Florence has the heavyweight sights, but Siena seems to be every Italy connoisseur’s favorite town.

From 1260-1348, Siena was a major trade center and military power in a class with Florence and Venice. In 1348, the Black Death—an epidemic of bubonic plague—hit Siena and cut the population by more than a third. The city never recovered. In the 1550s, Florence conquered the flailing city-state, forever rendering it a backwater. Siena’s loss became our gain, as its political irrelevance pickled the city in a medieval brine.

Today, Siena is known for its thrilling Palio horse race and for its hometown saint, Catherine, but above all, for its ambience. Red-brick lanes cascade every which way, courtyards sport flower-decked wells, alleys dead-end at rooftop views, and the sky is a rich blue dome. Relax at a café on the main square. Wander narrow streets lined with colorful flags and studded with iron rings to tether horses. While it may not have the blockbuster museums of Florence, Siena has soul.



Siena lounges atop a hill, stretching its three legs out from Il Campo, the main square and historic meeting point of Siena’s neighborhoods. Pedestrians rule here, as the only drivers allowed are residents and cabbies.

Just about everything worth seeing is within a 15-minute walk of the square. Navigate by three major landmarks—Il Campo, Duomo (cathedral), and Church of San Domenico—following the excellent system of street-corner signs. Most visitors stick to the Il Campo-San Domenico axis, but make it a point to stray from this main artery to explore. Sienese streets go in anything but a straight line, so it’s easy to get lost—but just as easy to get found.

Siena’s attractions come in two clusters: the square (Civic Museum and City Tower) and the Duomo (Baptistery and Duomo Museum, with its art and surprise viewpoint), plus the Pinacoteca for more art. Check these sights off, and you’re free to wander.

Rick’s Tip: Don’t drive in Siena’s city center. If you drive or park anywhere marked Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL), expect a hefty ticket in the mail back home.

Sightseeing Passes: Siena always seems to be experimenting with different combo-tickets, but only a couple are worth considering:

The €12 Opa Si combo-ticket includes the Duomo, Duomo Museum, Crypt, and Baptistery; the €20 version adds an escorted visit to the rooftop (valid three days; sold only at ticket office near Duomo Museum entrance).

A €13 combo-ticket covers the Civic Museum and Santa Maria della Scala; the €20 version adds the City Tower (valid two days).

Tourist Information: The TI is just across from the Duomo (daily April-Oct 9:30-18:30; Nov-March Mon-Sat 10:00-17:00, Sun 10:00-13:00; Piazza del Duomo 1, tel. 0577-280-551, They hand out a few pretty booklets (including the regional Terre di Siena guide) and a free map. The bookshop next to the info desk sells more detailed Siena maps.

Internet Access: Cheap Phone Center is hidden in a small shopping corridor near Il Campo (daily 10:00-20:00; coming from Il Campo, go uphill past Albergo Tre Donzelle, then turn left and go 20 yards along Via Cecco Angiolieri).

Travel Agency: Carroccio Viaggi sells train, plane, and some bus tickets for a small fee (Mon-Fri 9:00-12:30 & 15:30-19:00, Sat 9:30-12:00, closed Sun, Via Montanini 20, tel. 0577-226-964,,


Il Campo

Tours: The TI offers walking tours of the old town. Guides usually conduct their walks in both English and Italian (€20, pay guide directly, daily April-Nov at 11:00, 2 hours, no interiors except for the Duomo, depart from TI, Piazza del Duomo 1, tel. 0577-280-551).

Tours by Roberto offers off-the-beaten-path minibus tours of the surrounding countryside (up to eight passengers, convenient pickup at hotel), arranges city walks, and offers multiday tours. Roberto’s passions are Sienese culture, Tuscan history, and local cuisine (tour options explained on website, full-day minibus tours-€90/person, 4-hour off-season tours-€60/person, entry fees extra; booking mobile 320-147-6590, Roberto’s mobile 328-425-5648,,

image Siena Walk

This short self-guided walk serves as a quick orientation, or can be used to lace together the most important sights. You could break the narration to tour City Hall, the Duomo, the Duomo Museum, and Santa Maria della Scala—all described in more detail later. If you don’t plan on entering the sights, the walk works great at night when the city is peaceful.

✵ Start in the center of the main square, Il Campo, standing just below the fountain.


This square is the geographic and metaphoric heart of Siena. It fans out from City Hall as if to create an amphitheater. Twice each summer, all eyes are on Il Campo when it hosts the famous Palio horse races (see here).

Originally, this area was just a field (campo) located outside the city walls, which encircled the Duomo. In the 1200s, with the advent of the Sienese republic, the city expanded. Il Campo became its marketplace and the historic junction of Siena’s various competing contrade (neighborhood districts). The square and its buildings are the color of the soil upon which they stand—a color known to artists and Crayola users as “Burnt Sienna.”

City Hall (Palazzo Pubblico), with its looming tower, dominates the square. In medieval Siena, this was the center of the city, and the whole focus of Il Campo still flows down to it.

The City Tower was built around 1340. At 330 feet, it’s one of Italy’s tallest secular towers. Medieval Siena was a proud republic, and this tower stands like an exclamation point—an architectural declaration of independence from papacy and empire. The open chapel located at the base of the tower was built in 1348 as thanks to God for ending the Black Death (after it killed more than a third of the population). These days, the chapel is used to bless Palio contestants (and to provide an open space for EMTs who stand by during the race).

You can visit the Civic Museum inside City Hall and climb the tower (see here).

✵ Now turn around and take a closer look at the fountain in the top center of the square.


City Hall and its tower


This fountain—a copy of an early 15th-century work by Jacopo della Quercia—marks the square’s high point. The joy is all about how the Sienese republic blessed its people with water. Find Lady Justice with her scales and sword (right of center), overseeing the free distribution of water to all. Imagine residents gathering here in the 1400s to fill their jugs. The Fountain of Joy still reminds locals that life in Siena is good. Notice the pigeons politely waiting their turn to tightrope gingerly down slippery spouts to slurp a drink from wolves’ snouts. The relief panel on the left shows God creating Adam by helping him to his feet. It’s said that this reclining Adam (carved a century before Michelangelo’s day) influenced Michelangelo when he painted his Sistine Chapel ceiling. The original fountain is exhibited indoors at Santa Maria della Scala, opposite the Duomo.

✵ Leave Il Campo uphill on the widest ramp. With your back to the tower, using an imaginary clock as a directional guide, it’s at 10:00. After a few steps you reach Via di Città. Turn left and walk 100 yards uphill toward the white, neo-Gothic palace. Halfway there, at the first corner, notice small plaques high on the building facades—these mark the neighborhood, or contrada. You are stepping from the Forest into the Eagle. Notice also the once mighty and foreboding medieval tower house. Towers once soared all around town, but they’re now truncated and no longer add to the skyline—look for their bases as you walk the city.

On the left, you reach the big...


This old fortified noble palace is today home to a prestigious music academy, the Accademia Musicale Chigiana. If it’s open, step into the courtyard with its photogenic well. The walls of the loggia are decorated with the busts of Chigi-Saracini patriarchs, and the vaults are painted in the “grotesque” style popular during the Renaissance. The palace hosts a festival each July and August with popular concerts almost nightly, international talent, and affordable tickets (one-hour tours of the palace’s library, art, and musical instruments cost €5 and run 2/day; box office just off courtyard, Via di Città 89,


Fountain of Joy




✵ Continue up the hill on Via di Città to the next intersection. As you walk, notice how strict rules protect the look of exteriors. Many families live in each building, but all shutters are the same color. Inside, apartments can be modern, and expensive—some of the priciest in Italy.


The intersection known as Quattro Cantoni (the four corners) offers a fine perch from which to study the city. The modern column (from 1996) with a Carrara marble she-wolf on top functions as a flag holder for the contrada. You are still in the Eagle district (see the fountain and the corner plaque)—but beware. Just one block up the street, a ready-to-pounce panther—from the rival neighboring district—awaits.

Only the rich could afford stone residences. The fancy buildings here hide their economical brick construction behind a stucco veneer. The stone tower on this corner had only one door—30 feet above street level and reached by ladder, which could be pulled up as necessary. Within a few doors, you’ll find a classy bar, an upscale grocery store, and a gelateria.

Take a little side-trip, venturing up Via di San Pietro. Interesting stops include the window with Palio video clips playing (at #1), Simon and Paula’s art shop with delightful Palio and contrade knickknacks (#5), a weaver’s shop (#7), a gelato purveyor (#10), an art gallery (#11), and four enticing little osterias. After a block, you’ll reach the best art museum in town, the Pinacoteca. From there to the former town gate (Porta all’Arco), the street becomes more workaday, with local shops and no tourists.

✵ Back at the Four Corners, head up Via del Capitano, passing another massive Chigi family palace (bankers sure know how to get their hands on people’s money) to the Duomo and Piazza del Duomo. Find a shady seat against the wall of the old hospital facing the church.


The pair of she-wolves atop columns flanking the Duomo’s facade says it all: The church was built and paid for not by the pope but by the people and the republic of Siena.

This 13th-century Gothic cathedral, with its six-story striped bell tower—Siena’s ultimate tribute to the Virgin Mary—is heaped with statues, plastered with frescoes, and paved with art. Study the richly ornamented facade. The interior is a riot of striped columns, intricate inlaid-marble floors, a Michelangelo statue, Bernini sculptures, and the Piccolomini Library. (If you want to enter now, you’ll need a ticket from the booth around to the right; for a self-guided tour, see here.)

Facing the Duomo is Santa Maria della Scala, a huge building that housed pilgrims and, until the 1990s, was used as a hospital. Its labyrinthine 12th-century cellars—carved out of volcanic tuff and finished with brick—go down several floors, and during medieval times were used to store supplies for the hospital upstairs. Today, the exhibit-filled hospital and cellars can be a welcome refuge from the hot streets.

As massive as Siena’s Duomo is, it’s actually the rump of a failed vision. After rival republic Florence began its grand Duomo (1296), proud Siena planned to build an even bigger one, the biggest in all Christendom. But Siena is so hilly that there wasn’t enough flat ground upon which to build a church of that size. What to do? Build a big church anyway, and prop up the overhanging edge with the Baptistery (which we’ll pass shortly).

Walk around to the right of the church and find the unfinished wall with see-through windows (circa 1330). From here you can envision the audacity of this vision—today’s cathedral would have been just a transept. But the plan underestimated the complexity of constructing such a building without enough land. That, coupled with the devastating effects of the 1348 plague, killed the project. Many Sienese saw the Black Death as a sign from God, punishing them for their pride. They canceled their plans and humbly faded into the background of history.

✵ Walk to the rear of the church (past the ticket office for the church complex and the Duomo Museum) and pause at the top of the marble stairs leading down. The Duomo Museum (to your right) houses the church’s art (see here).


From here, look down the stairs leading behind the church and see the architect’s quandary. The church sticks out high above the lower street level. Partway down the stairs is the Crypt, and below that is the Baptistery. Each is an integral part of the foundation for the oversized structure. (Both the Crypt and the Baptistery are worth entering; see here.)

✵ Descend the stairs, nicknamed “The Steps of St. Catherine,” as the hometown saint would have climbed them each day on her walk from home to the hospital. Below the Baptistery, jog right, then left, and through a tunnel down Via di Diacceto. Pause for a beautiful view of the towering brick Dominican church in the distance on the left. Then continue straight up the lane until you reach the next big square.


This square celebrates the creation of a unified Italy (1860) with a 19th-century loggia sporting busts of the first two Italian kings. The neo-Renaissance loggia is backed by a Gothic palace and an older medieval tower.

✵ Head right downhill one block (on Via delle Terme), back to the grand Via di Città, and take a few steps to the left to see another fancier loggia.


This Gothic-Renaissance loggia was built around 1420 as a headquarters for the union of merchants (it’s just above Il Campo). Siena’s nobility purchased it, and eventually it became the clubhouse of the local elites. To this day, it’s a private, ritzy, and notoriously out-of-touch men’s club. The “Gli Uniti” above the door is a “let’s stick together” declaration.

✵ From here, steep steps lead down to Il Campo, but we’ll go left and uphill on Via Banchi di Sopra. Pause at the intersection of...


These main drags are named “upper row of banks” and “lower row of banks.” They were once lined with market tables (banchi), and vendors paid rent to the city for a table’s position along the street. If the owner of a banco neglected to pay up, thugs came along and literally broke (rotto) his table. It is from this practice—banco rotto, broken table—that we get the English word “bankrupt.”

In medieval times, these streets were part of Via Francigena, the main thoroughfare linking Rome with northern Europe. Today, strollers—out each evening for their passeggiata—fill Via Banchi di Sopra. Join the crowd, strolling past Siena’s finest shops. You could nip into Nannini, a venerable café and pasticceria famous for its local sweets. The traditional Sienese taste treats—such as ricciarelli (macaroon and almond cookies) and panforte (fruity, nutty cake)—are around the far end of the counter in the back (sold by weight, small amounts are fine, a little slice of panforte costs about €3).

A block or so farther up the street, Piazza Tolomei faces the imposing Tolomei family palace. This is a center for the Owl contrada. The column in the square is for contrada announcements of births, deaths, parties, and festivals.

✵ Continue on Via Banchi di Sopra to Piazza Salimbeni; this gets my vote for Siena’s finest stretch of palaces.


The next square, Piazza Salimbeni, is dominated by Monte dei Paschi, the head office of a bank founded in 1472—still in business on this square after over 500 years. Notice the Fort Knox-style base of the building. The statue in the center honors Sallustio Antonio Bandini. His claim to fame: He invented the concept of collateral.

Directly across from Piazza Salimbeni, the steep little lane called Costa dell’Incrociata leads straight (down and then up) to the Church of San Domenico (see here). Also nearby (behind the cute green newsstand) is the most elegant grocery store in town, Consorzio Agrario di Siena.

✵ With this walk under your belt, you’ve got the lay of the land. The city is ready for further exploration—the sights associated with City Hall and the Duomo are all just a few minutes away. Enjoy delving deeper into Siena.


Il Campo and Nearby




Duomo Area








San Domenico Area



Il Campo and Nearby

The gorgeous red-brick square known as Il Campo was first laid out in the 12th century. At the flat end of its clam-shell shape is City Hall, where you can tour the Civic Museum and climb the City Tower.


Siena’s City Hall is the spot where secular government got its start in Renaissance Europe. Stroll the halls to see fascinating frescoes and portraits extolling Siena’s greats, saints, and the city-as-utopia.

Cost and Hours: Museum-€9, €13 combo-ticket with Santa Maria della Scala, €20 combo-ticket includes City Tower and Santa Maria della Scala (valid two days), ticket office is straight ahead as you enter City Hall courtyard, daily mid-March-Oct 10:00-19:00, Nov-mid March until 18:00, last entry 45 minutes before closing, audioguide-€5, tel. 0577-292-342,

Visiting the Museum: Start in the Sala del Risorgimento, with dramatic scenes of Victor Emmanuel II’s unification of Italy (surrounded by statues that don’t seem to care).


Civic Museum

Passing through the chapel, enter the Sala del Mappamondo. On opposite walls are two large frescoes. The beautiful Maestà (Enthroned Virgin, 1315), by Siena’s great Simone Martini (c. 1280-1344), is groundbreaking as the city’s first fresco showing a Madonna not in a faraway, gold-leaf heaven but under the blue sky of a real space that we inhabit. Facing the Maestà is the famous Equestrian Portrait of Guidoriccio da Fogliano (1330), which depicts a mercenary general surveying the imposing castle that his armies have jut conquered.

Next is the Sala della Pace—where the city’s fat cats met. Looking down on the oligarchy was a fresco series showing the Effects of Good and Bad Government, by Sienese painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Compare the whistle-while-you-work happiness of the utopian community (in the better-preserved fresco) against the crime, devastation, and societal mayhem of a community ruled by politicians with more typical values. The message: Without justice, there can be no prosperity.

On your way out, climb up to the loggia (using the stairs just before the Sala del Risorgimento) for a sweeping view of the city and its surroundings.


City Tower on Il Campo


The tower’s nearly 400 steps get pretty skinny at the top, but the reward is one of Italy’s best views (for more on the tower, see here).

Cost and Hours: €10, €20 combo-ticket with Civic Museum and Santa Maria della Scala, daily March-mid-Oct 10:00-19:00, mid-Oct-Feb until 16:00, last entry 45 minutes before closing, closed in rain, free and mandatory bag check.

Crowd Alert: Admission is limited to 50 people at a time. Wait at the bottom of the stairs for the green Avanti light. Try to avoid midday crowds (up to an hour wait at peak times).


This quiet, uncrowded museum walks you through Siena’s art chronologically, from the 12th through the 16th centuries, when a revolution in realism was percolating in Tuscany.

Cost and Hours: €4, Tue-Sat 8:15-19:15, Sun-Mon 9:00-13:00, free and mandatory bag check (must leave ID). From Il Campo, walk out Via di Città and go left on Via San Pietro to #29; tel. 0577-281-161 or 0577-286-143,

Visiting the Museum: The collection lets you follow the evolution of painting styles from Byzantine to Gothic, then to International Gothic, and finally to Renaissance.

Long after Florentine art went realistic, the Sienese embraced a timeless, otherworldly style glittering with gold. In this city of proud craftsmen, the gilding and carpentry of the frames compete with the actual paintings. The exquisite attention to detail gives a glimpse into the wealth of the 13th and 14th centuries, Siena’s Golden Age. The woven silk and gold clothing you’ll see was worn by the very people who once walked these halls (appreciate the colonnaded courtyard).

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effects of Good and Bad Government (Civic Museum)

The core of the collection is on the second floor, in Rooms 1-19. Works by Duccio di Buoninsegna (the artist of the Maestà in the Duomo Museum) feature groundbreaking but subtle innovations: less gold-leaf background, fewer gold creases in robes, translucent garments, inlaid-marble thrones, and a more human Mary and Jesus. Notice that the Madonna-and-Bambino pose is eerily identical in each version. St. Augustine of Siena, by Duccio’s assistant, Simone Martini (who did the Maestà and possibly the Guidoriccio frescoes in the Civic Museum), sets the saint’s life in realistic Sienese streets, buildings, and landscapes. In each panel, the saint pops out at the oddest angles to save the day.

Also look for religious works by the hometown Lorenzetti brothers (Ambrogio is best known for the secular masterpiece, the Effects of Good and Bad Government, in the Civic Museum). Città sul Mare (City by the Sea) and Castello in Riva al Lago (Castle on the Lakeshore) feature a strange, medieval landscape Cubism. Notice the weird, melancholy light that captures the Dark Ages.

Several colorful rooms on the first floor are dedicated to Domenico Beccafumi (1486-1551), who designed many of the Duomo’s inlaid pavement panels (including Slaughter of the Innocents). With strong bodies, twisting poses, and dramatic gestures, Beccafumi’s works epitomize the Mannerist style.

Duomo Area

The cathedral-related sights—the Duomo, Duomo Museum, Crypt, and Baptistery—are clustered together on the hill. All tickets are sold only at the office near the entrance to the Duomo Museum—to the right as you face the Duomo’s facade; no tickets are sold at sight entrances.

Across the street from the Duomo is Santa Maria della Scala, a former hospital (requiring a separate admission).


Siena’s 13th-century cathedral and striped bell tower are an illustrious example of Romanesque-Gothic style in Italy. The interior showcases the work of the greatest sculptors of every era—Pisano, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Bernini—and the Piccolomini Library features a series of 15th-century frescoes chronicling the adventures of Siena’s philanderer-turned-pope, Aeneas Piccolomini.

Cost: €4 includes Duomo and Piccolomini Library, buy ticket at Duomo Museum entrance (facing the Duomo entry, the museum is 100 yards to the right, near the south transept).

Consider the €12 Opa Si combo-ticket to add the Duomo Museum, Crypt, and Baptistery; to also add an escorted visit into the dome and rooftop, get the €20 Opa Si Plus combo-ticket.

Rick’s Tip: Check the line for the Duomo before buying tickets—if there’s a long wait, you can pay an extra €1 for a “reservation” that lets you skip the line (available at the “reserved/fast entrance” queue).

Hours: March-Oct Mon-Sat 10:30-19:00, Sun 13:30-18:00; Nov-Feb closes daily at 17:30.

Dress Code: Modest dress is required, but stylish paper ponchos are provided for the inappropriately clothed.

Information: Tel. 0577-286-300,

Tours: The videoguide is informative but dry (rent in the nave, €6).

Duomo Roof Visit: The Opa Si Plus combo-ticket includes all of the cathedral sights plus a 30-minute accompanied Porta del Cielo (“Heaven’s Gate”) visit to the dome’s cupola and roof (timed-entry ticket, escorted visits of 18 people go each half-hour, March-Oct Mon-Sat 10:30-18:00, Sun 13:30-17:00, less frequent off-season, tel. 0577-286-300 for advance reservations).


Grab a spot on a stone bench opposite the Duomo entry.

Facade: Survey this architectural festival of green, white, pink, and gold. Like a medieval altarpiece, the facade is divided into sections, each frame filled with patriarchs and prophets, studded with gargoyles, and topped with pinnacles.

The current structure dates back to 1215, with the major decoration done during Siena’s heyday (1250-1350). The lower story, by Giovanni Pisano, features remnants of the fading Romanesque style (round arches over the doors), topped with the pointed arches of the new Gothic style that was seeping in from France. The upper half, in full-blown frilly Gothic, was designed and built a century later.


Siena’s Duomo

✵ Step inside, putting yourself in the mindset of a pilgrim as you take in this trove of religious art.

Nave: The heads of 172 popes—who reigned from the time of St. Peter to the 12th century—peer down from above, looking over the fine inlaid art on the floor. With a forest of striped columns, a coffered dome, a large stained-glass window at the far end, and a museum’s worth of early Renaissance art, this is one busy interior. Look closely at the popes; you’ll see the same four faces repeated over and over.

For almost two centuries (1373-1547), 40 artists paved the marble floor. The series starts near the entrance with historical allegories; the larger, more elaborate scenes surrounding the altar are mostly stories from the Old Testament. Many of the floor panels are roped off—and occasionally even covered—to prevent further wear and tear. The second pavement panel from the entrance depicts Siena as a she-wolf at the center of the Italian universe, orbited by such lesser lights as Roma, Florentia (Florence), and Pisa. The fourth pavement panel from the entrance is the Fortune Panel, with Lady Luck (lower right) parachuting down to earth, where she teeters back and forth on a ball and a tipsy boat. The lesson? Fortune is an unstable foundation for life. On the right wall hangs a dim painting of St. Catherine (fourth from entrance), Siena’s homegrown saint who had a vision in which she mystically married Christ.


She-wolf pavement panel

✵ Look for the marble altarpiece decorated with statues.

Piccolomini Altar: This was designed for the tomb of the Sienese-born Pope Pius III (born Francesco Piccolomini), but was never used. The altar is most interesting for its statues: one by Michelangelo and three by his students. Michelangelo was originally contracted for 15 statues, but another sculptor had started the marble blocks, and Michelangelo’s heart was never in the project. He personally finished only one—the figure of St. Paul (lower right, clearly more interesting than the bland, bored popes above him).

✵ Now grab a seat under the...

Dome: The dome sits on a 12-sided base, but its “coffered” ceiling is actually a painted illusion. Get oriented to the array of sights we’ll see by thinking of the church floor as a big 12-hour clock. You’re in the middle, and the altar is high noon: You’ll find the Slaughter of the Innocents roped off on the floor at 10 o’clock; Pisano’s pulpit between two pillars at 11 o’clock; a copy of Duccio’s round stained-glass window at 12 o’clock; Bernini’s chapel at 3 o’clock; the Piccolomini Altar at 7 o’clock; the Piccolomini Library at 8 o’clock; and a Donatello statue at 9 o’clock.

Pisano’s Pulpit: The octagonal Carrara marble pulpit (1268) rests on the backs of lions, symbols of Christianity triumphant. Like the lions, the Church eats its catch (devouring paganism) and nurses its cubs. The seven relief panels tell the life of Christ in rich detail. The pulpit is the work of Nicola Pisano (c. 1220-1278), the “Giotto of sculpture,” whose revival of classical forms (columns, sarcophagus-like relief panels) signaled the coming Renaissance. His son Giovanni (c. 1240-1319) carved many of the panels, mixing his dad’s classicism and realism with the decorative detail and curvy lines of French Gothic.

Duccio’s Stained-Glass Rose Window: This is a copy of the original, famous window now preserved in the Duomo Museum.

Slaughter of the Innocents: This pavement panel shows Herod (left), sitting enthroned amid Renaissance arches, as he orders the massacre of all babies to prevent the coming of the promised Messiah. It’s a chaotic scene of angry soldiers, grieving mothers, and dead babies, reminding locals that a republic ruled by a tyrant will experience misery.

✵ Step into the chapel just behind you (next to the Piccolomini Library) to see the...

St. John the Baptist Statue: The statue of the rugged saint in his famous rags was created by Donatello. The aging Florentine sculptor, whose style was now considered passé in Florence, came here to build bronze doors for the church (similar to Ghiberti’s in Florence). He didn’t complete the door project, but he did finish this bronze statue (1457). Notice the cherubs high above it, playfully dangling their feet.


Pisano’s marble pulpit

✵ Cross the church. Directly opposite find the Chigi Chapel, also known as the...

Chapel of the Madonna del Voto: To understand why Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) is considered the greatest Baroque sculptor, step into this sumptuous chapel (designed in the early 1660s for Fabio Chigi, a.k.a. Pope Alexander VII). Move up to the altar and look back at the two Bernini statues: Mary Magdalene in a state of spiritual ecstasy and St. Jerome playing the crucifix like a violinist lost in beautiful music.

The painting over the altar is the Madonna del Voto, a Madonna and Child adorned with a real crown of gold and jewels (painted by a Sienese master in the mid-13th century). In typical medieval fashion, the scene is set in the golden light of heaven. Mary has the almond eyes, long fingers, and golden folds in her robe that are found in orthodox icons of the time. Still, this Mary tilts her head and looks out sympathetically, ready to listen to the prayers of the faithful. This is the Mary to whom the Palio is dedicated, dear to the hearts of the Sienese. In thanks, they give offerings of silver hearts and medallions, many of which hang on the wall just to the left as you exit the chapel.

✵ Cross back to the other side of the church to find the...

Piccolomini Library: Brilliantly frescoed, the library captures the exuberant, optimistic spirit of the 1400s, when humanism and the Renaissance were born. The never-restored frescoes look nearly as vivid now as the day they were finished 550 years ago. The painter Pinturicchio (c. 1454-1513) was hired to celebrate the life of one of Siena’s hometown boys, a man many call “the first humanist,” Aeneas Piccolomini (1405-1464), who became Pope Pius II. Each of the 10 scenes is framed with an arch, as if Pinturicchio were opening a window onto the spacious 3-D world we inhabit.

The library also contains intricately decorated, illuminated music scores and a statue (a Roman copy of a Greek original) of the Three Graces, who almost seem to dance to the beat. The huge sheepskin sheets of music are from the days before individual hymnals—they had to be big so that many singers could read the music from a distance. Appreciate the fine painted decorations on the music—the gold-leaf highlights, the blue tones from ultramarine (made from precious lapis lazuli), and the miniature figures. All of this detail was lovingly crafted by Benedictine monks for the glory of God.

✵ Exit the Duomo and make a U-turn to the left, walking alongside the church to Piazza Jacopo della Quercia.

Unfinished Church: Construction began in the 1330s on an extension off the right side of the existing Duomo (today’s cathedral would have been used as a transept). The nave of the Duomo was supposed to be where the piazza is today. Worshippers would have entered the church from the far end of the piazza through the unfinished wall. (Look up at the highest part of the wall. That viewpoint is accessible from inside the Duomo Museum.) Some of the nave’s green-and-white-striped columns were built, but are now filled in with a brick wall. White stones in the pavement mark where a row of pillars would have been.

The vision was grand, but reality—and the plague—intervened. Look through the unfinished entrance facade, note blue sky where the stained-glass windows would have been, and ponder the struggles of the human spirit.


Located in a corner of the Duomo’s grand but unfinished extension (to the right as you face the main facade), Siena’s most enjoyable museum was built to house the Duomo’s art. Here you stand eye-to-eye with the saints and angels who once languished, unknown, in the church’s upper reaches (where copies are found today).

Cost and Hours: €7, daily March-Oct 10:30-19:00, Nov-Feb until 17:30, next to the Duomo, in the skeleton of the unfinished part of the church on the Il Campo side, tel. 0577-286-300,

Tours: You can rent a videoguide for €4.


Start your tour at the bottom and work your way up.

Ground Floor: This floor is filled with the Duomo’s original Gothic sculptures by Giovanni Pisano, who spent 10 years in the late 1200s carving and orchestrating the decoration of the Duomo with saints, prophets, sibyls, animals, and the original she-wolf with Romulus and Remus.

On the ground floor you’ll also find Donatello’s fine, round Madonna and Child carved relief. A slender, tender Mary gazes down at her chubby-cheeked baby; her sad eyes show that she knows the eventual fate of her son.

On the opposite side of the room is Duccio’s original stained-glass window, which was originally located above and behind the Duomo’s altar. Now the church has a copy, and art lovers can enjoy a close-up look at this masterpiece. The rose window—20 feet across, made in 1288—is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The work is by Siena’s most famous artist, Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-1319) and combines elements from rigid Byzantine icons (Mary’s almond-shaped bubble, called a mandorla, and the full-frontal saints that flank her) with a budding sense of 3-D realism (the throne turned at a three-quarter angle to simulate depth, with angels behind).

Duccio’s Maestà: Upstairs awaits the Maestà (Enthroned Virgin, 1311), whose panels were once part of the Duomo’s main altarpiece. Although the former altarpiece was disassembled (and the frame was lost), most of the pieces are displayed here, with the front side (Maestà, with Mary and saints) at one end of the room, and the back side (26 Passion panels) at the other.

The Maestà was revolutionary for the time in its sheer size and opulence, and in Duccio’s increasing sense of realism. Duccio, at the height of his powers, used every innovative arrow in his quiver. He replaced the standard gold-leaf background (symbolizing heaven) with a gold, intricately patterned curtain draped over the throne. Mary’s blue robe opens to reveal her body; the curve of her knee suggests real anatomy. Baby Jesus wears a delicately transparent garment. Their faces are modeled with light—a patchwork of bright flesh and shadowy valleys, as if lit from the left (a technique learned from his contemporary Giotto during a visit to Florence).

The flip side of the Maestà featured 26 smaller panels—the medieval equivalent of pages—showing colorful scenes from the Passion of Christ.

Panorama dal Facciatone: About 40 claustrophobic spiral stairs take you to the first viewpoint. You can continue up another 100 steps of a similar spiral staircase to reach the top. Standing on the wall from this high point in the city, you’re rewarded with a stunning view of Siena...and an interesting perspective. Look toward the Duomo and consider this: If Siena’s grandiose plans to expand the cathedral had come to fruition, you’d be looking straight down the nave toward the altar.


Duccio, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, from the Maestà


This richly adorned and quietly tucked-away cave is worth a look for its cool tranquility and exquisite art, including an ornately painted vaulted ceiling. The highlight is the baptismal font designed by Jacopo della Quercia and adorned with bronze panels and angels by Quercia, Ghiberti, and Donatello. It dates from the 1420s, the start of the Renaissance.

Cost and Hours: €4, daily March-Oct 10:30-19:00, Nov-Feb until 17:30.


The Duomo’s crypt is archaeologically important. The site of a small 12th-century Romanesque church, it was filled in with dirt a century after its creation to provide a foundation for the huge church that sits atop it today. After being excavated, the rooms exhibit what are likely the oldest frescoes in town.

Cost and Hours: €6, €8 during special exhibitions, daily March-Oct 10:30-19:00, Nov-Feb until 17:30, entrance near the top of the stairs between the Baptistery and Duomo Museum.


This museum, opposite the Duomo, operated for centuries as a hospital, foundling home, and pilgrim lodging. Many of those activities are visible in the 15th-century frescoes of its main hall, the Pellegrinaio. Today, the hospital and its cellars are filled with fascinating exhibits.

Cost and Hours: €9, €13 combo-ticket with Civic Museum, €20 combo-ticket includes the Civic Museum and Tower (valid two days); March-Oct Mon and Wed 10:30-16:30, Thu-Sun 10:30-18:30, closed Tue; Nov-Feb closes at 16:00; tel. 0577-534-571,

Visiting the Museum: It’s easy to get lost in this gigantic complex, so stay focused on the main attractions—the fancily frescoed Pellegrinaio Hall (ground floor), most of the original Fountain of Joy and some of the most ancient Byzantine reliquaries in existence (first basement), and the Etruscan collection in the Archaeological Museum (second basement), where the Sienese took refuge during WWII bombing.

From the entrance, follow signs to Pellegrinaio—the long hall with sumptuously frescoed walls (by Sienese painters, c. 1442, wonderfully described in English). This was originally a reception hall for visiting pilgrims, then a hospital. Starting in the 11th century, the hospital nursed the sick and cared for abandoned children, as is vividly portrayed in these frescoes. The good works paid off, as bequests and donations poured in, creating the wealth that’s evident throughout this building.

Head down the stairs, then continue straight into the darkened rooms that contain pieces of Siena’s landmark fountain—follow signs to Fonte Gaia.

An engaging exhibit explains Jacopo della Quercia’s early 15th-century Fountain of Joy (Fonte Gaia)—and displays the disassembled pieces of the original fountain itself. In the 19th century, after serious deterioration, the ornate fountain was dismantled and plaster casts were made. (These casts formed the replica that graces Il Campo today.) Here you’ll see the eroded original panels paired with their restored casts, along with the actual statues that once stood on the edges of the fountain.

To visit the reliquaries, retrace your steps and follow the signs for Il Tesoro. Many of these Byzantine reliquaries are made of gold, silver, and precious stones. Legend has it that some were owned by Helen, Constantine’s mother. They were “donated” to the hospital around 1350, shortly after the plague that decimated the city, since the sale of reliquaries was forbidden.

Now, descend into the cavernous second basement. Under the vaults of the Archaeological Museum, you’re alone with piles of ancient Etruscan stuff excavated from tombs dating centuries before Christ (displayed in another labyrinthine exhibit). You’ll see terra-cotta funeral urns for ashes (the design was often a standard body with the heads personalized) and many domestic artifacts from the 8th to the 5th century b.c.

San Domenico Area


This huge brick church is worth a quick look. Spacious and plain (except for the colorful flags of the city’s 17 contrade), the Gothic interior fits the austere philosophy of the Dominicans and invites meditation on the thoughts and deeds of St. Catherine (1347-1380). Walk up the steps in the rear to see paintings from her life. Halfway up the church on the right, find a copper bust of St. Catherine (for four centuries it contained her skull), a small case housing her thumb (on the right), and a page from her personal devotional book (12th century, on the left). In the chapel (15 feet to the left) surrounded with candles, you’ll see Catherine’s head (a clay mask around her skull with her actual teeth showing through) atop the altar. Through the door just beyond are the sacristy and the bookstore.

Cost and Hours: Free, daily 7:00-18:30, shorter hours off-season,


Step into the cool, peaceful site of Catherine’s home. Siena remembers its favorite hometown gal, a simple, unschooled, but mystically devout soul who helped convince the pope to return from France to Rome. She’s one of Italy’s two patron saints (the other is St. Francis). Pilgrims have visited her home since 1464. Architects and artists have embellished what was once a humble dwelling (her family worked as wool dyers). Paintings throughout show scenes from her life.

Enter through the courtyard, and walk down the stairs at the far end. The church on your right contains the wooden crucifix upon which Catherine was meditating when she received the stigmata (the wounds of Christ) in 1375. Back outside, the oratory across the courtyard stands where the kitchen once was. Go down the stairs (left of the gift shop) to reach the saint’s room. Catherine’s bare cell is behind wrought-iron doors.

Cost and Hours: Free, daily 9:00-18:00, Chapel of the Crucifixion closed from 12:30-15:00 but church stays open, a few downhill blocks toward the center from San Domenico—follow signs to Santuario di Santa Caterina—at Costa di Sant’Antonio 6.


The Palio

Siena’s 17 historic neighborhoods, or contrade, compete in the city’s world-famous horse race, the Palio di Siena, held twice a year on July 2 and August 16. Ten of the 17 neighborhoods participate (chosen by rotation and lot), hurling themselves with medieval abandon into several days of trial races and traditional revelry. Jockeys—usually from out of town—are considered hired guns, no better than paid mercenaries. Bets are placed on which contrada will win...and lose. Despite the shady behind-the-scenes dealing, on the big day, the horses are taken into their contrada’s church to be blessed. (“Go and return victorious,” says the priest.) It’s considered a sign of luck if a horse leaves droppings in the church.

On the evening of the race, Il Campo is stuffed to the brim with locals and tourists. Dirt is brought in and packed down to create the track’s surface, while mattresses pad the walls of surrounding buildings. The most treacherous spots are the sharp corners.

Ten snorting horses and their nervous riders line up near the pharmacy (on the west side of the square) to await the starting signal. Then they race like crazy while spectators wave the scarves of their neighborhoods. One lap around the course is about a third of a mile (350 meters); three laps make a full circuit. In this no-holds-barred race—which lasts just over a minute—a horse can win even without its rider.


Palio pageantry

When the winner crosses the line, 1/17th of Siena—the prevailing neighborhood—goes berserk. Winners receive a palio (banner), typically painted by a local artist and always featuring the Virgin Mary (the race is dedicated to her). But the true prize is proving that your contrada is numero uno, and mocking your losing rivals.

Bleacher and balcony seats are expensive, but it’s free to join the masses in the square. If you’re packed in with 60,000 people, you may not see much, but you’ll feel the excitement. Go with an empty bladder as there are no WCs, and be prepared to surrender any sense of personal space.

You can more easily see the horse-race trials—called prove—on any of the three days before the main event (usually at 9:00 and after 19:00, free seats in bleachers). For more info, visit


You can enjoy ordering high on the menu here without going broke. For pasta, a good option is pici (PEE-chee), a thick Sienese spaghetti that seems to be at the top of every menu.

In the Old Town


Taverna San Giuseppe offers modern Tuscan cuisine with a chic grotto atmosphere in a fine old medieval vault. Their menu is creative and enticing, and the dishes are beautifully presented. Be sure to venture down into the Etruscan wine cellar. Reserve ahead or arrive early (€10 pastas, €15-20 secondi, Mon-Sat 12:00-14:30 & 19:00-22:00, closed Sun, air-con, 7-minute climb up street to the right of City Hall at Via Giovanni Dupre 132, tel. 0577-42286,

Antica Osteria Da Divo is a great splurge. The kitchen is inventive, the ambience is candlelit, some of the seating fills old Etruscan tombs, and the food is top-notch. Reservations are smart (€12 pastas, €20-26 secondi, wine by the glass on request, Wed-Mon 12:00-14:30 & 19:00-22:30, closed Tue; facing Baptistery door, take the far right street to Via Franciosa 29; tel. 0577-284-381,

Osteria le Logge offers great Mediterranean cuisine with seasonal local ingredients. Enjoy a gorgeous living-room setting inside (books, wood, and wine bottles) or pleasant al fresco seating (€14 pastas, €24 secondi, Mon-Sat 12:00-15:00 & 19:00-23:00, closed Sun, two blocks off Il Campo at Via del Porrione 33, tel. 0577-48013).

Enoteca I Terzi presents a simple yet appealing menu and fine wine selection under medieval vaults. Choose a table on the quiet square out front or in an elegant dining room, but avoid the back room (€10 primi, €18 secondi, Mon-Sat 11:00-24:00, closed Sun, Via dei Termini 7, tel. 0577-44329).


Ristorante Guidoriccio, just a few steps below Il Campo, is warm and welcoming. Ask your gentle host Ercole for suggestions from the menu (€9 pastas, €14-15 secondi, Mon-Sat 12:30-14:30 & 19:00-22:30, closed Sun, air-con, no outdoor seating, Via Giovanni Dupre 2, tel. 0577-44350).

Trattoria Papei dishes out generous portions of rib-stickin’ Tuscan specialties in a rollicking atmosphere. Its sprawling space under brown tents in a parking lot is often jammed—so call to reserve (€8 pastas, €9-13 secondi, daily 12:00-15:00 & 19:00-22:30, on the market square behind City Hall at Piazza del Mercato 6, tel. 0577-280-894).

Compagnia dei Vinattieri serves modern Tuscan dishes with a creative twist in a classy space under brick arches. The owners are happy to show you the marvelous wine cellar (€10 pastas, €16-18 secondi, beef is big here, leave this book on the table for a complimentary aperitivo or digestivo, daily 12:30-15:00 & 19:30-23:00, enter at Via dei Pittori 1 or Via delle Terme 79, tel. 0577-236-568).

Hostaria Il Carroccio, artsy and convivial, seats guests in a tight dining room and serves elegant slow food with innovative flair (€8 pastas, €14-18 secondi, €30 tasting menu—minimum two people, cash only, reservations wise, Thu-Tue 12:30-15:00 & 19:30-22:00, closed Wed, Via del Casato di Sotto 32, tel. 0577-41165).


La Taverna Di Cecco is a simple, comfortable little eatery serving tasty salads and local specialties made with fresh ingredients (€10 pastas and big salads, €12-16 secondi, daily 12:00-16:00 & 19:00-23:00, Via Cecco Angiolieri 19, tel. 0577-288-518).

Trattoria La Torre is an unfussy casalinga (home-cooking) place, popular for homemade pasta. Its open kitchen and 10 tables are packed under one medieval brick arch. Come here more for the fun atmosphere than the cuisine (€8-10 pastas, €8-11 secondi, Fri-Wed 12:00-15:00 & 19:00-22:00, closed Thu, just steps below Il Campo at Via di Salicotto 7, tel. 0577-287-548).

Il Pomodorino is a lively restaurant serving meal-size salads, the best pizza in town, and a wide selection of beer. The real appeal is the outdoor terrace with a great view of the Duomo (€7-10 pizza and salads, daily April-Oct 12:00-late, Nov-March 19:00-late, a few steps from the recommended Alma Domus hotel at Via Camporegio 13, tel. 0577-286-811, mobile 345-026-5865).

On Il Campo

If you choose to eat on perhaps the finest town square in Italy, you’ll pay a premium and get mediocre food. Yet I highly recommend it. Survey the scene during the day and reserve an evening table at the place that suits you.

Ristorante Alla Speranza, with perhaps the best view in all of Italy, is a good option (€9-12 pastas and pizzas, €17-19 secondi, daily 9:00-late, Piazza Il Campo 32, tel. 0577-280-190,

Il Bandierino is another decent choice for drinks or food, with an angled view of City Hall (€10-12 salads and pizzas, €14-15 pastas; no cover but a 20 percent service charge, daily 11:00-23:00, Piazza Il Campo 64, tel. 0577-275-894).

Bar Il Palio is the best bar on Il Campo for a before- or after-dinner drink: It has straightforward prices, no cover, decent waiters, and a fantastic perspective out over the square (daily 8:30-late, Piazza Il Campo 47, tel. 0577-282-055).






Finding a room in Siena is tough during Easter or the Palio (July 2 and Aug 16). Many hotels won’t take reservations until the end of May for the Palio, and even then they might require a four-night stay. Day-trippers pack the town in midsummer, but Siena is basically yours in the evenings and off-season.

Part of Siena’s charm is its lively, festive character—this means that all hotels can be plagued with noise, especially in the pedestrian-only zone. If tranquility is important, ask for a room off the street.

Fancy Sleeps near Il Campo

These well-run places are a 10-minute walk from Il Campo. If driving, get parking instructions from your hotel in advance. Go through Porta San Marco, turn right, and follow signs to your hotel—drop your bags, then park as they instruct.

$$$ Pensione Palazzo Ravizza is elegant and friendly, with 39 rooms and an aristocratic feel. Enjoy a peaceful garden set on a dramatic bluff. Parking here is free and the hotel is easily walkable from the center (Sb-€180, standard Db-€180, superior Db-€220, Tb-€255, family suites-€300, rooms in back overlook countryside, air-con, elevator, Via Piano dei Mantellini 34, tel. 0577-280-462,,

$$$ Hotel Duomo has 20 spacious and tidy rooms, a picnic-friendly roof terrace, and a bizarre floor plan (Sb-€105, Db-€130, Db suite-€180, Tb-€180, Qb-€230, elevator with some stairs, air-con, parking-€20/day; Via di Stalloreggi38, tel. 0577-289-088,, If you’re arriving by train, take a taxi (€12) or ride bus #3 to the Porta Tufi stop, just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel.

Simple Places near Il Campo

Most of these listings are forgettable but well-priced.

Sleep Code

Abbreviations: S=Single, D=Double/Twin, T=Triple, Q=Quad, b=bathroom

Price Rankings for Double Rooms: $$$ Most rooms €130 or more, $$ €90-130, $ €90 or less

Notes: Many Italian cities levy a hotel tax of €1.50-5 per person, per night (often collected in cash; usually not included in the rates I’ve quoted). Room prices change; verify rates online or by email. For the best prices, book directly with the hotel.

$$ Piccolo Hotel Etruria, with 20 simple rooms, is well located and restful (S-€50, Sb-€60, Db-€110, Tb-€138, Qb-€156, use discount code “RSITA” for best rates, breakfast-€6.50, air-con May-Oct only, elevator, at Via delle Donzelle 1, tel. 0577-288-088,,

$ Albergo Tre Donzelle may be the best budget value in the center, with 20 homey rooms (S-€38, D-€49, Db-€75, T-€70, Tb-€95, breakfast-€6.50, fans, no elevator; with your back to the tower, head away from Il Campo toward 2 o’clock to Via delle Donzelle 5; tel. 0577-270-390,,

$ Hotel Cannon d’Oro, a few blocks up Via Banchi di Sopra, is a labyrinthine slumbermill renting 30 institutional, overpriced rooms (Sb-€71, Db-€90, Tb-€115, Qb-€136, mention this book for the best prices, fans, Via dei Montanini 28, tel. 0577-44-321,,; Maurizio, Tommaso, Serge, and Rodrigo).

$ Casa Laura has eight clean, charming rooms (Db-€65, Db with air-con-€75, no elevator, Via Roma 3, about a 10-minute walk from Il Campo toward Porta Romana, tel. 0577-226-061,,

B&Bs in the Old Center

$$ Antica Residenza Cicogna is a homey seven-room guesthouse with an ideal location. With artfully frescoed walls and ceilings, it’s remarkably genteel for the price (Db-€98, Db suite-€120, third bed-€15, air-con, no elevator, Via delle Terme 76, tel. 0577-285-613, mobile 347-007-2888,,

$$ Palazzo Masi B&B, just below Il Campo, rents six pleasant, spacious, antique-furnished rooms with shared common areas in a restored 13th-century building. It’s sometimes unstaffed, so confirm arrival time in advance (D-€70, Db-€110; for best rates, book directly and pay in cash; no breakfast, no elevator; from City Hall, walk 50 yards down Via del Casato di Sotto to #29; mobile 349-600-9155,,

$ B&B Alle Due Porte is an attractive little establishment renting four big rooms under big medieval beams. The breakfast room is delightful (Db-€85, windowless Db with small bed-€65, Tb-€110, air-con in three rooms, Via di Stalloreggi 51, tel. 0577-287-670, mobile 368-352-3530,,

$ Le Camerine di Silvia, a romantic hideaway perched near a sweeping, grassy olive grove, rents five simple but cozy rooms in a converted 16th-century building. Enjoy the small terrace and hedged garden (Db-€50-€80, cash only, view room on request, no breakfast, fans, shared microwave and small fridge, free parking nearby, Via Ettore Bastianini 1, mobile 338-761-5052 or 339-123-7687,,, Conti family).

$ B&B Siena in Centro is a clearinghouse managing 15 rooms and five apartments. Their handy office functions as a reception area; stop by here to pick up your key and be escorted. The rooms are generally spacious, quiet, and comfortable, but lack air-conditioning and Wi-Fi (Sb-€45-60, Db-€70-90, Tb-€90-120, reception open 9:00-13:30 & 15:00-19:00, other times by phone request, Wi-Fi in office, Via di Stalloreggi 16, tel. 0577-43041, mobile 331-281-0136 or 347-465-9753,,

Near San Domenico Church

These hotels are within a 10- to 15-minute walk northwest of Il Campo.

$ Alma Domus is a church-run hotel featuring 28 tidy rooms with quaint balconies (ask for a room con vista), stately public rooms, and a pleasant atmosphere. The thin doors, echoey halls, and nearby church bells are drawbacks. Upgrade to a superior room for slightly more (Sb-€51, Db-€87, Tb-€125, book directly with the hotel and mention Rick Steves for the best price, air-con, elevator; from San Domenico, walk downhill toward the view with the church on your right, turn left down Via Camporegio, make a U-turn down the brick steps to Via Camporegio 37; tel. 0577-44-177,,

$ Albergo Bernini makes you part of a Sienese family in a modest, clean home with 10 traditional rooms. Enjoy a spectacular view terrace for breakfast and picnic lunches and dinners (S-€55, D-€80, Db-€100, T-€105, Tb-€125, family room available, breakfast-€5, fans, on the main Il Campo-San Domenico drag at Via della Sapienza 15, tel. 0577-289-047,,

$$$ Hotel Chiusarelli, with 48 classy rooms in a beautiful frescoed Neoclassical villa, is outside the medieval town center on a busy street. Expect traffic noise at night—ask for a quieter room in the back (which can be guaranteed with reservation, Sb-€105, Db-€160, Tb-€190, ask for the Rick Steves discount when you book directly with hotel, air-con, across from San Domenico at Viale Curtatone 15, tel. 0577-280-562,,


Arriving and Departing

Siena is a great hub for buses to the hill towns, though frequency drops on Sundays and holidays. For most, Florence is the gateway to Siena. Even if you’re a rail-pass user, connect these two cities by bus—it’s faster than the train, and Siena’s bus station is more convenient and central than its train station on the edge of town.


Most buses arrive in Siena at Piazza Gramsci, a few blocks north of the city center. Some buses only go to the train station; others go first to the train station, then continue to Piazza Gramsci—to find out if yours does, ask your driver, “pee-aht-sah GRAHM-chee?” From Piazza Gramsci, it’s an easy walk into the town center—just head in the opposite direction of the tree-filled park.

The main bus companies, which cover the region and beyond, are Tiemme/Siena Mobilità and Sena/Baltour. Their offices, with posted bus schedules, are in an underground passageway called Sottopassaggio la Lizza, underneath Piazza Gramsci (has pay WCs). You can buy bus tickets at these offices, or from the driver when you board, but it costs €3-5 extra.

Tiemme/Siena Mobilità covers mainly regional destinations (cash only, Mon-Fri 6:30-19:30, Sat-Sun 7:00-19:30, tel. 0577-204-111, and also offers luggage storage for day-trippers (daily 7:00-19:00, carry-on-sized luggage no more than 33 pounds, no overnight storage).

Sena/Baltour buses operate mainly long-distance connections (accepts credit cards, Mon-Fri 7:30-20:00, Sat 7:30-12:30 & 13:45-16:15, Sun 10:15-13:15 & 14:00-18:45, tel. 0861-199-1900,

If you’re leaving Siena by bus and you need to find Sottopassaggio la Lizza beneath Piazza Gramsci, look for the stairwells in front of NH Excelsior Hotel.

Tiemme/Siena Mobilità Bus Connections to: Florence (roughly 2/hour, 1.5-hour rapida/via superstrada buses are faster than the train, avoid the 2-hour ordinaria buses unless you have time to enjoy the beautiful scenery en route; tickets also available at tobacco shops/tabacchi; generally leaves from Piazza Gramsci as well as train station), Montepulciano (6-8/day, none on Sun, 1.5 hours, from train station), Montalcino (6/day Mon-Sat, 4/day Sun, 1.5 hours, from train station or Piazza del Sale), Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport (3/day, 2 hours, one direct, two via Poggibonsi), Rome’s Fiumicino Airport (3/day, 3.5 hours, from Piazza Gramsci).

Sena/Baltour Bus Connections to: Rome (9/day, 3 hours, from Piazza Gramsci, arrives at Rome’s Tiburtina station on Metro line B with easy connections to the central Termini train station), Naples (2/day, 6.5 hours, one at 17:00 and an overnight bus that departs at 00:20), Milan (2/day direct, 4.5 hours, more with change in Bologna, departs from Piazza Gramsci, arrives at Milan’s Cadorna Station with Metro access and direct trains to Malpensa Airport), Assisi (daily at 17:30, 2 hours, departs from Siena train station, arrives at Assisi Santa Maria degli Angeli; from there it’s a 10-minute taxi/bus ride uphill to city center). To reach the town center of Pisa, the train is better.


The small train station at the base of the hill, on the edge of Siena, has a bar/tobacco shop, a bus office (Mon-Fri 7:15-19:30, Sat 7:15-17:45, Sun 7:15-12:00 & 15:15-18:30, opens later in winter), and a newsstand (which sells local bus tickets—buy one if you’re taking the city bus into town), but no baggage check or lockers (stow bags at Piazza Gramsci). A shopping mall with a Pam supermarket is across the plaza right in front of the station. WCs are at the far north on track 1, past the pharmacy to the left.

To reach central Siena, you can hop aboard the city bus, ride a long series of escalators, or take a taxi.

To ride the city bus, go through the shopping mall’s right-hand door at the corner entrance and take the elevator down to the subterranean bus stop. If you didn’t buy bus tickets in the train station, you can get them from the blue machine. Buses leave frequently (6/hour, fewer on Sun and after 22:00, €1.20, about a 10-minute ride into town). Smaller shuttle buses go up to Piazza del Sale, while bigger city buses head to nearby Piazza Gramsci (both at the north end of town, walkable to most of my recommended hotels). Before boarding, double-check the destination with the driver by asking “Centro?” Validate your ticket in the machine onboard.

Riding the escalator into town takes a few minutes longer and requires more walking than the bus. Head for the shopping mall across the square. From the tracks, go down the stairs into the tunnel that connects the platforms; this leads (with escalators) right up into the mall. Alternatively, you can exit the station out the front door, bear left across the square, and use the corner entrance marked Galleria Porta Siena (near the Pam supermarket). Once inside, go straight ahead and ride the escalators up two floors to the food court. Continue directly through the glass doors to another escalator (marked Porta Camollia/Centro) that takes you gradually up into town. Exiting the escalator, turn left down the big street, bear left at the fork, then continue straight through the town gate. From here, landmarks are well-signed (go up Via Camollia).

The taxi stand is to your left as you exit the train station, but getting one can take a while (about €10 to Il Campo, taxi tel. 0577-49222).

If leaving Siena by train, here’s how to get from the city center to the station: Ride a small shuttle bus from Piazza del Sale, or catch an orange or red-and-silver city bus from Piazza Gramsci (which may take a more roundabout route). Multiple bus routes make this trip—look for Ferrovia or Stazione on schedules and marked on the bus, and confirm with the driver that the bus is going to the stazione (staht-see-OH-nay).

Train Connections from Siena to: Florence (direct trains hourly, 1.5-2 hours; bus is better), Pisa (2/hour, 2 hours, change at Empoli), Assisi (10/day, about 4 hours, most involve 2 changes, bus is faster), Rome (1-2/hour, 3-4 hours, change in Florence or Chiusi), Orvieto (12/day, 2.5 hours, change in Chiusi). For more info, visit


Siena is not a good place to drive. Plan on parking in a big lot or garage and walking into town.

Drivers coming from the autostrada take the Siena Ovest exit and follow signs for Centro, then Stadio (stadium). The soccer-ball signs take you to the stadium lot (Parcheggio Stadio, €2/hour, pay when you leave) near Piazza Gramsci and the huge, bare-brick Church of San Domenico. The nearby Fortezza lot charges the same amount.

Another good option is the underground Santa Caterina garage (you’ll see signs on the way to the stadium lot, same price). From the garage, hike 150 yards uphill through a gate to an escalator on the right, which carries you up into the city. If you’re staying in the south end of town, try the Il Campo lot, near Porta Tufi.

Driving within Siena’s city center is restricted to local cars and is policed by automatic cameras. If you drive or park anywhere marked Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL), expect a hefty ticket in the mail back home. Check with your hotel in advance if you plan to drop off your bags before parking.


Wine aficionados head for Montepulciano and Montalcino—each a happy gauntlet of wine shops and art galleries. Montepulciano is the more all-around engaging town; it’s the better choice for those without a car (though connections can still be tricky), and also works well for drivers. With its easy access to the vineyards, Montalcino makes sense for wine pilgrims.


Curving its way along a ridge, Montepulciano (mohn-teh-pull-chee-AH-noh) delights visitors with vino and views.


Commercial action centers in the lower town, mostly along Via di Gracciano nel Corso, which begins at the town gate called Porta al Prato and winds up through town to the main square, Piazza Grande, at the top.


Getting There: Montepulciano has good bus connections with Siena (6-8/day, none on Sun, 1.5 hours), as well as Florence (1-2/day, 2 hours, change in Bettolle, LFI bus,; or catch the hourly train to Chiusi for the 50-minute trip, then the bus to Montepulciano). Connecting Montepulciano and Montalcino by bus requires a transfer (3-4/daily except Sun, 1.25 hours total). Or consider hiring a taxi to Montalcino or other destinations nearby (about €70, tel. 348-702-4124, For bus schedules, check or The nearest train station is five miles away on a minor train line, but can be useful on Sundays when few buses run.

Arrival in Montepulciano: Buses stop at the bus station on Piazza Nenni; across the street inside the modern orange-brick structure is an elevator up to the main gate. There’s no official luggage storage in town, but the TI might let you leave bags with them if they have space.

Drivers will find pay parking lots ringing the city center; try to park at the north end of town, near the Porta al Prato gate. A twice-hourly shuttle bus travels from near the TI to the main square (2/hour, €1.10, buy tickets at bars or tobacco shops). Avoid the “ZTL” no-traffic zone (marked with a red circle).

Tourist Information: The TI is just outside the Porta al Prato city gate, underneath the small parking lot (Mon-Sat 9:30-12:30 & 15:00-18:00, Sun 9:30-12:30, daily until 20:00 in July-Aug, Piazza Don Minzoni, tel. 0578-757-341,

The private “Strada del Vino” office on the main square provides wine-road maps, and tours (Mon-Fri 10:00-13:00 & 15:00-18:00, Piazza Grande 7, tel. 0578-717-484,


Montepulciano’s famous wine, Vino Nobile, can be tasted in any of the cantinas lining Via Ricci and Via di Gracciano nel Corso.


The cantina in the basement of Palazzo Contucci is both historic and fun. Skip the palace’s formal wine-tasting showroom facing the square, and instead head down the lane on the right to the actual cellars. The Contucci family has lived here since the 11th century; they usually have a half-dozen bottles open for tastings. After sipping a little wine, explore the palace basement, with its 13th-century vaults that have been filled with huge wine barrels since the 1500s.

Cost and Hours: Free drop-in tasting, daily 9:30-12:30 & 14:30-19:00, Piazza Grande 13, tel. 0578-757-006,


The most impressive wine cellars in Montepulciano sit below Palazzo Ricci, just a few steps off the main square (toward the Church of San Francesco). Enter through the unassuming door and make your way down the spiral staircase to the dramatic cellars, with gigantic vaults several stories high. At the deepest point, you can peer into the atmospheric Etruscan cave. Finally you wind up in the shop, where you can taste a few wines; their sweet Vin Santo is good.

Cost and Hours: Tasting €3; €12-20 bottles, affordable shipping, daily 10:30-19:00; enter next to Palazzo Ricci at Via Callazzi 7, look for signs for Cantine de’ Ricci (the maker’s name) or Cantine del Redi (the wine’s name); tel. 0578-757-166,


This historic cellar, which goes down and down to an Etruscan tomb at the bottom, ages a well-respected wine. With a passion and love of their craft, Cristian Pepi and Andrea give enthusiastic tours and tastings. While you can drop by for a free tasting, call ahead to book a tour, which includes five wines to taste.



Cost and Hours: Free tasting, €10 tour, daily March-Oct 10:00-19:30, shorter hours off-season, a block off Piazza Grande at Via Talosa 8, tel. 0578-757-929,


Ai Quattro Venti is flavorful, fun, and convenient, right on Piazza Grande (closed Thu, tel. 0578-717-231). Osteria dell’Aquacheta is a carnivore’s dream come true. Reserve for dinner (closed Tue, Via del Teatro 22, tel. 0578-717-086, E Lucevan le Stelle has a terrace on a tranquil square, perfect for nursing a glass of local wine (daily 12:00-24:00, closed Nov-Easter, Piazza San Francesco 5, tel. 0578-758-725).


Try medieval-elegant $$$ Mueblè il Riccio (a block below the main square at Via Talosa 21, tel. 0578-757-713, or tidy $$ Camere Bellavista (Via Ricci 25, mobile 347-823-2314,


On a hill overlooking vineyards and valleys, Montalcino is famous for its delicious, pricey Brunello di Montalcino red wines. The surrounding countryside is littered with upscale wineries, some of which offer tastings.


Sitting atop a hill amidst a sea of vineyards, Montalcino is surrounded by walls and dominated by the Fortezza (a.k.a. “La Rocca”). From here, roads lead down into the two main squares: Piazza Garibaldi and Piazza del Popolo.

Getting There: Montalcino is well-connected to Siena by bus (6/day Mon-Sat, 4/day Sun, 1.25 hours). Montalcino and Montepulciano bus connections require a transfer (3-4/daily except Sun, 1.25 hours total). Check schedules locally or online ( or The nearest train station is a 20-minute bus ride away, in Buonconvento (bus runs nearly hourly).

Regional Wines

Montepulciano is known for its Vino Nobile, while Montalcino is famous for its Brunello. In each wine, the predominant grape is a clone of sangiovese (Tuscany’s red wine grape).

The oldest red wine in Tuscany, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (“noble wine of Montepulciano”) has been produced since the late 1500s. It’s a dry ruby red, made mostly with the Prugnolo Gentile variety of sangiovese (70 percent). Aged two years—one year of which must be in oak casks—it’s more full-bodied than a typical Chianti and less tannic than a Brunello. It pairs well with meat and local cheeses.

First created by the Biondi Santi clan in the late 19th century, Brunello di Montalcino (“the little brown one of Montalcino”—named for the color of the grapes before harvest) ranks among Italy’s finest and most expensive wines. Made from 100 percent Sangiovese Grosso (a.k.a. Brunello) grapes, it’s smooth, dry, and aged for a minimum of two years in wood casks, plus an additional four months in the bottle. It’s designed to cellar for 10 years or longer—but who can wait? It pairs well with the local cuisine; the perfect match is Chianina beef. You’ll also see Rosso di Montalcino (a younger version of Brunello), which is aged for one year. This “poor man’s Brunello” is good, at half the price.

Arrival in Montalcino: The bus station is on Piazza Cavour, within the town walls and about 300 yards from the town center. From here, simply follow Via Mazzini straight up into town. A few shops offer limited, short-term luggage storage; ask at the TI.


Drivers should skirt around the fortress (Fortezza), take the first right, and follow signs to parking and Fortezza (€1.50/hour, free 20:00-8:00). Or, if you don’t mind a climb, park for free below the fortress: At the roundabout, take the small downhill lane into the big lower parking lot. If these lots are full, follow the town’s western wall toward the Madonna del Soccorso church and a long pay lot.

Tourist Information: The helpful TI, just off Piazza Garibaldi in City Hall, offers a list of more than 150 regional wineries and books visits for a €1-per-person fee (daily 10:00-13:00 & 14:00-17:50, tel. 0577-849-331,

Wine Tasting

Some wineries will admit drop-ins in the afternoon for a quick taste, but it’s best to reserve ahead. Tours generally last 45-60 minutes, cost €10-15 per person, and conclude with a tasting. The Brunello Wine Bus laces together a variety of wineries (€25, mid-June-Oct Tue, Thu, and Sat, departs at 9:00, returns at 20:00, tel. 0577-846-021, If you have a car, these wineries are easy to visit (see map on here):


This endearing family-run winery is about a five-minute drive south of Montalcino. Call or email ahead to schedule a one-hour tour and tasting (€10-36 bottles, Loc. Le Prata 262, tel. 0577-846-168,, From SP-14 south of Montalcino, take the turnoff on the right for Camigliano and Tavernelle onto SP-103; after a minute, follow the Castiglion del Bosco sign; and in another minute, when the road becomes gravel, you’ll hit the driveway into Le Potazzine (on the left).


This big, glitzy winery is perched high above the Romanesque Sant’Antimo Abbey, overlooking sprawling vineyards (€17-36 bottles, Podere Loreto e San Pio, tel. 0577-835-681, To reach it, head up into the town of Castelnuovo dell’Abate (just above Sant’Antimo Abbey), bear left at the Bassomondo restaurant, and continue up along the gravel road (enjoying vineyard and abbey views) to the end.


Wine tasting near Montalcino


This family-run vineyard offers two or three free tastes or formal tastings and tours in a classy enoteca with an outdoor view terrace (€10-25 tours, Mon-Fri 9:00-19:00, Sat 10:30-18:30, head toward Castelnuovo dell’Abate but go right before entering that town, following signs toward Sant’Angelo in Colle, tel. 0577-835-616,,


Elegant Altesino is in a stunning location, just off the a back road twisting up cypress-lined gravel lanes to expansive vineyard views (€12.50 for tour and basic tasting, daily, may close for midafternoon break, Loc. Altesino 54, tel. 0577-806-208, You’ll find the turnoff for Altesino along the back road (SP-45) between Montalcino and Buonconvento (not the main SR-2 highway).


This family winery emphasizes quality over quantity, with a rustic tasting room on a working farm. Call ahead for a farm-fresh lunch (€15 for tasting and tour, 2-person minimum, €12-27 bottles, Loc. San Giulia 48, tel. 0577-834-270, From Torrenieri’s main intersection, follow the brown Via Francigena signs. After crossing the train tracks and a bridge, watch on the left to follow signs for Sasso di Sole, then Sta. Giulia; you’ll take gravel roads through farm fields to the winery.


Caffè Fiaschetteria Italiana is a grand café serving wine, light lunches, and the best espresso in town (€6-13 wine by the glass, €8-12 plates, daily 7:30-23:00, Piazza del Popolo 6, tel. 0577-849-043). Enoteca la Fortezza di Montalcino serves top-end wines and light snacks by the glass in a medieval setting inside Montalcino’s fort (tastings start at €13 for 3 wines, daily 9:00-20:00, closes at 18:00 Nov-March, inside Fortezza, tel. 0577-849-211).

Intimate Re di Macchia serves a seasonal menu alongside a fine wine list (€10 pastas, €16 secondi, Fri-Wed 12:00-14:00 & 19:00-21:00, closed Thu, Via Soccorso Saloni 21, tel. 0577-846-116). Taverna del Grappolo Blu is unpretentious but serious about its wine, game, and homemade pasta (€9 pastas, €9-14 secondi, Sat-Thu 12:00-15:00 & 19:00-22:00, closed Fri, Scale di Via Moglio 1, tel. 0577-847-150,


Consider plush $$$ Hotel Dei Capitani (request a view room, Via Lapini 6, tel. 0577-847-227,, refined and tranquil $$ Palazzina Cesira (Via Soccorso Saloni 2, tel. 0577-846-055,, or colorful, good-value $ Affittacamere Mariuccia (Piazza del Popolo 16, rooms at #28, tel. 0577-849-113,


Assisi is famous for its hometown boy, St. Francis, who made very, very good. While Francis the saint is interesting, Francesco Bernardone the man is even more so. Mementos of his days here are everywhere—where he was baptized, a shirt he wore, a hill he prayed on, and a church where a vision changed his life.

About the year 1200, this simple friar from Assisi countered the decadence of society with a powerful message of non-materialism and a “slow down and smell God’s roses” lifestyle. Christianity’s most popular saint and its purest example of simplicity is now glorified in beautiful churches, along with his female counterpart, St. Clare.

Francis’ message of love has timeless appeal, inspiring the current “people’s pope” to take his name. But every pilgrimage site is inevitably commercialized: Today, this Umbrian town bursts with Franciscan knickknacks. Look past the glow-in-the-dark rosaries and bobblehead friars. Even a block or two off the congested main drag, it’s possible to find pockets of the serenity Francis knew. While it’s crowded with tourists by day, Assisi after dark is closer to a place Francis could call home.


The city stretches across a ridge that rises from a flat plain. The Basilica of St. Francis sits at the low end of town; Piazza Matteotti (bus stop and parking lot) is at the high end; and the main square, Piazza del Comune, lies in between. The main drag (called Via San Francesco for most of its course) runs from Piazza del Comune to the basilica. Capping the hill above the town is a ruined castle, called Rocca Maggiore. Walking uphill from the basilica to Piazza Matteotti takes 30 minutes, while the downhill journey takes about 15 minutes.


Some Francis sights lie outside the city walls, in the valley beneath the ridge; this modern part of town is called Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Tourist Information: The TI is in the center of the old town on Piazza del Comune (Mon-Fri 8:00-14:00 & 15:00-18:00, Sat-Sun 9:30-17:00—until 18:00 in April-Oct, tel. 075-813-8680). From April to October, there’s also a branch down in the valley in Santa Maria degli Angeli, across the street from the big piazza in front of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels.

Discovery Station Assisi, located in the train station in Santa Maria degli Angeli, is a volunteer-run children’s science and tech center that also serves as an unofficial TI. Here you can store luggage (€3, confirm closing time), access Wi-Fi (€2 donation, unlimited use), buy bus tickets, and get maps (donations appreciated, open daily, irregular hours, exit station and go left 20 yards, tel. 075-804-4507).

Internet Access: Many cafés in the old town have free Wi-Fi for customers. Wi-Fi is also available at the train station in Discovery Station Assisi.

Travel Agencies: You can purchase train, bus, and plane tickets at Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini, which also offers day trips to nearby towns, between Piazza del Comune and the Basilica of St. Clare (Mon-Fri 9:00-12:30 & 15:30-19:00, Sat 9:00-12:30, closed Sun, Corso Mazzini 31, tel. 075-812-597,

Private Guides: Giuseppe Karabotis is a good, licensed guide (€130/3 hours, €260/6 hours, mobile 328-867-0567, Daniela Moretti knows both Assisi and all of Umbria (€120/half-day, €240/day, mobile 335-829-9984,,

Rick’s Tip: Tacky knickknacks line the streets leading to the Basilica of St. Francis. For better shops, head to Via San Rufino and Corso Mazzini (both just off Piazza del Comune).

image Assisi Town Walk

This self-guided walk covers the town from top to bottom. To get to Piazza Matteotti, you have several options: Ride the bus from the train station (or from Piazza Giovanni Paolo II) to the last stop; drive up (and park in the underground lot); or hike five minutes uphill from Piazza del Comune.



St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

In 1202, young Francesco Bernardone donned armor and rode out to battle the Perugians (residents of Umbria’s capital city). After being captured and imprisoned for a year, Francis returned a changed man. He avoided friends and his father’s lucrative business and spent more and more time outside the city walls fasting and praying. In 1206, he had a vision and declared his loyalty to God alone.

Francis became a cult figure, attracting huge crowds who’d never seen anything like him. He preached sermons outdoors and in the local language (not Church Latin), making God accessible to all. Idealistic young men followed Francis, wandering Italy to spread the Gospel to rich and poor. Francis’ new order of monks extolled poverty and simplicity. Despite its radicalism, the order eventually gained the pope’s approval and spread throughout the world. Francis, who died in Assisi at the age of 45, left a legacy of humanism, equality, and love of nature.

image Download my free Assisi Town Walk audio tour.

✵ Start 50 yards beyond Piazza Matteotti (down the small lane between two stone houses, away from city center).


A lane named Via Anfiteatro Romano skirts the cozy neighborhood built around a Roman amphitheater—a reminder that Assisi was once an important Roman town. Circle the amphitheater counterclockwise. Imagine how colorful the town laundry basin (on the right) must have been when the women of Assisi gathered here to do their wash. Just beyond the basin is a small rectangular pool; above it are the coats of arms of Assisi’s leading families. A few steps farther, leave the amphitheater, hiking up the stairs on the right to the top of the hill for an aerial view of the ancient oval. The Roman stones have long been absorbed into the medieval architecture. It was Roman tradition to locate the amphitheater outside of town, which this used to be. While the amphitheater dates from the first century a.d., the buildings filling it today were built in the 13th and 14th centuries. Notice how carefully maintained the town’s complexion is—when re-shingling a roof, locals will mix old and new tiles.

✵ Continue on, enjoying the grand view of the fortress in the distance. The lane leads down to a city gate and an...


Step outside of Assisi at the Porta Perlici gate for a commanding view. Umbria, called the “green heart of Italy,” is the country’s geographical center and only landlocked region. Enjoy the various shades of green: silver green on the valley floor (olives), emerald green (grapevines), and deep green on the hillsides (oak trees). The valleys are dotted by small family farms, many of which rent rooms. Also notice the Rocca Maggiore (“big fortress”), which provided townsfolk a refuge in times of attack, and, behind you, atop the nearer hill, Rocca Minore (“little fortress”), which gives the town’s young lovers a little privacy. The quarry (under the Rocca Maggiore) was a source for Assisi’s characteristic pink limestone.


The outline of the Roman amphitheater


Assisi Walk Map Key

1 Roman Amphitheater

2 Umbrian View

3 Cathedral of San Rufino

4 Medieval Architecture

5 Basilica of St. Clare & Another Umbrian View

6 Arches & Artisans

7 Temple of Minerva/Christian Church

8 Church of Santo Stefano

9 To Via San Francesco

✵ Go back through the gate and follow Via Porta Perlici—immediately on your right—downhill into town (toward Hotel La Rocca). Enjoy the higgledy-piggledy architecture (this neighborhood has some of the most photogenic back lanes in town). Fifty yards down, to the left of the arched gate, find the wall containing an aqueduct that dates back to Roman times. It still brings water from a mountain spring into the city (push the brass tap for a taste). After another 50 yards, turn left through a medieval town gate (with Hotel La Rocca on your right). Just after the hotel, you’ll pass a second gate dating from Roman times. Follow Via Porta Perlici downhill until you hit a fine square facing a big church.


Trick question: Who’s Assisi’s patron saint? While Francis is one of Italy’s patron saints, Rufino (the town’s first bishop, martyred and buried here in the third century) is Assisi’s. This 11th-century Romanesque cathedral (with a Neoclassical interior) is dedicated to Rufino. Although it has one of the best and purest Romanesque facades in all of Umbria, the big triangular top was added in Gothic times.

Cost and Hours: Cathedral-free entry, Diocesan Museum-€3.50, daily 7:30-19:00, Nov-mid-March closed Mon-Fri 12:30-14:30, tel. 075-812-283,

Visiting the Church: Before going in, study the facade—a jungle of beasts emphasizing the church as a refuge in a scary world. Notice the lions at the base of the facade, flanking each door. One is eating a Christian martyr, reminding worshippers of the courage of early Christians.

Enter the church. While the front of the church is an unremarkable mix of 17th-and 18th-century Baroque and Neoclassical, the rear (near your entrance) has several points of interest. Notice first the two fine statues: St. Francis and St. Clare (by Giovanni Dupré, 1888). To your right is an old baptismal font (in the corner with the semicircular black iron grate). In about 1181, a baby boy was baptized in this font. His parents were well-to-do Francophiles who called him Francesco (“Frenchy”). In 1194, a nobleman baptized his daughter Clare here. Eighteen years later, their paths crossed in this same church, when Clare attended a class and became mesmerized by the teacher—Francis. The children of Assisi are still baptized here.


Cathedral of San Rufino

The striking glass panels in the floor reveal foundations preserved from the ninth-century church that once stood here. After the 1997 earthquake, structural inspectors checked the church from ceiling to floor. When they looked under the paving stones, they discovered graves (it was common practice to bury people in churches until Napoleon decreed otherwise). Underneath that level, they found Roman foundations and some animal bones (suggesting the possibility of animal sacrifice). There might have been a Roman temple here; churches were often built upon temple ruins. Stand at the back of the church facing the altar, and look left to the Roman cistern that collected rain water (just beyond the great stone archway, next to where you entered). Take the three steps down (to trigger the light) and marvel at the fine stonework and Roman engineering. In the Middle Ages, this was the town’s emergency water source.

Diocesan Museum: Underneath the church, incorporated into the Roman ruins and columns, are the foundations of an earlier Church of San Rufino, now the crypt and a small museum. When it’s open, you can go below to see the saint’s third-century sarcophagus and art from centuries past (down the stairs, near the baptismal font, well-described in English).

✵ Leaving the church, take a sharp left (at the pizza joint, on Via Dono Doni). After 20 yards, take a right and go all the way down the stairway to see some...


At the bottom of the stairs, notice the pink limestone pavement, part of the surviving medieval town. The arches built over doorways indicate that the buildings date from the 12th through the 14th centuries, when Assisi was booming. Italian cities at the time were inventing free-market capitalism, dabbling in democratic self-rule, and creating the modern urban lifestyle. The vaults you see that turn lanes into tunnels are reminders of medieval urban expansion—creating more living space (mostly 15th century). While the population grew, people wanted to live within the town’s protective walls. Medieval Assisi had several times the population density of modern Assisi. Notice the blooming balconies; Assisi holds a flower competition each June.

✵ From the bottom of the stairs, head to the left and continue downhill. When you arrive at a street, turn left, going slightly uphill for a long block, then take the low road (right) at the Y, and head down Via Sermei. Continue down to the big church. Walk right, under the three massive buttresses, to Piazza Santa Chiara and the front of the church.


Dedicated to the founder of the Order of the Poor Clares, this Umbrian Gothic church is simple, in keeping with the nuns’ dedication to a life of contemplation. At age 18, Clare (1194-1253) became a nun after listening to Francis’ teaching, and spent the rest of her life following a regimen of prayer, meditation, and simple manual labor. Her order was originally located in the humble Church of San Damiano, in the valley below, but after Clare’s death, a bigger and more glorious building was built in 1265; the huge buttresses were added in the next century.

Cost and Hours: Free, daily 6:30-12:00 & 14:00-19:00, until 18:00 in winter.

Visiting the Basilica: The interior’s fine frescoes were whitewashed in Baroque times. The battered remains of one on the left show how the fresco surface was hacked up so whitewash would stick. Imagine all the pristine frescoes hiding behind the whitewash.

The Chapel of the Crucifix of San Damiano, on the right, has the wooden crucifix that changed Francis’ life. In 1206, an emaciated, soul-searching, stark-raving Francis knelt before this crucifix of a living Christ (then located in the Church of San Damiano) and asked for guidance. According to legend, the crucifix spoke: “Go and rebuild my Church, which you can see has fallen into ruin.” Francis followed the call.

Stairs lead from the nave down to the tomb of St. Clare. Her tomb—discovered in about 1850—is at the far right end of the ornamented neo-Gothic crypt (the image is fiberglass; her actual bones lie underneath). The paintings on the walls depict spiritual lessons from Clare’s life and death. At the opposite end of the crypt (back between the stairs, in a large glassed-in area) are important relics: the saint’s robes, her hair, and an enormous tunic she made—along with relics of St. Francis (including a blood-stained stocking he wore after receiving the stigmata). The attached cloistered community of the Poor Clares has flourished for 700 years.

✵ Leave the church and belly up to the viewpoint at the edge of the square for...

Another Umbrian View: On the left is the convent of St. Clare. Below you lies the olive grove of the Poor Clares, which has been there since the 13th century. In the distance is a grand view. Assisi overlooks the richest and biggest valley in otherwise mountainous Umbria. Across the valley (and over the Tiber River), the rival town Perugia, where Francis was imprisoned, sits on its own hill. The municipality of Assisi has a population of 25,000, but only 3,500 people live in the old town. The lower town, called Santa Maria degli Angeli, grew up with the coming of the railway in the 19th century. In the haze, the church with the grayish-blue dome is St. Mary of the Angels, the cradle of the Franciscan order and a popular pilgrimage site today.

✵ From the church square, step out into Via Santa Chiara.


Notice the three medieval town gates (two behind the church, and one uphill toward the town center). The gate over the road behind the church dates from 1265. Farther on, you can just see the Porta Nuova, which marks the final medieval expansion of Assisi in 1316. Toward the city center (on Via Santa Chiara, the high road), an arch marks the site of the Roman wall. These three gates represent the town’s three walls, illustrating how much the city has grown since ancient times.

Walk uphill along Via Santa Chiara (which becomes Corso Mazzini) to the city’s main square. As you pass under the arch you enter what was Roman Assisi. The street is lined with interesting shops selling traditional embroidery, religious souvenirs, and local edibles. The shops on Corso Mazzini, on the stretch between the gate and Piazza del Comune, showcase handicrafts. Galleria d’Arte Perna (on the left, #20b) sells the medieval fantasy townscapes of Paolo Grimaldi, a local painter. The recommended travel agency, Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini, is across the street and a few steps up, at #31.


Next, the aptly named Assisi Olive Wood (on the left at #14E) sells carvings, as does d’Olivo (across the street at #23). It’s said that St. Francis made the first Nativity scene to help humanize the Christmas message. That’s why you’ll see so many crèches in Assisi. (Even today, Italians everywhere set up elaborate crèches for Christmas.) Further along at #14A is a bakery, Bar Sensi, selling traditional raisin-and-apple strudel called rocciata (roh-CHAH-tah, splittable and served warm). Farther along on the left is Il Duomo (on the corner at #2b), selling religious art. Across the street, on the right, is Centro Ricami, selling embroidered linens. And on the square, La Bottega dei Sapori (at #34, opposite the flags) is worth a visit if you’re hungry or thirsty.

You’ve walked up what was, in ancient times, the main drag into town. Ahead of you, the six fluted Corinthian columns of the Temple of Minerva marked the forum (today’s Piazza del Comune). Sit at the fountain on the piazza for a few minutes of people-watching. Within a few hundred yards of this square were the medieval walls. Imagine the commotion of 5,000 people confined within these walls. No wonder St. Francis needed some peace and quiet.

✵ Now, head over to the temple on the square.


The Romans went to great lengths to make this Temple of Minerva, which dates from the first century b.c., a centerpiece of their city. Notice the columns that cut into the stairway. It was a tight fit here on the hilltop. In ancient times, the stairs went down—about twice as far as they do now—to the main drag, which has gradually been filled in over time. The Church of Santa Maria sopra (“over”) Minerva was added in the ninth century.

Pop inside the temple/church. Today’s interior is 17th-century Baroque. Flanking the altar are the original Roman temple floor stones. You can even see the drains for the bloody sacrifices that took place here. Behind the statues of Peter and Paul, the original Roman embankment peeks through.


Cost and Hours: Free, daily 7:15-19:30, in winter closes for a lunch break and at sunset.

✵ Across the square at #11, step into the 16th-century frescoed vaults of the...

Loggia of Palazzo del Comune: Notice the Italian flair for design. Even this little loggia was once finely decorated. The art style is called “Grotesque,” named for the Renaissance-era discovery of Roman paintings featuring bizarre creatures on the walls of Nero’s Golden House in Rome (the lower levels, still largely unexcavated, appeared cave-like: grotto-esque). This scene was indisputably painted after 1492. How do they know? Because it features turkeys—first seen in Europe after Columbus returned from the Americas. The turkeys painted here may have been that bird’s European debut.

✵ From the main square, hike past the temple up the high road, Via San Paolo. After 200 yards (across from #24), a sign directs you down a stepped lane to the...


Surrounded by cypress, fig, and walnut trees, Santo Stefano—which used to be outside the town walls in the days of St. Francis—is an interesting bit of offbeat Assisi. Legend has it that its bells miraculously rang on October 3, 1226, the day St. Francis died. This is a typical rural Romanesque church—no architect, just built by simple stonemasons who put together the most basic design. Hundreds of years later, it still stands.

Cost and Hours: Free, daily 8:30-20:00, shorter hours off-season.

✵ The lane zigzags down to Via San Francesco. Turn right and walk under the arch toward the Basilica of St. Francis.


This main drag leads from the town to the basilica holding the body of St. Francis. He was made a saint in 1228—the same year that the basilica’s foundations were laid—and his body was moved here by 1230. Assisi was a big-time pilgrimage center, and this street was its booming hub. The arch marks the end of what was Assisi in St. Francis’ day. Notice the fine medieval balcony immediately past the arch (on the left). About 30 yards farther down (on the left), cool yourself at the fountain, as medieval pilgrims might have. The hospice next door was built in 1237 to house pilgrims. Notice the three surviving faces of its fresco: Jesus, Francis, and Clare. Farther down, across from #12A (on the left), is Oratorio dei Pellegrini, dating from the 1450s. A brotherhood ran a hostel here for travelers passing through to pay homage to St. Francis. The chapel offers a richly frescoed 14th-century space designed to inspire—perfect for any traveler to pause and contemplate the saint’s message.

✵ Continuing on, you’ll eventually reach Assisi’s main sight, the Basilica of St. Francis. For the start of my self-guided tour, walk downhill to the basilica’s lower courtyard.






Map: Basilica of St. Francis—Lower Level

Map: Basilica of St. Francis—Upper Level



In Santa Maria Degli Angeli



The Basilica of St. Francis (Basilica di San Francesco) is one of the artistic and religious highlights of Europe. It rises where, in 1226, St. Francis was buried outside of his town on the “Hill of the Damned”—now called the “Hill of Paradise.” The basilica is frescoed from top to bottom with scenes by the leading artists of the day: Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini, and Pietro Lorenzetti. A 13th-century historian wrote, “No more exquisite monument to the Lord has been built.”


On Via San Francesco

The Franciscan Message

Not only did Francis follow Christ’s teachings, he followed Christ’s lifestyle, living as a poor, wandering preacher. He traded a life of power and riches for one of obedience, poverty, and chastity. He was never ordained as a priest, but his influence on Christianity was monumental.

The Franciscan realm (Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and so on) is a space where God, man, and the natural world frolic harmoniously. Francis treated every creature—animal, peasant, pope—with equal respect. He and his “brothers” (fratelli, or friars) slept in fields, begged for food, and exuded the joy of non-materialism. Franciscan friars were known as the “Jugglers of God,” who roved the countryside singing, telling stories, and cracking jokes.

In an Italy torn by conflict, Francis promoted peace. While the Church was waging bloody Crusades, Francis pushed ecumenism and understanding. In 1288, just 62 years after Francis died, a Franciscan became pope (Nicholas IV). Francis’ message also led to Church reforms that many believe delayed the Protestant Reformation by a century.

This richly decorated basilica seems to contradict the teachings of the poor monk it honors, but it was built as an act of religious and civic pride. It was also designed as a pilgrimage center and a splendid classroom. Though monks in robes may not give off an “easy-to-approach” vibe, the Franciscans of today are still God’s jugglers (and many of them speak English).

Here is Francis’ message, in his own words:

The Canticle of the Sun

Good Lord, all your creations bring praise to you!

Praise for Brother Sun, who brings the day. His radiance reminds us of you!

Praise for Sister Moon and the stars, precious and beautiful.

Praise for Brother Wind, and for clouds and storms and rain that sustain us.

Praise for Sister Water. She is useful and humble, precious and pure.

Praise for Brother Fire who cheers us at night.

Praise for our sister, Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us.

Praise for all those who forgive because you have forgiven them.

Praise for our sister, Bodily Death, from whose embrace none can escape.

Praise and bless the Lord, and give thanks, and, with humility, serve him.

From a distance, you see the huge arcades “supporting” the basilica. These were 15th-century quarters for the monks. The arcades that line the square and lead to the church housed medieval pilgrims.


Cost and Hours: Free entry; lower basilica—daily 6:00-18:45, until 17:45 in Nov-March; reliquary chapel in lower basilica—generally open Mon-Fri 9:00-18:00, often closed Sat-Sun and occasionally at other times for religious services; upper basilica—daily 8:30-18:45, until 17:45 in Nov-March. Modest dress is required to enter the church.

Information: The church courtyard at the entrance of the lower basilica has an info office (April-Oct Mon-Sat 9:15-17:30, Nov-March Mon-Sat 9:15-12:00 & 14:15-17:30, closed Sun year-round, tel. 075-819-0084, Call or check the website to find out about upcoming concerts at the basilica.

Tours: Hour-long guided tours in English are available daily except Sunday (€10 donation requested, must call or email to reserve, tel. 075-819-0084,,

Dull audioguides are available at the kiosk located outside the lower basilica’s entrance (€7 donation requested for 1 or 2 persons, 45 minutes).

image Download my free Basilica of St. Francis audio tour.

Attending Mass: On summer Sundays (Easter-Oct), a Mass is held in English in the lower basilica at 9:00. The basilica choir sings the Mass on many Sundays at 10:30. Or join one of the many Masses in italiano (Sun at 7:30, 9:00, 10:30, 12:00, 17:00, and 18:30; Nov-March at 7:15, 11:00, and 17:00). Additional English and sung Masses don’t follow a set schedule. Call the basilica to find out when English-speaking pilgrimage groups or choirs have reserved Masses, and attend with them—although groups change their plans fairly often (tel. 075-819-0084).

Bookstore: The church bookshop is in the inner courtyard behind the upper and lower basilica. It sells an excellent guidebook, The Basilica of Saint Francis: A Spiritual Pilgrimage (€3, by Goulet, McInally, and Wood). I used this book, and a tour with Brother Michael, as sources for this self-guided tour.

Services: Two different pay WCs are within a half-block of the lower entrance—up the road in a squat building, and halfway down the big piazza on the left. There aren’t any WCs inside the basilica.


Basilica of St. Francis


Since the basilica is the reason that most people visit Assisi, I’ve designed this self-guided tour with an emphasis on the place’s theology (rather than art history).

A disclaimer: Just as Francis used many biblical legends to help teach the Christian message, legends from the life of Francis were told in later ages to teach the same message. Are they true? Probably not. Are they in keeping with Francis’ message? Yes. Do I share legends here as if they are historic? Sure.

The church has three parts: the upper basilica, the lower basilica, and the saint’s tomb. To get oriented, stand at the lower entrance in the courtyard. While empty today, centuries ago this main plaza was cluttered with pilgrim services and medieval souvenir shops. Opposite the entry to the lower basilica is the information center.


Enter through the grand doorway of the lower basilica. Just inside, decorating the top of the first arch, look up and see St. Francis, who greets you with a Latin inscription. Sounding a bit like John Wayne, he says the equivalent of, “Slow down and be joyful, pilgrim. You’ve reached the Hill of Paradise. If you’re observant and thoughtful, this church will knock your spiritual socks off.”

✵ Start with the tomb. M To get there, turn left into the nave. Midway down, follow the signs and go right, to the tomb downstairs.

The Tomb: The saint’s remains are above the altar in the stone box with the iron ties. Holy relics were the “ruby slippers” of medieval Europe. Relics gave you power—they answered your prayers and won your wars—and ultimately helped you get back to your eternal Kansas. Assisi made no bones about promoting the saint’s relics, but hid his tomb for security. His body was buried secretly while the basilica was under construction, and over the next 600 years, the exact location was forgotten. When the tomb was opened to the public in 1818, it took more than a month to find his actual remains.

Francis’ four closest friends and first followers are memorialized in the corners of the room. Opposite the altar, up four steps between the entrance and exit, notice the small copper box behind the metal grill, which contains the remains of Francis’ rich Roman patron, Jacopa dei Settesoli. She traveled to see him on his deathbed but was turned away because she was female. Francis waived the rule and welcomed “Brother Jacopa” to his side. These five tombs—in the Franciscan spirit of being with your friends—were added in the 19th century.

The candles you see are the only real candles in the church (others are electric). Pilgrims pay a coin, pick up a candle, and place it in the small box on the side. Franciscans will light it later.

✵ Climb back up to the lower nave.

Lower Basilica: Subdued and Romanesque, this nave is frescoed with parallel scenes from the lives of Christ (right) and Francis (left), connected by a ceiling of stars. The Passion of Christ and the Compassion of Francis lead to the altar built over Francis’ tomb. After the church was built and decorated, side chapels were erected to provide mausoleums for the rich families that patronized the work of the order. Unfortunately, in the process, huge arches were cut out of some frescoed scenes, but others survive. In the fresco directly above the entry to the tomb, Christ is being taken down from the cross (just the bottom half of his body can be seen, on the left), and it looks like the story is over. Defeat. But in the opposite fresco (above the tomb’s exit), we see Francis preaching to the birds, reminding the faithful that the message of the Gospel survives.

These stories directed the attention of the medieval pilgrim to the altar, where he could meet God through the sacraments. The church was thought of as a community of believers sailing toward God. The prayers coming out of the nave (navis, or ship) fill the triangular sections of the ceiling—called vele, or sails—with spiritual wind. With a priest for a navigator and the altar for a helm, faith propels the ship.


Basilica of St. Francis—Lower Level Map Key

1 St. Francis (on ceiling)

2 Stairs to Tomb

3 Obedience (on ceiling)

4 Chastity (on ceiling)

5 Poverty (on ceiling)

6 Francis on a Heavenly Throne

7 Reliquary Chapel

8 GIOTTO—Crucifixion

9 CIMABUE—St. Francis

Stand behind the altar (toes to the bottom step, facing the entrance) and look up. The three scenes above you represent the creed of the Franciscans: Directly above the tomb of St. Francis, to the right, Obedience M (Francis appears twice, wearing a rope harness and kneeling in front of Lady Obedience); to the left, Chastity M (in her tower of purity held up by two angels); and straight ahead, Poverty. M Here Jesus blesses the marriage as Francis slips a ring on Lady Poverty. In the foreground, two pint-size merchants (the new rich of a thriving northern Italy) are throwing sticks and stones at the bride. But Poverty, in her patched wedding dress, is fertile and strong, and even bare brambles blossom into a rosebush crown.

The three knots in the rope that ties the Franciscan robe symbolize the monks’ vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, serving as a constant reminder of their vows. The jeweled belt of a rich person was all about material wealth, hung with a bag of coins, along with a weapon to protect that person’s wealth. St. Francis called money the “devil’s dung.”

Now put your heels to the altar and—bending back like a drum major—look up for a peek at the reward for a life of obedience, chastity, and poverty: Francis on a heavenly throne M in a rich, golden robe. He traded a life of earthly simplicity for glory in heaven.

✵ Turn to the right and march to the corner, where steps lead down into the...

Reliquary Chapel: M This chapel is filled with fascinating relics (which a €0.50 flier explains in detailed English; often closed Sat-Sun). Step in and circle the room clockwise. You’ll see the silver chalice and plate that Francis used for the bread and wine of the Eucharist (in a small, dark, windowed case set into the wall, marked Calice e Patena). Francis believed that his personal possessions should be simple, but the items used for worship should be made of the finest materials. Next, the Veli di Lino is a cloth Jacopa used to wipe her friend’s brow on his deathbed. In the corner display case is a small section of the itchy haircloth (cilizio)—made from scratchy horse or goat hair—worn by Francis as penance (the cloth he chose was the opposite of the fine fabric his father sold). In the next corner are the tunic and slippers that Francis donned during his last days. Next, find a prayer (in a fancy silver stand) that St. Francis wrote for Brother Leo and signed with a T-shaped character—his tau cross. The last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, tav (“tau” in Greek) is symbolic of faithfulness to the end, and Francis adopted it for his signature. Next is a papal document (1223) legitimizing the Franciscan order and assuring his followers that they were not risking a (deadly) heresy charge. Finally, just past the altar, see the tunic that was lovingly patched and stitched by followers of the five-foot, four-inch-tall St. Francis.

Before leaving the chapel, notice the modern paintings by local artists. Over the entrance, Francis is shown being born in a stable like Jesus (by Capitini).

Return up the stairs, stepping into the...

Lower Basilica’s Transept: The decoration of this church brought together the greatest Sienese (Lorenzetti and Simone Martini) and Florentine (Cimabue and Giotto) artists of the day. Look around at the painted scenes. In 1300, this was radical art—homespun scenes, landscapes, trees, real people. Directly opposite the reliquary chapel, study Giotto’s painting of the Crucifixion, M with the eight sparrow-like angels. For the first time, holy people express emotion: One angel turns her head sadly at the sight of Jesus; another scratches her cheeks, drawing blood. Mary (lower left) has fainted in despair. The Franciscans, with the goal of bringing God to the people, found a natural partner in Europe’s first naturalist (and therefore modern) painter, Giotto.

To grasp Giotto’s artistic leap, compare his work with the painting to the right, by Cimabue. It’s Gothic, without the 3-D architecture, natural backdrop, and slice-of-life reality of Giotto’s work. Cimabue’s St. Francis M (far right) shows the saint with the stigmata—Christ’s marks of the Crucifixion. Contemporaries described Francis as being short, with a graceful build, dark hair, and sparse beard. This is considered the most accurate portrait of Francis, according to the description of one who knew him. To the left, at eye level under the angels, are paintings of saints and their exquisite halos (by Simone Martini or his school). To the right of the door at the same level, see five of Francis’ closest followers—just simple folk.

Francis’ friend, “Sister Bodily Death,” was really not all that terrible. In fact, Francis would like to introduce you to her now (above and to the right of the door leading into the reliquary chapel). Go ahead, block the light from the door with this book and meet her. Before his death, Francis added a line to The Canticle of the Sun: “Praise for our sister, Bodily Death, from whose embrace none can escape.”

✵ Now cross the transept to the other side of the altar (enjoying some of the oldest surviving bits of the inlaid local-limestone flooring—c. 13th century), and find the staircase going up. Immediately above the stairs is Pietro Lorenzetti’s Francis Receiving the Stigmata. Francis is considered the first person ever to earn the marks of the cross through his great faith and love of the Church.

Make your way up the stairs to the...

Courtyard: The courtyard overlooks the 15th-century cloister, the heart of this monastic complex. Pope Sixtus IV (of Sistine Chapel fame) had it built as a secure retreat for himself. Balanced and peaceful by design, the courtyard also functioned as a cistern to collect rainwater, supplying enough for 200 monks (today, there are about 40). The Franciscan order emphasizes teaching. This place functioned as a kind of theological center of higher learning, which rotated monks in for a six-month stint, then sent them back home inspired to preach effectively. That explains the complex narrative of the frescoes wallpapering the walls.


Giotto, Crucifixion


The treasury (Museo del Tesoro) to the left of the bookstore features ornately decorated chalices, reliquaries, vestments, and altarpieces (free but donation requested, April-Oct daily 10:00-17:30, closed Nov-March).

✵ From the courtyard, climb the stairs (next to the bookshop) to the...

Upper Basilica: Built later than its counterpart below, the brighter upper basilica (started in 1228) is considered the first Gothic church in Italy. You’ve followed the pilgrims’ route, entering the lower church and finishing here. Notice how the pulpit (embedded in the corner pillar) can be seen and heard from every spot in the packed church. The spirit of the order was to fill the church and preach. See also the design in the round window in the west end (high above the entry). The tiny centerpiece reads “IHS” (the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek). And, as you can see, this kaleidoscope seems to declare that all light radiates from Jesus.

The windows here are treasures from the 13th and 14th centuries. Those behind the apse are among the oldest and most precious in Italy. Imagine illiterate medieval peasants entranced by these windows, so full of meaning that they were nicknamed “Bibles of the Poor.” But for art lovers, the basilica’s draw is that Giotto and his assistants practically wallpapered it circa 1297-1300 (scholars debate it—perhaps the job was subcontracted to other artists). Whatever the case, the anatomy, architectural depth, and drama of these frescoes helped kick off the Renaissance. The gallery of frescoes shows 28 scenes from the life of St. Francis. The events are a mix of documented history and folk legend.

Working clockwise, start on the north wall (to the left, if you just climbed the stairs from the bookstore) and follow along with the help of the numbered map key. The subtitles in the faded black strip below the frescoes describe each scene in clear Latin—and affirm my interpretation.

1 A common man spreads his cape before Francis in front of the Temple of Minerva on Piazza del Comune. Before his conversion, young Francis was handsome and well-dressed, befitting the son of a wealthy cloth dealer. He was a natural charmer who led his fellow teens in nights of wine, women, and song. Medieval pilgrims understood the deeper meaning of this scene: The “eye” of God (symbolized by the rose window in the Temple of Minerva) looks over the young Francis, a dandy “imprisoned” in his own selfishness (the Temple—with barred windows—was once a prison).


Upper Basilica

2 Francis offers his cape to a needy stranger. Francis was always generous of spirit. He became more so after being captured in battle and held for a year as a prisoner of war, then suffering from illness. Charity was a Franciscan forte.

3 Francis is visited by the Lord in a dream. Still unsure of his calling, Francis rode off to the Crusades. One night, he dreams of a palace filled with armor marked with crosses. Christ tells him to leave the army—to become the first “conscientious objector”—and go home to wait for a nonmilitary assignment in a new kind of knighthood. He returned to Assisi and, though reviled as a coward, would end up fighting for spiritual wealth, not earthly riches.

4 Francis prays to the crucifix in the Church of San Damiano. After months of living in a cave, fasting, and meditating, Francis kneels in the run-down church and prays. The crucifix speaks, telling him: “Go and rebuild my Church, which you can see has fallen into ruin.” Francis hurried home and sold his father’s cloth to pay for God’s work. His furious father dragged him before the bishop.

5 Francis relinquishes his possessions. In front of the bishop and the whole town, Francis strips naked and gives his dad his clothes, credit cards, and timeshare on Capri. Francis raises his hand and says, “Until now, I called you father. From now on, my only father is my Father in Heaven.” Notice God’s hand blessing the action from above. Francis then ran off into the hills, naked and singing. In this version, Francis is covered by the bishop, symbolizing his transition from a man of the world to a man of the Church. Notice the disbelief and concern on the bishop’s advisors’ faces; subtle expressions like these wouldn’t have made it into other medieval frescoes of the day.

6 The pope has a dream. Francis headed to Rome, seeking the pope’s blessing on his fledgling movement. Initially rebuffing Francis, the pope then dreams of a simple, barefooted man propping up his teetering Church, and then...

7 The pope confirms the Franciscan order, handing Francis and his gang the document now displayed in the reliquary chapel.

Francis’ life was peppered with visions and miracles, shown in three panels in a row: 8 vision of the flaming chariot, 9 vision of thrones, and 10 exorcism of demons in Arezzo.

✵ Next see...

11 St. Francis before the sultan. Francis’ wandering ministry took him to Egypt during the Crusades (1219). He walked unarmed into the Muslim army camp. They captured him, but the sultan was impressed with Francis’ manner and let him go, reportedly whispering, “I’d convert to your faith, but they’d kill us both.” Here the sultan gestures from his throne.

12 Ecstasy of St. Francis. This oft-painted scene shows the mystic communing with Christ.

13 The crèche at Greccio. A creative teacher, Francis invents the tradition of manger scenes.

✵ Around the corner, see the...

14 Miracle of the spring. Shown here getting water out of a rock to quench a stranger’s thirst, Francis felt closest to God when in the hills around Assisi, seeing the Creator in the creation.

✵ Cross over to the far side of the entrance door.

15 Sermon to the birds. In his best-known miracle, Francis is surrounded by birds as they listen to him teach. Francis embraces all levels of creation. One interpretation of this scene is that the birds, which are of different species, represent the diverse flock of humanity and nature, all created and beloved by God and worthy of one another’s love.

This image of well-fed birds is an appropriate one to take with you. It’s designed to remind pilgrims that, like the birds, God gave us life, plenty of food, wings, and a world to explore. Francis, patron saint of the environment and animals, taught his followers to count their blessings. A monk here reminded me that even a student backpacker today eats as well as the wealthiest nobleman in the days of Francis.

Continue to the south wall for the rest of the panels.

Despite the hierarchical society of his day, Francis was welcomed by all classes, shown in these three panels: 16 the knight of Celano invites Francis to his deathbed; 17 preaching for Pope Honorius III, who listens intently; and 18 the apparition at Arles, which illustrates how Francis could be in two places at once (something only Jesus and saints can pull off). The proponents of Francis, who believed he was destined for sainthood, show him performing the necessary miracles.


Giotto, St. Francis’ Sermon to the Birds

19 Francis receives the stigmata. It’s September 17, 1224, and Francis is fasting and praying on nearby Mount Alverna when a six-winged angel (called a seraph) appears with laser-like powers to burn in the marks of the Crucifixion, the stigmata. For the strength of his faith, Francis is given the marks of his master, the “battle scars of love.” These five wounds suffered by Christ (nails in palms and feet, lance in side) marked Francis’ body for the rest of his life.

The next panels deal with 20 Francis’ death, funeral, and canonization. The last panels show 21 miracles associated with the saint after his death, proving that he’s in heaven and bolstering his eligibility for sainthood.

Francis died thanking God and singing his Canticle of the Sun. Just as he referred to the sun as his brother and the moon as his sister, Francis called his body “brother.” On his deathbed he conceded, “Maybe I was a bit tough on brother ass.” Ravaged by an asceticism extreme enough to earn him both the stigmata and tuberculosis, Francis died in 1226.

Before leaving through the front entrance, look up at the ceiling and the walls near the rose window to see 22 large tan patches. In 1997, when a 5.5-magnitude quake hit Assisi, it shattered the upper basilica’s frescoes into 300,000 fragments. Shortly after the quake, an aftershock shook the ceiling frescoes down, killing two monks and two art scholars standing here. Later, the fragments were meticulously picked up and pieced back together. The tan parts couldn’t be fixed.

Outside, on the lawn, the Latin word pax (peace) and the Franciscan tau cross are sculpted from shrubbery. For a drink or snack, the Bar San Francesco (facing the upper basilica) is handy. For pax, take the high lane back to town, up to the castle, or into the countryside.


For a look at Assisi’s Roman roots, tour the Roman Forum, underneath Piazza del Comune. The floor plan is clearly explained in English, as are the surviving odd bits and obscure pieces. During your visit, you’ll walk on an ancient Roman road.

Cost and Hours: €4, included in €8 combo-ticket that also covers Rocca Maggiore, daily June-Aug 10:00-13:00 & 14:30-19:00, shorter hours off-season; from Piazza del Comune, go a half-block to Via Portica 2—it’s on your right; tel. 075-815-5077.


The “big castle” offers a few restored medieval rooms, a good look at a 14th-century fortification, and a fine view of Assisi and the Umbrian countryside. If you’re pinching your euros, skip it—the view is just as good from outside the castle.

Cost and Hours: €5.50, included in €8 combo-ticket, daily from 10:00 until an hour before sunset—about 19:15 in summer, Via della Rocca, tel. 075-815-5077.

In Santa Maria Degli Angeli


The huge basilica, towering above the buildings of Santa Maria degli Angeli—the modern part of Assisi in the flat valley below the hill town—marks the spot where Francis lived, worked, and died. It’s a grandiose church built around a humble chapel—reflecting the monumental impact of this simple saint on his town and the world.

Cost and Hours: Cathedral-free entry, Porziuncola Museum-€4, Mon-Sat 6:15-12:50 & 14:30-19:30, Sun 6:45-12:50 & 14:30-19:30, tel. 075-805-11. A little TI kiosk is across the street from the souvenir stands (generally daily 10:00-13:00 & 15:30-18:30 but hours erratic, tel. 075-804-4554). As you face the church, the best WC is on your right.

Getting There: Whether you’re traveling by car or by train, it’s practical to visit this sight on the way into or out of town. From Assisi’s train station—which has baggage storage—it’s a five-minute walk to the basilica (exit station left, after 50 yards take the underground pedestrian walkway—sottopassaggio—on your left, then walk straight ahead, passing several handy eateries). There’s ample well-marked parking nearby.

If you’re coming from the old town, you can reach the basilica on the same orange bus (line #C) that runs down to the train station (stay on one more stop to reach the basilica). In the opposite direction, buses from the basilica up to the old town run twice hourly, usually at :14 and :44 after the hour. Leaving the church, the stop is on your right, by the side of the building.

Visiting the Basilica: The grand Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli was built in the 16th century around the tiny but historic Porziuncola Chapel (now directly under the dome), after the chapel became too small to accommodate the many pilgrims wanting to pay homage to St. Francis. Some local monks had given Francis this porziuncola, or “small portion,” after his conversion—a little land with a fixer-upper chapel. Francis lived here after he founded the Franciscan Order; this was where he consecrated St. Clare as a Bride of Christ. What would humble Francis think of the huge church—Christianity’s 10th largest—built over his tiny chapel?


Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels

Behind the Porziuncola Chapel on the right, find the Cappella del Transito, which marks the site of Francis’ death on October 3, 1226. Francis died as he’d lived—simply, in a small hut located here. On his last night on earth, he invited some friars to join him in breaking bread. Then he undressed, lay down on the bare ground, and began to recite Psalm 141: “Lord, I cry unto thee.” He spoke the last line, “Let the wicked fall into their own traps, while I escape”...and he passed on.

From the right transept, follow Roseto signs to the rose garden. You’ll walk down a passage with gardens on either side (viewable through the windows)—on the left, a tranquil park with a statue of Francis petting a sheep, and on the right, the rose garden. Francis, fighting a temptation that he never named, once threw himself onto the roses. As the story goes, the thorns immediately dropped off. Thornless roses have grown here ever since.

Exiting the passage, turn right to find the Rose Chapel (Cappella delle Rose), built over the place where Francis lived.

In the autumn, a room in the next hallway displays a giant animated Nativity scene (a reminder to pilgrims that Francis first established the tradition of manger scenes as a teaching aid). You’ll pass a room with a free 10-minute video about the church (ask for English, daily 10:00-12:30 & 16:00-18:00). The bookshop has some works in English and an “old pharmacy” selling herbal cures.

Continuing on, you’ll pass the Porziuncola Museum, featuring early depictions of St. Francis by 13th-century artists, a model of Assisi during Francis’ lifetime, and religious art and objects from the basilica. On the museum’s upper floor are some monks’ cells, which provide intriguing insight into the spartan lifestyles of the pious and tonsured (€4 to see both floors, museum open April-Oct Tue-Sun 9:30-12:30 & 15:30-19:00, Nov-March until 18:00, closed Mon, ask for English brochure, tel. 075-805-1419,


Assisi’s food is heavy and rustic. Locals brag about their sausage and love to grate truffles on pasta. Consider a glass or bottle of the favorite homegrown red wine, Sagrantino de Montefalco.

Fine Dining

See map on next page for the locations of these restaurants.

Ristorante Medioevo is my favorite splurge in Assisi: an elegant, accessible playground of gastronomy. Beef and game dishes are the specialties and wine is served by the glass. Mellow jazz and bossa nova give a twinkle to the medieval atmosphere (€16 fixed-price lunch, €9-13 pastas, €12-16 secondi, €40 tasting menu with matching wines, Tue-Sun 12:15-15:00 & 19:00-22:45, closed Mon, in winter open weekends only; from the fountain on Piazza del Comune, hike downhill two blocks to Via Arco dei Priori 4; tel. 075-813-068).

Trattoria Pallotta is a local, family-run favorite with white tablecloths and a living-room ambience, specializing in local fare such as piccione (squab, a.k.a. pigeon) and coniglio (rabbit). Reservations are smart (€10 pastas, €8-16 secondi, always a vegetarian menu, €18 fixed-price meal includes a simple dessert, wine, and water, better €28 fixed-price meal showcases local specialties; Wed-Mon 12:15-14:30 & 19:15-23:00, last orders at 21:30, closed Tue, a few steps off Piazza del Comune across from temple/church at Vicolo della Volta Pinta 2, tel. 075-812-649,

Casual Eateries

Trattoria degli Umbri is your best bet for a meal overlooking Assisi’s main square, with a few nice tables just above the fountain. They serve delightful Umbrian dishes and top-notch wines by the glass (closed Thu, Piazza del Comune 40, tel. 075-812-455).


Hostaria Terra Chiama is a modern little eight-table place that serves traditional Umbrian dishes with seasonal specials (€8-12 plates, daily, lunch from 12:30, dinner from 19:00, Via San Rufino 16, tel. 075-819-9051).

Locanda del Podestà cooks up tasty grilled Umbrian sausages, gnocchi alla locanda, and all manner of truffles (€5-9 pastas, €7-16 secondi, €18 fixed-price meal includes coffee, Thu-Tue 12:00-14:45 & 19:00-21:30, closed Wed and Feb, 5-minute walk uphill along Via Cardinale Merry del Val from basilica, Via San Giacomo 6C, tel. 075-816-553).

Ristorante Metastasio, just up the street from Podestà, offers seasonal specials, a traditional menu, and Assisi’s best view terrace (€10-13 pastas, €10-18 secondi, Thu-Tue 12:00-14:30 & 19:00-21:30, closed Wed, terrace closed in bad weather, Via Metastasio 9, tel. 075-816-525).

Trattoria da Erminio has peaceful tables on a tiny square, and indoor seating under a big, medieval (but air-conditioned) vault. Specialties are local meat cooked on an open-fire grill (€6-12 pastas, €8-14 grilled meats, Fri-Wed 12:00-14:30 & 19:00-21:00, closed Thu; from Piazza San Rufino, go a block up Via Porta Perlici and turn right to Via Montacavallo 19; tel. 075-812-506).

Taverna de l’Arco is one of the oldest restaurants in Assisi, with a spacious vaulted dining room, reasonably priced menu, and homemade pastas and gnocchi (€7-10 pastas, €8-13 secondi, Thu-Tue 12:00-14:30 & 19:00-22:00, closed Wed, one block from Piazza del Comune at Via San Gregorio 8, tel. 075-816-680).

Pizza al Taglio da Andrea, facing the Church of San Rufino on Piazza San Rufino, has perhaps the best pizza by the slice in town (daily, Via San Rufino 26, tel. 075-815-325).


Assisi accommodates large numbers of pilgrims on religious holidays. Finding a room at any other time should be easy. I’ve listed prices for spring (April-mid-June) and fall (mid-Aug-Oct). Expect slightly lower rates in midsummer and winter.

Rick’s Tip: Most Assisi hotels are not air-conditioned. Keep your windows closed through the middle of the day so that your room will be as cool as possible in the evening.

$$$ Hotel Umbra, a quiet villa in the middle of town, has 24 spacious rooms with great views, thinning carpets, and older decor (Sb-€85, standard Db-€110, bigger “superior” Db with better views-€130, Tb-€165, 10 percent direct-booking discount with this book and cash if staying 2 or more nights, air-con, elevator, peaceful garden, and view sun terrace, most rooms have views, closed Dec-March, just off Piazza del Comune under the arch at Via degli Archi 6, tel. 075-812-240,,

Sleep Code

Abbreviations: S=Single, D=Double/Twin, T=Triple, Q=Quad, b=bathroom

Price Rankings for Double Rooms: $$$ Most rooms €100 or more, $$ €55-100, $ €55 or less

Notes: Many Italian cities levy a hotel tax of €1.50-5 per person, per night (often collected in cash; usually not included in the rates I’ve quoted). Room prices change; verify rates online or by email. For the best prices, book directly with the hotel.

$$$ Hotel Ideale, on a ridge overlooking the valley, offers 13 airy rooms (most with views and balconies), a tranquil garden setting, and free parking (view Db-€100, Tb-€130, Qb-€140, two apartments with fully equipped kitchens available, 10 percent discount for stays of 3 or more nights, air-con, Piazza Matteotti 1, tel. 075-813-570,, The hotel is across the street from the parking lot at Piazza Matteotti, at the top end of town.

$$ Hotel Belvedere is a modern building with 12 spacious, classic-feeling rooms; eight come with sweeping views (Sb-€50, Db-€70, Tb-€90, Qb-€100, breakfast-€5, elevator, large communal view terrace, 2 blocks past Basilica of St. Clare at Via Borgo Aretino 13, tel. 075-812-460,, Coming by bus from the train station, get off at Porta Nuova; the hotel is steps away.

$$ Hotel Pallotta offers seven fresh, bright, small rooms and a shared top-floor lounge with view. Enjoy extra niceties like free use of washer and drying rack, and hot drinks and cake at teatime (Sb-€45, Db-€79, Tb-€90, 10 percent direct-booking discount with this book; a block off Piazza del Comune at Via San Rufino 6; tel. 075-812-307,,

$$ Hotel San Rufino offers a great locale, solid stone quality, and 11 comfortable rooms (Sb-€48, Db-€61, Tb-€85, Qb-€100, breakfast-€5, elevator; from Cathedral of San Rufino, follow sign to Via Porta Perlici 7; tel. 075-812-803,,

$$ Albergo Il Duomo, the nine-room annex of Hotel San Rufino a block away, is tidy and tranquillo. It’s more atmospheric and has nicer bathrooms than its parent hotel, but more steps and no elevator (Sb-€46, Db-€60, Tb-€76, breakfast-€5, Wi-Fi in lobby only, Vicolo San Lorenzo 2 but check in at Hotel San Rufino, tel. 075-812-742,,

$$ Hotel La Rocca, on the peaceful top end of town, has 32 solid and modern rooms in a medieval shell (Sb-€49, Db-€62, Tb-€83, breakfast-€5, air-con, elevator, parking-€7, sunny rooftop terrace, decent restaurant upstairs, 3-minute walk from Piazza Matteotti at Via Porta Perlici 27, tel. 075-812-284,,

$$ Hotel Sole, renting 38 rooms in a 15th-century building, is well-worn, but has a central location. Half of its rooms are in a newer annex across the street (Sb-€45, Db-€70, Tb-€85, ask for Rick Steves discount, breakfast-€5, air-con, elevator in annex only, public parking nearby, 100 yards before Basilica of St. Clare at Corso Mazzini 35, tel. 075-812-373,,

$ Camere Carli has six shiny, spacious rooms in a minimalist place above an art gallery (Sb-€35, Db-€48, Tb-€60, Qb-€70, no breakfast, family lofts, lots of stairs and no elevator, free parking 150 yards away, just off Piazza San Rufino at Via Porta Perlici 1, tel. 075-812-490, mobile 339-531-1366,,

$ Camere Annalisa Martini is a cheery home amid vines and roses in the town’s medieval core. Extras include a picnic garden, washing machine (€7/small load), communal refrigerator, and six homey rooms (S-€25, Sb-€27, D-€40, Db-€45, Tb-€58, Qb-€68, rates soft for last-minute bookings, cash only, 3 rooms share 2 bathrooms, no breakfast; one block from Piazza del Comune—go downhill toward basilica, turn left on Via San Gregorio to #6; tel. 075-813-536,,


Getting Around Assisi

Within the old town, pale yellow minibuses #A and #B run every 20-40 minutes, linking the lower end (near the Basilica of St. Francis) with the middle (Piazza del Comune) and the top (Piazza Matteotti).

If you’re exhausted after your basilica visit and need a sweat-free five-minute return to the top of the old town (and my recommended hotels), hop on a bus marked Piazza Matteotti. Catch the bus below the Basilica of St. Francis, just outside Porta San Francesco. Before boarding, confirm the destination.

You can buy a bus ticket (good on any city bus) at a newsstand or kiosk for €1.30, or get a ticket from the driver for €2 (exact change only). After you’ve stamped your ticket on board the bus, it’s valid for 90 minutes.

Arriving and Departing


The train station is about two miles below Assisi, in Santa Maria degli Angeli. You can store luggage inside the station at Discovery Station Assisi or the newsstand (daily 6:45-12:30 & 13:00-19:30), but not in the old town.

The train station’s ticket office is often open only Mon-Fri 12:30-20:00, closed Sat-Sun; when the office is closed, use the ticket machine (newsstand sells only regional tickets). Up in Assisi’s old town, you can get train information and tickets from Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini (Mon-Fri 9:00-12:30 & 15:30-19:00, Sat 9:00-12:30, closed Sun, Corso Mazzini 31, between Piazza del Comune and Basilica of St. Clare, tel. 075-812-597,

Orange city buses connect the train station with the old town of Assisi on the hilltop. Buses (line #C) usually leave at :16 and :46 past the hour from the bus stop immediately to your left as you exit the station (daily 5:30-23:00, 15 minutes; buy tickets at the newsstand inside the train station for €1.30, or on board the bus for €2—exact change only, validate in yellow box as you board, valid 1.5 hours after being stamped, good for any bus within the old town).


While these big train-station-to-Assisi buses don’t go into town, they stop at three convenient places just outside the wall: at the bottom (Piazza Giovanni Paolo II, near Basilica of St. Francis), the middle (Largo Properzio, just outside Porta Nuova city gate and the best stop for reaching hotels in the center), and at the top (Piazza Matteotti).

Going from the old town to the train station, the orange buses reverse the route, starting at the top (Piazza Matteotti, usually at :10 and :40 past the hour), stopping in the middle next (outside Porta Nuova at Largo Properzio), and then at the bottom (Piazza Giovanni Paolo II), before zipping down to the station.

All buses are marked either SM degli Angeli/Stazione or Matteotti/S. Francesco. While you may find yourself looping into the hinterland, most of these buses also go to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels (Santa Maria degli Angel, one stop beyond the station, confirm with the driver).

Taxis from the train station to the old town cost about €15. You can be charged extra for luggage, night service, additional people (four is customary)...and sometimes just for being a tourist. When departing the old town, you’ll find taxi stands at Piazza del Comune, the Basilica of St. Clare, the Basilica of St. Francis, and Piazza Giovanni Paolo II (or have your hotel call for you, tel. 075-813-100). Expect to pay a minimum of €10 for any ride.

Train Connections to: Rome (nearly hourly, 2-3.5 hours, 5 direct, most others change in Foligno), Florence (8/day direct, 2-3 hours), Orvieto (roughly hourly, 2-3 hours, with transfer in Terontola or Orte), Siena (10/day, about 4 hours, most involve 2 changes; bus is faster).


Most intercity buses arrive at the base of the old town near the Basilica of St. Francis, but buses from Siena may arrive at the stop next to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels (Santa Maria degli Angel), near the train station (see above for directions from the station up to the old town).

Bus Connections: Service to Rome is operated by the Sulga bus company (2/day, 3 hours, pay driver, departs from Piazza San Pietro, arrives at Rome’s Tiburtina station, where you can connect with the regional train to Fiumicino Airport, tel. 800-099-661,

A bus for Siena departs from the stop next to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, near the train station (daily at 10:20, 2 hours, search on “Santa Maria degli Angeli” for timetable, You usually can’t buy Siena tickets from the driver—buy them at Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi’s old town (Mon-Fri 9:00-12:30 & 15:30-19:00, Sat 9:00-12:30, closed Sun, Corso Mazzini 31, between Piazza del Comune and Basilica of St. Clare, tel. 075-812-597,

Don’t take the bus to Florence; the train is better.


Drivers visiting for the day can follow the signs to several handy parking lots (parcheggi). Piazza Matteotti’s wonderful underground parking garage is at the top of the town and comes with bits of ancient Rome in the walls. Another big lot, Parcheggio Giovanni Paolo II, is at the bottom end of town, 200 yards below the Basilica of St. Francis. At Parcheggio Porta Nuova, an escalator delivers you to Porta Nuova near St. Clare’s. Prices are similar (€1.30-1.60/hour, about €12/day). For day-trippers, the best plan is to park at Piazza Matteotti, follow my self-guided town walk, tour the basilica, and then either catch a bus back to Piazza Matteotti or simply wander back up through town to your car.


Perugia/Assisi Airport, about 10 miles from Assisi, has daily connections to London, Brussels, Barcelona, and a few Mediterranean destinations (airport code: PEG, tel. 075-592-141, Bus service between Assisi and the airport is so sporadic that you should plan on taking a taxi (about €30).


Just off the freeway and the main train line, Umbria’s grand hill town sits majestically a thousand feet above the valley floor, enticing those heading to and from Rome. While no secret, it’s well worth a visit. Orvieto became a regional power in the Middle Ages, and even earlier, a few centuries before Christ, it was one of a dozen major Etruscan cities. Some historians believe Orvieto may have been a religious center—a kind of Etruscan Mecca.

Orvieto has three claims to fame: cathedral, Classico wine, and ceramics. Drinking a shot of the local white wine in a ceramic cup as you gaze up at the cathedral lets you experience Orvieto’s three C’s all at once. Though crowded by day, Orvieto is quiet by night, and comes with a wonderful bonus: close proximity to the unforgettable Civita di Bagnoregio (covered later in this chapter).


Orvieto has two distinct parts: the old-town hilltop and the plain new town below (called Orvieto Scalo). Whether coming by train or car, you first arrive in the nondescript, modern, lower part of town. From there you can drive or take the funicular, elevator, or escalator up to the medieval upper town, an atmospheric labyrinth of streets and squares.

Tourist Information: The TI is on the cathedral square at Piazza del Duomo 24 (Mon-Fri 8:15-13:50 & 16:00-19:00, Sat-Sun 10:00-13:00 & 15:00-18:00, tel. 0763-341-772). The ticket office next to the main TI sells combo-tickets and books reservations for Underground Orvieto Tours (tel. 0763-340-688). In summer, the town sometimes has a branch TI at Piazza Cahen at the top of the funicular.

Sightseeing Passes: The €20 Carta Unica combo-ticket covers Orvieto’s top sights and one round-trip on the bus and/or funicular. To cover your funicular ride, you can buy the combo-ticket on your arrival in the lower town—either at the bar or newsstand at the train station, or at a summer-only ticket office in the parking lot below the station. The combo-ticket is also available at the ticket office next to the TI on Piazza del Duomo, as well as at most of the sights it covers.


Orvieto outdoor market




Internet Access: Many of Orvieto’s cafés have Wi-Fi for their customers, including all the popular spots along the main drag—the Corso.

Car Service: Giuliotaxi offers excursions by car and minibus to Civita and beyond (mobile 349-690-6547,; for info on their Civita excursion, see here.

Car Rental: Hertz has an office 100 yards to the left of the funicular station (Via Sette Martiri 32f, tel. 0763-301-303).

Private Guides: David Tordi leads walking tours of Orvieto and the Duomo (€10/person for 1-1.5-hour tours, Fri-Sun, tel. 0763-340-688, Manuela del Turco is also good (€120 for a small group 2.5-hour tour, mobile 333-221-9879,

image Orvieto Walk

This quickie L-shaped self-guided walk takes you from the Duomo through Orvieto’s historic center. Each evening, this route is the scene of the local passeggiata.

Facing the cathedral, head left. Stroll past the clock tower (first put here in 1347 for the workers building the cathedral), which marks the start of Via del Duomo, lined with shops selling ceramics. Via dei Magoni (second left) has several artisan shops and the crazy little Il Mago di Oz (“Wizard of Oz”) shop, a wondrous toyland created by eccentric Giuseppe Rosella. Have Giuseppe push a few buttons, and you’re far from Kansas (no photos allowed, Via dei Magoni 3, tel. 0763-342-063).

Via del Duomo continues to Orvieto’s main intersection, where it meets Corso Cavour and a tall, stark tower—Torre del Moro. The tower marks the center of town, serves as a handy orientation tool, and is decorated by the coats of arms of past governors. The elevator leaves you with 173 steps still to go to earn a commanding view (€3, daily March-Oct 10:00-19:00, May-Aug until 20:00, shorter hours off-season).

This crossroads divides the town into four quarters (notice the Quartiere signs on the corners). In the past, residents of these four districts competed in a lively equestrian competition on Piazza del Popolo during the annual Corpus Christi celebration. Historically, the four streets led from here to the market and the fine palazzo on Piazza del Popolo, the well, the Duomo, and City Hall.

Before heading left down Corso Cavour, side-trip a block farther ahead, behind the tower, for a look at the striking Palazzo del Popolo. Built of tufo, this is a textbook example of a fortified medieval public palace: a fortress designed to house the city’s leadership and military, with a market at its base, fancy meeting rooms upstairs, and aristocratic living quarters on the top level.


Via dei Magoni

Return to the tower and head down Corso Cavour (turning right) past classic storefronts to Piazza della Repubblica and City Hall. The Church of Sant’Andrea (left of City Hall) sits atop an Etruscan temple that was likely the birthplace of Orvieto centuries before Christ. Inside is an interesting architectural progression: Romanesque (with few frescoes surviving), Gothic (the pointy vaults over the altar), and a Renaissance barrel vault in the apse (behind the altar)—all lit by fine alabaster windows.

From City Hall, you can continue to the far end of town to the Church of Sant’Agostino, where you can see the statues of the apostles that once stood in the Duomo (included in the MoDo ticket described later). From here you can take a left and walk the cliffside ramparts to enjoy the expansive views.




Map: Orvieto’s Dome

Near the Duomo




Underground Orvieto




Orvieto’s cathedral has Italy’s liveliest facade. This colorful, prickly Gothic facade, divided by four pillars, has been compared to a medieval altarpiece. The optical-illusion interior features some fine art, including Luca Signorelli’s lavishly frescoed Chapel of San Brizio.

Cost and Hours: €3; April-Sept Mon-Sat 9:30-19:00, Sun 13:00-17:30 or until 18:30 July-Sept; March and Oct Mon-Sat 9:30-18:00, Sun 13:00-17:30; Nov-Feb Mon-Sat 9:30-13:00 & 14:30-17:00, Sun 14:30-17:30; sometimes closes for religious services. A €5 combo-ticket includes the Duomo, the chapel, and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, called the “MoDo” (available at the chapel; MoDo alone costs €4). Admission is also covered by the €20 Carta Unica combo-ticket.


Begin by viewing the exterior facade, a gleaming mass of mosaics, stained glass, and sculpture (c. 1300, by Lorenzo Maitani and others).

At the base of the cathedral, the four broad marble pillars M carved with biblical scenes tell the history of the world in four acts, from left to right. The relief on the far left shows the Creation (see God creating Eve from Adam’s rib, and the snake tempting Eve). Next is the Tree of Jesse (Jesus’ family tree—with Mary, then Jesus on top) flanked by Old Testament stories, then the New Testament (look for the manger scene and other events from the life of Christ). On the far right is the Last Judgment (Christ judging on top, with all hell breaking loose at the bottom).

Each pillar is topped by a bronze symbol of one of the Evangelists: angel (Matthew), lion (Mark), eagle (John), and ox (Luke). The bronze doors are modern, by the Sicilian sculptor Emilio Greco. (A gallery devoted to Greco’s work is to the immediate right of the church.) In the mosaic below the rose window, Mary is transported to heaven. In the uppermost mosaic, Mary is crowned.

✵ Now step inside.


Orvieto’s Duomo


Orvieto’s Duomo Map Key

1 Creation

2 Tree of Jesse & Old Testament Stories

3 New Testament Stories

4 Last Judgment

5 “Corporal” Last Judgment (Linen Cloth)

6 Reliquary

7 Miracle of Bolsena Fresco

8 Marble Floor Patch

9 Pietà

10 Sermon of the Antichrist

11 End of the World (above doorway)

12 Resurrection of the Bodies

13 Last Judgment

14 Elect in Heaven

15 Damned in Hell

The nave feels less cluttered than most Italian churches. Until 1877, it was busier, with statues of the apostles at each column and fancy chapels. Then the people decided they wanted to “un-Baroque” their church. (The original statues are now on display in the Church of Sant’Agostino, at the west end of town.)

The interior is lit by alabaster windows, highlighting the black-and-white striped stonework. Why such a big and impressive church in such a little town? Its historic importance and wealth is due to a miracle that happened nearby in 1263. According to the story, a skeptical priest, named Peter of Prague, passed through Bolsena (12 miles from Orvieto) while on a pilgrimage to Rome. He had doubts that the bread used in communion could really be transformed into the body of Christ. But during Mass, as he held the host aloft and blessed it, the bread began to bleed, running down his arms and dripping onto a linen cloth (a “corporal”) on the altar. That miraculously blood-stained cloth is now kept here, in the Chapel of the Corporal.

✵ We’ll tour the church’s interior. First, find the chapel in the north transept, left of the altar.

Chapel of the Corporal: M The bloody cloth from the miracle is displayed in the turquoise frame atop the altar. It was brought from Bolsena to Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV happened to be visiting. The amazed pope proclaimed a new holiday, Corpus Christi (Body of Christ), and the Orvieto cathedral was built (begun in 1290) to display the miraculous relic. Find the fine reliquary in a glass case on the left. This silver-and-blue enamel reliquary—made in the early 1300s, and considered one of the finest medieval jewels in Italy—held the linen relic as if in a frame until the 1970s. Notice how it evokes the facade of this cathedral.

The room was frescoed in the 14th century with scenes attesting to Christ’s presence in the communion wafer (for example, the panel above the glass case to the left illustrates how the wafer bleeds if you cook it). You can see the Miracle of Bolsena depicted in the fresco on the chapel’s right wall.

✵ Leave the Chapel of the Corporal and walk to the middle front of the church, where you’ll see a...

Patch in the Marble Floor Before the High Altar: M Stand on the patch, which is a reminder that as the Roman Catholic Church countered the Reformation, it made reforms of its own. For instance, altars were moved back so that the congregation could sit closer to the spectacular frescoes and stained glass. (These decorations were designed to impress commoners by illustrating the glory of heaven—and the Catholic Church needed that propaganda more than ever during the Counter-Reformation.) This confused patching marks where the altar stood prior to the Counter-Reformation.


Duomo interior

This cathedral put Orvieto on the map; with lots of pilgrims came lots of wealth. Two future popes used the town—perched on its easy-to-defend hilltop—as a refuge when their enemies forced them to flee Rome. The sparkling stained glass is the restored original, from the 14th century. The fine organ, high on the left, has more than 5,000 pipes. Look high up in the right transept at the alabaster rose window.

✵ Turn and face down the nave to look a few steps to your right; near the first pillar is a beautiful white-marble statue.

Pietà: M The marble pietà was carved in 1579 by local artist Ippolito Scalza. Clearly inspired by Michelangelo’s Pietà, this exceptional work, with four figures, was sculpted from one piece of marble. Walk around it to notice the texture that Scalza achieved, and how the light plays on the sculpture from every angle.

✵ To the right of the main altar is Orvieto’s one must-see artistic sight, the...

Chapel of San Brizio: This chapel features Luca Signorelli’s brilliantly lit frescoes of the Day of Judgment and Life after Death (painted 1499-1504). Step into the chapel and you’re surrounded by vivid scenes crammed with figures. Although the frescoes refer to themes of resurrection and salvation, they also reflect the turbulent political and religious atmosphere of late 15th-century Italy.

The chapel is decorated in one cohesive story. Start with the wall to your left as you enter, and slowly turn counterclockwise to follow the plot:

In the Sermon of the Antichrist M (left wall), a crowd gathers around a man preaching from a pedestal. It’s the Antichrist, who poses as Jesus to mislead the faithful. This befuddled Antichrist forgets his lines mid-speech, but the Devil is on hand to whisper what to say next. His words sow wickedness through the world, including executions (upper right). The worried woman in red and white (foreground, left of pedestal) gets money from a man for something she’s not proud of (perhaps receiving funds from a Jewish moneylender—notice the Stars of David on his purse).

Most likely, the Antichrist himself is a veiled reference to Savonarola (1452-1498), the charismatic Florentine monk who defied the pope, drove the Medici family from power, and riled the populace with apocalyptic sermons. Many Italians—including the painter Signorelli—viewed Savonarola as a tyrant and heretic, the Antichrist who was ushering in the Last Days.

In the upper left, notice the hardworking angel. He looks as if he’s at batting practice, hitting followers of the Antichrist back to earth as they try to get through the pearly gates. In the bottom left is a self-portrait of the artist, Luca Signorelli (c. 1450-1523), dressed in black with long golden hair. Signorelli, from nearby Cortona, was at the peak of his powers, and this chapel was his masterpiece. He looks out proudly as if to say, “I did all this in just five years, on time and on budget.” Next to him (also in black) is the artist Fra Angelico, who started the chapel decoration five decades earlier but completed only a small part of it.


Signorelli, Resurrection of the Bodies

Around the arch, opposite the windows, are signs of the end of the world: M eclipse, tsunami, falling stars, earthquakes, violence in the streets, and a laser-wielding gray angel.

On the right wall (opposite the Antichrist) is the Resurrection of the Bodies. M Trumpeting angels blow a wake-up call and the dead climb dreamily out of the earth to be clothed with new bodies. On the same wall (below the action, at eye level) is a gripping pietà. Also by Signorelli, this pietà gives an insight into the artist’s genius and personality. Look at the emotion in the faces of the two Marys and consider that Signorelli’s own son had just died. The Deposition scene (behind Jesus’ leg) seems inspired by ancient Greek scenes of a pre-Christian hero’s death. In the confident spirit of the Renaissance, the artist incorporates a pagan scene to support a Christian story. This 3-D realism in a 2-D sketch shows the work of a talented master.

The altar wall (with the windows) features the Last Judgment. M To the left of the altar (and continuing around the corner, filling half the left wall) are the Elect in Heaven. M They spend eternity posing like bodybuilders while listening to celestial Muzak. To the right (and continuing around the corner on the right wall) are the Damned in Hell, M in the scariest mosh pit ever. Devils torment sinners in graphic detail, while winged demons control the airspace overhead. In the center, one lusty demon turns to tell the frightened woman on his back exactly what he’s got planned for their date. (According to legend, this was Signorelli’s lover, who betrayed him...and ended up here.) Signorelli’s ability to tell a story through human actions and gestures, rather than symbols, inspired his younger contemporary, Michelangelo, who meticulously studied the elder artist’s nudes.

In this chapel, Christian theology sits physically and figuratively upon a foundation of classical logic. Below everything are Greek and Latin philosophers, plus Dante, struggling to reconcile Classical truth with Church doctrine.

✵ Our tour is finished. Leaving the church, turn left (passing a small parking lot and WC) to reach a park that affords a fine Umbrian view. Turn left twice, and you’ll circle behind the church to reach the cathedral’s art collections (part of MoDo, described next).

Near the Duomo


This museum is an ensemble of three different sights scattered around town: the cathedral art collection behind the cathedral; the Emilio Greco collection next to the cathedral; and, at the far end of town, the Church of Sant’Agostino, which has the 12 apostle statues that were originally in the Duomo.

Cost and Hours: €4 MoDo ticket covers all MoDo sights (or get the €5 combo-ticket that includes the Duomo); April-Sept daily 9:30-19:00; March and Oct Wed-Mon 10:00-17:00, closed Tue; Nov-Feb Wed-Mon 10:00-13:00 & 14:00-17:00, closed Tue; Piazza Duomo, tel. 0763-343-592,

Cathedral Art Collections: Behind the Duomo, a complex of medieval palaces called Palazzi Papali shows off the city’s best devotional art. It comes in two parts: the skippable collection of frescoes on the ground floor and a delightful collection up the metal staircase. The highlight is just inside the upstairs entrance: a marble Mary and Child who sit beneath a bronze canopy, attended by exquisite angels. This proto-Renaissance ensemble, dating from around 1300, once filled the niche in the center of the cathedral’s facade (where a replica sits today). In several rooms on this floor, you’ll find a Madonna and Child from 1322 by the Sienese great Simone Martini, who worked in Orvieto; saintly wooden statues and fine inlaid woodwork from the original choir; a carved 14th-century Crucifixion that shows the dead Christ in gripping detail; and Luca Signorelli’s Mary Magdalene (1504).

Museo Emilio Greco: This collection shows off the work of Emilio Greco (1913-1995), a Sicilian artist who designed the modern doors of Orvieto’s cathedral. His sketches and about 30 of his bronze statues are on display here, showing his absorption with gently twisting and turning nudes. The artful installation of his work in this palazzo, with walkways and a spiral staircase up to the ceiling, is designed to let you view his sculptures from different angles.


This small, five-room collection, immediately behind the cathedral in the ground floor of Palazzi Papali (under MoDo), shows off a trove of well-preserved Etruscan bronzes, terra-cotta objects, and ceramics—many from the necropolis at the base of Orvieto, and some with painted colors surviving from 500 b.c. To see the treasure of this museum, ask an attendant for the Golini tombs (named after the man who discovered them in 1836). She’ll escort you to the reconstructed, fourth-century b.c. tombs, frescoed with scenes from an Etruscan banquet in the afterlife.

Cost and Hours: €3, daily 8:30-19:30, tel. 0763-341-039,


This 19th-century, Neoclassical nobleman’s palace stands on the main square facing the cathedral. Its elegantly frescoed rooms hold an impressive Etruscan collection. The ground floor features the “Museo Civico,” with fragments of Etruscan sculpture. On the first floor is the “Collezione Conti Faina,” with Etruscan jewelry and an array of Roman coins (push the brass buttons and the coins rotate so you can see both sides). The top floor features the best of the Etruscan vases and bronzes, and lots of votives found buried in nearby tombs.

Cost and Hours: €4.50; April-Sept daily 9:30-18:00; Oct-March Tue-Sun 10:00-17:00, closed Mon; English descriptions throughout, tel. 0763-341-511,

Underground Orvieto


Modern engineers are impressed by this deep well—175 feet deep and 45 feet wide—designed in the 16th century with a double-helix pattern. The two spiral stairways allow an efficient one-way traffic flow: intriguing now, but critical then. Imagine if donkeys and people, balancing jugs of water, had to go up and down the same stairway. At the bottom is a bridge that people could walk on to scoop up water.

The well was built because a pope got nervous. After Rome was sacked in 1527 by renegade troops of the Holy Roman Empire, the pope (Clement VII) fled to Orvieto. He feared that even this little town (with no water source on top) would be besieged. He commissioned a well, which was started in 1527 and finished 10 years later. It was a huge project. (As it turns out, the town was never besieged, but supporters believe that the well was worth the cost and labor because of its deterrence value—attackers would think twice about besieging a town with a reliable water source.) It’s a total of 496 steps up and down—allow about 20 minutes total—lots of exercise and not much to see other than some amazing 16th-century engineering. Bring a sweater.


St. Patrick’s Well

Cost and Hours: €5, daily May-Aug 9:00-19:45, shorter hours off-season, interesting €1 audioguide, to your right as you exit the funicular, Viale Sangallo, tel. 0763-343-768.


Guides weave archaeological history into a good look at 100 yards of Etruscan and medieval caves. You’ll see the remains of an old olive press, a 130-foot-deep Etruscan well shaft, what’s left of a primitive cement quarry, and an extensive dovecote (pigeon coop) where the birds were reared for roasting (pigeon dishes are still featured on many Orvieto menus; look for—or avoid—piccione).

Cost and Hours: €6; 45-minute English tours depart at 11:15, 12:30, 16:15, and 17:30; more often with demand, book tour and depart from ticket office at Piazza Duomo 23 (next to main TI); confirm times at TI or by calling 0763-340-688,


Wine Tasting

Orvieto Classico wine is justly famous. Two inviting wineries sit just outside Orvieto on the scenic Canale route to Bagnoregio (see map on here). For drivers en route to Civita, it’s easy to stop at either or both for a tasting (but call ahead for a reservation).

For a short tour of a winery with Etruscan cellars, make an appointment to visit Tenuta Le Velette (€8-24 for tour and tasting, price varies depending on wines, number of people, and if food is requested, no drop-ins, Mon-Fri 8:30-12:00 & 14:00-17:00, Sat 8:30-12:00, closed Sun, tel. 0763-29090, mobile 348-300-2002, From their sign (5-minute drive past Orvieto at top of switchbacks just before Canale, on road to Bagnoregio), cruise down a long tree-lined drive, then park at the striped gate.

Custodi is another respected family-run winery that produces Orvieto Classico, grappa, and olive oil on a 140-acre estate. Reserve ahead for a tour and a tasting (€7/person for wines only, €16/person with light lunch, daily 8:30-12:30 & 15:30-18:30 except closed Sun afternoons, Viale Venere S.N.C. Loc. Canale; on the road from Orvieto to Civita, a half-mile after Le Velette, it’s the first building before Canale; tel. 0763-29053, mobile 392-161-9334,



Trattoria La Palomba offers both value and conviviality, featuring game and truffle specialties in a wood-paneled dining room. Try the ombricelli al tartufo or spaghetti dell’Ascaro. Ingredients are mostly organic and locally sourced (€10 pastas, €9-15 secondi, Thu-Tue 12:30-14:15 & 19:30-22:00, closed Wed and July, reservations smart, just off Piazza della Repubblica at Via Cipriano Manente 16, tel. 0763-343-395).


L’Antica Trattoria dell’Orso offers well-prepared Umbrian cuisine paired with fine wines in a bohemian-chic atmosphere. Try the “trust your chef” multicourse tasting menu, which offers an amazing value for my readers: €30 for two people, including wine and water (€10-12 pastas, €12-16 secondi, Wed-Sat 12:00-14:00 & 19:30-22:00, Sun 12:00-14:00, closed Mon-Tue and Feb, just off Piazza della Repubblica at Via della Misericordia 18, tel. 0763-341-642).

Trattoria del Moro Aronne is a family bistro that lovingly prepares homemade pasta and market-fresh meats and produce for its typical Umbrian specialties. Be sure to sample the nidi—folds of fresh pasta enveloping warm, gooey pecorino cheese sweetened with honey. It’s touristy, but three small, separate dining areas make it feel intimate (€8-10 pastas, €10-14 secondi, Wed-Mon 12:30-14:30 & 19:30-22:00, closed Tue, Via San Leonardo 7, tel. 0763-342-763).

Trattoria la Grotta prides itself on serving only the freshest food and finest wine. The decor is mod, the ambience quiet, and the service courteous (€8 pastas, €14-18 secondi, Wed-Mon opens at 12:00 for lunch and at 19:00 for dinner, closed Tue, Via Luca Signorelli 5, tel. 0763-341-348).

Trattoria da Carlo, hiding on its own little piazzetta between Via Corso Cavour and Piazza del Popolo, is a cozy spot with a charming interior and inviting tables outside. Expect a modern twist on traditional dishes, such as pasta with guanciale (pork cheeks—like bacon), fennel seeds, and pecorino cheese (€9 pastas, €12-16 secondi, daily 12:00-15:00 & 19:00-24:00, Vicolo del Popolo 1, tel. 0763-343-916).

Trattoria Antico Bucchero, elegant under a big white vault, offers memorable, candlelit ambience and delicious food (€8 pastas, €12 secondi, daily 12:00-15:00 & 19:00-23:00 except closed Wed Nov-March, air-con, a half-block south of Corso Cavour, between Torre del Moro and Piazza della Repubblica at Via de Cartari 4, tel. 0763-341-725).

Pizzeria & Ristorante Charlie’s noisy dining hall and courtyard are popular with families and students for casual dinners (€6-8 wood-fired pizzas, big salads, €7-9 homemade pastas, €12-15 secondi, Wed-Mon 19:00-12:30 & 14:30-23:00 except no midday closure in summer, closed Tue year-round, Via Loggia dei Mercanti 14, a block southwest of Piazza della Repubblica, tel. 0763-344-766).

Enoteca al Duomo, to the left of the Duomo with pleasant outdoor seating, serves rustic panini (€7 to eat in, €5 to go), wines by the glass, and a full menu of local dishes (€10 pastas and meal-size salads, €10-15 secondi, daily 10:00-24:00, closed Feb, Piazza del Duomo 13, tel. 0763-344-607).

Fast and Cheap Eats

L’Oste del Re is a simple trattoria on Corso Cavour, with hearty sandwiches and focaccia to go. They serve a two-course lunch-of-the-day (about €15), and €7.50 focaccia in the evenings (daily 11:00-15:30 & 19:00-22:00 but closed weekday evenings Nov-April, Corso Cavour 58, tel. 0763-343-846).

Caffè Montanucci, along the main street, lays out an appetizing display of pastas (€7) and main courses (€10) behind the counter for lunch. It also serves dinner, plus good coffee, simple sandwiches, and tasty sweets all day (daily 7:00-24:00, Corso Cavour 21, tel. 0763-341-261).


The hotels are located in or near the town center. The prices are for high season—roughly May to early July and in September and October, as well as during the Umbria Jazz festival in the days before New Year’s.

$$$ Hotel Duomo is modern, with splashy art and 17 rooms. Double-paned windows muffle the sound of the church bells (Sb-€80, Db-€120, Db suite-€140, Tb-€150, extra bed-€10, air-con, elevator, private parking-€10/day, sunny terrace, a block from the Duomo at Vicolo di Maurizio 7, tel. 0763-341-887,, They also have a three-room B&B 50 yards from the hotel (Sb-€70, Db-€90, Tb-€110, breakfast at main hotel).

$$$ Grand Hotel Italia brings businesslike modern amenities to its 46 rooms (Sb-€80, Db-€120, Db with terrace-€140, extra bed-€20, air-con, elevator, stay-awhile lobby and terrace, parking-€10/day—reserve ahead, Via di Piazza del Popolo 13, tel. 0763-342-065,,

$$ Hotel Corso is friendly, with 18 frilly and flowery rooms (a few with balconies and views) and a sunlit terrace. The location—halfway between the center of town and the funicular—is less convenient than others (Sb-€65, Db-€95, Tb-€120, buffet breakfast-€6.50, ask for quieter room off street, air-con, elevator, reserved parking-€8/day, up from funicular toward Duomo at Corso Cavour 343, tel. 0763-342-020,,

$ La Magnolia B&B has terra-cotta tiles, frescoed ceilings, and welcoming terraces. Its seven unique rooms, some like mini-apartments with kitchens, are on the town’s main drag. The three units facing the busy street are air-conditioned and have good double-paned windows (Db-€68, plush Db apartment-€78, extra person-€15, family deals; no elevator, use of washer-€3.50; Via Duomo 29, tel. 0763-342-808, mobile 349-462-0733,,

$ Affittacamere Valentina rents six clean, airy, well-appointed rooms, all with big beds and antique furniture. It’s located behind the palace on Piazza del Popolo (Db-€58/€65, Tb-€75/€85, studio with kitchen-€80/€90, lower rates are cash only and good with this book for stays of 2 or more nights; breakfast at nearby café-€5, air-con-€5, parking-€10/day, Via Vivaria 7, tel. 0763-341-607, mobile 393-970-5868,, Valentina also rents three rooms across the square (D-€58, shared bath and kitchen, no air-con) and three offsite apartments (€170/night with 3-night minimum).

Sleep Code

Abbreviations: S=Single, D=Double/Twin, T=Triple, Q=Quad, b=bathroom

Price Rankings for Double Rooms: $$$ Most rooms €100 or more, $$ €70-100, $ €70 or less

Notes: Many Italian cities levy a hotel tax of €1.50-5 per person, per night (often collected in cash; usually not included in the rates I’ve quoted). Room prices change; verify rates online or by email. For the best prices, book directly with the hotel.

$ Hotel Posta is a once-elegant palazzo renting 20 quirky and clean rooms with vintage furniture. The rooms without private bath are among the cheapest in town (S-€31, Sb-€37, D-€44, Db-€57, T-€60, Tb-€75, breakfast-€6, elevator, Via Luca Signorelli 18, tel. 0763-341-909,,

$ Villa Mercede, owned by a religious institution, offers 23 cheap, simple, mostly twin-bedded rooms, each with a big modern bathroom and many with glorious Umbrian views (Sb-€50, Db-€70, Tb-€90, elevator, free parking, a half-block from Duomo at Via Soliana 2, reception upstairs, tel. 0763-341-766,,

$ Istituto S.S. Salvatore rents nine spotless twin rooms and five singles in their convent, which comes with a peaceful terrace and garden, great views, and a 22:30 curfew (Sb-€40, Db-€60, €5 less/person Oct-March, cash only, no breakfast, elevator, Wi-Fi in common areas only, free parking, just off Piazza del Popolo at Via del Popolo 1, tel. 0763-342-910,,

$ B&B Michelangeli offers two comfortable and well-appointed apartments hiding along a residential lane a few blocks from the tourist scene. With homey touches like free tea, coffee, and breakfast supplies, this is a good choice for families (Db-€70, kids-€10 extra, fully equipped kitchen, washing machine, private parking-€5/day, Via dei Saracinelli 20—ring bell labeled M. Michelangeli, tel. 0763-393-862, mobile 347-089-0349,


Arriving and Departing


The train station is at the foot of the hill the old town sits on. There’s no baggage storage at the train station, but Hotel Picchio, 300 yards from the station, stores day-trippers’ luggage for a few euros (leaving the station, go left, then right up Via G. Salvatori to #17, tel. 0763-301-144). Check at the station for the train schedule to your next destination (schedule is also available at the TI or online at

From the station, the easiest way to get to the top of Orvieto (including the cathedral and my recommended hotels) is by funicular: Buy your ticket at the entrance to the funiculare; look for the biglietteria sign (€1.30, good for 1.5 hours, includes minibus from Piazza Cahen to Piazza del Duomo, Mon-Sat 7:15-20:30, Sun 8:00-20:30, about every 10 minutes). Or buy a €20 Carta Unica combo-ticket (described earlier) to cover your funicular ride and the top sights.

As you exit the funicular at the top, you’re in Piazza Cahen, located at the east end of the upper town. To your left is a ruined fortress with a garden and a commanding view. To your right, down a steep path, is St. Patrick’s Well. Farther to the right is a park with Etruscan ruins and another sweeping view.

Just in front of you is the small shuttle bus (usually white or orange), waiting to take you to Piazza del Duomo at no extra charge (included in your funicular ticket; 3-6/hour). The bus fills up fast, but the views from the ruined fortress are worth pausing for—if you miss the bus, you can wait for the next one, or just walk to the cathedral (head uphill on Corso Cavour; after about 10 minutes, take a left onto Via del Duomo). The bus drops you in Piazza del Duomo, just steps from the main TI and within easy walking distance of most of my recommended sights and hotels.

If you arrive outside the funicular’s operating hours, you can reach the upper part of town by bus to Piazza della Repubblica (buses run roughly 2/hour until midnight, buy €1.30 ticket at bar inside station). Taxis line up in front of the train station and charge about €15 for a ride to the cathedral (mobile 360-433-057).

Train Connections from Orvieto to: Rome (roughly hourly, 1-1.5 hours), Florence (hourly, 2 hours, use Firenze S.M.N. train station), Siena (12/day, 2.5 hours, change in Chiusi, all Florence-bound trains stop in Chiusi), Assisi (roughly hourly, 2-3 hours, 1 or 2 transfers),

Milan (2/day direct, 5.5 hours; otherwise about hourly with a transfer in Florence, Bologna, or Rome, 4.5-5 hours). The train station’s Buffet della Stazione is surprisingly good if you need a quick focaccia sandwich or pizza picnic for the train ride.


For free parking, use the huge lot below the train station (5 minutes off the autostrada; turn right immediately after the autostrada underpass and follow the P camping and P funiculare signs). Walk through the station and ride the funicular up the hill.


Rick’s Tip: If you’re considering driving to Rome, stash your car in Orvieto instead. You can easily park the car, safe and free, in the big lot below the Orvieto train station (for up to a week or more), and zip effortlessly into Rome by train (1-1.5 hours).

It’s also possible to park in the old town. While little free parking is available, there are several pay options: the small lot in Piazza Marconi, near Orvieto’s cathedral (€1.50 for first hour, €1/hour thereafter); the south half (blue lines) of Piazza Cahen (€1.20/hour); northwest of Piazza Cahen at the lot on Via Roma (€1/hour); and the Campo della Fiera lot just below the west end of town (€1/hour; from top level of lot, walk up into town or take escalator—7:00-21:00—or elevator—7:00-24:00; both free). While white lines generally indicate free parking, much of it is marked for residents only. Blue lines require you to buy a “pay and display” slip from a nearby machine.

While you can drive up Via Postierla and Via Roma to get to central parking lots, Corso Cavour and other streets in the old center are closed to traffic and monitored by cameras (look for red lights, and avoid streets marked by a red circle).


Perched on a pinnacle in a grand canyon, the 2,500-year-old, traffic-free village of Civita di Bagnoregio is my favorite hill town. It’s only connection to the world is a long pedestrian bridge—with the town of Bagnoregio at the other end. While Bagnoregio lacks the romance of Civita, it’s a healthy, vibrant community.

Civita’s history goes back to Etruscan and ancient Roman times. In the early Middle Ages, Bagnoregio was a suburb of Civita, which had a population of about 4,000. Later, Bagnoregio surpassed Civita in size—especially following a 1695 earthquake (residents fled Civita’s hilltop to live in Bagnoregio, fearing their houses would be shaken off into the valley below). You’ll notice Bagnoregio is dominated by Renaissance-style buildings while, architecturally, Civita remains stuck in the Middle Ages.

In the last decade, the old, self-sufficient Civita (chee-VEE-tah) has died—the last of its lifelong residents have passed on, and the only work here is in serving visitors. But relatives and newcomers are moving in and revitalizing the village, and it remains an amazing place to visit.

image Civita Walk

Begin at the base of the pedestrian bridge leading up to Civita (you’ll have arrived here either by car or by an Orvieto-Bagnoregio bus, then a walk; follow the directions at the end of this chapter).

Pay the €1.50 admission fee at the brown kiosk on your left, just before you start walking up the pedestrian bridge. The fee (waived for overnight guests) helps with the town’s extensive maintenance expenses.

Civita was once connected to Bagnoregio, before the saddle between the separate towns eroded away. Photographs around town show the old donkey path, the original bridge. It was bombed in World War II and replaced in 1966 with the footbridge that you’re climbing today.


Civita di Bagnoregio


✵ Entering the town, you’ll pass through Porta Santa Maria, a 12th-century Romanesque arch. This stone passageway was cut by the Etruscans 2,500 years ago, when this town was a stop on an ancient trading route. Inside the archway, you enter a garden of stones. Stand in the little square—the town’s antechamber—facing the Bar La Piazzetta. To your right are the remains of a...


The wooden door and windows (above the door) lead only to thin air. They were part of the facade of one of five palaces that once graced Civita. Much of the palace fell into the valley, riding a chunk of the ever-eroding rock pinnacle. Today, the door leads to a remaining section of the palace—complete with Civita’s first hot tub. It was once owned by the “Marchesa,” a countess who married into Italy’s biggest industrialist family.

✵ A few steps uphill, farther into town (on your left, beyond the Bottega souvenir store), notice the two shed-like buildings.


In the nearer building (covered with ivy), you’ll see the town’s old laundry, which dates from just after World War II, when water was finally piped into the town. Until a few years ago, this was a lively village gossip center. Now, locals park their mopeds here. Just behind that is another stone shed, which houses a poorly marked and less-than-pristine WC.


Renaissance Palace facade

✵ The main square is just a few steps farther along, but we’ll take the scenic circular route to get there, detouring around to the right. Belly up to the...


Lean over the banister and listen to the sounds of the birds and the bees. Survey old family farms, noticing how evenly they’re spaced. Historically, each one owned just enough land to stay in business. Turn left along the belvedere and walk a few steps to the site of the long-gone home of Civita’s one famous son, St. Bonaventure, known as the “second founder of the Franciscans” (look for the small plaque on the wall).

✵ From here, a lane leads past picturesque old homes and gardens, and then to...


The town church faces Civita’s main piazza. Grab a stone seat along the biggest building fronting the square (or a drink at Peppone’s bar) and observe the scene. They say that in a big city you can see a lot, but in a small town like this you can feel a lot. The generous bench is built into the long side of the square, reminding me of how, when I first discovered Civita back in the 1970s and 1980s, the town’s old folks would gather here every night. Piazzas have been integral to Italian culture since ancient Roman times. While Civita is humble today, imagine the town’s former wealth, when mansions of the leading families faced this square, along with the former city hall (opposite the church, to your left). The town’s history includes a devastating earthquake in 1695. Notice how stone walls were reinforced with thick bases, and how old stones and marble slabs were recycled and built into walls.

Here in the town square, you’ll find Bar Da Peppone, with local wines and microbrews, and an inviting fire in the winter (open daily), and two restaurants. There are wild donkey races on the first Sunday of June and the second Sunday of September. At Christmastime, a living Nativity scene is enacted in this square, and if you’re visiting at the end of July or beginning of August, you might catch a play here. The pillars that stand like giants’ bar stools are ancient Etruscan. The church, with its Campanile (bell tower), marks the spot where an Etruscan temple, and then a Roman temple, once stood. Across from Peppone’s, on the side of the former city hall, is a small, square, stone counter. Old-timers remember when this was a meat shop, and how one day a week the counter was stacked with fish for sale.

The humble Geological Museum, next to Peppone’s, tells the story of how erosion is constantly shaping the surrounding “Bad Lands” valley, how landslides have shaped (and continue to threaten) Civita, and how the town plans to stabilize things (€3, June-Sept Tue-Sun 9:30-13:30 & 14:00-18:30, closed Mon, Fri-Sun only off-season, closed Jan-Feb, mobile 328-665-7205).

✵ Now step inside...


A cathedral until 1699, the church houses records of about 60 bishops that date back to the seventh century (church open daily 10:00-13:00 & 15:00-17:00, often closed Feb). Inside you’ll see Romanesque columns and arches with faint Renaissance frescoes peeking through Baroque-era whitewash. The central altar is built upon the relics of the Roman martyr St. Victoria, who once was the patron saint of the town. St. Marlonbrando served as a bishop here in the ninth century; an altar dedicated to him is on the right. The fine crucifix over this altar, carved out of pear wood in the 15th century, is from the school of Donatello. It’s remarkably expressive and greatly venerated by locals. Jesus’ gaze is almost haunting. Some say his appearance changes based on what angle you view him from: looking alive from the front, in agony from the left, and dead from the right. On Good Friday, this crucifix goes out and is the focus of the midnight procession.


Civita’s main square and church

On the left side, midway up the nave above an altar, is an intimate fresco of the Madonna of the Earthquake, given this name because—in the great shake of 1695—the whitewash fell off and revealed this tender fresco of Mary and her child. (During the Baroque era, a white-and-bright interior was in vogue, and churches such as these—which were covered with precious and historic frescoes—were simply whitewashed over. Look around to see examples.) On the same wall—just toward the front from the Madonna—find the faded portrait of Santa Apollonia, the patron saint of your teeth; notice the scary-looking pincers.

✵ From the square, you can follow the...


A short walk takes you from the church to the end of the town. Along the way, you’ll pass a couple of little eateries, olive presses, gardens, a rustic town museum, and valley views. The rock below Civita is honeycombed with ancient tunnels, caverns (housing olive presses), cellars (for keeping wine at a constant temperature all year), and cisterns (for collecting rainwater, since there was no well in town). Many date from Etruscan times.

Wherever you choose to eat (or just grab a bruschetta snack), be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to poke around. At the trendy Alma Civita, notice the damaged house facing the main street—broken since the 1695 earthquake and scarred to this day. Just beyond, the rustic Antico Frantoio Bruschetteria serves bruschetta in an amazing old space. Whether or not you buy food, venture into their back room to see an interesting collection of old olive presses (if you’re not eating here, a €1 donation is requested). The huge olive press in the entry is about 1,500 years old. Until the 1960s, blindfolded donkeys trudged in the circle here, crushing olives and creating paste that filled the circular filters and was put into a second press. Notice the 2,500-year-old sarcophagus niche. The hole in the floor (with the glass top) was a garbage hole. In ancient times, residents would toss their jewels down when under attack; excavations uncovered a windfall of treasures.

In front is the well head of an ancient cistern—designed to collect rainwater from neighboring rooftops—carved out of the volcanic rock and covered with clay to be waterproof.

✵ Across the street and down a tiny lane, find...


This is the closest thing the town has to a history museum. The humble collection is the brainchild of Felice, the old farmer who’s hung black-and-white photos, farm tools, olive presses, and local artifacts in a series of old caves. Climb down to the “warm blood machine” (another donkey-powered grinding wheel) and a viewpoint. You’ll see rooms where a mill worker lived until the 1930s. Felice wants to give visitors a feeling for life in Civita when its traditional economy was strong (€1, daily 10:00-19:00, until 17:00 in winter, some English explanations).

✵ Another few steps along the main street take you to...


Here the road is literally cut out of the stone, with a dramatic view of the Bad Lands valley opening up. Pop in to the cute “Garden of Poets” (immediately on the left just outside town, with the tiny local crafts shop) to savor the view. Then, look back up at the end of town and ponder the precarious future of Civita. There’s a certain stillness here, far from the modern world and high above the valley.

Continue along the path a few steps toward the valley below the town, and you come to some shallow caves used as stables until a few years ago. The third cave, cut deeper into the rock, with a barred door, is the Chapel of the Incarcerated (Cappella del Carcere). In Etruscan times, the chapel—with a painted tile depicting the Madonna and child—may have been a tomb, and in medieval times, it was used as a jail (which collapsed in 1695).

✵ Hike back into town. Make a point to take some time to explore the peaceful back lanes before returning to the modern world.


Osteria Al Forno di Agnese is an appealing spot serving simple yet delicious meals on a covered patio just off Civita’s main square (nice €7 salads, €9 pastas—including gluten-free options, €7-12 secondi, good selection of local wines, opens daily at 12:00 for lunch, June-Sept also at 19:00 for dinner, closed Tue in winter and sometimes in bad weather, tel. 0761-792-571, mobile 340-1259-721).

Trattoria Antico Forno serves up rustic dishes and salads at affordable prices. Try their homemade pasta with truffles (€7 pastas, €7-12 secondi, €15 fixed-price meal, daily for lunch 12:30-15:30 and dinner 19:00-22:00, on main square, tel. 076-176-0016).

Trattoria La Cantina de Arianna is a family affair with a busy open fire, specializing in grilled meat and wonderful bruschetta. Down in the cellar, you’ll see traditional winemaking gear and provisions for rolling huge kegs up the stairs (€10 pastas, €8-14 secondi, daily 11:00-16:30, tel. 0761-793-270).

Alma Civita is a fresh, new take on old Civita, with three seating areas: outside on a stony lane, in the modern dining room, or in the atmospheric cellar. Even deeper is an old Etruscan tomb that’s now a wine cellar (€4 bruschette and antipasti, €7 pastas, €7-10 secondi, May-Oct lunch Wed-Mon 12:00-16:00, dinner Fri-Sat 19:00-21:30, closed Tue; Nov-April Fri-Sun only for lunch, tel. 0761-792-415).

Antico Frantoio Bruschetteria, the last place in town, is a rustic spot specializing in delicious bruschetta toasted over hot coals. Add a glass of wine for a fun, affordable snack (in summer roughly 10:00-18:00 daily, off-season weekends only 10:00-17:00, mobile 328-689-9375).

Hostaria del Ponte offers creative and traditional cuisine with amazing views from a terrace at the base of the bridge to Civita (€9 pastas, €12-13 secondi, reservations often essential, Tue-Sun 12:30-14:30 & 19:30-21:30, closed Mon, Nov-April also closed Sun eve, tel. 076-179-3565,


Off-season, when Civita and Bagnoregio are deadly quiet—and cold—I’d side-trip in from Orvieto rather than spend the night. Those staying overnight in Civita don’t pay the admission charge and may get a discount on parking at the base of the bridge.

$$$ Alma Civita is a classic old stone house, recently renovated to make it comfortable and modern (Db-€140, Wi-Fi in their restaurant downstairs, tel. 0761-792-415, mobile 347-449-8892,,

$ Civita B&B has three little rooms above Trattoria Antico Forno, each overlooking Civita’s main square (D-€80, Db-€85, T-€100, continental breakfast, Piazza del Duomo Vecchio, tel. 076-176-0016, mobile 347-611-5426,,


Getting from Orvieto to Civita


From Orvieto, you’ll catch a bus to Bagnoregio, then walk to Civita.

From Orvieto to Bagnoregio by Bus: The trip takes about 45 minutes (€2.20 one-way if bought in advance, €7 one-way if purchased from driver). In Orvieto, buy tickets at the tobacco shop at Corso Cavour 306, a block up from the funicular (daily 8:00-13:00 & 16:00-20:00). If you’re returning to Orvieto by bus, it’s smart to get a return ticket here rather than in Bagnoregio.

Here are likely departure times (but confirm at TI) from Orvieto’s Former Barracks on the blue Cotral bus (Mon-Sat only, no buses on Sun or holidays): 6:20, *7:25, 7:50, 12:45, 13:55, *14:00, 15:45, 17:40, and 18:20. Departures marked with an asterisk (*) run only during the school year (roughly Sept-June). If you take the 12:45 bus for a day trip, you can make the last (17:25) bus back, but your time in Civita will feel a little rushed.

The bus stop in Orvieto is in the Former Barracks near Piazza Cahen at the top of the funincular (see map on here). The schedule is posted at the stop—look for the Capolinea sign. The bus you want says Bagnoregio in the window.

Buses departing Piazza Cahen stop five minutes later at Orvieto’s train station—to catch the bus there, wait to the left of the funicular station (as you’re facing it); schedule and tickets are available in the tobacco shop/bar in the train station. For more info, call 06-7205-7205 or 800-174-471 or see

From Bagnoregio, it’s a 30-minute walk to the base of Civita’s pedestrian bridge. Then you’ll have a fairly steep 10-minute walk up to Civita.

From the Bagnoregio bus stop in Piazzale Battaglini, take the road going uphill, Via Garibaldi (overlooking the big parking lot). Once on the road, take the first right, and then an immediate left, to cut over onto the main drag, Via Roma. Follow this straight out to the belvedere for a superb viewpoint. From there, backtrack a few steps (staircase at end of viewpoint is a dead end), and take the stairs down to the road leading to the pedestrian bridge up to Civita.


If you can share the cost, a 30-minute taxi ride from Orvieto to the base of Civita can be a good deal.

Giuliotaxi offers excursions by car (€90 for up to 4) and minibus (€120 for up to 8) from Orvieto to Civita for a one-hour visit. For a longer trip, book a two-hour visit to Civita, then explore Lake Bolsena (5 hours total, €160/car, €200/minibus). They cover other destinations as well (mobile 349-690-6547,


Driving from Orvieto to Civita takes about 30 minutes. Orvieto overlooks the autostrada (and has its own exit). From the Orvieto exit, the shortest way to Civita is to turn left (below Orvieto), and then simply follow the signs to Lubriano and Bagnoregio.

Rick’s Tip: Just before Bagnoregio, follow the signs left to Lubriano, head into that village, turn right as you enter town, and pull into the first little square by the yellow church (on the left) for a breathtaking view of Civita.

Drive through the town of Bagnoregio (following yellow Civita signs) and park in the lot at the base of the steep pedestrian bridge. If the parking lot by the bridge is full, you can park at the belvedere overlook (above the lot) and take the stairs down to the bridge. Pay for parking at the ticket machine under the bridge entrance (€2/first hour, €1/each additional hour, maximum €6/day, free 20:00-8:00, public WC at parking lot). The time limit on your parking ticket is strictly enforced.