Orvieto to Rome

April 20 - April 28

Text and Photographs by Tristan MacDonald

(Note: each of the pictures on this page may be clicked on, to get a larger view of the picture. Use your "back" button to return.)

We have just returned from the fifth trip that our always changeable group has hiked, and had fun doing it.. This time, our sights were set on an advertised hike from Orvieto to Rome, a trail that originally started in Canterbury, England, and finished as a pilgrim route, for more than twelve centuries, to the city of Rome. You can read about it in Geoffrey Chaucer's book, Canterbury Tales, written in 1387. Once again we chose Macs Adventures to make the necessary reservations along the way, which is now known as the Via Francigena.

We chose to do the approximately 100 mile section from Orvieto into Rome, and it is questionable how much of the original trail you actually walk on, as the passage of time has much eroded the original. There are now many roads, cart tracks, and dirt roads that criss-cross this piece of Umbria and Tuscany, with an occasional footpath leading from one hilltop town to the next. The towns and cities on the route are without exception fascinating as they are, in their centers, medieval. The environs, however, have been spoiled by a patchwork development of the most hideous buildings and roads that replicate racetracks, and most buildings have been defaced by graffiti.

Enough said about the route — lets get down to the details. Our participants were Wilf and Tassie Cameron with their son John, Bob and Ann Sullivan, Jack Merwin and Karen Selig, and Tristan and Alex MacDonald. We all met up in the terminal in Rome, and travelled to Orvieto by express train, Jack and Karen following slightly later as there were on a later flight. The Hotel Filippeschi was waiting for us and we settled in for a stay of two nights to allow the effects of travel to wear off. A great meal was enjoyed at the Ristorante Orso, and we were all in bed early. The following day was spent touring this lovely cathedral town, which is reached by a funicular car or by a very precipitous road, which we would walk down the next day on the start of our nine day hike. The cathedral and theater were visited, and a market where Alex was able to purchase for under $35 a very good puff jacket. It was much colder than expected, and Bob, who was facing the same dilemma (his luggage was lost) and had to go shopping. Lunch at a very good pizzeria, the first of many, plus gelato, which played a very useful part in keeping us in good spirits.

Orvieto Cathedral

Orvieto Cathedral interior
The following morning saw continued sunshine, and we were ready for the start of our walk, destination Bolsena. The path out of the city was as expected steep and traffic-ridden. After crossing the river in the valley below, we started a long and steep climb, realizing that the signage was not that good. The possibility of getting lost became a reality shortly afterwards. We sought local help, and an elderly lady soon had us on the right trail again. It was to be no different when we entered or left any town — the combination of no maps and few signs led on several occasions to long and stress-making detours.

Orvieto theater

Pack adjustment — Jack and Karen
The day ended at the quaintly named Agriturismo Le Vigne, set on the hill overlooking the city of Bolsena and the lake of the same name. The city was crowned by a medieval castle and walls for defence. The lake which is about 500 feet deep and several miles long, is in the caldera of an extinct volcano. We found Tassie in the square (piazza), who then guided us to our rest for the night. Dinner in town was very adequate, and so to bed. With detours the hike was about 13 miles. Bed never looked more inviting than this night.

A drink after a long day

The second day, another advertised 12 miles, was perhaps the most scenic of the entire trip. The trail went high over the lake for almost the entire day, giving us outstanding views in really beautiful country. The trail was mostly gravel roads through farming country. All crops and few animals, no cows, in fact we never saw a cow for the complete walk. This must explain why most of the cheese was Peccoino (sheep's) which was available to sprinkle on almost every dish.

L-R: Bob, Ann, Alex, Jack, Karen, Tassie, Wilf, John, & Tristan

Rare trail marker

Our destination that night was the Hotel Urbano V in Montefiascone, which proved no easier to find than the previous ones. Finally, after wandering around in numerous alleys and piazzas, there it was on the corner of an ancient block of buildings. The sign was so small that it was hardly noticeable, door shut, and no one to answer our persistent knocking. After a phone call to a number on our sheet, a young man turned up and made us extremely welcome. His recommendation for dinner was La Chimera, that turned out to be a sister operation to the hotel. A very good meal was served. Another 14 mile day completed.

The following morning we left the hotel with excellent route directions through the city to the cathedral and eventually, after negotiating the urban sprawl, we were back in the country again and headed for Viterbo and the Hotel Palazzo Riario.

Montefiascone Cathedral

This was a 12 miles walk through a huge agricultural area, with miles of hazelnut trees stretching out of sight on many occasions. Interspersed with the hazelnut trees were the more expected olive groves, under which we had more than one lunch picnic. Throughout the hike, we very much missed the opportunity of stopping in the small villages that offered coffee and even meals. As we were fairly close to the Mediterranean, I suppose that for defence purposes people over the centuries had congregated in the cliff-top towns we ere visiting. They travelled out to their fields on the network of small roads on which we were walking.

Typical trail


All the variations of accommodations we stayed in were very adequate, and were in most cases historic building that had been converted for tourist purposes. The Agriturismos were without exception old farms that had atypically been built out in the country, and were always hard to find.

Our onward walk in beautiful weather continued to Vitralla and the Residence Antica Locanda, a beautiful property in the middle of extensive olive groves. It was close enough to town for us to visit the town and have a well-earned gelato, as the distances each day had grown considerably. Some of us were having foot problems, mainly caused by so much road walking.

The next day the weather being fine was 18 miles to Sutri via Capranica. As the hill up to Capranica was very long and steep, we took the low road under the cliff on which the town was perched. It was interesting to see the inventive way they had over centuries buttressed the cliffs to allow buildings which were literally hanging on the edge.

Cliff-top town

Narrow street, at left.

Our destination, Sutri, was soon reached by a section of really pretty single-track trail through mixed hardwood forests and along a substantial stream that was crossed several times. We were headed to the Agriturismo Montefosco, which from the ancient town of Sutri was extremely difficult to find or get directions to.

A very unhelpful sign on the road from town said Montefosco, but no arrow or indication as to which direction. Wilf and Jack went down in the least likely direction and found another similar sign, which led us to a path suitable for the use of mountain goats. This, after a short but concerning hike through hazelnut trees, led us to our accommodation for the night. Included at dinner were all the people that were staying the night, and with whom we had struck up friendships on the trail. On arrival at all these destinations we would have a beer or other drink, as it was not hot on any day, but we felt we deserved it. At each destination, Tassie Cameron would be there to meet us, having traveled in her rental car between towns, sometimes accompanied by a walker who wanted a rest day or had other problems.

From Sutri to the next town Campagnano, another 19 miles, took us through many estates and past Etruscan ruins and tombs that literally were dotted around the countryside, with no bearing as to the population who used to live in the vicinity. Long patches of road walking in this section spoiled our enjoyment. Italian drivers pay little attention to signage or pedestrians, and drive to a set speed — FAST! Hotel Benigni was our stop for the night, and being right in town was comparatively easy to locate. The forecast was for rain and wind the next day. The wind came but no rain, we had, however, taken advantage of Tassie's car to complete the day's journey.

The following day was looking like rain with wind already blowing, but we set out for Isola Farnese anyway. It didn't rain, and in fact the sun came out, allowing us to have a nice picnic lunch in a field just before the Cataracts of Montefosco, which was marked as a national park and had plenty of picnic sites. Being close to Isola and Tasssie being there, she picked up Wilf, who had succumbed to Achilles tendon problems. We decided to break the law and get seven people in the car to arrive a little earlier.

In fact, we thought we would get lunch in the small town. After getting directions from the very excitable patron of our hotel, we went for a long walk in the wrong direction, to end up at a gate announcing that we had to pay to view the ruins. The ticket vendor who woke up at this invasion by eight people, told us there was nothing there. We turned and walked back up the hill and went in the direction our hotelier had not mentioned and found a very good restaurant, where we had food and wine aplenty. Dinner was to be served at the hotel that night, and was served on the run by the overactive hotelier. It was so similar to the comedy Fawlty Towers, we all laughed at his handling of the plates and food, which was presumably being prepared by his wife (who made a cameo appearance after the pasta course.) So to bed all in a good mood, as tomorrow was to be the walk into Rome on the Via Appia Antica, the Appian Way.

After a poor breakfast we headed out in a large van towards Rome and the start of our Appian Way. After about an hour travel, we we all droped at the start of the Way with monuments either side of a long straight cobbled and paved road of great antiquity.

Start of the Appian Way

There were monuments, obelisks, graves, and plaques, every where you looked. The surface of this fascinating section clearly showed the tracks of chariots worn into the stone, with much use over many centuries. After all, that was the road on which triumphant legions entered Rome for several hundred years. There were some quite large houses and estates off to the side, but not visible except for a street number (i.e., 191 Via Appia Antica.) What an address to have! There was a great museum half way along this wonderful path, explaining how commercialism had nearly destroyed this treasure. A lot of photographs showing before and after, the efforts to save it from the direction it was headed. Alex and I realized that when we had visited the road 55 years ago, it was in its death throws.

Baths more than 2000 years old

We arrived at the Catacombs to find a traffic nightmare with the buses, cars, taxis, and tourists all jostling for room on the narrow road. We walked on not wanting to join the melee, not realizing that there was a good three miles to walk and a good part of this on what could be considered a race track with cars in both directions, no sidewalks, and the cars whizzing past so close you had often to walk sideways, hugging the walls. After getting off the Appian Way, we walked along tree-lined streets and finally into the Hotel Domus, with the Basilica in the middle of the walled city of Rome.

Statue of St. Francis of Assisi

Our final hotel, the Domus Sessoriana, was located inside the enormous Basilica of the same name. It was truly a rabbit warren of rooms and passages, and would not be a place I would like to be in a fire. We all went out for an excellent meal at a very local hostelry, and congratulated each other for completing another very memorable trip. The next day, Alex and I travelled back to London and home, and the group made their way in various directions to see more of Italy.

If you found the account of this trip interesting, you might wish to find other accounts of travels by one or more members of this group and others HERE.

© 2017 by Tristan MacDonald

All Rights Reserved
Web page composed by Linden B. (Lindy) Sisk