New Year in Orvieto - with Jazz

Just back from Orvieto and thoroughly exhausted from having such a good time. I haven't been able to put up anything on the blog for five days because the small hotel out in the country didn't have Wi-Fi.  There was an old computer you could rent by the hour in the foyer, but I was never in the hotel long enough to use it - what was going on elsewhere was just too tempting!   Over the next few days I'll be posting a few photographs to give you a glimpse of what is one of the most beautiful and historic areas of Italy. This was my first visit and I was completely knocked out by it.  Even on a grey day (and we only had one) it was wonderful.

Orvieto is in Umbria, on the border with Lazio, south of Tuscany.  The area has a violent volcanic history and the scenery is spectacular.  Orvieto itself is a walled town sitting on top of an outcrop of volcanic 'tuff' - a pale rock which is soft and looks a bit like pumice.  Winding your way up the rock into the town takes a long, long, time - better to leave the car outside and walk, but it must have been ideal for defence against invaders.  

Inside there are the narrow streets, piazzas, and that mixture of Etruscan, Roman, medieval and Napoleonic buildings that make Italy so beautiful.  No photographs can do it justice.  The Cathedral - taller than any other building in the whole town - is really spectacular in white marble.

The town is in the centre of the Etruscan area and was first settled by them more than 3000 years ago.  Everywhere you go you stumble on Etruscan temples and walls.  The rock under the town has been tunneled out to make tombs which you can visit. And there are other tunnels used by medieval despots fleeing their critics! 

Orvieto hotels were completely booked out by the Jazz Festival - a winter edition of the famous Umbria Jazz Festival - and so we had to stay about 20km from the town in a place called Bolsena.  It's the largest volcanic lake in Europe - the result of a volcano that exploded a hundred or so thousand years ago.  The area is still thermal and there are a lot of Etruscan sites there too - perfect for anyone who loves landscape and history all in one package.  Our hotel (built for the summer trade)  was almost empty, on the edge of the lake, with the most beautiful views. 

In Italy people spend their New Year's eve eating with their families and then they take to the streets for a grand 'passaggiata'.  We watched the sun go down in Lake Bolsena before eating in a local Osteria and then drove into Orvieto for the fun.  It was very hard work fighting your way through the crowded streets.  Here, everyone was watching a group of fire-eaters performing in the Piazza.

At midnight there are the fireworks.  I'm a complete child when it comes to the bangs and flashes - I could watch them for hours.  Italian fireworks aren't like anything else - no health and safety issues here - they just let them off in the piazza in the middle of the crowd and you have to get out of the way as best you can.  This year, in front of the cathedral, they were wonderful.  Lots of noise and exploding multi-coloured fireballs.

Afterwards, fueled by hot punch,  we went to the theatre for a  jazz concert supposed to start at 1am, which didn't get going until about 1.45.  It was an Italian programme.  The Lydian Sound Orchestra comes from Vicenza, near Venice, and they are brilliant.  They were playing with a Sardinian trumpeter called Paolo Fresu who was equally good, though I was struggling to stay awake by about 3.30!!

Left the theatre about 4am and then made the 20km drive back to the hotel (guess who drew the short straw for that one?) to fall into bed about 5 absolutely shattered!  Worth it though.    Tomorrow I'll put up some pictures of the Etruscan tombs we found in a wood and were able to crawl into.  It was unbelievable!


  1. What a fabulous life enhancing way to spend New Year's Eve! Your photos are beautiful and Orvieto looks stunning. I'm so impressed that you stayed up til 5 am.


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