Orvieto's most striking sight is, without a doubt, the facade of its Duomo. The overall effect -- with the sun glinting off the gold of 17th- to 19th-century mosaics in the pointed arches and intricate Gothic stone detailing everywhere -- has led some to call it a precious (or gaudy) gem and others to dub it the world's largest triptych. It is, to say the least, mesmerizing.
The Orvieto All-in-One Card
The useful Carta Unica cumulative ticket (www.cartaunica.it) for 18€ adults and 15€ students and seniors 60 and over gets you into the Duomo's Cappella San Brizio, the Musei Archeologici Faina e Civico, the Torre del Moro, and the Orvieto Underground tour -- plus either one funicular plus one bus ride or 5 hours in the ex-Campo della Fiera parking lot. Buy the ticket from the funicular car park (tel. 0763-302-378) in Orvieto Scalo, any participating sight, or the Carta Unica office (10am-6pm daily in summer, shorter hours in winter) next to Orvieto's tourist office at Piazza Duomo 23. It's valid for a year.
Orvieto's Liquid Gold
The plains and low hills around Orvieto grow the grapes -- verdello, grechetto, and Tuscan varietals trebbiano and malvasia -- that go into one of Italy's great wines, a pale straw-colored DOC white called simply Orvieto Classico. A well-rounded and judiciously juicy white (often with a hint of crushed almonds), it goes great with lunch and has one of the longest documented histories of any wine in Italy. Orvieto's wine trade is still a cornerstone of the area's economy. Most Orvieto Classico you'll run across is secco (dry), but you can also find bottles of the more traditional abboccato (semidry/semisweet), amabile (medium sweet), and dolce (sweet) varieties. The secco was created for export to satisfy the general public accustomed to the taste of bad chardonnay, and the sweeter varieties are treats seldom exported, so try them while you can. You may want to steer clear of big-name labels like Bigi -- a perfectly fine wine, but one widely exported abroad -- in favor of the smaller producers you can get only here.
To sample a glass (or buy a bottle) with a pastry or panino, drop by the Cantina Foresi, Piazza Duomo 2 (tel. 0763-341-611). Ask to see the small, moldy cellar carved directly into the tufo. You can also tipple on a visit to one of Orvieto's friendliest shopkeepers at his enoteca/trattoria above the Pozzo della Cava excavations at La Bottega del Buon Vino, Via della Cava 26 (tel. 0763-342-373; www.pozzodellacava.it) -- it sells its own bottles for 7€. To visit a vineyard, pick up a copy of the Strada dei Vini brochure at the tourist office or at the Enoteca Barberani at Via Maitani 1 (tel. 0763-341-532; www.barberani.it); it lists the wineries along with the hours of tours and contact numbers.
Tunnels in the Tufo
The Orvietani have been burrowing into the soft tufo (tufa) and pozzolano stone under their feet for thousands of years. The Etruscans hollowed out cisterns to collect rainwater, sank wells to seek out groundwater, and carved public plumbing systems into the rocky foundations. The practice was continued by the Romans, the people of the Middle Ages (who also used some defunct wells as rubbish dumps), and even Renaissance Pope Clement VII.
Through the ages, the man-made cavern system has also been used for wine and oil production and storage, artisan workshops, escape tunnels for nobility, and quarries for tufa building blocks and the pozzolano dust to cement them with. The last tunneling and the closing of the last pozzolano mine occurred in the late 19th century.
Besides the comune-run Grotte della Rupe caverns and privately-owned Museo delle Maioliche Medievali, many shops and other private buildings sit atop underground excavations -- scholars suspect the military base covering a fifth of the city (and closed to visitors) hides some of the finest. Perhaps the best accessible ones are under an enoteca, the Pozzo della Cava, Via della Cava 28 (tel. 0763-342-373; www.pozzodellacava.it). The excavations consist of six caves containing, among other things, a few medieval refuse shafts and a kiln from 1300, an Etruscan cistern, and, of course, a well almost 4.5m (15 ft.) in diameter and more than 30m (98 ft.) deep, first used by the Etruscans and later enlarged by Pope Clement VII. It's open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 8pm. Admission is 3€ for adults and 2€ for students, seniors, and holders of tickets to Pozzo Patrizio or the funicular parking tokens.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.