This is the first article from a road trip in central Italy. Our objective was to look up UNESCO World Heritage Sites in this part of the country and to connect them by staying at striking accommodation sites on strategic points along the route.
Outline of the road trip
This is an itinerary for visiting World Heritage Sites in the four regions of central Italy: Lazio, Umbria, Marche and Toscana (Tuscany). Our point of entry into the country was at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport at Fiumicino and the departure was from Peretola airport outside Firenze (Florence).
We only had six days at our disposal, and we had identified eight World Heritage Sites. In fact this proved too ambitious even in normal circumstances. In addition I fell sick and had to stay in bed, or close to a toilet, for the bulk of our stay. Nonetheless, there are several articles describing the sights and cities we actually visited.
The following map shows places and attractions on this road trip. The best impression of the map is when you expand it into a new tab, and then zoom in and out as you like. Click the markers to get more information and links to further reading. This first leg equals to Day 1 and is marked with a blue line. It starts in the south.
Day 1, Fiumicino – Montefiascone – Middle of nowhere
The start – in Rome
Picking up my rented vehicle at Rome’s airport reminded me of my previous visit. Lots of people waiting everywhere, disorganised queues, people sneaking in the line, and always someone at the desk with a particularly problematic order to find a solution to. I finally managed to get my keys and get going. Last time I drove straight into the heart of Tuscany on the fastest motorway, but now I took the coastal road northwards hoping for great seaside views. In fact, here and there I was able to spot the Mediterranean ocean but not to degree that I had hoped.
The E80 was a four lane motorway and there was limited traffic this day. North of Civitavecchia I turned inland on smaller roads, passing through the town of Tuscania (with a monstrous medieval city wall) and headed for a small, typical Italian hill-top town called Montefiascone.
Here I teamed up with my partner and went for lunch and a look around town. This region produces a well known wine called Est! Est!! Est!!!. The town is set above the crater lake of Lago di Bolsena. We walked up to the top of the hill called Rocca dei Papi for some really good views, and then around the narrow streets. It was a Saturday and the town seemed desolated. According to my partner there had been a festival, with Medieval parades and all during the week. The visitors had left and the remaining inhabitants were obviously too exhausted to come out during the midst of the day. In historical terms Montefiascone’s prime time was from the 1100s and a couple of hundred years on, serving as a papal residence.
So, in the course of two-three-four hours I had landed in Italy, and had my first impressions of an Italian town from the Middle Ages. All was set for the remainder of this road trip. Here are a few pictures from Montefiascone. My conclusion: If you want to escape the tourist crowds in Tuscany, you will enjoy your stay here. If you are in doubt, have a look at these pictures. (Miniature pictures are to be clicked and browsed for a larger version.)
We were heading somewhere else, and for something else.
Italian roads come in all sorts of varieties and standards. The road over the hills from Montefiascone was medium-sized and although with a lot of bends, of good quality. Driving down into the last valley before entering the main thoroughfare on the Italian north-south axis, the autostrada called E35 (A1), we immediately felt compelled to stop and admire the view of Orvieto.
One is also able to see it from the motorway to the east of the town, but the best view is definitely from the hills in the west. Orvieto has a dramatic setting on top of cliffs rising almost vertical from the valley below. Adding to this impression are the extensive defensive walls. It has an ancient history and prospered in the Middle Ages when it controlled the road between Rome and Florence. We felt tempted to drive into the town, but realised we were running out of time, and moved on.
Into the wilderness
Next was the E35 toll road, one of many autostrade in Italy which is perfect for fast transportation and less so for sightseeing. As we would realise the next day they also have very few entry/exit points. In any case, we knew exactly where to exit and followed the recommendation given by our hotel.
Our first night had been booked at the Hotel Eremito. After a long drive on a minor road, then what seemed like an even longer time on a dirt road through woods, occasional farm buildings and farming fields, we found the place next to the road where we had been told to stop and park. This was supposed to be our pick-up point because the road on the last three kilometres to the hotel was not fit for ordinary vehicles. Besides they do not want much motorised traffic around.
In the meantime we had called the hotel, which wasn’t easy as the topography was seriously disrupting the mobile network. Finally we managed to signal them and were picked up by a jeep. A rough ride later we were let off at the entrance to a wonderful place indeed the hotel.
I have not been sponsored but will quote how they describe themselves: “Eremito is a unique place, a lay hermitage located in an isolated spot, where one can spend a relaxing and reinvigorating time, away from the daily hustle and bustle of daily life. One can breathe and sense the atmosphere characteristic of Umbrian hermit places; here the combination of nature, peace and silence encourages being in touch with one’s soul and inner self.”
The Eremito Hotelito Del Alma signals in many respects their respect for a monastic culture. Here we find stone walls, monk’s robes to all guests, small and minimalist rooms. Silence is maintained during the communal dinner, and they have a preference for local food. Hikes in the nearby hills are encouraged and non-existing electronic communication with the rest of the world is a plus. The natural setting is stunning. The hotel is located halfway up the hillside deep inside a forested valley with no other buildings around. We thoroughly enjoyed this, and some of the other guests (yes, we were allowed to speak to one another except during dinner) were here for much longer stays than us.
There is a mini-spa, there is a yoga class before breakfast, we all eat healthy and very tasty food outside or inside. Forget your meat favourites during your stay here.
Images from Eremito:
The road trip in 2017 is described in the following articles.
- Day 1: Getting a digital detox in Italy (THIS)
- Days 2-3: Almost spoiled visits to Spoleto, Assisi, Urbino and Cortona
- Day 4: The essence of Tuscany from Pienza to Florence
- Days 5-6: How to survive Florence