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The city from a hill: Orvieto

Some cities find ways of blending into the landscape. Others stand in stark defiance of their natural surroundings. Then there is Orvieto, a town of light stone that seems a natural and beautiful outgrowth of the hill upon which it rests, not unlike the crown on a born king's brow.

Buildings made of the same stone as their foundations are partly responsible for this sensation. However, it may also have to do with the well-preserved city's grand and medieval roots and ability to offer excellent wine. For those reasons, Rick Steves himself named Orvieto one of the best Italian towns in the hills of central Italy.

An ancient city
The city sits on a hill of volcanic rock more than 1,000 feet above the valley floor, overseeing rolling plains for miles around. Only 90 minutes from Rome, Orvieto may be worth the trip for this pastoral view alone. Yet, the city itself is a charming and awesome sight, having maintained its medieval center for over 500 years. The site of the city was once the perch of Etruscans before being attacked and destroyed in 265 B.C., according to Frommer's. Despite the newer construction atop the hill, the Etruscans still maintain their legacy in underground tunnels and caves.

A baroque cathedral
One of the highlights of Orvieto is the medieval cathedral. Like the city itself, an exterior view is something of a wonder, as the facade of the structure is filled to bursting with colorful mosaics, ridged arches and stiff pillars. Portrayed in sections along the facade are famed scenes from the Bible, ranging from Creation to the Day of Judgment, according to Rick Steves. Despite the beauty of the facade, Steves cited the cathedral's Chapel of San Brizio as the highlight, due to the frescoes of Luca Signorelli, which depict themes of damnation and salvation.

A famous wine
After visiting the cathedral, an enjoyable afternoon in Orvieto may involve meandering through its stony lanes. The city is a tourist destination, but still falls into quiet in the evenings. Soaking in the city is easy on a stroll, but so is having a seat and enjoying another Orvieto staple - Orvieto Classico wine. Romans built a port on the Tiber simply to ship this wine back to the capital, according to Frommer's, and it is that same wine that can still be enjoyed today. A winery visit just outside the city even stores its bottles in the same cellars that Etruscans once used for their own, according to Steves. After sampling the wares in the city, a trip to the Bottai winery may just be the right destination upon leaving.

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