Up, Up, Up: Cycle Touring Orvieto, Italy

By Jane Mountain | April 2, 2013

a cycle trip through the hill towns of italy

After a solid sleep in our free campsite, we woke up refreshed to dry skies and a cold morning. It was hard to get out of the sleeping bags, but the vision of an angry olive farmer with a chainsaw helped motivate us.

There was no prospect of sun, so we broke camp in the dampness and packed away our dripping wet tent. Once we had everything packed away, we realized that Stephen’s sunglasses were missing. He could remember taking them off when we first arrived at our camping spot, so I was convinced they would be easy to find. Not so.

They were nowhere, which seemed impossible, but was definitely the case. We picture the olive farmer finding them in a few days, wondering where they came from, accusing his neighbors of trespassing, and starting a centuries-long feud over them.

Too bad for them, but fortunately for Stephen, they only cost $3 and we brought an extra pair.


We had a few pieces of dried fruit and some nuts, then rode the last few kilometers to Canino. There we stopped for espresso and goopy nutella croissants of the type we would never ever consider eating at home. They were awful.

Knowing we needed better sustenance than we could get from sweets, we bought some fruit at the market. As we were shopping, a crowd started to gather for a van that had stopped right next to our bikes. We chatted with the guy who got out and found out that he was giving free hearing tests that day.

Judging by the people milling about, this was a big deal.

Our hearing test friend recommended a restaurant for us in Orvieto, where he happens to live. He also tipped us off to the funicular that would prevent us from having to climb the steep hill into the town.

Socializing complete, we prepared to climb.

Slow, Slow, Quick

The next few hours were a slow burn as we made our way away from the coast and into the hills. The grade was not steep, but constant, and my legs began to burn as we slowly, slowly made our way up. We stopped frequently, always at my request and to Stephen’s annoyance, to peel off layers and snack on trail mix and Clif Bars.

The views kept me energized as we passed through empty farmland, small villages, and fields full of sheep baa-ing their encouragement to us. But honestly, I mostly just watched the few feet of pavement in front of my wheels, and concentrated on proper form on the bike.


A few hours in, we started to catch glimpses of Lago di Bolsena far below us.

Finally, the road began to slope downwards and all of a sudden we were flying down a twisty road towards the lakeside. As we entered the village of Gradoli, the speed meter by the side of the road clocked us at 52km/hour – the speed limit was 50.

We decided to pedal a few more kilometers to Bolsena where we would get lunch. By the time we arrived we were starving and my stomach was cramping from the lack of food.

Another lesson learned: we should stop to eat before we feel like we’re going to die.

Another hearty Italian meal later and we set out on the last leg to Orvieto.

Straight Up, Straight Down, and Into Town

Sadly, this involved going uphill yet again. This time, it was a switchbacking road on which we gained 400m altitude in 5km of riding. Not the steepest or the longest climb we’ll do, but definitely a challenge for our novice legs.

On the whole, I enjoyed the steep climb more than the slow, shallow climbs we did earlier in the day. For some reason, they seem less painful, and the views are far more rewarding.

cycle trip to orvieto italy

We got hotter and hotter as we climbed and climbed up from the lake. When it finally seemed like we could go up no more, we were at the top. Our first little downhill brought back the realities of the cold day we were cycling through, and we bundled up for the final 10km to Orvieto.

Our bikes flew down the swooping curves of the mountainside, and with no effort and little time, we reached the valley below Orvieto. Orvieto is built high on a volcanic mountain with green valleys all around. We circumnavigated the town and followed a series of confusing signs, backtracking more than once, to get to the funicular.

It was a triumph to arrive in another astonishingly beautiful ancient hill town after all the effort we’d expended during the day.

cathedral in orvieto

We are now snug in our hotel room for two nights, with laundry, tents, and muddy panniers strewn about the room.

We’ll be sure to tell the maids “non disturbe” tomorrow.  

Soundtrack: Atoms For Peace, Amok | Rheostatics, Blue Hysteria | Willoughby, Midnight Morning


  1. Comment by Michael Moldofsky

    Michael Moldofsky April 4, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    I don’t know how you’ll keep from losing weight if you don’t eat your meat. how can you expect to get any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

    so happy for ye…

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 5, 2013 at 3:10 am

      Carbs carbs carbs will keep me going for the long-haul biking, and there is protein everywhere. We even noticed this morning that our orange juice (100% Italian oranges) has protein…

  2. Comment by Rusty

    Rusty April 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Hi sheep!!!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 4, 2013 at 10:10 am

      Hi Rusty! Miss you you scrappy lil fella!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 5, 2013 at 3:08 am


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