|Palazzo Bontodosi Hotel & Spa straddles the main piazza and is widely known for its collection of frescoes.|
Orvieto, in the hills of Umbria, two hours north of Rome, is the Etruscan town so ancient it was called the “old city” by the Romans 2,000 years ago.
Where to stay? We fell in love when we saw Locanda Palazzone outside of Orvieto. Of all the appealing settings in this greenest of regions, this may be the most beautiful.
Giovanni and Ludovico Dubini have turned a 13th-century tumble-down cardinal’s palazzo and vineyard into one of Umbria’s most distinctive hostelries. Rather than the typical gray stone, this grand Gothic house was built from the same tufo (volcanic rock) that forms the plateau upon which the town of Orvieto sits. Giovanni is making excellent Orvieto Classico, including the only aged version of Orvieto’s best-known white wine.
The brothers Dubini have mixed the ancient with the contemporary to create an interior and rooms that celebrate today while reveling in the past. The huge rusted-iron staircase and glass elevator under the soaring Gothic arches of the lobby are show-stoppers.
There are nine rooms, including two two-bedroom apartments. Room Nos. 3, 4 and 5 are Junior Suites built on two levels, loft-style, each with gracefully bifurcated windows overlooking Orvieto. Upstairs, there is a king-size bed and a modern bath with large shower, while downstairs is a sitting area, desk/table and a small balcony. Room No. 2 is the larger Suite Cardinale, with three mullioned windows facing the courtyard. Room No. 6 (a double suite) is on one level. There is one room on the ground floor designed for accessibility.
Sadly for outsiders, the ristorante is only for Locanda guests. While sitting on a terrace edged with white roses and with a 180-degree view of the vineyards, olive trees and the duomo of Orvieto in the distance, order a plate of homemade pasta with zucchini and a glass of chilled Giovanni’s Campo del Guardiano Orvieto Classico. Luxury travel advisors can contact Ludovico ([email protected]; 011-390-763-393-614) directly.zone.com
|Locanda Palazzone’s Suite Cardinale faces out onto the vineyards and sloping hills.|
For a day in Orvieto, begin with the duomo, considered one of the best Gothic cathedrals in Europe. Then, stop at Vinisus (Piazza del Duomo 15; 011-390-763- 341-907) for a light lunch and glass, or two, of wine. Luca Fratini, the sommelier, has more than 300 labels to offer. Wander the streets of the town and poke your head into the shops and galleries. There are Etruscan tombs to see, and San Patrizio’s well—a double-helix vertical tunnel used centuries ago to bring water up to the city by donkey.
From Orvieto, we drove east toward Montefalco, stopping for lunch at Enoteca Oberdan (Via Augusto Ciuffelli 22; 011-390-758-945-409), a tiny restaurant loaded with wine racks in the town of Todi. Our favorite shop is Ab Ovo, a gallery at Via del Forno 4 that tempts with its distinctive jewelry, bags and vases from European artists. Have a cappuccino in the main piazza, which boasts four palazzos and the great duomo. For a breath of cool and ancient air, walk through the original Roman cisterns under the square.
On to Montefalco, known as “the balcony of Umbria” because of its sweeping view of towns from Assisi, Spello and Trevi to Spoleto. This is the home of the revered Montefalco di Sagrantino wine, as well as the best olive oils and beautiful locally loomed linen. Open to guests after three years of restoration is Palazzo Bontadosi Hotel & Spa, a jewel set within the old Cardinal’s palace on the main piazza.
|No Two Rooms at Palazzo Bontadosi are the same. But, they all mix the past and present.|
The frescoes in the rooms have inspired guests for more than 500 years. Owner and designer Andrea Grisanti has retained the spirit of the old in his hotel—the frescoes, ancient stone staircases, decorative ceiling beams—while adding new and contemporary furnishings including king-size beds and state-of-the-art bathrooms. Every room at Palazzo Bontadosi is different; to make your choice, get in touch with General Manager Mirco Cingolani ([email protected]; 011-390-742-379-357).
Room No. 1, the Cardinal’s Study, has amazing 15th-century frescoes of Umbrian scenes lining the walls and ceilings. Andrea has wisely chosen furniture with simple lines for this room. The contemporary bath with shower is in the alcove where the cardinal entertained his lovers more than 500 years ago.
Junior Suite No. 4 is on the first floor (there is an elevator, as well as original stone staircase) and has two windows, both opening onto the piazza, and a grand freestanding bathtub in the room. The bathroom includes a large shower. The painted ceilings were discovered during restoration—guests in the king-size bed can look up at dozens of little faces peering down from the decoration on the ceiling.
Our third favorite is Junior Suite No. 7, which is painted in the color of Sagrantino wine to complement the 15th-century frescoed ceilings. There are two windows and a large balcony overlooking what must be all of Umbria. And, of course, there is another contemporary bathroom with big shower.
The spa is small but well done, with an aquam, an evocative underground pool used for special water massages under the twinkling lights of the ceiling. Sagrantino wine is the theme for several other treatments including a grape facial and grape-leaf massage.
The Arum ristorante serves an international menu on the terrace in summer and in a small, gold-brushed dining room in cooler weather. There are sofas right on the piazza in front of the hotel for drinks and people-watching.
If you venture out of the Bontadosi’s cocoon, the must-see site is the small San Francesco church. Inside is the superb fresco depicting the cycle of the life of St. Francis by Gozzoli, as well as an extraordinary Perugino fresco. Traipse across the street to Tessitura Pardi, where the locally made table and bed linen are irresistible. A glass of wine or light lunch at Federico II across the piazza, or a stop in an enoteca for a bottle of Sagrantino to take home, cap off a fine afternoon.
Car rentals for a driving trip in Umbria are available at Italy’s main airports, as well as near the train station in Orvieto and the airport in Perugia. Elite Rent offers luxury cars, such as Bentleys, Aston Martins, BMWs and Jaguars. Elite can also provide chauffeur-driven vehicles. For special requests, luxury travel advisors can contact Maritza Morales.
Orvieto is about a two-hour drive from Rome and Florence. From Montefalco, few activities are better than a leisurely drive through the hills to other Umbrian destinations such as Gubbio, Spoleto and Assisi.
|Locanda Palazzone is known for its robust wine collection; the vineyards are in sight from the pool.|