Bike Across Italy - Day 9 - Orvieto to Sorano (42 miles)

The 'dead city' of Civita - you're looking for a room with a view
May 20, 2007: Hospitality, Fortress-style + The Dead City of Civita


"If this doesn't capture the imagination, nothing will."

That's the first thing that escaped from my lips as the 'dead city' of Civita appeared before me like some kind of surreal Magritte daubing.

It is called 'dead' because of the dwindling number of inhabitants now eking out a living in this medieval village perched on a rock in a giant volcanic basin. Erosion of a massive scale separated the city from the nearby town of Bagnoregio. It reminded me of a little Disney World fortress, floating on a giant moat of thin air.

We locked up the bikes and began the hike on the long suspended footbridge spanning the chasm to get to the village. There wasn't a lot over there, a few cafes, souvenir shops, a church and so forth, but a wonderful cobbled ambiance and I could see Donald Trump swooping on it to play king of the castle when the mood strikes. Civita was one of my most enduring memories of the entire trip - something you're unlikely to find in California, unless Donald Trump gets a bee in his bonnet.

Also enduring, if you hadn't gotten that from reading my blog this far, was the food. At Lake Bolsena we were treated to the quintessential Mediterranean lunch: simple, flavorful and fresh: Frittata, garlic pizza bread, salad caprese (tomato, mozarella and basil with lashings of olive oil and balsamic vinegar), grilled olive oil bed, parma ham and melon, salad, smoked salmon. Perfection. Why don't I eat like this every day? Oh yes, and crisp, inexpensive white wine called 'Est! Est! Est!' - meaning 'This is it!'.

Lake Bolsena is a volcanic crater, and town of the same name dates back to the 3rd century. The limpid gentle 'surf' lapping at the lake's edge gives no hint of the immense Estruscan history and archeology lurking below the surface. You'll just have to do this trip to find out more.

On the way to Sorano the road suddenly became a hammerhead's dream - smooth, sweeping, slightly downhill, FAST.

I jumped on the wheel of Frank, who was powering along and trading places with a stocky Italian man on a Bianchi. At some point it was just Mr Bianchi and me trading places as we swooped into a small town called Pitigliano, taking on the extra loop without even meaning to. He winked and motioned to my little Bike Friday with a big smile, then headed back the way he came. One thing about a Friday - you can draft closer! I was having so much fun I completely forgot Dana and Andrea's instructions to stop here for some of the best gelato ever.

If every day of this tour contained more and more jaw dropping delights in the areas of food, accommodation, sights and experiences, things were really coming to a head on this, the penultimate day. The Hotel Della Fortezza is an actual fort. Instead of a manicured approach, you clomp through a gravely, unlandscaped path and through an arch with thick walls - you're entering the fortress!

Evocative entrance to Hotel Della Fortezza - you just know you're in for a medieval treat
The rooms are set in a kind of labyrinth. In my room there was a bed on the lower level, then a little stone staircase leading up to the window and the bathroom. In the bathroom there was another stone staircase leading up to the shower. Don't ask me why, but this little tri-level chamber made me feel like Rapunzel as I leaned out the window over the cobbled quandrangle below ...

Tonight's entertainment was a cooking lesson in a nearby restaurant. I arrived at the kitchen late, distracted by some nice olive tree cutting boards I souvenired for gifts. The riders were chopping and slicing under the direction of a non-nonsense Senora. The dish, oddly called 'cooked water', was basically a minestrone of whatever you have on hand. I was expecting a demo on how to make pheasant ravioli or something Iron Chefish. Perhaps Europeans have a limited view of how Americans eat - fast food generics, George Foreman grills, Hostess Fruit Pies ... they probably thought this dish would knock our Sock Guy sox off.

But wait, there was more!

We then descended into one of the underground caves for wine tasting #2. Tonight's was more casual than the one which rocked my world on Day 6 with less expensive wines from a store owned by a young couple. Dana our tour guide flipped into wino-wiki mode and explained each wine in incredible detail I am starting to get the idea she actually doesn't mind the stuff. Then we staggered off to another blowout dinner ... oh spare me ... fortunately, I'd gotten over my stomach thing that dogged me for the first half of the trip so was now making up for it big time. Who me? Vegetarian?

Today we covered three regions: Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. Not bad for our penultimate day on Bike Across Italy!

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Copyright 2007


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