Orvieto classico: the honeycomb Italian city

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The ancient city in Umbria has captivated visitors for centuries with its lofty setting, medieval arches, breathtaking cathedral and network of Etruscan caves

Dinner at Labirinto di Adriano, a charming traditional trattoria in the backstreets of Orvieto, comes with something of an unusual coda. After delicious plates of handmade pasta – coated in the kind of silky, cheesy sauce that only the Italians know how to do – and succulent pork cheek, our host, Alessia, suggests we might like to explore what lies beneath the restaurant. Following her downstairs, we discover an extraordinary tangle of underground passageways, caves and staircases that date back more than 2,500 years, to when the Etruscans first began to dig a network of wells, cellars and tunnels into the soft volcanic rock.

Many of Italy’s hilltop towns have caverns and cellars beneath, but few can match the extraordinary honeycomb that lies under Orvieto. The old town (as opposed to the new, Orvieto Scalo, which sprawls across the valley below) is built on an isolated outcrop of tufa rock, with medieval palazzos, the 50m-high clock tower, Torre del Moro, and breathtaking 13th-century cathedral rising up like cut-outs, set above some fantastical, floating land.

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