Day 38: Montefiascone to Civita Castellana

Distance: 68.68 km

Time: 3 hours 5 minutes

Average speed: 22.2 kph

Cumulative distance: 1931.43 km

Cumulative time: 96 hours 24 minutes

Word of the day: ‘anfiteatro’ (ann-fee-tay-at-row) – amphitheatre

We stayed last night in a property dating back to the sixteenth century – it had been the home of our host Andrea’s grandparents, and remained almost unchanged from when they were still resident. The thick stone walls meant that it remained cool inside, and it was full of period furniture. Best of all, though, was the secret wine cellar. This was essentially a set of tunnels, dug out of the volcanic tuff beneath the house. It was really extensive, but sadly bereft of wine. It must have made a perfect wine store, though, as the temperature there was much cooler than the rest of the house.

Before setting off this morning we wheeled the tandem down cobbled streets to Montefiascone’s cathedral which, while tucked away in the town’s narrow streets, boasts the third largest dome in Italy. We took turns to go inside, while the other held the tandem upright! Inside it was airy and utterly silent (as we were the only people present).

The dome was best appreciated from a retrospective view, after we descended the steep narrow cobbled streets and joined a bigger road.

Today’s cycling started with an easy descent on a busy road towards Viterbo, and required much concentration from both motive units. There was a continuous stream of traffic heading to join the autostrada at Viterbo. We didn’t see much of Viterbo itself, but what we did see looked good. To us, though, it was a relief to reach the far side of town and turn onto a quieter road.

Immediately the cycling improved. Now we had very little traffic, and a well-surfaced road climbing towards the slopes of the extinct volcano which now holds Lago di Vico within its caldera. Though long extinct, it was easy to look up towards the rim and imagine the ferocity of the forces which formed it. Like all volcanoes, it was surrounded by hugely fertile land.

We climbed a couple of large hills around the volcano’s southern slopes, but knew that the climbing would stop fairly soon, and our afternoon would be much easier. Whilst descending through the town of Sutri looking for a suitable location for lunch we spotted a sign to the Roman amphitheatre. Despite our hunger it seemed worth a look, and indeed it was. Firstly we looked at a church, originally an Etruscan temple, carved out from the volcanic tuff forming the valley wall. It was dark and atmospheric, with painted images on some surfaces and bare rock elsewhere.

On the way back from the church we noticed that, once again, our route has coincided with that of the Via Francigena.

The amphitheatre, too, was carved out in situ, rather than built from the ground up. Tunnels surrounded the arena itself, and above them there were three levels of seating.

Again we were virtually the only people there, allowing us time for a few lines from Monty Python. I believe that’s obligatory in these sorts of locations!

Lunch was taken nearby, then we set off for the remaining kilometres, most of which were flat or slightly downhill. Only the occasionally dodgy road surfaces slowed us down, and after about an hour’s work we arrived at Civita Castellana and located our hotel.

Tomorrow we need to drop into the Tiber valley, so we’re lined up for our visit to Rome. We haven’t quite worked out our route yet, but I’m sure we’ll find one!

Here’s today’s track.