Come to Rome and Orvieto

Following our visit to Venice last year (the location of the first part of the Marston Baines’ novel ‘Dark Danger’) 13 members of the Malcolm Saville Society gathered in Rome on October 8th to explore locations mentioned in the second part of the book – and to have a great time.

Ably led by our guide, Marco, on a warm, sunny Monday morning we visited the Colosseum - a place both awesome & awful, its stones forever stained in blood. A key feature was the cross erected there, which gave Count Brindisi comfort as he was driven as a prisoner to the catacombs. Following a stroll through the history lasagne which is the Imperial Forum, we had lunch near the Spanish Steps, before heading for the claustrophic tunnels of the Domitilla Catacombs – one of the possible locations for the exciting climax of ‘Dark Danger’.

Relaxing with wine and nibbles on the 4th floor roof terrace of our hotel was a welcome precursor to a tasty meal in a local trattoria.

On Tuesday morning we were able to bypass the lengthy queues outside the Vatican museums, reserving our energy to spend several hours admiring the world-famous sculptures, glorious tapestries and beautiful pictorial maps. The final wonder was the Sistine Chapel – it’s easy to ignore the crowds when gazing upwards at Michaelangelo’s greatest masterpiece ... or is that the fresco of the Last Judgement painted on the front wall?

A fleeting visit to St Peter’s was followed by a free afternoon for personal sightseeing - or resting – with another pre-prandial drink on the roof terrace then another delicious Italian meal. Wednesday, for many, was the highlight of the week. We travelled about 60 miles north of Rome to the small mediaeval hilltop town of Orvieto, the location of the Buckinghams’ novel, ‘The Secret of the Villa Rosa’. 

The first sight of the west facade of the Cathedral was truly breath-taking, glowing with colourful mosaics and intricate carvings.

There was plenty to see in Orvieto: winding, cobbled streets lined with ancient stone houses; ‘Orvieto Underground’ – caves hollowed out of the soft, volcanic rock; numerous beautiful churches and squares; the ramparts along much of which it was possible to walk; far-reaching views across the Italian heartland. And, of course, the Etruscan tombs which are so significant in ‘The Secret of Villa Rosa’.

As previously, drinks in the roof terrace and a lovely meal rounded off the day perfectly. We left Rome late on Thursday, many of us having spent the day on further personal sight-seeing. The Eternal City had lived up to its expectations – and I don’t think any of us will forget the beauty of Orvieto.

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